Disneyland Was Closed Down While Disney World Stayed Open

Main Street in Disneyland is closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic
Artwork by Anthony Faust
Main Street in Disneyland is closed down during the COVID-19 pandemic

Once upon a time, in the land of COVID-19, Disneyland in California found itself in a bit of a pickle. The park, known for its magical adventures and childhood joy, was forced to close its doors due to a pesky little virus making its way around the world.

But a little over two thousand miles away, in the Sunshine State of Florida, another Disney theme park was still very much open for business. Disney World, the larger and more extravagant of the two parks, was fully operational. How could this be?

To understand, this tale began months earlier, in March of 2020. As things started to shut down across the country, both family vacation destinations closed their doors within a couple of days of each other. But after a few weeks, each state’s leadership took drastically different approaches towards reopening their state’s vast tourist attractions.

Florida’s benchmarks for reopening businesses, parks, and other facilities echoed the White House's ‘Reopening America’ guidelines, if somewhat less strict. Florida began a “phase two” reopening in early June and Disney went to work crafting reopening plans for their Florida parks.

Guests and employees were required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. Parades, fireworks, and other big crowd activities were paused. Disney would encourage contactless payment systems and expand its existing mobile order systems in restaurants. Restrictions were placed on the number of guests, and they would be required to reserve their park passes ahead of time.

Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, had a staunch belief about not shutting down Florida's economy again, and he approved Disney World’s reopening plans for July 11, 2020.

Meanwhile, California handled reopening their own tourist attractions in a completely different manner. Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, was not as eager to get his state back to normal. They locked down businesses much more aggressively than Florida, or almost any other state in the union. Disneyland and other California theme parks remained closed while they awaited long-promised reopening guidelines from the state’s leaders. In October, Newsom sent health officials to The Sunshine State to inspect the protocols in place at Disney World. Newsom said,

“I want folks to come back and tell me what they saw, what their own experience was. Because this is serious.”

Well, either the envoy must have seen something they didn't like, or Governor Newxom really went on a power trip, because theme parks remained locked down for the rest of 2020. In fact, they were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in California in April 2021, 13 months after they closed.

When they finally reopened, they did so following most of the same protocols put in place in Florida months earlier. Capacity was capped at 25%, reservations were required, hugs and handshakes with Mickey and other characters were strictly off limits, and the famous parades and fireworks shows were shelved to limit crowding. Initially, it was only opened to California residents or out-of-state residents with full vaccination records.

In the end, the story of closing and opening Disney theme parks was a tale of two very distinct lands, lead by two very different rulers, each with very separate agendas. To determine which ruler was the hero and which was the villain will be left to each reader’s own imagination. It would be very lovely if we could close this chapter with the standard “…and they both lived happily ever after” ending. Very lovely, indeed.

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Picture of author Anthony Faust

About the Author

My life as a husband and father transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sent home from work in March 2020, I've yet to return to the office. Adapting to the new pandemic world proved challenging for us all.

However, we managed to find silver linings. Drive-by birthdays brought joy to my kids' friends. I'll never forget stumbling upon a heartfelt hand-painted rock during my jog, reminding us that we're all in this together. Regular Zoom happy hours with close friends created cherished memories.

While quality time with my family was a blessing, we also faced hurdles. Assisting my youngest daughter with frustrating math homework on a poorly designed iPad app tested our patience. Both girls struggled with wearing masks during sports and school.

Sadly, witnessing COVID-19 being politicized and witnessing the closure of small businesses while the wealthy thrived was disheartening.

I wrote this book to document our experiences, learning from them and striving for better decisions in the future. Join me on this rewarding journey of resilience and growth.

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