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A Little Bit of Disneyland Is Better Than No Disneyland at All

By Rick Munarriz - Feb 9, 2021 at 11:55AM

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Disney's original theme park resort gets ready to unlock its turnstiles next month, but only for a very limited experience.

There will soon be a new way to enjoy a theme park visit at Walt Disney's (DIS 2.28%) original resort, and while far from ideal it will have to do for now. Disneyland president Ken Potrock announced on Monday that Disney California Adventure will be expanding its outdoor dining and indoor shopping opportunities in mid-March for a limited-time ticketed experience. He made the announcement as the theme park dedicated to the Golden State celebrated its 20-year anniversary. A similar event is reportedly in the works for the adjacent Disneyland park. 

It won't be just another day at the park. Rides will be closed. The only indoor experiences available will be select shops with registers hungry for masked guests. However, for a media giant that prides itself on monetizing nostalgia it's a smart thing to do within the constraints of what it can presently pull off in the state of California. 

Donald Duck sweeping up Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland.

Image source: Walt Disney.

It's been a long year

Aiming for a mid-March debut for the new experience is probably not coincidental. It was on March 14 of last year when Disneyland and Disney California Adventure opened as complete theme parks for the last time. The latter did begin to open for indoor shopping and outdoor dining in November of last year, but that was quickly shut down as the COVID-19 case counts began spiking over the holidays in California. With cases declining and vaccination rates climbing it may as well try again -- and this time as a premium experience that will be offered on multiple days throughout the week. 

There is no information on the actual dates and pricing, but it's fair to say that it will probably sell out at even Disney's premium pricing. There is pent-up demand in Southern California to get back to its iconic theme parks and popular regional amusement attractions. With Disney canceling its Disneyland annual-pass program last month, everyone is going to be paying retail prices for the experience.

The partial reopening at Disney California Adventure will allow the company to bring roughly 1,000 employees back to work, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This is a far cry from the tens of thousands of cast members on its rolls in its pre-pandemic state, but it's all about the little steps right now. 

The good news should continue after next month's unique event as long as efforts to vanquish the pandemic prove successful. There's already a legislative effort under way to speed up when the state's theme parks can reopen. 

We may get some more details on the limited reopening of the gated attractions in California when Disney reports its quarterly results on Thursday afternoon. The bellwether among media stocks will probably be talking more about its thriving Disney+ streaming platform than its theme parks, but it's fair to predict an analyst will bring up the the reopening of its original resort if it's not part of the prepared remarks by the House of Mouse. It's a small step -- a mouse step, if you will -- but it's one heading in the right direction to get one of Disney's biggest revenue and operating income drivers behind the wheel again.

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