California Okays Vaccinated Non-Residents At Theme Parks, Disneyland Maintains Residency Requirement

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This is where I would start the article with a metaphor about the changing California theme park reopening guidelines being a rollercoaster and tying that into theme parks, but I feel like I am at the final turn of the coaster and it has broke down, leaving me baking in the afternoon sun. So instead, I figured I would introduce the story by discussing the metaphor I didn’t write, all while actually writing the metaphor.

Man I wish I had put on some more sunscreen. Let’s dive in.

After the very public back and forth between the theme parks and California this past fall, one would assume any major positive changes to the reopening guidelines would be made loud and clear, exciting the theme park community, providing the Governor a bit of good-will within the business community, and giving hope of a more normal summer to California residents.

But, alas, the most recent news came with a whimper, that was confused for a whisper, that some thought was a sigh, and others heard as a breeze.

Two days ago California quietly changed their reopening guidelines to allow non-state residents to participate in ‘events and activities’ as long as they could provide proof of vaccination. No one noticed this change at first, as it was added with no fanfare and no press release. Aside from the quiet nature of the addendum, the wording was vague and the clause felt soft. 

Clearly this was not how California was going to dramatically change their reopening guidelines. Right?

Prior to this addendum theme parks were allowed to reopen in California based on a tiered system tied to covid-19 benchmarks within the county the parks reside in. Those who cover and follow theme parks have become very familiar with the colored tier system, with all eyes on the capacity restrictions laid out in the guidelines.

While capacity limitations and other numbers-based restrictions would fluctuate with the different tiers, there was one overarching requirement that laid on top of all reopening plans: all guests were required to be California residents and attest to the fact when purchasing their tickets.

The purpose of this was to limit the number of people coming in from out of state, potentially bringing covid variants into the region and sparking covid hot-spots around these theme parks.

Out of state Disneyland fans grumbled and travel agents gritted their teeth, but most understood that this was the reality for the time being. Especially after thirteen months of being forced to stay closed.

Then comes this big change, which allows out of state guests with proof of vaccinations to visit theme parks. This game changer was tucked into a vaguely worded addendum added quietly on a Monday. 

SeaWorld, in San Diego, was the first major player to publicly change their policy based on the addendum. They announced that out-of-state visitors were welcome to their parks, as long as they could show proof of vaccination.

SeaWorld, the angsty teenager of the theme park family, was the first to break this news

While SeaWorld was the first to note this change publicly, it is important to note that even they changed their policy a number of times since Monday, indicating a confusion within their company as well. At one point their website stated that out-of-state visitors were welcome as long as they could provide a negative covid-19 test, or provide proof of vaccination. Which was wrong and after some time SeaWorld removed the negative covid-19 test from their policy, sticking with the proof of vaccination requirement only.

Reporters peppered the State with questions to clarify this addendum, a clause that was so open-ended, it took me back to my law school days, reminding me of a question a professor would ask in a final exam, written purposefully unclear, to allow students to analyze different interpretations. Good for a law school exam, terrible for public policy.

On Tuesday, April 20th, reporters reached out for information, the State of California did not provide any clarification, SeaWorld just restated their policy that out-of-state guests were welcome as long as they had proof of vaccination, and Disneyland simply pointed people to their previously stated reopening plans. Basically, nothing was clarified.

For much of Wednesday the questions were still left unanswered. Many, including myself, were left to parse through the guidelines to interpret the meaning of the words ‘events’ and ‘activities.’ After hours of debate and discovery, like most things, the answer was much less convoluted or cryptic than theorized.

The State of California finally clarified that this addendum did, in fact, apply to theme parks, but, like all of these reopening guidelines, the theme parks were free to impose their own rules and restrictions, as long as they are in-line with, or more restrictive, than the State’s rules.

SeaWorld appears to be the only large theme park to announce any changes to their residency requirement for guests, with Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Knott’s Berry Farm, all maintaining the residency requirement, as of the writing of this article.

It is safe to assume that Disney was aware that this change was coming, so their decision to maintain residency requirements has been thought through and will likely stay in place for the short term. These vaccine requirements are highly controversial and I think Disney would rather keep out of having to verify vaccination cards and publicly require them for non-residents.

While April 30th is Disneyland’s official reopening, it seems that Disney is treating it like a soft opening.  Which is understandable, the Disneyland Resort has the infrastructure requirements of an entire city and the light switch cannot be switched on overnight. So it should be assumed that Disneyland, like its sister resort, Walt Disney World, in Florida, will reopen slowly to ensure it does not trip over its own tail. Disney self-imposed safety guidelines in Florida far exceed the practically non-existent Florida State rules, and it is reasonable that the same will occur in California.

Any speculation about these policies should be taken with a grain of salt. The last three days have shown that California, the theme parks, and the fans, are all experiencing the slow rebirth from a deadly pandemic together, for the first time. The script is being written in real time and everyone is trying to make sense of a very confusing time.

Here is the current guideline for reopening theme parks in California, all theme park guests must be California residents and attest to that when purchasing their tickets, non-California residents may visit California theme parks, as long as they can provide proof of full vaccination. However, theme parks may provide for more restrictive measures, and, as of April 21st, Disneyland has not changed their residency requirement for guests visiting their parks. 

One thing I can assure readers is that The DisInsider will be covering any changes, or non-changes, regarding Disneyland’s reopening in California, Walt Disney World’s continuing reopening out in Florida, and the on-again/off-again reopening at many of the international parks. 

We will continue to bring you updated information with a bit of background and color to make sense of of it all.

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