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Disneyland and California's other theme parks are reopening. Here's what you need to know

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Jay L. Clendenin  Los Angeles Times
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park are slated to reopen April 30 after being closed for more than a year. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Disneyland and California's other major theme parks are reopening this spring, thanks to a drop in new coronavirus cases and the rollout of vaccines in the state.

The theme park experience at Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm won't be exactly the same as before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hugging costumed characters? Banned. Standing in a crowd to watch a parade or fireworks show? Nope. Eating calorie-laden snacks while waiting to jump on a stomach-churning ride? Forget it.

But many of those costumed characters, indulgent foods and beloved rides will still be there to enjoy, along with new safety protocols.

Here's what you should know about visiting your favorite theme park:

When do the parks reopen?

Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia reopened April 1, the first day allowed under state guidelines. Here's a look at how things went in the earliest days: Six Flags Magic Mountain reopens: COVID safety measures change even the bathrooms

Universal Studios Hollywood reopened April 15 to annual- and season-pass holders and April 16 to the general public.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim plan to reopen April 30.

Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park announced it will reopen May 6 to season-pass holders and May 21 to the general public.

When and how can I get tickets?

They're available now.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are selling tickets on their website and app. Visitors need to buy an admission ticket before making a reservation. The Disney parks have a five-tier pricing system that charges more for days when demand is higher. A calendar with pricing tier designations is posted online.

Six Flags Magic Mountain also is selling tickets and season passes on its website. Universal Studios Hollywood is too, as is Knott's Berry Farm.

A person with a dog on a leash. The dog looks at a "Simpsons" character statue.
Trainer Jasmine Versales takes Dibs, an animal actor, around Universal Studios' Springfield area to familiarize the dog with the park's grounds. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Who can buy tickets?

Initially, the state guidelines allowed only California residents to visit the theme parks, but that rule has been quietly loosened, allowing people who live elsewhere to visit the parks if they're fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (A person isn't fully vaccinated until two weeks after their final shot — their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine or their one and only Johnson & Johnson dose.)

SeaWorld in San Diego began offering tickets to out-of-state residents April 19. Universal Studios Hollywood has begun allowing out-of-state visitors who are fully vaccinated. Disneyland is still selling tickets only to Californians.

Groups buying tickets together can include members of no more than three households.

Will prices be the same as last year?

Six Flags Magic Mountain, Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Universal Studios Hollywood have said ticket prices will remain about the same as last year's prices.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure discontinued their annual pass program in January, and they continue to offer refunds to former pass holders.

Will it be hard to score tickets?

Attendance will be limited because the state is requiring theme parks to operate below maximum capacity. How far below? That depends on restrictions based on the prevalence of the coronavirus in each park's home county.

Los Angeles County (home to Universal Studios Hollywood and Six Flags Magic Mountain) and Orange County (home to the Disney parks and Knott's Berry Farm) are now in the orange tier — the second-least restrictive — of the state's four-color reopening roadmap. That caps attendance at 25% of maximum capacity.

If the counties reach the least restrictive tier, yellow, the caps on theme park attendance rise to 35% of maximum capacity.

That system is likely to change. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced a goal of ending many restrictions and reopening California's economy on June 15, assuming sufficient supply of COVID-19 vaccines and stable, low hospitalization numbers.

People ride a roller coaster.
People ride a roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain shortly after the park reopened. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Will all the rides and attractions be open?

Many will be open, but several will be closed — some for pandemic safety reasons and others for maintenance and upgrades.

At Disneyland, the Disneyland Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Sailing Ship Columbia are among those that will be shut. At Disney California Adventure, the Red Car Trolley and the Golden Zephyr will be closed. Here's a full list: Which attractions will be open on Disneyland’s opening day, and which will still be closed?

Fireworks displays and parades, such as the Magic Happens parade at Disneyland, will also be temporarily canceled to avoid attracting crowds that violate physical distancing requirements.

At Universal Studios Hollywood, the WaterWorld stunt show remains closed.

At Six Flags Magic Mountain, a steampunk-themed indoor acrobatic show and a bumper-car attraction are closed.

At all the major parks, opportunities to interact with costumed characters will be radically different. The characters will still be at Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and Universal Studios Hollywood but must stay at least six feet away from visitors. That means no handshakes or hugs with Mickey or Goofy.

Six Flags Magic Mountain has temporarily suspended having costumed characters in the park.

Will there be any new or updated rides?

Yes. Disneyland, for example, has updated its Haunted Mansion ride, and Universal Studios Hollywood debuted a ride based on the animated movie "The Secret Life of Pets."

Additionally, some indoor attractions are being shortened to adhere to health rules. Full story: How COVID changed Disneyland’s Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Will FastPass and MaxPass be available at Disneyland?

No, but one ride — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance — will require a virtual queuing system that uses the Disneyland app.

A line of people at Disney California Adventure.
With a view of Disneyland behind them, people wait in line to attend the debut of Disney California Adventure's A Touch of Disney food event on March 18. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

What kinds of health precautions will I see at the parks?

Visitors to all of the theme parks will be required to wear a mask or other face covering at all times, except when eating and drinking. No eating is allowed in the queues. Capacity will be limited in indoor dining areas.

At some parks, such as Six Flags Magic Mountain, Universal Studios Hollywood and Disneyland, your temperature will be taken as you enter.

All queues will be outdoors, and state guidelines require members of different households to stand at least six feet apart in queues and when seated in rides, even if they are part of a multi-household group that bought tickets together.

Ride operators will separate members of different households, leaving at least one seat or a row empty in between. In addition, some rides will be stopped occasionally to allow employees to wipe and sanitize the seats and the lap bars.

If you lose your mask on a ride, park employees are required to give you a replacement, under state protocols.

The pandemic protocols will be enforced by theme park employees, either by those who serve food or operate rides or by specially trained workers who patrol the parks in search of violators.

Are the parks using more technology?

Yes, many of the parks' pandemic safety protocols lean heavily on tech such as mobile apps, digital tickets and touchless payment systems. Here's the full story: Apps help theme parks boost their COVID safety — and collect data on you

For the record:
4:46 PM, Apr. 19, 2021: An earlier version of this story said that for counties in California’s least restrictive yellow tier the cap on theme park attendance is 50% of maximum capacity. The cap is 35%.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.