ANAHEIM, Calif. (CNN) — First, fans of Disney theme parks had to deal with an onslaught of closures as the coronavirus pandemic swept the planet earlier this year. Now, fans are excitedly — or in some cases, cautiously — watching a string of phased reopenings.
In Asia, Disneyland Shanghai welcomed back visitors in May. Disneyland Hong Kong reopened on June 18. In the United States, Disney World is scheduled to receive guests starting July 11.
And now the original Disney park that started them all has announced the date it hopes to reopen.
Disneyland in Southern California, which debuted on July 17, 1955, is aiming for a phased reopening on its 65th anniversary, July 17, pending government approval.
However, the pandemic is still a fact of life. Each potential Disneyland guest must ask themselves the same question: Should I go?
The answer you come up with involves three main considerations:
1. The situation with the pandemic and reopenings is fluid. You need to keep up with the latest information and be flexible as things might change.
2. You must think about your medical history and the level of risk you’re willing to take for yourself and your party.
3. Personal preferences matter. How do you think you’ll react to a Disneyland with mandatory face masks, ride schedules and social distancing?
Stay up with the latest information
The first thing to remember is you’ll need to remain flexible. What we learn about Covid-19 changes daily.
Disneyland is a longtime playground in the heart of Southern California, a state that is seeing a spike in cases this week like some other places in the West and South, especially among younger people.
What may seem like a good idea one week may not look so good a week or two later.
And governors and local officials respond accordingly to the news. Just a few days ago, on June 19, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered that face masks be mandatory in a variety of public settings.
Another key thing to remember specifically about Disneyland: The proposed phased reopening on July 17 of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is just that — a proposal.
While the sister Disney World Resort in Florida got swift approvals from local and state government, Disneyland is still waiting for an official OK on its plans. And keep in mind the company is still in discussions with unions representing its workers, who are resisting the plan to reopen on July 17, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
So as you make your plans, don’t forget none of this is firm.
Another key word to remember: phased. It’s not going to be 100% full-on fun on Day One. Parts of the park are set to open at different times, for instance.
The Downtown Disney District, a promenade of upscale shops, entertainment venues and eateries, is set for a July 9 reopening while the Grand Californian and Paradise Pier hotels aren’t set for relaunch until July 23.
And you’ll also have to be fully versed in Disneyland’s new safety measures and reservations system. Check here for updates. Here are a few highlights:
— Temperature checks at the gate and face masks in the park are mandatory.
— Disneyland will operate at reduced capacity.
— You’ll be expected to follow physical distancing guidelines.
— You’ll need to use the park’s new reservation system. Get details here.
Your medical considerations
So you’ve caught up with the latest policies and rules.
But before you decide whether to go to Disneyland (or any amusement park), give yourself and members of your party an honest health assessment.
Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, said recently you need to look at the medical situation from two angles: Who you are and the environment you’ll be in.
Schaffner said you should give very careful consideration to making a trip to theme parks if you:
— Are 65 and older.
— Have chronic, underlying illnesses or heart and lung conditions.
— Are immunocompromised.
— Have high blood pressure or diabetes.
Even in the days and hours leading up to a potential visit, you’ll need to monitor yourself and your family for telltale symptoms of Covid-19 infection such as a high fever or sudden loss of smell. Remember, Disneyland and many other theme parks plan to take temperature checks before you enter a park.
If you show symptoms, it’s best to head to a doctor’s office instead of Disneyland.
You’ll also need to consider things such as how you get there. Schaffner pointed out you have more control of your environment if you drive instead of fly.
Amusement parks: High-risk activity?
The news site MLive recently spoke with four public health specialists in Michigan who rated 36 activities by their estimated level of risk.
On a scale of one to 10 with 10 being the highest risk level, amusement parks ranked at a relatively high eight. That was on a par with going to buffets, the gym, church and sports stadiums. (For comparison, camping was given a relatively low three and riding on an airplane a five).
Dr. Shannon Hopson, an endocrinologist in Corvallis, Oregon, gave CNN Travel her reaction to the high risk ranking for amusement parks:
“I was pretty surprised. … But after thinking about it, it does make sense. So much of a theme park is waiting in line, and at Disney, it’s often waiting in line in enclosed spaces.”
Risk vs. reward
In the end, Schaffner says you need to decide your own risk tolerance. Are you “more conservative or more adventurous”?
If you decide to go and you’re in a higher-risk group, you should follow the guidelines to the letter, Schaffner cautions.
“You don’t want to have this wonderful, pleasurable experience and then get infected by this virus. It is very nasty.”
You need to ask yourself this: “Is the benefit worth the risk? And there will be a variety of answers to that.”
If you decide the reward is worth the risk, Hopson has some advice: “Wear a mask!”
“Etsy has some great Disney-themed ones, as does the online Disney store. In my office, I see patients on a daily basis who haven’t worn masks much and end up fiddling with it our entire visit because it doesn’t feel comfortable,” she says.
“Make sure it fits comfortably before you leave for the park so you can put it on and then not touch it again.”
The personal experience
If you’re armed with the latest updates and feel secure enough about your health to consider planning a Disneyland trip, you have one last — and very personal — question to ask:
Are you going to enjoy a park that’s a safety-first operation?
Martin Lewison, an associate professor of business management at Farmingdale State College on Long Island, New York, offers his perspective on visiting Disney properties and other parks as “Professor Roller Coaster.”
“Obviously, it’s going to be a diminished experience in many ways. People who like the theme parks tend to like crowds,” Lewison recently told CNN Travel. “You’re really packed in there. That’s exciting, and the people-watching is fun.”
So if you are one of those who feed off the energy of the crowd, think about how reduced park capacity will affect your enjoyment, he says.
Wearing masks all day long, setting appointments for your activities and distancing from the characters could prove a real downer to some people, while other guests could feel more relaxed with lots of safety measures in place, Lewison says.
In the end, you’ll have to decide for yourself if you’re a park half-empty or park half-full kind of person and go from there.
What Disneyland fans are thinking
CNN Travel spoke with three Disneyland fans to see what’s on their minds as the potential opening date looms.
Leslie Harvey writes the blog Trips With Tykes and co-hosts the podcast Disney Deciphered. She lives in Alameda, California, with her husband and two children — an 11-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son.
“I’ve been to Disneyland too many times to keep count,” Harvey says. “The past couple of years, I have averaged a trip about every other month. My favorite attraction is Pirates of the Caribbean.”
The family had to cancel a three-day vacation in March because of the pandemic.
“We had seen the writing on the wall in the week leading up to the parks’ closure announcement and were watching cancellation windows carefully.”
So will Harvey and her family move fast once the park reopens?
“As of right now, I’m not planning to go to Disneyland right away, although I do have a few friends who will be there on opening day. I’d like to see how the reservations system works in practice and how park operations are handled first.”
Harvey says she’s happy with what she’s hearing so far.
“I’m quite comfortable with the safety measures Disney is putting into place, like requiring masks, installing physical distancing markers, and reducing capacity. Since I’m located in Northern California, however, taking a trip also requires considering the risk factor in flying or embarking on a long road trip.
“I’m a bit less comfortable with the state of air travel at the moment. If we lived in the local area, however, we would probably consider going sooner.”
Instead, Harvey said they are keeping their eye on the fall.
“Although I’m very much in favor of masks and would not consider going at all if they were not required of everyone, I’m realistic about them, too,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be able to keep masks on my kids on a hot Southern California summer day for an extended period of time.
“One of the reasons we rescheduled our family trip for the fall is for the more moderate temperatures that will make mask-wearing a bit easier.”
“For friends who are considering a once-in-a-lifetime trip or even a once-every-few-years trip, I’ve recommended that many of them hold off for now because the experience will certainly be diminished.”
Making up for lost time
Ryan Ritchie, a tub and tile refinisher, lives in Duarte, a small city in Los Angeles County, California. He’s been a Disneyland passholder since the early 2000s and likes to drop in when the mood hits.
“I don’t think I could name a favorite thing about the park. I just love it all — being there feels like home to me. Soon as I enter the park, I just get an overwhelming sense of relief. … I try to spend my birthday there every year.”
He said he visited Disneyland the same week its March closing was announced. And he plans on making up for lost time.
“I plan on going as much as I possible can to make up for the months I wasn’t able to. Plus my annual pass is good til October 23, which is my birthday. So I will be going that day for sure.”
His main concern with the reopening isn’t health-related but about what happens to his existing pass.
“How will they make it up to passholders?” Ritchie asks. “Will they extend our passes the amount of time they are closed and how will the reservation system for entrance work? Do passholders get priority?
“I’m just ready for them to go back to normal.”
Ready to follow the rules
Lisa Mallory, a stay-at-home mom in Southern California, says she and her daughter, 13-year-old Graysen, “are obsessed with DLand!”
She and her husband, Steve Mallory, have been going to Disneyland for 28 years. In fact, they went there on their honeymoon.
“I can’t count how many times I have gone, but I do know one year I went 17 times. I could probably do it blindfolded.”
Like many Disneyland fans, they had to cancel a March trip because of the pandemic. Where do things stand with the Mallory family now?
“We never go during summer months. It’s just too busy and hot,” she says. “We are still planning on going in September and playing it by ear. If anyone can handle a pandemic, it’s Disney.”
What are Mallory’s concerns with coronavirus safety measures?
“I don’t mind wearing masks and following all the rules; it’s worth it,” she said. “I’m just concerned about the one person who doesn’t think masks are needed and causes a commotion. Because we have a pass, we feel that we are going to check it out and decide for ourselves if the fun and joy are taken away because of the strict guidelines.
“I do hope that Disneyland has extra staff to hand out masks when people take them off and have a safe way to remove those people who don’t follow rules.”
A Disney diagnosis from Doctor Mom
Hopson, the endocrinologist in Oregon, is also the mother of two boys — Zach, 6, and Finn, 9. Before moving West, she lived in North Carolina, so she’s a fan of Disney World as well as Disneyland.
“Our first visit to Disneyland as a family was over Halloween when Finn was three, and that sparked an obsession with “Star Wars” that continues to this day. We were looking forward to exploring Galaxy’s Edge this year.”
Like the other families interviewed, they also had to cancel a Disneyland trip this spring.
What does a cautious doctor who has two boys that are prime Disneyland age do with a reopening on the horizon?
“So far the data suggests that masks are our best strategy for preventing the spread of Covid-19,” Hopson says. “Disneyland successfully enforcing a mandatory mask policy and maintaining capacity limits would be the only things that would convince me to plan a trip before the worst of the pandemic is over. And even then, I’m hesitant.”
For now, Disneyland is off the table. Instead, “we’re renting a beach house on the Oregon coast for a week this summer.”
“And as I watch the spike in cases across the country, I’m preparing the boys for the potential that our long-planned vacation to Aulani [a Disney resort in Hawaii] with extended family for Christmas this year might not happen, either.”
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