UPDATED with latest: As the wave of post-lockdown theme park reopenings continues across California, there has been some movement on access for fully-vaccinated, out-of-state visitors.
Recently-amended state and local rules were confusing — see story below — and most parks played it safe, reopening to just California residents. This past week brought more clarity.
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Deadline has confirmed that the State of California is, indeed, allowing fully-vaccinated out-of-state visitors in attendance at local amusement parks. The County of Los Angeles also amended its health officer order last week accordingly: “Out of state visitors who are fully vaccinated may purchase tickets and visit amusement parks, theme parks or fairs.”
While Disneyland officially reopened its gates today, it did so only for in-state residents. Many other parks are also awaiting greater clarity from state officials on what’s allowed. Orange County, where Disneyland is located, has generally conformed to the state’s reopening guidance.
When it reopened on April 16, Universal Studios also did not allow out-of-state guests, whether fully-vaccinated or not. That has changed, however. The park made the switch on Wednesday, allowing non-residents who can show proof of vaccination and valid ID to buy tickets.
There may be even more room for out-of-staters next week. Key metrics in Los Angeles on Tuesday for the first time met the requirements for California’s least-stringent reopening tier, Yellow. If they do so again this coming week — as they are expected to — theme parks in Los Angeles will be allowed to reopen from the current 25% to 35% capacity. That is, if Los Angeles County health officials again align with state guidelines.
For other sectors, Los Angeles County again eased its Covid-19 health restrictions today, allowing indoor playgrounds and arcades to reopen at limited capacity, while lifting restrictions on operating hours for bars, breweries and wineries.
Indoor arcades and playgrounds — such as laser tag businesses, ball pits or “bounce” centers — will be restricted to 25% capacity, along with other mandated safety modifications.
Orange County, where Disneyland is located is further afield. It has been firmly entrenched in the Orange, or moderate, tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, and would take two consecutive weeks in the Yellow to be allowed to widen its capacity.
PREVIOUSLY on April 22: Southern California’s massive theme parks are in the process of reopening after more than a year of Covid-induced closures. Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Legoland in Carlsbad have already unlocked their gates.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park will reopen April 30, while nearby Knott’s Berry Farm plans to open on May 6.
But the parks which, according to a trade organization, employ more than 135,000 workers and produce more than $14 billion in annual state commerce, are dusting off their attractions with more than a little uncertainty. After months of pleading from the industry, California health officials finally issued reopening guidelines in late March.
In the Orange tier of the state’s reopening plan — which includes all of Southern California — park operators are allowed:
• Indoor capacity max 25% with time restrictions
• Weekly worker testing program
• With other modifications
• In-state visitors only, check for current CDPH Travel Advisory in effect
But an “Addendum” to the reopening rules quietly released by the state last Friday seems to run counter to that final bullet point. While the original document’s language on amusement parks remains unchanged, at the bottom of the document, under the Addendum heading “Fully vaccinated visitors and spectators” is the following general bullet point:
• Fully vaccinated persons from out of state may visit or attend activities or events that are restricted to in-state visitors. Fully vaccinated persons should consult the current CDPH Travel Advisory and adhere to any applicable recommendations.
The aforementioned CDPH Travel Advisory says fully-vaccinated non-Californians “should follow CDC travel guidance, and are not required to test or quarantine before or after travel unless they have symptoms concerning for COVID-19 disease.” The CDC guidance says, “People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine can travel safely within the United States.”
What’s more, CDC data shows California’s case rate is the second-lowest in the U.S., just a hair behind Hawaii.
Many of the state’s largest parks, however, are awaiting clarity from the state before welcoming out-of-state visitors.
On Friday, Deadline learned from a California Department of Public Health source that the list of reopening rules which last Friday’s Addendum encompasses does not include indoor live events or concerts. What is impacted by that addendum regarding “activities or events” are movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums. Those seem much less event-y than concerts.
Given the dissonance, it’s understandable that theme park officials are cautious about reservations for out-of-staters. The stance is supported by the industry’s trade group, the California Amusement Parks Association. CAPA, while maintaining the Addendum does allow for interstate visitors, issued the following comment to Deadline:
Amusement parks’ responsible reopening plans are guided by the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy which was recently updated with an Addendum to Blueprint Activity & Business Tiers Chart. This addendum now allows fully-vaccinated persons from out of state to visit or attend activities or events that were previously restricted to in-state visitors. As vaccinations become more widespread and state guidance evolves, individual parks may update their own responsible reopening plans in accordance with state and local public health regulations.
It’s not the first time California’s theme parks have been on a different page from state officials.
For months last year, the theme park industry railed on Governor Gavin Newsom’s decision to keep their operations closed even as he loosened requirements for other industries. Newsom revealed that Disney Chairman Bob Iger quit the governor’s council of economic advisors due to a disagreement over theme parks. Executives from Disney, Six Flags and Universal went public with criticism of Newsom’s policies.
In October, Disneyland Resort president Ken Potrock said, “We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world… Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities.”
Despite the state’s Addendum last Friday, Disneyland Resort Parks in Anaheim are still only allowing in-state visitors. As of this writing, the web sites for Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain will only allow reservations for in-state guests. Legoland’s booking page likewise says, “Theme Park access available for in-state visitors only.” Ditto Knott’s Berry Farm.
Sea World, on the other hand, is allowing out-of-state visitors. According to the park’s reservation page, “Per Covid-19 restrictions, attendance is limited to California in-state visitors, and now out-of-state visitors will be required to show proof of a fully completed COVID-19 vaccine.”
Deadline has repeatedly reached out to the California Department of Public Health to find out which of the Addendum’s strictures apply to which business sectors, but has yet to receive clarification.
City News Service contributed to this report.