Open? Closed? How Disney, Universal and other theme parks are responding to coronavirus

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
Disneyland and other theme parks are coping with the coronavirus with increased cleaning. (Photo: Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

What exactly does spring break — the time of year when families, students and tourists of all ages traditionally pour into American amusement parks — look like in the age of the coronavirus outbreak?

The answer, so far, is fewer roller coasters and funnel cakes.

Both Disney and Universal announced Thursday that they would close some of their parks in the coming days in response to the global pandemic. Six Flags shut down all its parks. Ditto for SeaWorld... and everyone else.

Here’s a breakdown:

Disney

First, Disney officials said Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will cease operating for the rest of March beginning March 14. Hotels on the campus will close March 16, giving guests extra time to leave, and those with rooms booked during the closure period will receive refunds. The adjacent outdoor mall at Downtown Disney, which features several non-Disney stores and restaurants, will remain open.

The “Happiest Place on Earth” has only previously closed three times since it opened in 1955: following the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Sept. 11 attacks of 2011 and the 1994 earthquake in nearby Northridge, Calif.

The announcement followed California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order Wednesday banning gatherings of 250 people or more.

By Thursday evening, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida joined in. The company released a statement saying:

“In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of our theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort, beginning at the close of business on Sunday, March 15, through the end of the month,” a spoksperson told The Hollywood Reporter. “Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday, March 14, through the end of the month. The Walt Disney Company will pay its cast members during that closure period. The hotels at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open until further notice. The retail and dining complexes, Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, will remain open. Domestic Walt Disney Company employees who are able to work from home are being asked to do so, including those at The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, ESPN, Direct-to-Consumer, and Parks, Experiences and Products. We will continue to stay in close contact with appropriate officials and health experts.”

Before announcing that its signature U.S. parks would close temporarily, it had already announced a temporary shut-down of resorts in China, Hong Kong and Japan, although some parts of those locations have begun to open again.

Universal Studios

Universal also said Universal Studios Hollywood would shut down March 14-28.

“The health and safety of our team members and guests is always our top priority,” a statement from the company read. “Out of an abundance of caution and in response to the guidance provided by the California Department of Public Health, Universal Studios Hollywood will temporarily close beginning Saturday, March 14. The theme park anticipates reopening on March 28 as we continue to monitor the situation. Universal CityWalk will remain open. We will provide timely updates as conditions evolve.”

Universal Studios Orlando is a no-go, too, per a company spokeswoman.

“Out of an abundance of caution and to assist with our nation’s preventive efforts, Universal Orlando Resort will temporarily close its theme parks. The closure is effective at the close of business on Sunday, March 15. We anticipate remaining closed through the end of March – but will continue to evaluate the situation.”

She added that, “Universal Orlando’s hotels and Universal CityWalk will remain open.”

As for guests who’d already booked?

“We have created flexible programs for those guests who have booked travel packages or tickets with us. Guests can call this number for more information: 877-801-9720. A core group of team members will continue to work on site. Hourly team members will be paid for any work scheduled through the end of March.”

Six Flags

A spokeswoman for the Texas-based company’s Magic Mountain park in Valencia, Calif., sent a statement Friday:

“Six Flags Magic Mountain and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California have temporarily suspended operations until the end of March, at which time we will re-evaluate the situation. While there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 at either property, the safety of our guests and team members is always our highest priority. We will continue to closely monitor these evolving conditions, and will follow the most current guidance from federal, state, and local officials.”

Websites for the parent company’s other parks —Hurricane Harbor Phoenix in Phoenix; Six Flags Over Georgia in Austell, Ga.; Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, Texas; Six Flags Fiesta Texas in San Antonio; Frontier City in Oklahoma City; Six Flags St. Louis in Eureka, Mo.; Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Md.; and Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark in Lake George, N.Y. — confirmed they’re closed through the end of the month.

Knott’s Berry Farm

The Buena Vista, Calif., amusement park has announced a temporary end to its regular schedule.

“Beginning March 14, Knott’s Berry Farm will close temporarily through the end of the month. We continue to follow guidance from local and state officials, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at our properties, we believe this is the right decision for our guests, associates, and community. Knott’s Berry Farm Hotel will remain open. We will work with our guests who have prepaid tickets or booked rooms during the time period of our park closure. Refunds or re-bookings may be requested by contacting us at info@knotts.com.

“Our guests and associates are considered family. We have their well-being at the forefront of our decision-making.  We are committed to responding to questions and requests over the days and weeks ahead and appreciate everyone’s continued support and patience as we manage through this ongoing situation.”

Parent company Cedar Fair detailed on its website measures that it had already implemented at all its other parks, which also include Schlitterbahn waterparks in Texas and King’s Dominion in Virginia.

“All Cedar Fair properties intend to welcome guests in accordance with our published schedules, and we continue to implement preventive measures as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as our own health and hygiene protocols. All our parks and resorts have high standards of cleanliness, which assists with illness prevention. We employ rigorous sanitation standards and robust cleaning procedures.”

Some of the locations delayed their scheduled openings for the season until next month.

Great Wolf

Great Wolf Lodge and its sister parks will be empty for the next few weeks, too, the company told Yahoo Entertainment.

“The health and safety of our guests and pack members is always our primary focus and it guides all decisions made at Great Wolf Lodge. While we’ve had no reported cases of COVID-19 and the CDC states there is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread through the use of pools or hot tubs, after carefully reviewing the large gathering guidelines from government officials we believe it is in the best interest of our guests and pack members to close all of our resorts starting at 2pm on March 15 with plans to re-open on April 2. We will continue to monitor the ongoing situation and stay connected with federal and state health officials for updates.

“We are offering a full refund to those guests affected by the closure and providing pay to all pack members during this period.  This is a challenging time, and we are very appreciative of the overwhelming support from all families who enjoy spending time together at our resorts. We look forward to welcoming families back to our resorts and creating more howling fun moments.”

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens

The company behind both announced Friday that it would close all its locations, effective March 16, through the end of the month.

A statement on the Sea World Parks and Entertainment website offered more details, along with information on dealing with cancellations:

“During this time essential personnel, including animal care experts, will continue to look after the health, safety and nutritional needs of the animals in our care. Our animal rescue and rehabilitation operations will also continue to operate.”

Officials noted that they would “continue to pay our full-time Ambassadors during this period.”

Legoland

By Friday afternoon, Legoland California in Carlsbad, Calif., said that, like the others, it planned to be closed to the public through the end of the month. The closures were effective Saturday, March 14.

Meanwhile, people looking to buy a ticket on the Legoland Florida Resort’s website were told that the venue would be closed from March 16 through March 31 to “prevent the spread” of the coronavirus.

As a reminder, the U.S. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention has advised people 60 and older, as well as anyone with underlying health problems, to avoid crowds anywhere.

We’ll update this post with the latest information as it becomes available.

For the latest news on the evolving coronavirus outbreak, follow along here. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.

This story was originally published March 11.

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