It's almost time to unlock the turnstiles at Disney's (DIS 1.84%) original theme park. Disneyland and the adjacent Disney's California Adventure will reopen on Friday, more than 13 months after shutting down because of the pandemic in mid-March of last year.
If you want to be among the first to visit Disneyland, you're probably too late. Admissions to Disney's California Adventure were still available for Friday as of Wednesday morning, but Disneyland reservations sold out quickly. The parks are limiting guest counts to 25% of their capacity in compliance with California's reopening regulations. You will also want to check your ID. Only California residents are being allowed to visit the park for now.
The mad scramble for admissions is an inconvenience, but reaffirming the aspirational nature of a Disneyland trip isn't a bad thing for the world's leading theme park operator. There will be other chances to get in over time. Pricier Park Hopper tickets that allow access to both parks are available for select weekdays as early as next week. But if you want to visit Disneyland on a Saturday, you're going to have to wait until well into the summer.
Disney's two gated attractions in California will become the last of the Disney-branded theme parks to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Three time zones away, Walt Disney World has been welcoming guests with similar reservation requirements and social distancing standards since July of last year.
Financially speaking, it will take time before the parks are as profitable as they were before the pandemic. Even as capacity and mask mandates should ease as 2021 plays out, there are still several international travel restrictions keeping guests planning getaways closer to home. Unlike the regional theme park operators that opened in California earlier this month, Disneyland includes free-spending foreign visitors as a lucrative part of its resort model.
But Disneyland may still surprise investors with its resiliency even with smaller guest counts. When Disney stunned theme park fans by refunding Disneyland annual pass holders back in January, it was setting the stage for a big uptick in revenue per capita. Annual pass holders were paying a couple of bucks a day for access to the park, but now that everyone has to pay three figures for a single-day ticket, the business model has a lower attendance bar to reach profitability.
Visitors on one-day tickets are also far more likely to spend more on food and keepsakes. The annual passes may or may not return in the near future; Disney's tune may change when its parks return to full capacity and it experiences attendance lulls.
Disney shareholders have been more fortunate than Disneyland fans during the closure. As a well-diversified media stock, the shares were recently hitting all-time highs on the strength of its Disney+ streaming business. But with theme parks an important promotional and marketing tool, there's no denying that Friday will be a great day for the company -- even for those on the wrong side of the turnstile.