5 just-announced ways Disney and Universal are inching back closer to normal
California and Florida are a country apart when it comes to location, managing the pandemic and subsequent reopening strategies. While these sunny coastal states have some inherent big differences, they are also home to the country's biggest theme parks. The layers of both similarities and differences have led to pretty divergent reopening paths for places like Disneyland and Disney World in the last year.
But what these states and theme parks share in common is that each is progressing toward a broader reopening and operations that more closely resemble "normal" times -- one policy update and announcement at a time.
In Florida, things are full steam ahead with new reductions in physical distancing and a cessation of temperature checks.
Out west in California, theme park reopenings have just begun with pretty much all restrictions still in place. However, with a week or so of operations under its belt, Disneyland is already starting to ramp up some offerings and amenities for its guests.
For more TPG news delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Here are five more ways theme parks are taking more baby steps back to "normal."
Temperature checks ending at Disney World and Universal Orlando
Yesterday, Disney provided the update that it will end the mandatory temperature checks for cast members on May 8 and for guests on May 16.
Disney's website states:
"Since reopening, we have considered guidance from public health authorities, government agencies and our own team of health and safety experts as we assess and update health and safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As this guidance continues to evolve, and with the support of local health and government officials, we are making some additional adjustments. Following the advice of the CDC and our local health officials, we will phase out onsite temperature screenings at Walt Disney World Resort for Cast Members beginning May 8 and Guests on May 16.
We will continue to follow the guidance of health and safety leaders going forward and most importantly encourage people to get vaccinated."
Disney also recently relaxed face mask rules a bit by permitting them to be removed briefly for some photos. It has also been increasing capacity on some attractions steadily over the past few months.
Related: Should you take a trip to Disney World right now?
Reduced social distancing at Universal Orlando
Disney World was not the only Florida theme park with changing precautionary rules this week. Its neighbor, Universal Orlando, is also walking back away from some restrictions. In a statement provided to Click Orlando, Universal Orlando stated:
“The health and safety of our guests and team members is always our top priority. We continue to review the CDC guidelines and work with local health officials as we update our health and safety protocols,” a Universal spokeswoman said in a statement. “Based on guidance from government and local health officials, as of Thursday, May 6, we are implementing three feet of social distancing throughout our destination and are no longer conducting temperature checks. All other existing health and safety protocols will remain in place.”
Its website has since been updated to reflect the new three-foot social distancing guidelines, down from six feet, and temperature checks at Universal Orlando are also going into its pandemic history book.
A second Disneyland hotel is reopening
Disneyland has three hotels all its own: Disney's Grand Californian (which has recently reopened), the namesake Disneyland Hotel (which still has no reopening date) and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Paradise Pier is the most budget-oriented of the three and just announced it's reopening on June 15.
It will reopen with limited capacity and no onsite dining options, but reservations are being accepted for stays beginning in mid-June. Coincidentally -- or not -- June 15 is also the day that California is expected to reopen more fully, perhaps even to out-of-state visitors looking for a dose of theme park fun.
Related: Review of Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel
More amenities return to Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel
The nicest of the three Disneyland hotels, and the one with its own special entrance to Disney California Adventure Park, is about to inch its way closer to normal operations.
Disney's Grand Californian Hotel will reopen its private entrance to Disney California Adventure Park on May 28, just a couple of weeks ahead of the opening of Avengers Campus.
Related: What it's like at a reopened Disneyland
On top of that, the hotel is reopening its dining options of Napa Rose and Storytellers Cafe beginning on May 28. Both hotel guests and non-hotel guests can make reservations at these locations.
Another character dining option returning to Disney World
Disney World has had some modified character dining meals available since it reopened in July 2020.
The number of character dining offerings has slowly but steadily increased since reopening and now includes breakfast at Topolino's Terrace at the top of the Riviera Resort, lunch or dinner at Garden Grill in Epcot (a sleeper hit with characters in farming gear), Hollywood and Vine in Disney's Hollywood Studios (open for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and Ravello Saturday brunch at the Four Seasons Orlando.
There are also quasi-character meals available where a singular character makes a brief appearance at Cinderella's Royal Table (Cindy) and Be Our Guest (the Beast).
In late-2020, character dining with Mickey and friends also returned to Chef Mickey's inside the Contemporary Resort for just breakfast only at the time. However, Disney is now adding dinner with characters to the menu ($55 for adults and $36 for kids) as of May 16. This all-you-care-to-eat family-style dinner will include options such as prime rib, roasted salmon, turkey breast, baby shrimp, potato gnocchi and more.