Shanghai Disneyland Reopens With the Magic of Social Distancing

SHANGHAI—Shanghai Disneyland welcomed visitors for the first time since January, becoming one of the highest profile tourist spots to reopen as China reboots parts of its economy that were shut down by the coronavirus. If Monday’s reopening was anything to go by, Walt Disney Co. DIS 3.40% ’s theme park kingdom is likely to regain…

SHANGHAI—Shanghai Disneyland welcomed visitors for the first time since January, becoming one of the highest profile tourist spots to reopen as China reboots parts of its economy that were shut down by the coronavirus.

If Monday’s reopening was anything to go by,

Walt Disney Co.


DIS 3.40%

’s theme park kingdom is likely to regain its magic slowly. Visitor numbers were capped, some attractions remained closed and the day featured none of the hallmarks for which the Disney parks are known: parades, fireworks and meet-and-greets with familiar characters.

Though authorities gave permission for Shanghai Disneyland to reopen at 30% capacity, or roughly 24,000 people a day, the theme park would initially operate at “far below that” level, Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek said on an earnings call earlier this month. Instead, Disney has its “training wheels” on as the company implements new social-distancing procedures, Mr. Chapek said.

The Shanghai playbook is likely to be replicated as Disney reopens its other resorts in the coming weeks. Its U.S. parks have been shut since March.

The company’s operating income fell 37% during the three months ending March 28 and Disney has said the pandemic cost it $1.4 billion, with the parks division accounting for $1 billion of that.

The Shanghai resort opened in 2016 at a development cost of $5.5 billion. Disney holds a 43% stake in the venture; the majority stake is held by the local government.

While the new social-distancing measures gave Monday’s visitors more confidence to enjoy the day, they also made for a strangely quiet atmosphere, with staff members outnumbering guests at some attractions in the morning.

Shanghai Disneyland Reopens With the Magic of Social Distancing

Visitors to Shanghai Disneyland practiced social distancing while watching performances at the Enchanted Storybook Castle.



Photo:

Trefor Moss/The Wall Street Journal

Under the new system, visitors must wear a face mask, check their temperatures and present a government-issued QR code showing their recent travel history. At opening time, people in short lines at the usually bustling entry gates were reminded by attendants to stand a safe distance away from other guests.

In the resort’s restaurants, signs on half the tables declared them off-limits to prevent crowding. And at stage performances in the Enchanted Storybook Castle—featuring Snow White’s Seven Dwarfs, Elsa from “Frozen” and other fan favorites—spectators were instructed to stand in small yellow squares, safely away from other visitors. A small army of staff watched carefully to make sure everyone complied.

The park’s public address system urged guests to maintain good hygiene and respect other people’s personal space.

Visitors didn’t seem to mind the restrictions. Some said they preferred them to the long lines and jostling crowds that are typical at the park.

The fact that Disneyland was back in business was all that mattered to superfans like Jayme Shimamura, from Hawaii, and Discha Poppy, from Indonesia, who moved to Shanghai from Singapore in 2016 in part because the park was opening up here.

“I am a Disney freak,” said Ms. Poppy, 28, sporting mouse ears and a Minnie Mouse skirt with a matching handbag as she strolled through Treasure Cove. As someone who visits the resort on average once a week, Ms. Poppy said she was desperate to come back on reopening day.

Shanghai Disneyland Reopens With the Magic of Social Distancing

Disney superfans Discha Poppy, left, and Jayme Shimamura celebrate the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland on Monday.



Photo:

Trefor Moss/The Wall Street Journal

“We were really hunting for the QR codes” needed to secure one of Monday’s tickets, she said, adding that she was happy her childhood dream of being a regular Disney visitor could finally resume.

Winnie Zhu and her family visited Disneyland every Saturday before the recent closure and they were also determined to return at the earliest opportunity, even staying overnight in one of the resort’s hotels despite being Shanghai residents.

“She missed it here so much,” Ms. Zhu said, referring to her 3-year-old daughter, who was wearing a light blue Alice in Wonderland outfit as she squirted bubbles from a soap gun in the shape of Duffy the Disney Bear. “She kept saying that she wanted to go to the Disney resort again and meet Donald Duck.”

Park staff, dressed up as Disney characters, waved to visitors from an elevated bridge during a reopening ceremony but refrained from their usual face-to-face interactions.

In another positive sign for Disney, Shanghai authorities lowered the city’s alert level for a second time on Saturday, paving the way for movie theaters to reopen. The pandemic earlier forced the company to push back the global release of its $200 million live-action remake of “Mulan,” starring Chinese actress Liu Yifei.

—Yin Yijun and Erich Schwartzel contributed to this article.

Write to Trefor Moss at Trefor.Moss@wsj.com

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