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What You Need to Know About California Theme Parks

While many rules have been relaxed, a few pandemic protocols are keeping the reopening safe and streamlined

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Here’s a good reason to sigh, or even scream, with relief: With the June 15 lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions, California theme parks have returned to nearly normal, thrill-raising operations.

For starters, visitors from outside California are now welcome at the parks, temperature checks at the gates have ended, and most social distancing rules have been relaxed.

“The state’s reopening gives amusement parks a path to get more people back to work and provides visitors more options for safe family fun this summer,” says Sabrina Lockhart, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association. “As the state economy reopens, amusement parks will update their own safe and responsible plans for operation based on state and local guidelines.”

Indeed, a few pandemic protocols will remain in place at some parks—most notably, the need to book your spot before you arrive. “At this time, reservations are still required,” according to a statement from Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County’s Buena Park. “However, attendance will at some point return to 100% capacity and those changes will be made as efficiently and safely as possible.”

In the meantime, because each theme park’s policy can vary in subtle ways, it’s still smart to check a park’s website before you visit. It’s also a good idea to peruse Visit California’s Responsible Travel Hub. As you plan, keep these tips in mind, too:

For most parks, you still need to book tickets online—and get a reservation.

At Disneyland Resort, you still need both a dated reservation as well as a purchased ticket, though you can now book those reservations up to 120 days ahead of time. You’ll find reservations systems at Universal Studios Hollywood, LEGOLAND California in Carlsbad, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Gilroy Gardens, and California’s Great America in Santa Clara.

At a few parks, there is a chance that you can now buy a ticket at the gate. At SeaWorld San Diego, you can get a same-day ticket and reservation at the gates if there is room—but it’s not guaranteed. In Valencia, Six Flags Magic Mountain no longer requires reservations and you can buy a full-price Any Day ticket online or at the gates. But it literally pays to reserve a date and buy online anyway—prices are roughly 50 percent lower that way. Likewise, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk sells tickets onsite, but you save $10 on a ride wristband when you book online.

You don’t need to show proof of vaccination.

All the parks encourage visitors to be fully vaccinated by the time of their visit, or to have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of arriving. Parks ask that guests still be mindful of maintaining physical distancing from other folks, and guests are encouraged to stay at home if they feel sick.

Bring a mask, even if you’re vaccinated.

Each theme park has its own policies right now about face coverings. Typically, if you’re fully vaccinated, you don’t need to wear it outdoors, but are encouraged to wear it indoors to help ensure the safety of others—such as small children who are not yet eligible for vaccination. If you are not vaccinated, typically you do need to wear a mask at California theme parks—especially when you’re inside—unless you’re eating or drinking.

Be patient as some other park features return gradually.

Since parks have been operating at a limited capacity, both in terms of guests and staff, it may take a little more time for all rides and attractions to reopen. At Anaheim’s Disneyland Resort, for instance, the Disneyland Hotel reopens on July 2, and the nightly fireworks will return on July 4 with the display “Mickey’s Mix Magic.” There’s no word yet on when the FastPass and MaxPass line-skipping programs will resume.

It still makes sense to download the park’s mobile app.

While mobile ordering of food may become less of an option now at some parks, apps such as the Universal Studios Hollywood Mobile App offer a lot of perks to streamline your visit, such as park maps and checking out menus. You also need the app to snag a spot in Universal’s Virtual Line for some attractions, such as the new ride Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash. Since most parks are still going cashless, a park app can sometimes help with purchases, too.

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