What a 15% attendance cap could mean for Disneyland

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure could look like ghost towns for those fortunate enough to nab tickets during the first few weeks after the Anaheim theme parks reopen in late April with strict attendance capacity limits.

Updated state guidelines will require California theme parks operate with social distancing-friendly attendance caps in place once they reopen following year-long coronavirus closures.

California theme parks can reopen on April 1 provided the counties they reside in reach the red/substantial tier 2 risk status of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s updated Blueprint for a Safer Economy. Orange County — home to Disneyland and DCA — has reached the red tier and could reach the orange tier by the time Disney’s Anaheim theme parks reopen on April 30.

Starting on April 1, California theme parks can reopen at 15% attendance capacity in the red/substantial tier 2, 25% capacity in the orange/moderate tier 3 and 35% capacity in the least-restrictive yellow/minimal tier 4.

But what does normal capacity mean? Is that the fire code limit for the park? A theoretical maximum capacity? Or the average daily attendance?

Calculating theme park capacity depends on two key factors: Open space and attraction capacity.

Disneyland’s theoretical maximum capacity is approximately 85,000, according to Touring Plans, which uses big data and statistical analysis to calculate daily theme park crowd sizes. Disneyland officials rarely discuss visitor attendance or capacity.

An attendance cap of 15% would bring Disneyland’s theoretical COVID-19 capacity down to 12,750 daily visitors. A 25% cap would work out to 21,250 Disneyland visitors per day with attendance climbing to just under 30,000 daily at 35%.

Disneyland attracts an average of 51,000 visitors per day, according to the Themed Entertainment Association/AECOM.

Disney California Adventure attracts an average of 27,000 daily visitors, according to TEA/AECOM. Touring Plans estimates the capacity for DCA at approximately 50,000 visitors.

DCA could allow 7,500 visitors a day with a 15% cap. Attendance could rise to 12,500 daily with a 25% cap and 17,500 per day at 35%, based on Touring Plans estimates.

The reality is that Disney theme parks rarely reach capacity. Disneyland occasionally halts visitors from entering when the park reaches capacity during the busy Christmas holiday season.

There’s a good chance Disney will keep attendance below the state-mandated restrictions during the initial phased reopenings of its Anaheim theme parks. Disney has been focused on rebuilding visitor confidence and reinforcing comfort levels as travelers adjust to the “new normal” in the pandemic era.

Disney World theme parks in Florida have been operating under a self-imposed 35% capacity limit after reopening during the pandemic at lower attendance levels. Florida officials lifted all attendance restrictions on theme parks in September.

The Shanghai Disneyland theme park in China reopened to visitors with advance reservations in May. Attendance was limited to 24,000 visitors — about 30% of Shanghai Disneyland’s 80,000 capacity. Disney CEO Bob Chapek said at the time that actual attendance at Shanghai Disneyland would start “far below that” and increase by 5,000 visitors each week with the Chinese government’s permission.

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