Amid COVID, Disneyland opens up to guests outside California – The San Diego Union-Tribune

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have begun selling tickets to travelers from out of state for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut their doors more than a year ago, the Anaheim theme parks announced Wednesday.

The two parks plan to start admitting out-of-state visitors June 15, the day California is scheduled to loosen its pandemic restrictions on most businesses. Ticket sales and reservations for those dates are available now.

The Disney parks will continue to require visitors to wear masks. They won’t require proof of vaccinations or of negative COVID-19 test results.

The parks reopened April 30 to Californians only. The move to welcome out-of-state visitors is significant because long-haul travelers tend to spend more — by booking hotel rooms, renting cars and staying several days — than local parkgoers, who typically use their own vehicles and return home the same day, according to travel experts.

The state pandemic guidelines for theme parks have changed over the last few months. The rules that allowed theme parks to reopen in April initially let them admit only California residents. After a few weeks, the state quietly updated its rules to allow the parks to accept out-of-state visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

State guidelines that take effect June 15 recommend, but don’t require, that theme parks ask visitors to be fully vaccinated or show proof that they recently tested negative for the coronavirus.

The California Attractions and Parks Assn., a lobbying group for the state’s theme parks, recently issued a statement saying each park will “determine their own responsible reopening plans in accordance with state and local public health regulations.”

Some parks already admit out-of-state visitors. SeaWorld in San Diego was the first, followed by Universal Studios Hollywood. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park still admit only California residents.

The federal government has suspended or limited travel to the U.S. from several countries as part of an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Before the pandemic, travel and spending by Chinese tourists had reached record levels in the U.S., with Chinese visitors spending heavily at Disneyland and other theme parks.

Under California’s current reopening guidelines, the theme parks must limit capacity based on a four-tier, color-coded blueprint. Los Angeles and Orange counties entered the least restrictive tier in May, allowing the Disney parks, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm to cap attendance at 35% of normal capacity.

The tier framework is scheduled to become moot next month. California will scrap it June 15 as long as the vaccine supply is stable and hospitalization numbers stay low, according to state health officials.

Under the guidelines slated to take effect June 15, the state will lift its attendance limits at theme parks, along with the restrictions that require theme park guests to stand six feet apart in queues. The state’s requirement that indoor rides be no longer than 15 minutes will also be lifted.

Theme parks are classified under the new guidelines as an “outdoor mega event” that accommodates more than 10,000 people. State health officials still consider such events a “higher risk for COVID transmission” and recommend masks be worn by all attendees. The guidelines also recommend that operators of such events verify that all attendees be fully vaccinated or show they tested negative for the coronavirus no more than 72 hours before attending.

To verify a negative test result, attendees can provide a printed card, or show an email or text message from the test provider or laboratory, according to the state guidelines. The venue operator or business can also require “self-attestation” when making reservations or buying a ticket.

For proof of vaccination, the state guidelines allow event organizers to accept a printed vaccination card, a photo of the card or self-attestation. To be fully vaccinated, people must wait two weeks after their final shot — their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or their one and only Johnson & Johnson dose.

The Disney parks’ acceptance of out-of-state visitors is part of a phased relaunch of the resort. Disney California Adventure’s new Marvel superhero-themed Avengers Campus opens June 4. The resort’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is already operating, while its Paradise Pier Hotel is set to reopen on June 15 and Disneyland Hotel on July 2.

The parks are also expanding their hours of operation. Starting July 1, Disneyland will be open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Disney California Adventure will be open 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Both parks currently operate from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.