Disney announced Monday that a small, limited theme park reopening in Anaheim will begin in mid-March, saving 1,000 cast member jobs.
In a letter to Disney workers, Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock announced that a part of Disney’s California Adventure Park would reopen next month due to the end of the statewide lockdown. Specifically, the limited reopening would be in honor of California Adventure’s 20th anniversary.
While full details were not announced, the reopening will include a return of food and beverage service, merchandise/shopping, and some “carefully crafted entertainment experiences.” Not all attractions, most notably the rides, will be open due to the state’s ongoing health and safety rules. State, county, and city health and safety regulations will also be adhered to, such as mandatory masks. But the gates will be opened for the first time since the parks closed in March of 2020.
“With limited capacity and enhanced health and safety measures in place, Guests once again will get to step into a magical Disney environment — an environment that will provide memorable and fun experiences our guests are craving,” stated Potrock in a letter on Monday. “This is a very special opportunity that speaks to our top priorities: getting more Cast Members back to work and engaging with our guests in different and relevant ways.”
The city of Anaheim, which has lost more than $100 million in tax revenue since the theme parks shut down, immediately noted their approval of the limited reopening.
“Coming out of the pandemic, it’s going to take time. It’s not the flip a switch. We’ll take this. This will be start of it,” said Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster.
While Disney had initially accepted that the parks continue to be closed down in the early days of the pandemic, by late summer last year the company, as well as other theme park groups in California, began asking the state to allow them to reopen, or at least come up with a reopening plan to stave off massive layoffs. Governor Gavin Newsom repeatedly refused because of ongoing concerns with COVID-19. This caused massive layoff’s by Disney, including more than 10,000 employees in Orange County. By November, due to the state forbidding them to reopen, Disney announced that 32,000 people would be laid off between their California and Florida operations, with final layoffs occurring in March 2021. While there is currently a bill in the California legislature, AB 420, that would speed up the full reopening process for theme parks, it is unlikely to pass due to Governor Newsom’s continued theme park reopening objections.
1,000 cast members to return to work
However, Monday’s announcement will reduce the 32,000 layoffs by 1,000 and give the company a new foothold on the reopening process.
“They’re trying to reopen the best that they can,” Ohio-based theme park industry analyst Roger Green said to the Globe. “California has strict COVID-19 theme park standards right now, and that includes not reopening until the county it is in hits the lowest COVID tier setting there, which is low, or yellow. Right now they’re all in the highest risk category, the purple one.”
“The big takeaway is that Disney is doing everything in its power to reopen as much as possible without having an official reopening. Seriously, look at what they did. They’re using the 20th anniversary of the park to make it more of an event rather than a park reopening, they aren’t opening most rides and attractions, which are main reopening sticking points, and they are putting in every opportunity to make money. By doing the last one, they have to hire more cast members back.”
“Guests win, because many have been starving to go back since last year. Workers win because a bunch now get to go back to work. Disney wins, because, you know, money, but also dress rehearsing a bigger reopening with this. And Anaheim wins because of new tax dollars being pumped in. Only California hates this, but Disney is adhering to all health measures. All the safety measures. They outplayed the state, and as a result, 1,000 people now get to go back to work. People get an entertainment source back. A struggling company restarts its engines. It’s good.”
The California Adventure reopening is expected to begin next month, with other theme parks likely to follow suit and start their own limited re-openings. Disneyland itself is unlikely to have a similar partial reopening in the near future due to a COVID-19 vaccination site currently taking priority on the site.