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Theme Park News: Disneyland proposes a major expansion as reopening details are finally revealed

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Mar 30, 2021, 4:08 PM EDT (Updated)

Hello, hello, and welcome to Theme Park News! This week is stacked with some major theme park updates out of the West Coast. New information dropped this past week that'll affect both Disneyland's present and future, and we're here to break it all down for you.

From zoning updates and California guidelines to ride debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood's reopening, here's all the theme park news you need to know.

DISNEYLAND LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

Disneyland Resort surprised everyone last week when it unveiled DisneylandForward, a massive expansion proposal that could forever change the composition of its vacation destination. The "multiyear public planning effort" strives to obtain updated approvals from the city to foster future developments that would see new offerings at the theme park resort for years to come.

While some mistakenly interpreted the news as confirmation of a third theme park or whatever the heck this is, Disneyland Resort is, in a simple sense, asking the City of Anaheim to update the zoning of land it already owns to allow for flexibility and future expansion.

While details are almost guaranteed to change, early artwork proposes expansions to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, the areas surrounding Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier hotels, and additional land owned by Disney, in addition to updated parking and transportation infrastructure. (Actual plans will be submitted to Anaheim City Council sometime prior to 2023.)

Credit: Disneyland Resort

If you're still somewhat confused, don't worry — the nature of this early-stage proposal is intentionally unclear and guaranteed to change over time. Still, fans couldn't help but look too deeply into artistic renderings, analyzing every colorful blob for the potential of what could come. Yes, it looks like one area is hinting at a Wakanda-themed Black Panther land, and sure, another promises waterfront land expansions at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, but conceptual renderings are a Magic Eye with no true solution and whose blurry answers will only leave viewers disappointed.

The more interesting aspect of Disneyland's proposal, after all, isn't its imagery but its future implications. DisneylandForward's goals reach back to the original WESTCOT proposal and zoning approvals established back in the '90s, but more generally feel like the theme park resort's justifiable attempt to pull back control over how it uses its own land. Rezoning land from dedicated hotel, entertainment, and retail uses established decades ago to grant Disney the ability to use its land in a multi-use capacity will allow for more robust guest experiences going forward. Mixed-use zoning approval from Anaheim could open up the possibility for, well, anything, from an expanded resort area and new attractions interspersed between the hotels to a brand new build on par with a city downtown.

If that last bit sounds like a stretch, it's not — proposed plans near Angels Stadium and Honda Center, also in Anaheim, call for office space, apartments, affordable housing, retail, restaurant space, parking, and outdoor space. Disneyland Resort's footprint may be more limited, but mixed-use zoning would at a minimum allow for more on-property experiences beyond the barrier of hotel and theme park "districts" established years ago.

It'll be a long road to finalize the proposal with the city of Anaheim and its residents, but they seem quite receptive to the idea, according to the Orange County Register. This project, unlike ones that failed in the past, would not take taxpayer money and occur entirely on Disney-owned land, but Disneyland is still positioning fans to favor the project from the start. It is explicitly — and brilliantly, may I add — dangling the carrot of new and in-demand attractions that could come stateside by name-checking some of Disney Parks' most beloved and anticipated projects in the proposal as potential additions to Disneyland Resort if it gains approval.

Between mailers already being sent out and DisneylandForward.com offering a sign-up page for fans to publicly sign their support or declare intent to host a neighborhood presentation, dropping bread crumbs for a Frozen-themed land can only help the effort, especially when the future of Opening Day Disneyland attractions are being threatened should the rezoning efforts not be granted.

With shopping, dining, entertainment, attractions, and lodging on the table, so much is in play if Anaheim approves Disney's proposal in the coming years. Until then, we'll just have to wait and see what else is in store on the furthest reaches of The Happiest Place on Earth.

Credit: Universal Studios Hollywood

WHAT CALIFORNIA PARKS WILL LOOK LIKE WHEN THEY REOPEN

This morning brought major news on multiple theme park fronts, as Universal Studios Hollywood announced its April 16 reopening. Admission to Universal Studios Hollywood, which is restricted to California residents, can be purchased online starting April 8.

Annual and Season Passholders will be the first through the park's gates as part of complimentary "bonus days" offered on select dates from April 15 — the day prior to opening — through May 16. (These visits can be reserved online starting April 5, with regular annual pass usage resuming May 17.)

With the announcement comes confirmation that Universal Studios Hollywood will reopen with two new experiences: The Secret Life of Pets: Off The Leash! attraction, which would have debuted last year, and a new Indominus Rex figure on Jurassic World – The Ride.

Last Friday — just days before Six Flags Magic Mountain and LEGOLAND California welcome back guests — California finally released its theme park reopening guidance, which affects all amusement and theme parks statewide. Some of the details are on par with what we've seen for theme parks thus far (mandatory face coverings, social distancing requirements, etc.) but others paint a picture of what it'll look like when guests return to Universal Studios Hollywood in over a year and finally step into Disneyland for the first time in 412 days.

Ride vehicles are likely to seat guests somewhat spaced out, as all parties must be six feet apart for social distancing at all times, including while on attractions. InPark Magazine also reports that all queues will be outdoors, indoor rides are limited to 15 minutes, and weekly COVID-19 testing must be made available for theme park employees. Food and drink can only be consumed in designated dining areas, while one stipulation states concession stands must provide additional shaded eating areas — a change that'll be exceedingly welcome in warmer summer months.

The guidance additionally confirms that California theme and amusement parks can only allow in-state visitors, but did not provide an end date for the mandate, which is reflective of California's current travel advisory. That requirement, which will be placed on all communications and at the point of purchase. Parties attending the marks must be from three households or less, and all guests must reside in-state.

Reopening guidelines mandated that park capacity would be limited to 15 percent with no indoor dining at reopening, but with Los Angeles County and Orange County hitting orange tier on California's COVID-19 reopening tiers, it's nearly guaranteed that Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood will increase to 25 percent capacity and offer indoor dining at reopening. (The next and final tier, yellow, would allow for 35 percent capacity.)

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- No surprise here, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will not require vaccine passports in the state of Florida, even if other types of travel, such as cruise lines, may require them.

- Spring Break is busy at Florida theme parks.

- Main Street, USA, is undergoing some refurbishments in preparation for the 50th anniversary in October.

- Wow, the new Universal Legacy Store is full of treasures and is worth visiting just to ogle the incredible props on display.

- Could Magic Kingdom's PeopleMover finally be returning?

- Walt Disney World rolls out new facial recognition technology at the entrance to Magic Kingdom.