Hotel Planner CEO illustration by Heather Skovlund for 360 Magazine

Disney Parks Reopening × Travel Trends

By: Tim Hentschel, Co-Founder and CEO of HotelPlanner

Headline:  Mickey Mouse Comes Out of His House…Kind of 

Since 1955, families from around the world have made a special pilgrimage to Disneyland Park in Anaheim, CA. What began on 160 acres of orange groves is now one of the most famous and beloved destinations in the world. Prior to the pandemic, Disneyland hosted more than 18 million visitors a year who spent nearly $3 billion in the process, not including the revenue generated by restaurants, hotels and other local venues. However, for the past year and a half, Mickey’s doors in Anaheim have been shut. 

It’s a very welcoming sign from California that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park partially reopened with limited capacity on April 30. Disney theme park re-openings have become a barometer of sorts for other venues to gauge whether it’s time for them to reopen. This is a positive step in the right direction to bring California’s tourism vitality back to full strength. 

Disney’s venture into post-pandemic life is taking a tiered approach. According to Disneyland, “as required by California directive, the Disneyland Resort is only welcoming in-state visitors in parties no larger than 3 households at this time.” There are no date targets set for inclusion of out-of-state visitors, meaning non-Californians won’t really be able to plan a Disneyland pilgrimage for some time. The Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has begun its phased reopening. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel plans to reopen on June 15 with reduced capacity, while the Disneyland Hotel has not yet announced reopening plans. The Downtown Disney District is partially open with select shopping and restaurants. 

Like so many places devasted by this pandemic, this “reopening” leaves many questioning whether it signifies a lasting bureaucratic micromanagement of consumer affairs, or a glimmer of hope that a return to normalcy may one day be attained. Under current conditions, local resident guests will be greeted with a two ID requirement for entry, one of which will include personal medical data on vaccine status. This “welcome” is yet another example of California’s top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to pandemic life, something which has alienated many residents from their beloved state. The Golden State recently lost Congressional House seats for the first time in modern history due to the last decade’s mass exodus of residents fleeing to other states that have fared better economically or handled the Covid crisis better. 

If your summer vacation plans included a visit to see Mickey in Disneyland, but you live outside California, then consider visiting Orlando’s Disneyworld which re-opened last July. It may be cheaper for you as well. On average, rooms in Anaheim will cost the average traveler approximately $23.00 more per night compared to Orlando, or $135 vs $112 a night. That said, both Anaheim and Orlando’s average nightly hotel room rate are both down about 20% compared to the same time last year.

For the more adventurous traveler, Disneyland Shanghai, which attracts about 12 million guests per year, has been open for normal operations since May 2020 (reservations are required). Disneyland Paris partially reopened in May 2021 with full reopening scheduled for June 17, 2021. These overseas parks serve as a stark contrast to Disney’s more cautious approach to reopening in the U.S. Even under one corporate governance, a company’s local response to a global pandemic can look very different.  

Family-Friendly Summer Vacation Ideas with a Warm Welcome

Fortunately, there are plenty of other equally fun options for your family this summer. If your children are begging to go on an adventure, and you don’t live in California, here is a sample of alternatives that are fully open:

  • Disney World:  In Orlando, Magic Kingdom Park was the most visited theme park in the world in 2019, with almost 21 million guests. The new VelociCoaster is scheduled to open this summer at nearby Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Avator Flight of Passage is an immersive, animal-focused experience. At Universal Studios, you can immerse yourself in some of the top films and television shows like Harry Potter and The Simpsons. At Hollywood Studios, Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge are very popular with children.
  • Dollywood: In the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, you can visit Dolly Parton’s theme park which has rides, music, and other family-friendly attractions. While you’re in the area, there is beautiful hiking and camping options, just watch out for bears.   
  • Busch Gardens:  With amusement parks in Tampa, FL and Williamsburg, VA, Busch Gardens has thrilling rides, animals, and a host of family-friendly activities. Visit the Tampa beaches, go fishing in the gulf, or visit Colonial Williamsburg too for a taste of history. 
  • Six Flags: There are 13 Six Flags theme parks across America with a universal season pass. If your family likes rollercoasters and thrill rides, visiting all 13 locations would be quite the bucket list adventure. Road trip anyone? 
  • Silver Dollar City: This 1880s nostalgic theme park in Missouri’s Ozark mountains has more than 40 rides and attractions, as well as live entertainment.

There are dozens of other theme parks across the country. These are just a few ideas. 

Plan Early, Book Early

Regardless of where you go this summer, we’re seeing a significant surge in hotel bookings right now across the board, from limited service to luxury accommodations. As we approach summer, we recommend booking accommodations as early as possible to ensure a lower rate, but the law of supply and demand is still in effect. 

Popular beach, lake and mountain towns and cities across the U.S. are charging higher rates. If beach front hotels are too expensive, stay in a nearby suburb within driving distance to the beach or hotels near the airport. Alternatively, big cities like Las Vegas or New York City may be cheaper as those cities are eager for tourist dollars. New York fully reopens for business on July 1 and full-capacity Broadway shows return on September 14. 

If you’re itching to jet set overseas, more than 75 countries are accepting vaccinated American tourists. Now may be the perfect time to take that bucket list trip overseas while prices remain low and availability high.

Health & Safety While Traveling

You and your families’ personal safety, health and wellness should always be top of mind when planning any form of travel, along with enhanced personal hygiene, avoiding large crowds and pandemic hot spots, and reviewing local health advisories and restrictions. Most airlines have invested heavily in the latest cabin air filtration systems and enhanced cleaning effort, so much so that air travel is an even safer form of public transformation. Plus, hotels, restaurants, and other venues are now cleaner than ever before to keep patrons safe. 

As vaccination rates increase, and states allow large venues to fully reopen, travel and tourism will take off like a rocket ship. And as public confidence in travel increases, the entire hospitality, travel and tourism industries stand to greatly benefit. Don’t wait to take your family on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. There is no time like the present. 

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