Southern California has a Regional Stay-at-Home Order in effect. That means that Southern California is operating under even stricter guidelines than the most restrictive tier in the 4-Tier Blueprint for a Safer Economy discussed below. Hop over to our COVID-19 information for theme parks, zoos and aquariums post for the latest closure information. The following information will be updated once the Regional Stay-at-Home Order ends. In other news, Disneyland canceled its Annual Passholder program Jan. 14, 2021, so that affects a lot of Disney fans looking forward to Disneyland reopening.
Zoos and aquariums have already reopened in California, but we are all anticipating the day we can hop into fully reopened theme parks. The State of California has provided guidelines, so now we know what to expect when California theme parks reopen. The theme parks will be limited to 25 percent capacity and must use a pre-sale or reservation system to control that capacity. But what about reopening dates? Well, it's complicated. A few theme parks have already reopened partially. SeaWorld San Diego was able to reopen as a zoo without theme park rides, and Knott's Berry Farm reopened for food, shopping and holiday events on select days. Parts of LEGOLAND (such as hotels and the aquarium) are open. But all of the theme parks (including Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood) will only be able to fully reopen once their respective counties reach a certain tier.
California has a 4-Tier Blueprint for a Safer Economy that rates each county's risk level as it relates to COVID-19:
- Tier 1 (Purple) is Widespread Risk, with many non-essential business closed
- Tier 2 (Red) is Substantial Risk
- Tier 3 (Orange) is Moderate Risk
- Tier 4 (Yellow) is Minimal Risk, with less than one daily new case per 100,000 residents
A theme park cannot reopen until the county in which it is located reaches the Yellow Tier 4. Currently, Los Angeles (home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain), Orange Country (Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm) and San Diego County (LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and the San Diego Zoo) have moved back to a Regional Stay-at-Home Order with stricter guidelines than even Tier 1 (Purple). It can take a few weeks of data coming in and the county meeting certain criteria before a county can move tiers (with a minimum of three weeks before changing tiers). That means we do not expect to have any theme park reopening dates yet, but it will likely be some time in 2021. It also means that a theme park could be subject to closures after reopening if the county slips into a higher-risk tier.
Here's what's already open:
- The San Diego Zoo and Safari Park have reopened (but now require reservations or dated tickets).
- Universal CityWalk has reopened with limitations (such as restaurants offering take-out dining only)
- The Downtown Disney District at Disneyland reopened but currently has paused on-site dining. Select restaurants offer take-out only.
- Parts of LEGOLAND, SeaWorld and Knott's Berry Farm had also reopened for select days for food and events (but not for rides). LEGOLAND is pausing its holiday celebration. Keep hopping back for the details.
The theme parks are as ready to fully reopen as we are to visit. We're sharing all the details we do know so that you'll know what to expect when the California theme parks reopen.
What to Expect When the California Theme Parks Reopen
If you are anything like us frogs, you’re wondering what the Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego theme parks, zoos and aquariums will be like once they reopen (or in some cases as they are already operating during the phased reopenings). We've put on our themed character masks and have been hopping to the partially reopened theme parks, related shopping districts, zoos and aquariums we love so much to get the full scoop on what to expect when the California theme parks reopen. But we can all agree that things will be a little different for some time. We want to have fun, but we want to stay safe and keep others safe too.
What can we expect from these new procedures to keep us all healthy? The policies may vary per theme park and even by city. We've gathered the latest information for each park so you know what to expect when the California theme parks reopen and what measures are in place to keep park guests and employees safe and healthy during this time.
First of all, as the theme parks plan for reopening, you can stay up-to-date on resort reopening status with our COVID-19 information for theme parks and hotels (and ski resorts) in the U.S. But what to expect when the California theme parks reopen in terms of safety guidelines, crowds and social distancing? We are looking at the policies and procedures in place for the Orlando theme parks, as they give us a glimpse into what to expect when the California theme parks reopen, in addition to the information that has been released so far regarding California theme parks. Keep in mind that the California theme park policies may vary based on the park and the regulations of the county or city it sits in.
We’ve broken this list down by general region and resort. Keep in mind that if you are a person of advanced age or someone with medical conditions that put you at a higher risk for complications with COVID-19, you might want to delay your trip until late 2021 or 2022. We have more tips on staying healthy in the theme parks that are always a good idea for everyone to follow, but especially worth considering in this time of uncertainty.
Greater Los Angeles Area Theme Parks and Aquariums
Here's a look at what to expect when these Los Angeles County and Orange County theme parks reopen. You may notice that many of the parks, zoos and aquariums share a lot of the new health and safety guidelines and protocols. All require guests to wear facial coverings except when eating or drinking, and all theme parks will be limited in capacity and require a reservation system. But you will see that there are a few differences. Some locations are opening in phases.
Disneyland Resort began a phased reopening in July with the opening of Downtown Disney. The reopening of the theme parks and hotels remains postponed. Here is what we expect in the phased Disneyland reopening:
- July 9 — The Downtown Disney District reopened.
- Delayed — Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disney's Paradise Pier and the Disney Vacation Club Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa remain closed for now. (The Disneyland Hotel was already set to reopen at a later date.) You can modify an existing reservation or make a new reservation for hotel stays during the closure.
- Delayed — Both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park will reopen at a later date pending government approval.
As of Nov. 19, the Downtown Disney District has expanded into Buena Vista Street of the closed Disney California Adventure Park for shopping and dining. A Mobile Wait List help limit capacity, and many new dining tables offer guests a place to eat their treats while stationary and distant from others.
One of the biggest changes we may see when the parks reopen is the new park reservation system. To comply with governmental requirements and promote physical distancing, Disneyland will manage attendance through a new theme park reservation system. The system will operate very similarly to the Disney World reservation system. It will require all guests to get an advance reservation for park entry. More news to come on that, so keep hopping back for details. In the meantime, Disneyland has paused new ticket sales and canceled its Annual Passholders program. Passholders who held active passports as of March 14, 2020, will receive pro rata refunds. Follow this link to learn about Annual Passholder refund information.
The Disneyland site offers regular updates on what to expect with the California theme parks as it continually evaluates this fluid situation. Once Disneyland Resort reopens, the parks, hotels, restaurants and other locations will be limited in capacity. Disneyland is following the guidelines from the health experts, the Centers for Disease Control and the California state government. Disneyland has added a COVID-19 Warning to its site.
Also, the Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer, Pam Hymel, released more plans and ideas Disney is exploring in regard to reopening the resorts, parks and stores in a message about Disney Parks from Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel. This, along with the procedures presented for the Disney World reopening, gives us an idea of the plans and considerations for the U.S. Disney parks.
Even though the following information is subject to change as the situation evolves, here's a quick look at what what to expect when the California theme parks reopen.
- Phased reopening: Expect a gradual reopening and/or partial reopening of certain locations. Retail and dining locations n Downtown Disney reopened prior to theme parks.
- Capacity measures: Advance reservations through a new theme park reservation system are required to visit the parks during the phased reopening. The state sets the capacity to 25 percent. Indoor dining establishments are limited to 25 percent capacity. Annual Passes have already been canceled.
- Physical distancing measures: Disney has implemented physical distancing guidelines based on guidance from health authorities and government. Technology may aid in these efforts, such as the Play Disney Parks App, mobile ordering and virtual queues. The parks have increased education and signage to direct guests on social distancing. The parks will temporarily suspend fireworks, parades and entertainment that allows crowds to gather. Expect signage to remind guests to stay 6 feet apart from other parties and physical barriers, such as plexiglass, in areas that are more difficult to practice physical distancing.
- Limited-contact enhancements: Disneyland is encouraging cashless transactions and will reduce interactions between cast members and guests through the use of technology and other measures. You can expect contactless payments and expanded mobile ordering in the Disneyland app, Apple Pay and more. Plexiglass partitions add separation at park entrances, shops and restaurants. Expect temporary closures of play areas.
- Cleanliness and sanitization: You'll see increased cleaning and disinfection around the resort, especially for high-contact areas. Hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer is available throughout the resort.
- Masks and temperature screenings: All cast members and park guests undergo temperature screenings and are required to wear facial coverings. The coverings must cover the nose and mouth and fit snugly against the sides of the face. The covering must be secured with ties or ear loops. Gaiter-syle coverings, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings that contain valves, mesh material or holes of any kind are not allowed. Guests may remove masks to eat or drink when stationary. Signs and cast members will remind guests to follow the social distancing guidelines and wear a facial covering. Children under 2 are not required to wear face coverings.
- Cast training: Disneyland is providing new training and reinforcement to emphasize a strong culture of health and safety among cast members.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal CityWalk has partially reopened (with free self parking), though the theme park remains closed. Universal Orlando reopened June 5. Even though the theme park remains closed this holiday season, you can get your Butterbeer (hot cold or frozen) and Wizarding World treats on select days in CityWalk.
Universal Studios Hollywood will comply with health and state/local government guidelines for when California theme parks reopen. You can expect the following at CityWalk and Universal Studios Hollywood:
- Temperature screenings of employees and guests (temperature of 100.4 or greater will not be admitted).
- All team members undergo temperature checks and wear face coverings.
- All team members participate in extensive training.
- Face masks are required of guests and must cover the nose and mouth.
- Guests can remove the facial covering when they eat in designated eating areas in which the seating is arranged to allow for physical distancing.
- Hand-washing/hand-sanitizing stations are located throughout the property.
- Guests are required to use hand sanitizer before boarding rides.
- Increased sanitization in the park.
- Limited capacity (25 percent), with the use of a park reservation system.
- Indoor restaurants are limited to 25 percent capacity.
- Physical distancing guidelines throughout entertainment venues, restaurants and shops.
- Floor markings note where to stand.
- Ride policies for social distancing and disinfecting.
- Temporary closure of interactive play areas.
- Temporary closure of Single Rider lines.
- Increase in virtual queues.
- Use of the Universal Studios Hollywood app for contact-free features.
- People who have a disability that prevents them from wearing a facial covering should contact Guest Realtions abut the use of a face shield. A face shield is not allowed on some attractions.
If you froget to bring a backup and lose your mask or get it wet, you can purchase a Universal-themed mask. We saw some fun styles at the Universal Studios Hollywood souvenir shop at CityWalk.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Knott's Berry Farm will employ the same basic health and safety protocols that you will find across the other California theme parks. While the theme park does not yet have a reopening date, we love how Knott's has been giving guests a taste of the theme park with some open-air dining and shopping events inside the closed park. The sold-out events tell us that people are ready to return to their favorite theme parks. The Knott's Berry Farm Hotel reopened Aug. 21.
Knott's has been hosting various Knott's Berry Farm events inside the theme park this summer and fall. This fall, on select days, guests could get attend the Taste of Fall-O-Ween inside the closed theme park. For the holiday season, guests can attend Taste of Merry Farm for holiday decor and festive food and drink. Rides are not open for these food events, but that does not seem to stop the foodies and theme park lovers from coming to get a taste of the fun.
Guests purchase a tasting card in advance to be able to enter the open-air food events. Hungry for the details? Hop over to our Knott's Berry Farm reopening post.
We hopped by the Taste of Calico in July just to be near some of our favorite roller coasters and try to the tasty foods. Knott's offered entertainment, music and even some of the Knott's "residents," such as the working blacksmith. We saw great mask compliance, a lot of physical distancing space and plenty of large picnic tables and other seating for enjoying the food. A Taste of Merry Farm filled our frog bellies and froggy hearts with so much holiday goodness!
Outside the park, select locations in the California Marketplace are open daily. Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant is open. Since indoor dining is closed in California, the restaurant has blocked off traffic in front of the restaurant and added outdoor tables for a more "picnic" atmosphere. You can also enjoy the Mrs. Knott's Chicken-to-Go Restaurant, Farm Bakery and the Knott's Berry Market. They have added marks on the floor to show where to stand for social distancing, have a roped queue and have added plexiglass and hand sanitizers in front of registers. Guests use scanners to do a supervised, touchless self-checkout. All payment is electronic — no cash for now — and restrooms are closed.
During the Knott's Berry Farm reopening, you can expect the following policies and procedures:
- Face coverings required.
- Face coverings can be removed in a designated RelaxZone or when seated at a table for dining.
- Temperature checks with walk-through thermal scanners. If anyone in the party has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, an employee will manually check and if it's still too high the party will not be admitted.
- Employees undergo health screenings, symptom checks and temperature checks.
- Employees undergo additional training.
- The park has added a number of hand-sanitizing stations. Guests are encouraged to wash hands frequently.
- Contactless forms of payments are recommended. Guests do a supervised self checkout and self-bagging in stores.
- Look for ground markings in stores and restaurants for physical distancing and directional foot traffic.
- Plexiglass separates guests from associates.
- Capacity will be limited in the park to 25 percent.
- Capacity in buildings and restaurants is limited to 25 percent capacity.
- Frequently touched surfaces are disinfected daily and sanitized frequently.
- New ride policies in place regarding social distancing and sanitation.
- Traffic is monitored in restrooms.
Six Flags Magic Mountain
Some Six Flags parks around the country are opening sooner than others due to varying state guidelines. Even though some Six Flags parks have already reopened their parks and and water parks, Six Flags Magic Mountain is not one of them. Hurricane Harbor at Magic Mountain remained closed throughout the 2020 season. Magic Mountain theme park has not yet announced an opening date. There is, however, a Christmas drive-thru event this holiday season. That means you can drive your car through the theme park!
A message on the Six Flags website states that all visitors — including pass holders and members — must make advance reservations for a specific day and time period via the online reservations system to visit the park. Having staggered entrance times can avoid overcrowding at the entrance.
Anyone with a ticket can make a reservation. All ticket holders will use this reservations system, including season pass holders. Guests will also pre-pay for parking. Reservations can be canceled but not transferred. Guests may also order masks and other merchandise if desired. The reservation system will go online for each Six Flags park shortly before operations resume, and only members and season pass holders will be granted access during an initial period. After a set period of time, the system will open up to other ticket holders.
When the Six Flags parks reopen, the park will operate with reduced attendance (the state sets the limit to 25 percent), social distancing, virtual queues, mobile ordering, cashless transactions and constant sanitization. Guests will find hand-washing and hand-sanitizing stations throughout the parks and at the entrance and exits of rides. To promote social distancing, Six Flags will limit the number of riders in lines and boarding rides. Markers painted on the ground will show riders where to stand. Guests can expect to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. Guests can take mask breaks in Mask Break Zones located throughout the park. The parks will operate at a percentage of normal capacity and ramp back up based on local guidelines.
Aquarium of the Pacific
The Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific reopened June 14 (for outdoor exhibits). As with the the theme parks and zoos, you can expect similar safety guidelines at the aquarium, although aquariums are held to different guidelines than the theme parks. In order to maintain social distancing, the aquarium has introduced timed ticketing. Visitors need to select a date and time upon purchase. Psst ... we frogs love a good deal, so it's no secret that you can purchase discount Aquarium of the Pacific tickets through Undercover Tourist. You can select the date and entry time before you check out. If you already hold an unused ticket, you can make a free reservation on the aquarium site.
Here's a look at the new health and safety guidelines:
- All guests 2 and over must wear a face covering.
- If you froget your mask or lose it, you can purchase on-site.
- Parties are limited to groups of 6 and fewer.
- One family per elevator.
- No re-entry.
- No storage of items.
- Numerous hand-sanitizing stations are located near touch areas and throughout the aquarium.
- Staff has increased sanitation of touched surfaces throughout the day.
- All visitors will undergo a temperature check. Those with a temperature of 100.4 or greater (and their party) will not be admitted.
- Visitors experiencing symptoms such as sore throat, cough, shortness of breath, fever or recent loss taste or smell are asked to visit another time.
- Visitors should practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet from other parties and staff.
- Everyone must follow all posted signs and directions from the staff stationed throughout the Aquarium in regard to social distancing, traffic flow, closed areas and other safety protocols.
You can also expect that some areas will be closed and some programs are on hiatus. Closed areas include the Ocean Theater, Northern Pacific Touch lab, Horseshoe Crab touch lab and Shark Lagoon children’s play area. Shows, mascot appearances, animal meet-and-greets and behind-the-scenes tours have temporarily suspended to prevent gatherings.
San Diego Zoos and Theme Parks
The San Diego Tourism Authority produced a San Diego Attraction Reopening Health and Safety Plan. The plan incorporates the sanitation strategies and protocols for the following attractions:
- SeaWorld San Diego
- LEGOLAND California
- San Diego Zoo (Reopened June 20)
- San Diego Zoo Safari Park (Reopened June 20)
- U.S.S. Midway Museum (Reopened July 1)
The document is considered a living document and is subject to change. It will be updated to incorporate changing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as mandates from federal, state and local government agencies. The theme park protocols for health and safety in San Diego theme parks pretty much match what you can expect when all the California theme parks reopen. Here are the details for what to expect when the California theme parks, zoos and aquariums reopen in San Diego:
Employee Screenings and Protection:
- Mandatory health and safety COVID-19 training for all employees.
- Wellness checks for employees prior to the start of the workday.
- Employee temperature checks using contactless infrared thermometers.
- Employees are required to wear protective face masks.
Entrance and Security Checkpoints:
- Reduced attendance capacity to ensure adequate social distancing.
- Maintain 6 feet minimum distance at ticket booths, security queues, inspection tables and park entrances.
- Hand sanitizer stations at ticket booth windows and park entrances.
- Visitors are asked to open their own bags for security inspections to minimize contact.
- All visitors required to wear protective face masks.
- Display signage throughout parks that state new health and safety guidelines.
- Install markers and signs throughout park to maintain social distancing.
- Manage pedestrian flow by implementing one-way traffic on narrow pathways.
- Modify photo opportunities with costumed characters to maintain 6 feet minimum distance.
- Leave rows empty in stadium seating.
Sanitization and Disinfection:
- Add hand-washing stations throughout the park.
- Reduce restroom capacity to maximize social distancing.
- Maintain 6 feet minimum distance in restrooms.
- Assign employees to frequently sanitize restrooms.
Rides and Attractions:
- Add hand sanitizers to each ride entrance and exit.
- Install markers throughout rides and queues to maintain 6 feet minimum distance.
- Instruct riders to wait in family groups in attraction queues.
- Stagger seating on each ride.
- Clean and disinfect ride vehicles, queue railings and touch points on a frequent basis.
- Maintain 6-feet distancing between groups in restaurants.
- Use contactless or single-use menus, as well as contactless payments, to limit hand-to-hand interactions.
- Serve more premade or prepackaged food and snacks.
- Reduce unnecessary contact during food delivery.
- Limit touch points, such as closing condiment stations.
- Install plexiglass shields at food stations and cashiers to reduce close interactions.
- Frequently clean and disinfect door handles, counters and common areas.
Specific San Diego Theme Park and Zoo Reopening Information
San Diego Zoo
The San Diego Zoo and San Diego Safari Park have roared back to life. These zoos operate outside of the theme park guidelines in terms of being able to be open, but they match the stringent theme park guidelines in terms of safety. They reopened June 20. You can expect limited hours and on-ground capacity during the reopening period. During this high-demand time, the zoo and park now require visitors (including members) to make a reservation or purchase dated San Diego Zoo and Safari Park tickets and tours in advance. Arrive early in the day for the shortest wait to get in.
The San Diego Zoo has put measures in place to protect not only employees and guests, but also the animals who live in the zoos. We do not yet know how COVID-19 affects other mammals. In an excess of caution, the San Diego Zoo Global is adding heightened biosecurity measure in place to protect all mammals (including people). You can expect the following changes when visiting the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park:
- All guests 2 and up and employees must wear face coverings (except when dining).
- No indoor dining.
- All chairs and tables disinfected after each use.
- Markings on ground note where to stand in lines and in front of exhibits.
- Increased signage of health and safety information.
- Additional portable sinks and hand-sanitizer units are available on the grounds.
- People are to maintain social distancing from other groups.
- Purchase admission tickets online in advance.
- Purchase tickets for tours, safaris, and other premium experiences before arrival.
- Capacity is limited.
- Capacity is limited in gift shops.
- Parking lot capacity controlled.
- Admission is first-come, first-served. As guests exit, waiting guests can enter.
- Touch-free entry.
- At the zoo, guests visit a Welcome Tent to answer health screening questions.
- At the Safari Park, guests answer health questions from the car upon arrival to parking lot.
- Employees use MyMedCor App for symptom screening and undergo temperature checks.
- No animal feedings with guests.
- Shows are canceled temporarily.
- No buses, Skyfari or Africa Tram at this time.
- Closed indoor spaces, interactive space and narrow paths.
- Caravans and Safaris are limited to household groups only, and Plexiglass separates guests from guides and drivers.
LEGOLAND California Reopening
It looks like the LEGOLAND California Resort is hoping to reopen once the government allows it. The LEGOLAND hotels and The Big Shop have reopened, as well. Hotel guests, people with annual passes and parties up to four people who purchase up to $25 of merchandise at The Big Shop can explore Miniland U.S.A. inside the park. During select dates Nov. 20 to Jan. 10, guests can celebrate the Holidays in LEGOLAND. Sadly the SEA LIFE Aquarium reclosed when San Diego County slid back to the more restrictive Tier 1 (Purple), which does not allow for indoor aquariums to operate.
All guests ages 2 and up must wear face coverings. Exceptions can be made for people with a medical note and the hearing impaired. All guests undergo a non-invasive temperature check and health screening before entering the theme park. Play areas are closed. The resort has gone cashless. Hop over to our post on the LEGOLAND California reopening for reopening dates and the latest news, including some holiday fun!
SeaWorld San Diego Reopening
While we do not have a date for SeaWorld San Diego fully reopening, it is currently operating as a zoo and aquarium! The outdoor animal-focused areas of the marine park and some shows reopened in August. The rides will remain closed a little longer until theme parks are cleared to reopen. Hop over to our SeaWorld San Diego reopening post for the latest dates, news and details about the SeaWorld San Diego Christmas Celebration through early January.
SeaWorld San Diego (and Orlando) have reservation-based visits. Guests can expect the above measures for the reopening of all the San Diego parks along with temperature checks for employees and guests, modifications to animal exhibits and closures of interactive play areas. Shows have more spacing so that guests can socially distance themselves. Single rider lines are closed in Orlando. Guests can expect contactless interactions from park entry to shops and restaurants.
Hopfully, this gives you a sense of what to expect when the California theme parks reopen and how you can enjoy some of the parks before they fully reopen. We expect this situation to continue to evolve, so be sure to keep hopping back for the latest updates. For park closure and reopening dates, hop over to our post on COVID-19 Information for Theme Parks and Hotels.