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As COVID-19 ebbs in California, Disneyland reopens after 13-month closure

Small business welcomes Disneyland reopening
Disneyland reopens and nearby small businesses rejoice as customers return 01:51

Disneyland, California's world-famous theme park, reopened to excited visitors Friday after an unprecedented 13-month closure in what tourism officials hope is a sign of the state's rebound from the coronavirus pandemic.

The day began with Disney officials and park employees gathered in the park's town square for the morning flag-raising ceremony. Disney CEO Bob Chapek thanked the color guard for raising the flag every day during the 412-day closure and asked employees to "bring the magic back" for visitors. Some visitors cheered as they entered.

"Not having it for over a year was really kind of hard for us, and so it's just really nice to be able to come back," said visitor Jaki Montanez of Modesto.

The reopening comes just four months after California struggled to combat a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations. For now, the park is allowing only in-state visitors and operating at limited capacity. The park has hand sanitizing stations and signs reminding visitors to keep their distance and wear masks. 

Theme parks were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in California. That's a contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World's Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running since last July at lower-than-usual capacity.

Disneyland hoped to welcome customers back last July but had to reverse course after state officials tightened reopening guidelines. Disney plans to reopen the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa on May 2 and the Paradise Pier Hotel later this year. 

Disneyland is a major economic engine in California, drawing nearly 19 million the year before the pandemic struck, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. 

The park and neighboring Disney California Adventure will reopen with a 25% capacity cap. Reservations are required, hugs and handshakes with Mickey and other characters are off limits, and the famous parades and firework shows have been shelved to limit crowding.

Disneyland expects to attract enough guests that it will turn a profit despite capacity restraints, Chapek has said.

Disney's California parks have long had a loyal local fan base while its Florida locations rely more heavily on international tourists, said Carissa Baker, who teaches theme park and attraction management at the University of Central Florida.

Disneyland is expected to reopen popular rides such as Space Mountain and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. But there will be changes to the park, with masks required and no live theater performances scheduled. This is how Disney started out at its Florida theme park and gradually phased back in entertainment, Baker said.

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"When they reopen, they're probably going to be pretty instantly at whatever the allowable capacity is just because there's so many locals who go to the California parks," Baker said.

Zach Bolger, 35, is among them. Before the closure, he took the half-hour drive down from Los Angeles County two or three times a week with his girlfriend, whom he met trading collectible pins at Disneyland.

"Just walking down Main Street and looking at the bricks on Main Street and looking at the stores or up at Walt's window with the candle in it, all those things bring us a lot of happiness," Bolger said. "We're definitely looking forward to the rides, but if Disneyland opened up and said, 'All rides are closed, you can only walk around,' we still would have bought tickets."

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