Disneyland is not celebrating Christmas this year. Here’s why.
At Disneyland, the vacation season is not quite the same as in other years. The winter push of the pandemic has filled intensive care units near capacity across much of California, prompting Gov. Gavin Newsom to issue a stay-at-home order for most of the state, including including Orange County, home to Disneyland.
In response, Disneyland is closing its doors on Christmas Day for the first time in over 60 years.
The stay-at-home order limited what was already a scaled-down version of the Disneyland vacation celebration. Normally at this time of year the park is packed, sometimes cutting off day ticket sales in the morning. This year, Disneyland and almost all of its sister park Disney California Adventure are closed. No merry-go-round is operational (apart from the tests and routine maintenance which sometimes lights up the park at night) and no guest has set foot inside Fantasyland since March, when the pandemic closed the entire resort, including its three hotels.
Just before Thanksgiving, Disneyland opened Buena Vista Street, the very beginning of California Adventure which parallels Main Street USA in Disneyland Park. While the rides and attractions were still closed and there was no Hollywood Mickey and Minnie to greet guests, shops and restaurants were open in this part of the park, as an extension of the shopping area and Downtown Disney Restaurant.
To many, it felt like a step towards normalcy in a year when nothing seemed normal. I spent Thanksgiving Day on Buena Vista Street having lunch at Carthay Circle, California Adventure’s Old Hollywood restaurant which is one of the best restaurants in Disneyland. There were limits on how much time I could spend at the table and the menu was reduced from its previous version, but other than that (and, of course, wearing a mask at all times) it felt like a happy, relaxed vacation. Even my waiter said, “I’m just happy to be back,” saying it was the first Thanksgiving that she had volunteered to work for in her many years at the restaurant.
However, not everyone has had the same experience. Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times visited the same day and felt the opposite. “I ended up at a Disney theme park again, a place I frequented often before the pandemic and I plan to do it again someday. That day, however, feels further away now than it has been at any time in the past nine months, ” Martens wrote. “I don’t regret going, but my time at Disney California Adventure … was hesitant, a half step that everyone was taking to try and get into false comfort.”
The only thing that struck me as odd about Thanksgiving Day at Disneyland was how sparse the crowds were. Just the week before I spent hours queuing to go through the gates on Buena Vista Street opening day – so I expected pretty much the same for Thanksgiving, a traditionally busy day at the park. This year, however, I went through security, temperature control, and bag control, and walked through Buena Vista Street without waiting. There weren’t even any queues to enter stores, which normally requires waiting over an hour in a virtual queue to enter.
The stay-at-home order for Southern California went into effect on December 6. Since then, Disneyland has not allowed eating or drinking on site, even sipping from bottled water. All Disney-run restaurants, both sit-down and quick-serve, are closed (though some third-party operators are still open for take-out to consume off-site). Attendance has been low since then resulting in the Christmas Day shutdown.
“For six decades, Christmas Day has always been a special time at Disneyland Resort, where our cast members have welcomed generations of guests to create treasured memories,” said Ken Potrock, President of Disneyland. said in a letter to Cast Members. “But this year is definitely different. In view of the continued closure of our theme parks and hotels, and in line with typical Christmas operations in other stores and malls, we have made the decision to close the Downtown Disney District, including Buena Vista Street, the day of Christmas. “
Governor Newsom reopening plan puts large theme parks in the final stages, when southern California is in the yellow level, when the spread of COVID-19 is “minimal.” Many news outlets have speculated that Disneyland may not reopen until the summer.