LOS ANGELES — The Walt Disney Co. said Thursday that it would close the Disneyland resort in Anaheim for the first time since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and just the fourth time in its 65-year history, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure — two adjoining, but separately ticketed theme parks — will close Saturday morning through the end of the month. Disney’s hotels in Anaheim will remain open until Monday.
Disney noted that there had been no reported cases of the virus at the resort.
The company said it would continue to pay its employees while the resort is closed. Refunds will be given for hotel bookings during the closure period.
Disneyland looms large in the popular imagination as the “happiest place on Earth,” where visitors trade an imperfect world for a perfect one. There is no trash blowing down Main Street U.S.A. Dream big, and the utopian technology of Tomorrowland just might come true. The animatronic figures inside It’s a Small World never stop smiling and singing. The park receives almost 19 million visitors from around the world each year.
In recent days, as sporting events, concerts and other mass gatherings have been canceled in response to the pandemic, Disneyland and its bigger sibling in Florida, Walt Disney World, remained crowded. On Wednesday night at 9, so many people were trying to get on Space Mountain at Disneyland that the line stretched more than an hour. Disneyland’s Indiana Jones ride had a 45-minute line.
In a statement posted online shortly before midnight Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that gatherings of 250 or more people “should be canceled or postponed” to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“Changing our actions for a short period of time will save the life of one or more people you know,” Newsom said. “That’s the choice before us. Each of us has extraordinary power to slow the spread of this disease.”
That seemed to apply to Disneyland and other California theme parks, including Universal Studios in Los Angeles and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park. But Newsom backtracked at a Thursday morning news conference, saying that his guidelines excluded large parks like Disneyland and places such as casinos and movie theaters because of “the complexity of their unique circumstances.”
Disney made its announcement shortly thereafter.
“After carefully reviewing the guidelines of the governor of California’s executive order and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure,” the company said in a statement.
A couple of hours later, Universal Studios Hollywood, a theme park and movie studio tour in Los Angeles that attracts about 9.1 million visitors annually, said that it would also close Saturday. Universal said it hoped to reopen March 28.
Disneyland, which employs roughly 31,000 people, has had unscheduled closures only three times since opening in 1955. The first time was in 1963 for a national day of mourning after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The second was in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. The third was after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The resort has grown substantially since the last closing. It now consists of two popular theme parks: Disneyland and California Adventure, which together recorded attendance of roughly 28.7 million in 2018, the last year for which figures are available. Disney also operates three hotels in Anaheim and a shopping district called Downtown Disney, which will remain open.
Hundreds of other businesses in Anaheim and the surrounding cities rely on Disneyland to keep their cash registers ringing, from nearby mom-and-pop motels to fast-food restaurants outside the park gates to busing companies that shuttle families to and from airports. A 2018 study by professors at California State University, Fullerton, found that the Disneyland resort had an $8.5 billion annual impact on Southern California.
Walt Disney World in Florida — eight separately ticketed parks with combined annual attendance of 93 million — has so far not been affected. Disney Cruise Line, which operates four ships that can carry 13,400 people at any given time, also remains open.
Disney World, where Disney also owns and operates roughly 30 hotels, has experience with sudden closures. Disney has shuttered the resort for various lengths of time because of hurricanes, including Matthew in 2016, Frances in 2004 and Floyd in 1999.
The coronavirus has already caused major problems for Disney overseas. The company’s entire Asian theme park operation has been closed for weeks — four parks in China and Japan that together attract 51.2 million visitors annually. Disney has said its China parks will remain shuttered until the end of March and perhaps longer, although its Shanghai property began what it called a “phased reopening” Monday by allowing guests to enter a shopping and dining area outside the park gates.
Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Disney Sea are scheduled to remain closed through early April. The Oriental Land Co. owns those properties; Disney receives a royalty of about 7% of revenue.
Disneyland Paris, which includes two separately ticketed parks with combined annual attendance of 15 million, remains open, although some experiences — princess meet-and-greets, the Illuminations fireworks show — have been canceled. France has banned public gatherings in some areas around Paris in a containment attempt.
“Disneyland Paris is open and welcoming guests,” signs outside the park read Thursday. “We are in regular contact with the French authorities, and based on their direction, we have temporarily amended some experiences and operations.”
Over the weekend, a Disneyland Paris maintenance worker tested positive for the virus, according to a Disney spokesman, who added that the worker had no contact with guests.
In terms of the financial impact of closures, Disney has not commented since its Feb. 4 earnings conference call with analysts. The company said then that the closings of its China parks would cause it to lose roughly $175 million in profit. The Japanese properties had not yet closed. Since Feb. 4, Disney’s stock price has declined 35%, to about $94.45. The S&P 500 has fallen about 20% over that period.