After being shut down for over 13 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disneyland finally reopened to the public on April 30. My husband Lee and I visited on May 17. It was our first visit since February of 2020…and we wondered how it would be different. We had a lovely day, but it was a somewhat different experience.
Attendance at Disneyland/Disney California Adventure is capped. It was 25% of capacity, but that seems to be changing. A park reservation is required to enter the parks. Disney recommends that you check the availability calendar before purchasing tickets. As of this writing only residents of California may enter the parks.
There are many precautions in place to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 (and other diseases).
- All guests over the age of 2 must wear masks. The only time masks can be removed is while eating and drinking – preferably in a designated dining area. If not, guests must be stationary and out of the way. Eating and drinking while standing in a queue is not allowed. On multiple occasions we heard cast members remind guests to pull masks up over their noses, and when in queues we heard frequent reminders that masks had to be worn properly at all times.
- There are hand sanitizer dispensers all over, especially at attraction exits. There are also new handwashing stations around the parks. So it’s possible to wash your hands without visiting a restroom.
- Use of contactless payment, e.g. credit card or debit card, is highly encouraged. At some locations, especially outdoor vending carts, that’s all that is accepted.
- Use of Mobile Order at participating food and beverage locations is also highly recommended. More on that later.
- There are no traditional character meet-and-greets (more on that later, too).
- No live entertainment.
- No parking lot tram. Guests go through security/temperature check at the parking garage then walk along the tram route to the park entrance. That’ll add over 1/2 mile each way to your day just from the tram loading area at the garage.
- Guests are encouraged to maintain physical distance..but that’s easier said than done sometimes. The queues are well-marked with signs on the ground advising guests where to stand to maintain separation – though we found a fair number of guests (and not all of them kids) were unclear on the concept. Distancing also forces the queues to overflow well beyond their usual boundaries – at one point the queue for Snow White stretched past the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, through Fantasy Faire, and out onto the walkway near the Hub. Cast members stand with “End of Line” signs which makes it a little easier to figure out where to go.
Because of distancing, ride capacity is way down on most attractions. A variety of methods have been used to separate guests, depending on the attraction. For many, it’s one party per vehicle. For others, it’s one per row, with one or more rows in between parties. For others, there are clear plastic shields separating guests. We thought this one on Star Tours, which uses a child’s booster seat to support the shield, was clever.
The loss of capacity leads to much longer waits than I expected given the attendance cap. Haunted Mansion was especially affected and had waits of 40-55 minutes most of the day. Even though the attraction is a fast-loader with high throughput, the Stretching Room becomes a bottleneck because only 5 groups are allowed in at a time. There’s a “side door” that’s also being used to bypass the Stretching Room – we saw guests going in that while we were waiting in the regular queue above it.
Most attractions were open, most with modifications to seating, some with additional modifications to shorten the period of time guests are indoors. Of the attractions we experienced, the one with the most changes was Rise of the Resistance. It still utilizes the virtual queue system, and there are two opportunities to get a spot: at 7:00 am and at 12:00 pm. For the first you can be anywhere (I have friends who got theirs while in their driveway at home as they were leaving for the parks), but for the second chance your ticket must have been scanned into a park (if you have a parkhopper, then it’s ok for DCA to be that park).
The queue does not go inside the “tunnel” area at all – it bypasses it and sends guests straight through the briefing room (no appearance by Rey) and onto the transport. The rest of the attraction proceeds pretty much as usual. There are fewer guests in the group of “recruits” that moves from transport to interrogation cell to vehicle loading area. Only one party per row in the vehicles, with a plastic shield in between the front and back row. While the vehicles move through the attraction in a group of four, only two of them were occupied when we did it.
Smuggler’s Run has also eliminated the brief by Hondo Ohnaka, though the audio plays as you go through the queue. While the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon seats six, only one party per cockpit is permitted – which means that almost everyone gets the opportunity to pilot the Millennium Falcon. That was awesome, and we did it twice. Having just automated gunners and engineers did affect our performance, though – there was no chance to get more than two containers of coaxium.
There are no Fastpasses available right now. There’s still a virtual queue for Rise of the Resistance, and there’s also a virtual queue for the Indiana Jones Adventure. That one opens on an as-needed basis, so if it’s not available, check back in the Disneyland app periodically.
The purpose of this virtual queue is to keep the line from overflowing into Adventureland and unlike Fastpass it doesn’t significantly lower your wait time when you return. The queue uses the upper level of the Jungle Cruise queue, since that attraction is closed right now (not sure what they will do when Jungle Cruise reopens!). We waited in line for about 35 minutes.
One of the main things we (I) wanted to see was the refurbished “Snow White’s Enchanted Wish”. I thought maybe it had been made a little more kid-friendly (less scary), but no, the storyline really didn’t change. Instead, most of the modifications were technical upgrades to introduce better lighting and a number of projection elements. Those make it look more interesting and give more of an appearance of motion. I thought it was nicely done.
Here’s a ride-through video.
The Haunted Mansion also got a few updates during the last year. The pet cemetery outside has been re-landscaped. Inside, the portrait gallery has been redecorated a bit. One of the portraits has been moved around the corner and is on the right as guests approach the loading zone. The rest of the attraction seemed brighter, but I didn’t notice any other changes.
Also worth noting are some changes to the operation of the Disneyland Railroad. It only loads at the Toontown station, though it stops at all of the stations and guests can disembark if they wish. All guests must disembark when the train returns to Toontown. When boarding, the conductors will direct guests to a particular row. The last train leaves at 2:30, but a cast member at the train station advised not to show up at 2:30 and expect to get on the train because there’s usually a line with more people in it that the train can currently accommodate. We had a very relaxing “Grand Circle Tour.”
As I mentioned earlier…there are no character meet-and-greets. But the characters are still around, in places where they are visible but out of reach. Almost every time we were near Town Square there were multiple characters up on the train station platform. They are still close enough to interact with guests – I actually prefer this to the usual character greetings where you wait in line 15-30 minutes for each character and I hope Disney keeps this modification.
We saw the Pooh characters over on the terrace near “it’s a small world.” Miguel from Coco was in Frontierland. We saw Belle in the little garden between Fantasy Faire and the castle – she was probably the closest to guests.
Vi and Chewie were in Galaxy’s Edge..Hey Vi, a word of advice: Let the Wookie win.
In Toontown, Mickey and Minnie were posing in front of their respective houses, and Goofy and Pluto were in Goofy’s garden.
Speaking of Toontown…the new Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction is still under construction and the show building is quite visible from Toontown.
The visual has been handled somewhat cleverly.
I mentioned dining. A LOT of restaurants still aren’t open. Which given limited attendance isn’t really a surprise. My main complaint is that there’s no place to get breakfast if you want anything other than pastry from Starbucks or Jolly Holiday Bakery. I was very surprised that Docking Bay 7 in Galaxy’s Edge is closed; only Ronto Roasters and the Milk Stand are open there. The good news is that a lot of places that didn’t offer Mobile Order before offer it now (like Gibson Girl, Mint Julep Bar, French Market, Plaza, Inn, Little Red Wagon, Adorable Snowman, the Cozy Cones, and Cappuccino Cart). Surprisingly in DCA several stands that serve alcohol now offer Mobile Order: the beer truck, Rita’s Baja Blenders, and Sonoma Terrace.
The bad news is that during prime lunch and dinner times Mobile Order gets busy and can be unavailable for the time you want. It’s recommended that if there’s someplace you really want to eat, you should go into the Disneyland app and place your order several hours in advance. The app will allow you to select later pickup times if you click “More Times”. I’m writing this at 3:00 in the afternoon, and already Plaza Inn has no availability from 5:40-6:10, and Tropical Hideaway has nothing at all until 7:00!
We ate lunch and dinner in Downtown Disney, and only had a mid-morning snack in Disneyland, so I really can’t say how well Mobile Order is working during busy times. Be prepared to be patient.
Since tables at the restaurants can’t be as close together, and since everyone has to be sitting down (or at least not moving) while eating or drinking, Disney has added a LOT of “Designated Dining” areas.
Some of these are tables and chairs in places we’ve never seen tables before, some are standing tables, some are park benches, some are walls, and some are curbs. It seemed to me that there were a lot more tables/chairs and standing tables available at DCA than Disneyland.
One area that had a surplus of tables and chairs is Paradise Park at DCA. With no World of Color shows (or any other entertainment) that area is quite underutilized. But, other than the Cappuccino Cart, there’s no place near there to get any food – Corn Dog Castle is closed, Paradise Garden Grill is closed, Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta is closed. Weird.
If you have a parkhopper ticket, as we did, then parkhopping is allowed after 1:00 pm. I had read that the crowd level in Disneyland seems to increase (as do wait times) after 1:00 when guests who started their day in DCA may move to Disneyland. We were out of Disneyland from 12:40 to 3:00, so didn’t experience an influx of guests…as far as I could tell the crowd level didn’t seem much different, nor did wait times go up noticeably in the afternoon.
We didn’t make it over to DCA until 5:00. It felt like there were fewer people in the park than Disneyland but the waits for attractions there were for the most part much longer than those at Disneyland: almost an hour for Soarin’ and Mission:Breakout, 40 minutes for the Fun Wheel, 70 for Radiator Springs Racers. Even Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree was 35! The surprises were Toy Story Mania and Incredicoaster, which were 15 and 10, respectively. Incredicoaster is a pretty fast loader anyway, so with the reduced crowd even though they loaded just every other row it was a short wait. On Toy Story Mania the seats in the vehicles are back-to-back, so they can still load every available car. There’s really no reduction in throughput there. Again, with reduced attendance it made for a short wait time.
The new Avengers campus is set to open on June 4, and a little bit more of it was visible.
The thing that fascinated me was these colored areas all around Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission:Breakout. I asked a cast member…I mean, a Tivan employee, what it was. She told me it was an energy disruption field where their galaxy meets ours – which allows us to travel into their galaxy to visit the Tivan Collection.
You can see that the surfaces are different on either side of the “rift”.
The Marvel superheroes were greeting guests on the stage in Hollywood – Captain America was just leaving and Black Widow was arriving when I walked by.
There was also a nifty Captain America/Falcon photo backdrop.
Characters were out around the fountain in Carthay Circle and at the band shell on Pixar Pier. I also saw Mater in Cars Land.
Because everyone is paying full price for tickets right now they seem to be making the most of their day and are arriving earlier and leaving later. The parks were open from 9 am to 9 pm for us. We re-entered Disneyland just before 8 pm and there were people leaving, but not as many as were leaving at 9:00. The attraction wait times were significantly shorter at 8:00, though.
We had a very nice day, but it was certainly different for us than our pre-pandemic visits. Mainly because, having paid for our tickets, we felt like we had to get the most out of our day and spent more time in the parks than we usually would. We did everything that we really wanted to, but there were attractions we didn’t experience because the wait times were just too long. We really missed Fastpass.
We also really missed live entertainment. We enjoy the Disneyland Band and the Dapper Dans, the Royal Theater, and the seasonal acts we often see in Disney California Adventure. Though I will say that I didn’t really miss the parades or nighttime shows…largely because they cause such gridlock in the parks.
I’m sure things will be changing as Disney is able to add more capacity and open more attractions, shops, and restaurants. It will be interesting to see what the “new normal” ends up being, and how long it takes to get there.