You might be able to visit Disneyland come April 1, and that's not an April Fools' Day joke. California's refreshed Blueprint for a Safer Economy initiative will allow Disney's (DIS 2.90%) original theme park and other gated attractions to open as early as next month once the counties in which they're located reach an appropriate risk level.
It won't be business as usual. Attendance will be limited to between 15% and 35% of each park's capacity, depending on the location's tier of risk status. Orange County -- where Disneyland and Cedar Fair's Knott's Berry Farm are located -- is expected to reach the most restrictive of the acceptable tiers by next week. Opening at 15% of a park's capacity won't be ideal, but it's 15% better than where the state's amusement-park industry is right now.
If you live outside of the Golden State, you may want to hold off on booking a Disneyland getaway for next month. Only California residents will be allowed to visit initially, and right now, that's just as well. Local theme-park fans who haven't been able to go through the turnstiles of a gated attraction since mid-March of last year will make sure that demand exceeds the available supply of daily admissions.
It's also not as if all of the state's popular parks -- including Comcast's (CMCSA 0.22%) Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld Entertainment's SeaWorld San Diego, Six Flags' Magic Mountain, and Merlin's Legoland California -- will be ready to go on April Fools' Day. A lot of work will go into readying these theme parks and regional amusement parks to start welcoming visitors, even if all operators have been planning for the inevitable restart.
Reopening dates, or at least provisional reopening dates, for each destination will likely be put out later this month. Disney World in Florida, for example, didn't open its four theme parks until six weeks after being able to do so.
The parks may open too late to cash in on this season's spring-break holidays, but it should be a different story for the peak summertime travel period. Where California is in terms of welcoming out-of-state visitors will go a long way in dictating how successful the summer will be, particularly for Disneyland, with three large on-site resort hotels to fill.
Disneyland will be the last of the six Disney-branded resorts to reopen, even though some of them have had to suspend operations for weeks, if not months, when COVID-19 cases start to spike. It still wouldn't be a surprise to see shares of all of the theme-park and amusement-park operators move higher on Monday, as the California news didn't break until just after Friday's market close. Disney and Comcast may see the smallest jumps on Monday. They are well-diversified media stocks, but theme parks are major moneymakers and natural promotional vehicles when the going is good.
It will be a long time before Disneyland and its California peers are in peak form; momentum doesn't spring back to life overnight. Disney has used the lull to get better. It has new attractions -- which were supposed to open last year -- ready to deploy at some point in 2021.
Disneyland's decision to refund annual passes two months ago makes a lot of sense now. With capacity limited to what will likely be just 15% of the resort, the House of Mouse would rather sell admissions to folks paying north of $100 than annual pass holders paying just a couple of bucks a day for access.
All that matters now is that Disneyland is coming. Knott's Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Legoland California are coming. The first step is always the hardest, but it's also the most important.