So When Will California Theme Parks Start Reopening? What We Know, and What We’re Guessing
Update: We’re adding the dates parks are opening as they announce them below, but also be sure to check our running list of re-opening dates for all US theme parks!
Last week the state of California announced new guidance that would allow theme parks to start re-opening on April 1. There are lots of rules in the announcement about case number requirements for parks to actually be allowed to open, but generally it works like this: California counties are in one of four tiers based on how many new cases there are per day. Those range from the most restrictive Purple tier (lots of Covid), then Red, Orange, and Yellow tiers (the least restrictive for now). The new rules say that starting in the red tier parks can open with limited capacity. The capacity allowed increases in the orange and yellow tiers.
Most counties are in the Purple or Red tiers right now, though things have been trending in the right direction for weeks. But, a lot goes into opening a theme park aside from whether it’s allowed to open. Re-hiring staff, getting rides working, restarting contracts to supply things like food, adding social distancing markers and the like for pandemic operation, etc. That all needs to happen first. Plus, the exactly guidelines on how parks can re-open are also still being hammered out. So now the question becomes when do we think parks will reopen? Here’s what we know about each major park so far.
It’s important to note that currently most Southern California counties are in the restrictive Purple Tier, where parks can’t open. But, case numbers are improving everywhere, so the hope is by April they’ll be in the Red Tier where parks can start opening.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure:
UPDATE: Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced Disneyland and Disney California Adventure RE-OPEN ON APRIL 30!! You can read more details and about the new guidelines for Disneyland here.
Disneyland might have the clearest opening date guidance of any California park. During the annual Disney shareholder meeting this week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will open in late April.
“While last week’s announcement stated that theme parks may open starting on April 1, the fact is it will take some time to get them ready for our guests,” Chapek said. “This includes recalling more than 10,000 furloughed cast and retraining them to be able to operate according to the state of California’s new requirements.”
Disney California Adventure is about to start a food event they announced – and sold out – before the new theme park guidance came out. A Touch of Disney runs from March 18 to April 19. I doubt they’ll cut that short, so that seems to suggest the potential Disney opening is April 20 or later. We’ll cross our fingers for the last week of April.
Universal Studios Hollywood:
Universal also recently started selling tickets to their own food festival, Taste of Universal. They haven’t provided any more information on when the park can re-open, but Taste of Universal is scheduled to run through April 11 (they just extended it). Universal won’t open sooner than that, but it’s a good sign that they’re starting to get staff back in the park, and that the park is in a good enough spot to let guests in. Universal Florida reopened quickly last summer when they were allowed to re-open, so we wouldn’t be surprised if they were one of the first to try to open here.
We’re also curious to see if/when the new Secret Life of Pets ride that was supposed to open basically the week the pandemic shut everything down will be ready to go whenever the park does open.
Knott’s Berry Farm:
Knott’s has been running food festivals pretty much constantly since last summer, and they’re currently in the middle of the Taste of Boysenberry event. That they’ve kept the park partially open this whole time, and have a reservation system in place for it already, are good signs for them potentially being ready to open quickly. But, the event runs on select days through May 2. So to open sooner than that they would need to figure out a way to adapt the food festival, and compensate guests who’ve already bought tasting cards for later dates.
For now there aren’t any firm plans, but the park told us via email, “We’re encouraged by the positive news coming out of the California Governor’s office today regarding the reopening of theme parks in the State. We’re looking forward to seeing the specific details and guidelines in the coming weeks that will help inform our plans for reopening.”
UPDATE: Knott’s has announced that they’re planning to reopen in May. No specific date, but it lines up with our guess of opening after Taste of Boysenberry wraps.
We also know that the new Knott’s Bear-y Tales ride should be ready to go when the park reopens, which might mean they have the first new for 2021 attraction in the state.
Six Flags Magic Mountain:
UPDATE: Six Flags Magic Mountain Announced they’re opening to passholders April 1, to the public April 3! More details here.
Magic Mountain’s Cruis’n the Park drive through event is currently on-going, but this coming weekend is the last one. So they don’t have any calendar events blocking an early re-opening. And our friends from Park Journey shared on Instagram that during Cruis’n the Park, Magic Mountain has coasters running. All good signs that Magic Mountain could potentially be the first park to re-open.
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Over email the park said to us, “We are pleased by the state’s announcement today. Six Flags has extensive safety procedures in place at parks across the country and our team members are eager to welcome guests back to Six Flags Magic Mountain with a full complement of our world-class coasters in a safe, outdoor environment. An official opening date will be posted on our website and social channels in the near future.”
So we’re going to keep your eyes out for that, we’re optimistic they might get going soon.
SeaWorld San Diego:
SeaWorld has also been in on the food festival game, with the Seven Seas Food Festival ongoing until May 2. Like with Knott’s, they’ve been running events for awhile, and have been able to partly re-open as a zoo. That all should put them in a good spot to potentially open, except that — like with Knott’s — it may not be feasible to do so before the festival ends. But, they’ve already got reservation systems, screening set-ups, and things like distancing markers in place, which should make reopening easier.
Bad news is that San Diego is also probably the furthest of any major California county from getting into the red tier. That could slow things down. Hopefully they’ll be in a better spot in a few weeks, though.
And, hey, remember that new dive coaster they’re building? We haven’t gotten updates recently, but Emperor was making lots of progress last year, so we’d guess it should be ready to open soon.
Update: Legoland announced they’re re-opening April 1! It will initially be for pass holders and hotel guests, and starting April 15 with an official full re-opening. Some attractions remain closed during the preview days.
Legoland’s got their own limited event going on right now, Build ‘n’ Play Days. Basically they’ve reopened some of their outdoor Lego playgrounds and other non-ride attractions! Like with Knott’s and SeaWorld, their event runs through May 2 on select days. As with those, we doubt they’d open before the event ends, but because they’ve got lots of the park already open and are partially staffed, we’re optimistic they can open quickly.
Northern California is generally in a better spot Covid-wise than Southern California is. The Bay Area counties with major theme parks are all already in the Red Tier that will allow parks to open April 1. With low positivity rates and dropping cases, there’s a good chance they’ll be in the even less restrictive Orange Tier by April 1. That means parks could open with higher capacity.
California’s Great America
California’s Great America is actually the one park that officially announced an opening date, May 22. But, they made the announcement before the new guidance from the state. So, maybe they would want to try to pull that date in? On the other hand, they’re also the only park that hasn’t had any guest events since the pandemic started.
In a statement the park said, “California’s Great America is excited by the positive news coming out of the California Governor’s office regarding the reopening of theme parks in the State. We’re looking forward to seeing the specific details and guidelines in the coming weeks that will help inform our plans for reopening.”
They are participating in the March 13 Cedar Fair hiring event, so they are getting ready, but it seems like they might wait until construction on the new South Bay Shores water park is buttoned up and it’s ready to open with the park.
— California's Great America (@CAGreatAmerica) March 3, 2021
Six Flags Discovery Kingdom:
UPDATE: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom Announced they’re opening to members and passholders April 1 and 2, to the public April 3! More details here.
Discovery Kingdom has actually been partly open since last summer, because they can operate as a zoo. No rides, but they’ve been welcoming guests, which means they’ve got some staff working, the park is mostly set-up for new safety standards, and they’ve got their screening and reservation system in place. They’ve also been running special events (currently Renaissance Days at the park) throughout the last few months.
The park had no comment on an opening date yet, but hopefully because they’re partly operating means they can reopen pretty quickly.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk:
UPDATE: The Boardwalk is opening select rides starting April 1. This is similar to their usual offseason operations where they don’t open every ride every day. Hopefully Giant Dipper is usually open, and that they’ll move to full operation as summer gets closer.
The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk was the first and only California park to actually re-open with some rides back in the Fall. Back then they were able to get things going and to re-open quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did it again.
The Boardwalk has been partly open already, with food stands, outdoor dining, and retail shops. Some outdoor games have also been operating as well, and of course the beach itself is open. They’ve also hosted some special events. So they should be pretty close to having all they need to open, and they’ve got some experience with it from the Fall.
It also helps that Santa Cruz has pretty low case numbers, and will likely be in the Orange Tier soon, allowing even more capacity.
The park has told local news outlets they’re reviewing guidelines and preparing to re-open rides. No date announced yet, but I’d put money on them being the first park to re-open rides.
So who’s going to be first?
So that’s where things stand now. Not much in the way of dates yet, but some info that parks are getting ready. If I had to make predictions, I’d guess the Boardwalk will be the first to open. I think the Six Flags parks are also be in a pretty good spot to open sooner rather than later, and could see them being next.
Universal will likely try to move quickly, but depending on what the guidelines are for indoor attractions, that might make their reopening harder. If the tiers allow it, I could see them aiming for a late April date like Disneyland.
Lastly, the parks with festivals on going through May probably won’t end those early, so I’d look for May openings for those. And I don’t think California’s Great America will be able to pull their opening date in much, but they might shoot for an earlier May date to re-open.
Important to remember in all this, the new state guidelines allow parks to only open for California residents, so don’t plan a trip from out of state! And if cases don’t keep going down, parks will not be able to open. So, they might play it safe and wait to make sure the trend doesn’t reverse.
As parks announce official opening dates, we’ll update things here and let you know on social media, so make sure you’re following us everywhere!