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Credit: Richard Harbaugh/Disneyland Resort

Theme Park News: Pay increases, marionettes, and Disneyland’s gates open wide

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Jun 1, 2021, 1:04 PM EDT

Welcome to Theme Park News. This week, we've got a big sign of theme park normalcy on the horizon, as well as a show that's got delight tied up in strings and a sign of good things to come for Florida's theme park workers. All that plus Disney dining cards and drone shows in the latest collection of must-know theme park news..

DISNEYLAND OPENS TO ALL

At long last, Disneyland will finally welcome out-of-state guests starting on June 15. Prior to now, non-Californians were not allowed inside the park gates due to state-mandated restrictions.

Disneyland will continue to use the park reservation system — which is now part of the ticket-buying process — and will not require guests to be fully vaccinated or obtain a negative COVID-19 test prior to visiting, as per California guidelines. All guests will, however, be required to continue wearing a face mask throughout Disneyland Resort.

Beyond non-Californians getting their Dole Whips and Space Mountain trips after patiently waiting for so long, all other aspects of current theme park visits are also in the air starting on June 15. When California's economy officially reopens on that same date, all state-imposed restrictions on theme parks will disappear. Indoor queueing requirements, mandated distancing, and even park capacity limitations — which were previously informed by county "tiers" — will no longer be dictated by the state.

Though rife for misinterpretation, this doesn't mean Disneyland is going to immediately skyrocket to 100 percent capacity and cram guests into eateries. It simply means that Disneyland Resort — and Knott's Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood — will now each be in charge of pandemic-era operations within their own parks.

All these parks are still ramping up towards normal, and as for the big question about what Disneyland's new capacity may be, the park reservation system, still in use with "sold out" days, is essentially proof that restrictions will remain. (Consider, too, that Florida, which reopened in July 2020, still hasn't hit top-tier capacity.)

Everything from restaurant capacity to queue distancing could shift, but that does not necessarily mean it will all at once. If Walt Disney World's practices are any sort of blueprint — a theme park resort whose state government's perspective was, after all, to increase capacity — Disneyland is also likely to slowly pull back COVID-19 restrictions, particularly given that its local guests have grown familiar with a much more stringent code of state-enforced pandemic-era protocols over the past year.

Elsewhere on the property, Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel will reopen on June 15 and Disneyland Hotel — rejoice, Trader Sam's fans! — will reopen on July 2. It's an exciting sign, buoyed by the state of California seeing a sharp decrease in COVID-19 cases, that things are returning ever-so-slightly back to normal.

As a local who has reported on COVID-19 theme park restrictions for the past 14 months, I do think Disneyland could actually benefit from easing some of those state-imposed restrictions — ones that led to outdoor, distanced lines snaking throughout the park and at times, ride vehicles overwhelmingly empty — to put less of a burden on operations and make for a more enjoyable yet still safe experience. (For reference: Disneyland, primarily considered a regional theme park, is located in a state where over 50 percent of all residents, not just adults, are fully vaccinated.)

Still, with Avengers Campus debuting later this week, we're bound to see a lot of change at Disneyland Resort throughout the month of June, and I for one can't wait to see what comes next.

VINTAGE WHIMSY AT KNOTT'S 100TH BIRTHDAY

Credit: Bob Baker Marionette Theatre

Bob Baker Marionette Theatre is a widely beloved mainstay of the Los Angeles art scene — and due to the pandemic, the best place to currently see them perform is at Knott's Berry Farm theme park.

The troupe will be performing Alegre!, a show set against the backdrop of Knott's Fiesta Village every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through September 5 as part of Knott's' Centennial celebration. The dancing cacti, friendly flowers and, curious white cats featured within the rousing show put the handcrafted stylings first developed at the L.A. theatre back in the 1960s on display to an all-new audience.

Included with the cost of admission and packed with gleeful whimsy, this can't-be-missed presentation honors the tradition of puppet performances in the past at Southern California's first theme park, a rich history that's still being added to today. Be sure to make time for it — between rides on HangTime or Xcelerator — while you're there.

UNIVERSAL INCREASES THEME PARK WAGES TO $15

Universal Orlando Resort announced last week that it would be increasing team members' base pay rates to $15 an hour starting June 27. The increase will benefit more than 18,000 employees and includes both full-time and part-time hourly jobs, entry-level salaried positions, and some salaries at higher base rates, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

They're not the only game in town hitting $15 this year, though. Universal's announcement preempts Walt Disney World's 2018 union agreement, which stipulated the resort would, in phased increases, reach $15 minimum hourly pay by October of this year.

Either way, after a long year of furloughs, layoffs, and challenging guest encounters, it's a well-deserved pay bump for hard-working theme park employees.

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