Disneyland fans ask: Should I go when the park eventually reopens?


Editor’s Note — This article was published Wednesday morning before the announcement Disneyland would postpone its July reopening. The story has been rewritten to reflect that breaking news.

(CNN) — Disneyland in Southern California, which debuted on July 17, 1955, had been aiming for a phased reopening on its 65th anniversary, July 17.

But it wasn’t meant to be.

Disney did not give a new reopening date for the Disneyland resort.

Visitors take photos in front of the Castle of Magical Dreams at Hong Kong's Disneyland on June 18. The California version hopes to reopen on July 17 but has delayed that plan for now.

Visitors take photos in front of the Castle of Magical Dreams at Hong Kong’s Disneyland on June 18. The California version hopes to reopen on July 17 but has delayed that plan for now.

Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

The move shows that the pandemic is still a undeniable fact of life. But we can still expect that on some unknown day — and further in the future that we may have thought — Disneyland will reopen.

At that time, each potential Disneyland guest still must ask themselves the same question they were asking before the announcement: Should I go?

The answer you come up with will involve three main considerations:

1. The situation with the pandemic and reopenings is fluid, as Disney’s recent postponement announcement demonstrates. 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 center gate at the entrance to Disneyland was shut on this photo from March 16. And for now, it's going to remain that way.

The center gate at the entrance to Disneyland was shut on this photo from March 16. And for now, it’s going to remain that way.

Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

The first thing to remember is you’ll need to remain flexible. What we learn about Covid-19 changes daily.

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.

So as you make your plans, remember than none of this is firm.

Your medical considerations

So you’ve caught up with the latest policies and rules — and postponements.

But before you decide whether to go to Disneyland down the road (or any amusement park for that matter), 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.”

Disney's new line of cloth masks

Disney’s new line of cloth masks can make a following safety measures more fun.

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

Your rendevous with Mickey Mouse and the gang at Disneyland is postponed.

Your rendevous with Mickey Mouse and the gang at Disneyland is postponed.

Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

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 before Wednesday evening’s announcement that the opening would be delayed. We wanted to find out what’s on their minds as the potential opening date loomed.

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.”

The Disney theme park plans to begin a phased reopening on July 11 for its Magic Kingdom parks and July 15 for EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. CNN’s Natasha Chen explains how the parks are taking precautions to guard against the coronavirus.

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 possibly 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?

The Mallory family planned to put thrilling attractions such as Indiana Jones Adventure on hold until summer is over anyway.

The Mallory family planned to put thrilling attractions such as Indiana Jones Adventure on hold until summer is over anyway.

Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

“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

The Hopsons of Oregon had really been looking forward to exploring their love of "Star Wars" at Disneyland before the pandemic.

The Hopsons of Oregon had really been looking forward to exploring their love of “Star Wars” at Disneyland before the pandemic.

Handout/Matt Stroshane/Disneyland

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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