California theme parks could be the last to return from coronavirus pandemic closures in the United States now that New York has allowed theme parks to reopen and amusement parks in Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts have set reopening dates.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that outdoor amusement parks can reopen on April 9 with 33% attendance capacity limits and a host of “new normal” COVID-19 health and safety requirements — mandatory face coverings, social distancing, temperature checks and enhanced cleaning protocols.
The reopening of New York amusement parks leaves Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California and other California theme parks wondering when they can reopen.
“We are thrilled our sister park Legoland New York will be able to celebrate its grand opening this year now that Gov. Cuomo has announced the reopening of family attractions, including outdoor theme parks,” Legoland California president Kurt Stocks said in a statement. “We anticipate Gov. Newsom to follow suit and announce similar dates for the responsible reopening of theme parks in California allowing Legoland California Resort to reopen its gates to our guests soon.”
California, New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts were the only states that had not allowed theme parks to reopen in the United States.
California theme parks closed in March and are unlikely to return to full operation until spring or summer under COVID-19 health and safety reopening guidelines issued by the state.
California theme parks can reopen in six weeks if the counties they reside in can reach the least-restrictive yellow/minimal tier 4 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy — but that’s a huge if.
The California Attractions and Parks Association argued that it could be difficult or even impossible for large counties where the Disney, Universal and SeaWorld theme parks are located to reach the yellow tier before the pandemic is declared over.
“Kudos to Gov. Cuomo for acknowledging amusement parks’ extraordinary efforts to prepare to reopen responsibly and for giving them a realistic timeline for reopening,” California Attractions and Parks Association executive director Erin Guerrero said in a statement. “If New York can do it — so can California.”
The Sacramento-based CAPA represents Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and California’s Great America.
“We continue to urge Gov. Newsom to update the industry guidance for amusement parks so California’s signature parks can reopen when the counties they’re in reach the orange/moderate tier 3,” Guerrero said in a statement.
Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts placed theme parks in or near the final phase of each state’s reopening plans. New York never issued theme parks reopening guidelines or included theme parks in the state’s phased reopening plan.
The sudden and surprising move by Cuomo will allow New York amusement parks such as Six Flags Great Escape, Six Flags Darien Lake, Luna Park, Deno’s Wonder Wheel, Rye Playland, SeaBreeze and Adventureland to reopen after months of uncertainty.
“We are thrilled with the governor’s announcement,” Six Flags officials said in a statement. “We have a proven and comprehensive reopening safety plan, and our teams at the Great Escape and Six Flags Darien Lake are ready to welcome guests back. We safely operated 15 of our parks and entertained millions of guests in 2020, and we look forward to reopening every Six Flags park this year in partnership with local communities.”
Legoland New York plans to open in 2021 after the new theme park had its 2020 debut delayed by the pandemic.
“We are thrilled with Gov. Cuomo’s announcement for the reopening of family attractions, including outdoor theme parks,” Legoland New York resort divisional director Stephanie Johnson said in a statement. “We are awaiting further guidance from New York state on specific safety and operating procedures, which we will follow alongside all federal and local health and safety guidelines.”
New York’s health department will issue COVID-19 health and safety guidelines for theme parks in the coming weeks. New York amusement parks will be required to use an advance reservation system and stagger entry and exit times. Rides that can’t be cleaned or maintain social distancing must remain closed.
Theme parks in Illinois (Six Flags Great America and Santa’s Village), Massachusetts (Six Flags New England) and Michigan (Michigan’s Adventure) have announced opening dates in mid to late spring — all dependent on the progress made battling the pandemic in each state.
Most major California theme parks have not set reopening dates — including Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Legoland California, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
SeaWorld San Diego has partially reopened under zoo and aquarium guidelines with no rides. California’s Great America, which remained shuttered for all of 2020, became the first California amusement park to set a reopening date. Several California theme parks have partially reopened without rides for limited time special events.