Disneyland has reopened to excited visitors after an unprecedented 13-month closure, in what tourism officials hope is a sign of California’s rebound from the pandemic.
The reopening came four months after the nation’s most populous state was struggling to combat a surge in coronavirus hospital admissions that packed patients into outdoor tents and killed hundreds of people each day.
Some visitors cheered and screamed with happiness as they entered Disneyland.
The day began with Disney officials and park employees wearing face coverings gathered in the park’s town square for the morning flag-raising ceremony.
Disney chief executive Bob Chapek thanked the colour guard for raising the flag daily throughout the 412-day closure and asked employees to “bring the magic back” for visitors about to enter the park.
“We’re not just another place. We’re not just another theme park. We’re something special and we’re something special because of all of you, because you bring magic to the world,” he said.
For now, the park is allowing only in-state visitors and operating at limited capacity. The park has hand sanitising stations and signs reminding visitors to keep their distance and wear masks. Benches are marked as “designated dining areas” where visitors can remove face coverings to eat.
Many visitors had gathered outside the theme park since the previous night.
“It has such a symbolic nature to really quantifying that we’re finally rolling out of Covid,” said Caroline Beteta, president and chief executive of the state tourism agency Visit California.
The reopening came as California boasts the country’s lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections, and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose.
It is a dramatic turnaround since December, when hospitals across the state were running out of intensive care beds and treating patients at overflow locations.
Now, children are returning to school, shops and restaurants are expanding business and governor Gavin Newsom has set June 15 as a target date to further reopen the economy, albeit with some health-related restrictions.
Theme parks were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in California, and Universal Studios and others have already thrown open the gates. That is a contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running, though at reduced capacity, since last July.
Disneyland is a major economic engine in California, drawing nearly 19 million visitors the year before the coronavirus struck, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
It and other such attractions were closed in March last year as Mr Newsom imposed the nation’s first state-wide shutdown order.
The park and neighbouring Disney California Adventure are reopening with a capacity capped at 25% under state health rules.
Reservations are required, hugs and handshakes with Mickey and other characters are off limits, and the famous parades and firework shows have been shelved to limit crowding.