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Theme Park News: At long last, California theme parks are reopening

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Mar 10, 2021, 2:19 PM EST (Updated)

It's been a big week for theme park news from coast to coast. The pandemic is still very much a reality, but with high vaccination rates nationwide, it appears the severity of its impact on American theme parks is waning. From construction resuming at a major new theme park resort to unexpected announcements out of California, here's what's happening:

CALIFORNIA THEME PARKS ARE FINALLY REOPENING

California's theme parks worked hard to reinvent ways to bring guests back for special dining events during the pandemic. Now that statewide reopening guidelines have shifted, they finally have a path toward reopening rides, restaurants, and entertainment experiences — and it’s only a matter of time before we know exactly when.

Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knotts Berry Farm are all hosting ticketed food events this spring, allowing guests to enjoy favorite treats while stepping inside these hallowed spaces for the first time in a while. Attractions won’t be running, dining will be limited, and entertainment will be minimal, but after a year without the majesty of Hogsmeade and whimsy of Cars Land’s Radiator Springs, even a bit of fresh air and a Butterbeer or bread cone is worth the cost of admission.

However, just 24 hours after Disney and Universal put tickets on sale to their respective events, California dropped a bombshell that these parks could open much, much sooner than anticipated — as early as April 1, so long as their respective counties’ COVID-19 caseload has been downgraded. And, with today's Walt Disney Company corporate shareholder call confirming Disneyland is eyeing an opening in "late April," more details are anticipated for all three resorts.

California's Blueprint For a Safer Economy reopening tiers tend to be confusing, but it’s worth noting that none of the parks have the green light just yet. Currently, both Orange County (Disneyland Resort, Knott’s Berry Farm) and Los Angeles County (Universal Studios Hollywood) are in the purple tier." Orange County is expected to be downgraded in the coming weeks — with officials touting a move to "orange tier" quickly thereafter — as Los Angeles’ move to "red tier" could come in days, according to Eater LA.

When they do reopen, California theme and amusement parks will be allowed to have 15 percent capacity at red tier, 25 percent capacity at orange tier, and 35 percent at yellow tier (the least restrictive tier). (For comparison’s sake: Walt Disney World Resort in Florida has been operating at 35 percent capacity for the past few months.)

Credit: Disneyland Resort

Still, other restrictions remain. According to state guidelines, indoor dining will be off-limits (despite it returning to places like Los Angeles County soon) and indoor attractions will be limited. Additionally, it appears that guests from out-of-state will be dissuaded and possibly even blocked from attending, as admission will be restricted to California residents as per Orange County Register. (It remains unclear as to how this will be enforced, but further details surrounding reopenings will be released in the future.)

Prior to this change, which was enacted due to dropping COVID-19 cases state-wide paired with a new vaccine roll-out plan, California theme parks were unlikely to reopen until their respective counties hit yellow tier, leading a lengthy road to recovery that cities had begun lobbying against in recent weeks.

So, what happens to those ticketed events? Knott’s Berry Farm was the first to welcome guests as part of one of these hybridized events last year; with the launch of Taste of Boysenberry Festival last weekend (which lasts through May 2), it's now hosted four. Universal's, which offers the option of dishes like the Simpson-inspired Krusty Burgers and Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s fish and chips as part of ticketed “tastes,” will debut on Friday, March 12 and last through April 4, as Disney California Adventure’s A Touch of Disney kicks off March 18 and continues through April 19.

With capacity details not shared publicly, it remains unclear if the parks will merely wait for the events to run their course, but whether or not roller coasters will be cycling again soon, these events are worthwhile on their own.

Credit: David Nguyen/Disneyland Resort

A Touch of Disney, which sold out after fans spent hours in digital waiting rooms, will feature fan favorites from both parks like Dole Whip, hand-dipped corn dogs, and lobster nachos across Disney California Adventure. Parking, PhotoPass photo downloads, and a $25 dining voucher are included with each $75 ticket, which are currently sold out.

Knott’s Berry Farm, who originated the food festival format last year, is hosting its Taste of Boysenberry Festival with over 80 items, including limited-edition Dippin' Dots flavored like their namesake berry for $45 per adult for five "tastes" and $20 per child (all prices before tax) for three "tastes." (Tickets are on sale here.)

Credit: Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood’s A Taste of Universal turns the upper lot of the cinematic theme park into an open-format food festival. Adult admission, which costs $44-$49 for five “tastes,” and child admission, $25 (all prices before tax) for three “tastes,” allow guests to snack on Minions-inspired hazelnut banana pudding, loaded Beyond burgers, and Lard Lad Donuts, as well as any additional snacks guests are craving for purchase. (Tickets are on sale here.)

COVID-19 safety protocol will be in place at all three theme parks with social distancing, temperature checks, and required mask-wearing.

Plenty of theme parks will finally be getting back into the swing of things in coming weeks — but only time will tell what’s allowed to happen inside of them. Either way: California theme parks are about to be back in a big way.

EPIC UNIVERSE IS BACK ON

Work has resumed on Epic Universe, the massive new theme park arriving at Universal Orlando Resort in the coming years. Construction on the project had been temporarily stopped in July 2020 due to the pandemic, but Universal Orlando announced last week that it was starting up again, a good sign of things to come.

While the company shared that it is “expected to take several months before reaching full-speed as Universal re-staffs for the project," the final product is expected to create 14,000 permanent new jobs and expand the resort in a significant way. Billed as the “most immersive and innovative theme park” they’ve ever created, Universal's fourth gate, following the debut of Universal's Volcano Bay water park in 2017, will feature hotels, dining, shopping, and an entirely new theme park, likely to include Florida's version of Super Nintendo Land.

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- A Walt Disney Archives centennial exhibit will be arriving at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute in February 2023.

- Orlando theme parks Blizzard Beach and Volcano Bay have both reopened for the season.

- This accessible ice cream shop added to Give Kids The World Village is exceptional!

- All signs are pointing toward Spring Break being busy at theme parks.

- Super Nintendo World will, at long last, have its grand opening on March 18.

- This Orlando Sentinel story on the realities of being a theme park employee right now is a must-read. (Which, given this recent poll, sadly makes sense.)

- Disney World has revealed its new Moana-themed hotel rooms, and they're quite good!

 

(SYFY WIRE and Universal Studios are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.)