California theme parks can now welcome out-of-state visitors, it seems

Two adults with a child in a stroller walk near a roller coaster
Roller coasters such as the Manta at SeaWorld San Diego reopened this month after being closed because of COVID-19 restrictions.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

In a break from other Southern California theme parks, SeaWorld decided this week to open its San Diego park to out-of-state residents who are vaccinated against COVID-19, saying that it’s allowed under newly revised state guidelines.

Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, meanwhile, aren’t so sure: They’re still selling tickets only to California residents. Representatives for those parks said Wednesday that the policy is based on their reading of the guidelines. Legoland in Carlsbad has also stuck with California residents only.

The confusion began this week when California public health officials quietly updated their statewide reopening blueprint, which now says that “fully vaccinated persons from out of state may visit or attend activities or events that are restricted to in-state visitors.” State guidance specific to the theme park industry still says the parks are restricted to “in-state visitors only.”


Hence the confusion. But a California Department of Public Health spokesperson indicated Wednesday afternoon that SeaWorld’s interpretation was correct.

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The department did not formally announce any change to its guidelines for theme parks this week. However, in an email Wednesday responding to queries from the San Diego Union-Tribune, a department spokesperson said that the state guidelines’ new permission for fully vaccinated out-of-state visitors “includes theme parks.”

To become fully vaccinated, people must wait two weeks after their final shot — their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or their one and only Johnson & Johnson dose.

Todd Regan, who operates theme park fan site MiceChat, said he suspects the state’s decision to not call attention to the changed guidelines was made in the interest of safety.

“The addendum seems to have been slipped in under the radar and without additional clarification, leaving parks to make their own decision as to whether it applies to them or not,” he said. “I feel like it was done intentionally to prevent a flood of visitors.”

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The California Amusement Parks and Attractions trade group was caught off guard Tuesday by SeaWorld’s move to allow out-of-state guests, then released a statement Wednesday indicating it was on board with the park’s interpretation.

“As vaccinations become more widespread and state guidance evolves, individual parks may update their own responsible reopening plans in accordance with state and local public health regulations,” the association said.

Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t ready yet. “While visitation to our theme park is currently available to California residents only, we are assessing next steps to implement changes to previously released guidance, and will share updated information when it becomes available,” park spokesperson Audrey Eig said.

Disney released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying: “Until further notice, only California State residents are allowed to visit Disneyland Resort theme parks.”

Ever since the state announced last month it was accelerating the allowed reopening of theme parks, Southern California parks began preparing for their long-awaited return to business — albeit with capacity limits.

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Legoland initially reopened for pass holders April 1 — the first day California theme parks were allowed to resume operations after a more than yearlong closure due to the pandemic. Universal Studios Hollywood opened April 15 to passholders and April 16 to all other Californians. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park are scheduled to open April 30.

SeaWorld, which has been open since early February under separate, more relaxed state guidelines for zoos, reopened its rides April 12.

Some of Disneyland’s rides and attractions, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds, will still be shut, but Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance are slated to be available.

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