When Disneyland closed its gates at the start of the pandemic last March, no one imagined that the iconic theme park would remain shuttered for more than a year. Yet as California struggled with coronavirus surges, reopening the Happiest Place on Earth—and other theme parks in the state like Universal Studios—was simply not possible until now.
On April 30, Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure opened their parks to visitors for the first time in nearly 14 months. At long last, Disney fans could see, touch, and taste every bit of the Disney experience they were craving in lockdown.
But accessing that special Disney magic now involves a few more steps. (Figuratively and literally, as the tram that takes guests into the park is no longer operating; more on that below.) Here’s what to know about the newly reopened Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, from someone who has been.
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Tickets and reservations
As with buying a ticket for Florida’s Walt Disney World, which reopened last July, visitors to Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure need to purchase a ticket and make a reservation to visit. What’s different here is that Disneyland is open only to California residents for the time being—no out-of-state visitors allowed.
Disneyland is also capping its crowd capacity at 25 percent, which is why you cannot show up to the park with just a ticket, but must also have a reservation as well. Because of the reservation process and capacity limits, all tickets must be purchased online and in advance.
While many dates sold out when Disneyland first opened ticket sales on April 15, the park is slowly adding more dates through the first week of July (most weekends are booked; weekdays have more availability).
Disneyland is issuing park hopper tickets so visitors can see both Disneyland and California Adventure on the same day. However, visitors can’t go back and forth between the parks like before. They must start the day in one park and then wait until 1pm to switch over to the other park. Both parks close at 7 p.m., but that will change on May 15 when the closing time moves to 9 p.m.
Entering the parks
This is one of the biggest changes at Disneyland and California Adventure. After parking and getting through security, visitors normally hop on a tram that delivers them to Downtown Disney, and the grand esplanade that leads to both park entrances. But the tram is no more: visitors now have to walk about 10 minutes from the parking area to get to the esplanade.
Wheelchairs, scooters, and strollers are now available to rent at the security checkpoint before this journey begins (for the day, wheelchairs are $15, scooters are $60, and strollers are $18 or $36, depending on if you rent a single or double). There are benches for sitting and resting, but it’s still a long walk and feels even longer at the end of the day. In short, wear comfortable shoes.
Screening and safety protocols
Temperature checks now take place at the security and screening checkpoint outside the parking garages. Visitors over the age of two must wear a mask at all times, unless eating or drinking. Note that cast members are monitoring park-goers to make sure their masks are on—and will remind visitors as needed.
Hand sanitizer stations are all over the parks, and are just as common as Mickey and Minnie ears. Signs reminding park goers to social distance everywhere too, with shops and restaurants utilizing separate entrances and exits.
The parks are almost unrecognizable without the crowds, which is incredibly reassuring from a health and safety standpoint—plus, it’s just more enjoyable to walk around without tripping over a stroller or getting bumped in the shoulder. Yet it might take a bit of time to get used to a more low-key Disneyland. For all their annoyances, the crowds and hubbub can add to the magic and excitement of a visit.
Nearly every ride is open at Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, save for a few that are undergoing renovations such as the Matterhorn and the Jungle Cruise. A few rides have new looks too.
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish underwent a “reimagining,” with a new mine scene that features the dwarves handling brightly colored jewels. The famous King Arthur Carrousel, another original Disneyland attraction, was zhuzhed up with a new coat of paint and 14-karat gold-leaf accents. The Haunted Mansion also added new ghostly decor outside, and returned an original portrait— “April to December” featuring a woman changing from young to old—to the ride after its removal in 2005. (Keep an eye out for it in the Doom Buggy loading area.)
Though the Disney FASTPASS, Max Pass, and single-rider options are suspended, the lines are more efficient than ever. The lines look long because they’ve been set up to accommodate social distancing, but usually you can get on a popular ride like Space Mountain in about 30 minutes (this does not apply to Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars’ Galaxy’s Edge, though, which still requires a virtual boarding group pass to be reserved starting at 7 a.m., and is usually booked out quickly thereafter). The lines are also set up so that most of the waiting is done outside. Once the line heads indoors, people are quickly ushered through interior waiting areas (which also have plexiglass dividers) and onto vehicles.
Even better, rides are not seating people in every row. Another positive to this is that without so many people around, you can take in sights and sounds you may not have noticed before.
While churros, funnel cakes, and popcorn are in abundance, there are quite a few restaurants and carts that are still closed, including the Docking Bay 7 in Galaxy’s Edge, Clarabelle’s Ice Cream in Disney’s California Adventure, and Alien Pizza Planet next to Space Mountain.
For the places that are open, reservations are required with table-service restaurants, like the Lamplight Lounge at Pixar Pier and Cafe Orleans (book via the Disneyland website or app; these go fast). Mobile ordering is encouraged at nearly every other spot, like the Tropical Hideaway for Dole Whip floats.
The mobile ordering is done through the Disneyland app and allows you to choose your food and drink, select the time you want to pick it up, and pay directly through your phone. This lets you avoid long lines, although some popular spots like Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe and Starbucks still have notable waits.
Disneyland is doing “surprise and delight” character experiences where Mickey, Minnie, princesses, and even Chewbacca show up unannounced and interact with visitors from a distance. Star Wars characters are only found in Galaxy’s Edge, but Mickey and friends usually hang out at the Disneyland entrance near the train station, while the princesses can be seen in the Royal Theater in Fantasyland.
The parades, fireworks, and live shows are all suspended for now, so these surprise appearances are the only way to see beloved Disney characters. Socially distant photo ops are available through Disney’s PhotoPass photographers, but all guests, including small children, need to keep masks on (Walt Disney World just began allowing visitors to remove their masks for photos).
As with the ride queues, the lines for shops are set up for social distancing and capacity limits. In all honesty, these can get lengthy, and they zap a little bit of the joy out of shopping for Disney merchandise. Disney is, however, testing a mobile shopping feature on their app at World of Disney in Downtown Disney, which allows guests to scan and pay for items using the Disneyland app. But the entrance to that store is often long, too, especially at the end of the day.
There’s a friend or family member in practically every circle with an intense fondness for the fantastical world of Disney, and who could blame them? Here are 15 gifts that will bring a little bit of the Disney magic to everyday life—something we could all use right now—and help tide your giftee over until their next visit to the happiest place on earth.
Shop the guide here.
The overnight experience
The only Disney hotel that’s currently open is the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa which has direct access into Disney’s California Adventure (so long as you are a California resident, and have a ticket and reservation, of course). The Paradise Pier Hotel will reopen on June 15 but the Disneyland Hotel does not have a reopening date. There are a few new hotels near the parks that are currently open, like the JW Marriott Anaheim and the Radisson Blu Anaheim, and a Westin Hotel and an Element Hotel are expected to open in June.
More excitement will come to Disney’s California Adventure when the Avengers Campus, featuring Marvel superheroes, opens on June 4. Now that Orange County (where the Disney parks are located) is approaching California’s lowest coronavirus tier, more Disney experiences like restaurants and shows could return soon. And so could the crowds.
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