Disney’s California theme parks had been silent 412 days, except for Imagineers and crew working on new attractions and revamping some of the classics.
But Friday, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park reopened at 8 a.m. local time with the first guests cheering, clapping and waving as they came through the gates. The Anaheim parks are only open to California residents at limited capacity for now.
Kate Fail of Los Angeles couldn’t hold back the tears, she was so happy to be back in Disneyland.
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“Spending time with friends and just riding rides again” is what she most was looking forward to as she entered the park. First stop for Fail: Space Mountain.
Kevin Pryor, from Fountain Valley, California, and Brittany Roth, from Santa Ana, met at Disneyland just before the pandemic and have been dating since. They stopped at Town Square to kiss, re-enacting the famous photograph of a kiss between a sailor and nurse at the end of WWII. The kiss was symbolic of the park reopening as a victory over COVID-19, similar to the victory at the end of WWII, Pryor told the USA TODAY Network.
The morning started at 6:50 a.m. with the raising of the American and California flags by the Disneyland color guard at Town Square on Main Street.
A select number of masked and distanced cast members attended and were welcomed by Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
“Wow. What a day,” Chapek said. “We have waited so long for this.”
The excitement and energy can be felt throughout, he said, then thanked cast members for all they do.
“We’re not just another place. We’re not just another theme park. We’re something special because of you,” Chapek said. “Now, let’s go make the magical memories that last a lifetime.”
In the final hours before opening, crews were watering plants and setting up kiosks. The Disneyland train began to circle the park about 7:15 a.m. Cast members lined Main Street USA, getting ready to greet guests as they come through the gates.
Safety is key, as evidenced by the hand sanitizer stations every few feet and lines on the pavement, in shops and line queues reminding all to keep guests well distanced.
Added safety features also include plexiglass around cashier areas of kiosks. Because there is no indoor dining, there are more tables and chairs outdoors through the park where people can sit and eat. A reminder, too, that guests must be stationary when eating – no more snacking while walking around or waiting in line for rides.
The path to reopening Disneyland
Disneyland is the only one of the company’s theme parks to be built by Walt Disney, though he had begun buying land and making plans for what would become Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, before his death in 1966.
“To all who come to this happy place, welcome,” he said at the July 17, 1955, opening, which drew more than 28,000 people – nearly double the number invited.
Until the coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland had been closed just three times before – on the National Day of Mourning in 1963 after President John Kennedy was assassinated; in 1994 following the Northridge earthquake; and on Sept. 11, 2001, following the 9/11 terror attacks. Each of those closures was for one day.
When Disney closed its California parks on March 14, 2020, executives expected to reopen by the end of the month. But coronavirus continued to spread. Disney tentatively set a reopening date of mid-July 2020, which again had to be delayed, pending government approval.
Shops and restaurants in Downtown Disney, however, were able to reopen in July under California’s COVID-19 guidelines. A few months later, Disney opened some retail shops inside California Adventure and in March hosted the ticketed “A Touch of Disney” food-tasting experience inside the park, which brought back about 1,000 cast members.
Rides and attractions remained closed.
In March, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that all of California’s theme parks could reopen on April 1, and soon after Chapek announced that Disney was starting to call back furloughed employees, who have since been trained on the new COVID safety standards.
More than 15,000 cast members have been brought back to both parks, so far. At peak, the Disneyland Resort employs about 32,000 people, and Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, has said he hopes that soon, more can be called back.
Disney California Adventure Park and Disneyland reopening with COVID changes
Temperature checks: Guests will be required to undergo temperature screenings with no-touch thermometers before entering the parks. Based on state health guidelines, anyone with a temperature of 100.4 F or higher will not be allowed entry, nor will anyone in their party.
Masks: Face coverings can only be removed when actively eating or drinking, but you must be stationary and physically distanced from others when doing so. Eating and drinking are permitted only in designated dining areas and are not permitted while in line or on rides. Masks must fully cover the mouth and nose. No neck gaiters or open-chin triangle bandannas. Check the Disneyland website or app for acceptable face coverings.
Cashless payment: Guests are encouraged to use debit, credit or gift cards for purchases rather than cash.
For tickets and reservations, park hours, lists of rides, attractions and dining spots that are open, visit Disneyland.com or download the Disneyland app.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘We have waited so long for this’: Disneyland reopens after 412 days
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