THE CALIFORNIA THINKER
News editor for InPark Magazine Joe Kleiman is shown here with the giant “C” that formerly marked the entrance to Disney’s California Adventure.
The C-A-L-I-F-O-R-N-I-A letters were moved from the park to Sacramento’s Cal Expo state fairgrounds in 2013.
The letters were donated to the state as part of the Disney California Adventure theme park makeover spearheaded by Walt Disney Imagineer Bob Weis, whom Joe profiles in this issue.
Editorial by Joe Kleiman
The year 2020 had its special challenges for Californians. We had devastating fires around the state and their resulting
unhealthy smoke. As a consequence of COVID-related closures and restrictions on both the local and global level, tens of thousands of people were laid off, consequentially facing financial hardships.
The impact hit hard in the state’s themed entertainment design and attractions industries.
One thing I’ve learned as a long-term resident of the state is that California’s attractions and tourism community has a history of persevering through obstacles and tragedy. The sector – a significant part of the state’s economy – has, over the past two decades, managed to survive the uncertainty following 9/11, the Great Recession, the bursting of the Housing and Tech Bubbles, various earthquakes and, recently, some pretty awful fires. After each setback, businesses close and people are laid off, but then they reopen or another takes their place and staff are rehired. That’s where we are right now.
Operators have struggled along with everyone else. InPark reported – not once, but twice – how when the Monterey Bay Aquarium shut down in March 2020, it didn’t plan on being closed more than a few weeks. Now, more than a year later, it anticipates (fingers crossed) finally reopening to the public in May 2021.
Since January 2020, I’ve been reporting for InPark on the closures and reopenings of theme parks worldwide during the pandemic. Here in California, theme parks have been especially creative in coping with state restrictions. In July, I visited Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, the first theme park to reopen. The same health and safety protocols employed at Six Flags parks around the country were in place and I actually felt safer than at my local grocery store. Without the ability to open rides, the park went back to its roots and opened as a zoo, shifting focus to its expansive animal collection. About two months later, SeaWorld San Diego followed suit.
Others – Disneyland Resort, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Universal Studios Hollywood – offered special ticketed food and retail events, sans rides. When parks and zoos were ordered shut down in December, Six Flags and SeaWorld began offering drive-thru adventures – themed to seasonal events, Sesame Street, and even a custom car show.
James Bermingham is the newly appointed CEO of Virgin Hotels and the Chair of Visit California, the public/private partnership responsible for marketing the state’s tourism industry. During the organization’s recent Outlook Forum, he said something quite profound: “California has shown time and time again that it can successfully emerge from crises.” With revised state guidance now in place, California’s theme parks are reopening in April and May. They’ll be prepared if the pandemic continues – or if a new challenge takes its place. Because here in California, our attractions are experts at persevering.