Theme parks can reopen with indoor rides — but lines must be outdoors

Hugo Martín
·3 min read
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in 2016 at Universal Studios Hollywood.
New California guidelines for theme park attractions will allow indoor rides such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

California theme parks that reopen this spring can operate some indoor rides but must queue up visitors outdoors and require that all parkgoers and workers wear face coverings, except when eating and drinking, according to newly released public health rules.

The state Department of Public Health guidelines for theme park attractions were released less than a week before the state’s April 1 reopening date for theme parks under revised COVID-19 rules. Parks that open Thursday will be limited to no more than 15% of maximum capacity until coronavirus cases in the county that is home to the parks drop further.

In Southern California, only Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia has announced plans to open Thursday. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park plan to open April 30. Universal Studios Hollywood plans to open in late April and Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park plans to open sometime in May.

A coalition of theme park operators has been pressing Gov. Gavin Newsom for months to release detailed guidelines to help parks plan which rides they can reopen after Thursday and what health and safety guidelines must be enforced.

The California Attractions and Parks Assn. has in the past proposed guidelines for reopening and said Saturday that the coalition welcomed the state's new rules.

"We will continue to communicate with state officials about appropriate guest and staff capacities as COVID-19 rates decline," Kris Reyes, chair and director of external affairs for the group, said in a statement. "We are ready to reopen responsibly and we can't wait to welcome back our employees and guests."

Among the guidelines released Friday are:

  • Parks must create a weekly coronavirus testing program for workers

  • Face coverings must be worn at all times by workers and guests except when eating and drinking

  • Performers who cannot wear a mask in the park must remain at least six feet away from all other persons

  • Only in-state visitors will be allowed and visiting groups cannot include members of more than three households

  • Indoor rides are limited to no more than 15 minutes in duration

  • Queues must be outdoors and guests from different households must stand six feet apart

  • Guests from the same household must be boarded on ride vehicles together; guests from different households should be at least six feet apart in the rides

  • Attractions must be closed if there is a high number of riders losing face masks during the ride

  • Face coverings must be offered to riders who lose their covering during a ride

  • Eating and drinking will be allowed only in designated areas, not in queues.

The guidelines that allow indoor rides to reopen signal good news for Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, where many of the most popular rides transport visitors into indoor structures with 3-D visual effects and animatronics. That includes the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride at Universal Studios and Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland.

But a handful of other indoor rides last longer than 15 minutes, violating the state's new rules, including Disneyland's "Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance," which runs for 18 minutes, according to Touringplans.com, a website that collects theme park data. The ride, which transports parkgoers into battle with the evil First Order, opened January 2020, only two months before the pandemic forced theme parks statewide to close in March.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.