Fun trumps fear as fans flock to Disneyland on eve of park’s historically long closure

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Disneyland visitors enter the famed amusement park in Anaheim on March 13, 2020. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Disneyland visitors enter the famed amusement park in Anaheim on March 13, 2020. (Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Thousands flocked to Disneyland on Friday for glimpses of Mickey and Minnie, a ride on “It’s a Small World” and a last trip to the Galaxy’s Edge before a historically long closure because of the new coronavirus.

It was a rare rainy day in Southern California, and visitors wearing sequined mouse ears and plastic raincoats sought to cram in all the rides, treats and magical memories they could. before the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth closes Saturday through the end of the month.

There were limited outward signs of the virus — a woman using a bleach wipe on a table, conversations about the health crisis as people waited in lines for rides. But there were no warnings at the entrance about coronavirus or reminders to create “social space” with other patrons. Signs in restrooms urged visitors to wash their hands for 20 seconds but didn’t reference the virus.

There are no documented coronavirus cases from Disneyland.

Reaction to the closure was mixed. Some said it was a good move to protect public health while others thought it was overwrought.

The decision roiled Rochelle Van Eysden and her family of five who traveled from New Zealand for a three-day vacation at Disneyland with plans to then take a week-long cruise to Mexico. They got less time at the park, and it’s likely their cruise won’t happen.

“We’ve promised the kids this trip for years and years and years,” said Eysden, 46. “We’ve been through earthquakes and wildfires and mosque shootings, and this was their reward. And now our three-day pass has turned into a two-day trip to Disneyland, and we’re absolutely gutted.”

“I think it’s just a major overreaction on the part of everybody,” she said.

Kristina Pasillas, 24, and Gary Moreno, 28, made the five-hour drive from Hollister, California, on Thursday with their 5-year-old son only to learn soon after arriving at their hotel that their planned two-day visit would be cut short. They immediately raced over to the park and returned Friday to board Dumbo’s flying elephant ride and try to meet Donald Duck.

“We’re just making the best out of it,” Pasillas said. She added that the lines were exceptionally short for rides, though it was hard to know if the rain — or fear of the virus — was the reason.

Disneyland fans normally can bank on the park being open regardless of what’s going on in the world around it. The park closed only a handful of times in 65 years and never for more than a day, said Jason Schultz, supervisory archivist at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum and unofficial Disneyland historian who wrote “Jason’s Disneyland Almanac.” The last closure was after the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

A Disneyland spokesperson declined to comment about previous closures or the park’s final day before it closes temporarily.

Walt Disney Co. announced the closure of Disneyland on Thursday, shortly after California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s news conference on his executive order recommending against any “nonessential” gatherings of more than 250 people. Universal Studios Hollywood and other theme parks also announced closures. Florida’s Disney World plans to shutter on Monday.

Life in the final hours before the closure carried on as usual with families checking mobile phones for the shortest wait times — just five minutes for the classic “It’s a Small World” and 10 to meet Minnie Mouse — and restless toddlers begging to break free from strollers.

Ivan Moore, 46, of Chandler, Arizona, wound up at the theme park with his family after a memorial service for his cousin was cancelled in Northern California because of concerns about gathering elder members of the family together as the virus spread.

He already had time off of work so the family headed to Disneyland with plans to visit Galaxy’s Edge, the new Star Wars attraction. Moore commended the resort for making the move to protect the most vulnerable.

“You’ve got a pandemic going on,. Whether or not it’s going to spread faster or not doesn’t matter — this helps.” he said of closing the park.

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