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. Now, with the state of California planning its own June 15 reopening, guests will get to enjoy even more of the Disney experience they know and love: out-of-state visitors are now welcome, and capacity limits are gone, to name a few changes.
Accessing that special Disney magic does involves a few more steps than it used to, though. (Figuratively and literally, as the tram that takes guests into the park is no longer operating; more on that below.)
Here’s the latest on 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 online and make a reservation to visit. (For now, Disneyland is still not selling tickets at the entrance to the park.) While Disneyland was initially open only to California residents, out-of-state visitors are welcome as of June 15.
Disneyland also capped its crowd capacity at 25 percent for its reopening, before moving it up to 35 percent. But as of June 15, the state’s theme parks will no longer need to adhere to capacity restrictions. Disneyland has not stated whether it will go all the way up to full capacity or not, but it will certainly begin letting more visitors in than before.
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.
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
Vaccinated guests are no longer required to wear masks outdoors or indoors at the parks. Unvaccinated guests no longer need to wear mask outdoors, but they must wear them indoors, except while dining. This all operates on an honor system basis: Disney says it will not ask for proof of vaccination. Temperature checks, which were in place at the security and screening checkpoint outside the parking garages have also ended. Hand sanitizer stations remain all over the parks, and are just as common as Mickey and Minnie ears
The parks were almost unrecognizable without the crowds when Disneyland first reopened. Yet as capacity limits have increased, vaccination rates have gone up, and coronavirus cases have decreased, the crowds at Disneyland have been growing. Castmembers do remind guests to keep their distance but it is not uncommon to see folks bunching up together in the ride lines. Now that social distancing is no longer mandated, Disney is leaving it up to guests to decide what they consider to be a comfortable distance from others.
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.)
Since the Disney FASTPASS, Max Pass, and single-rider options are still suspended, the wait times can be long, especially for popular rides like Space Mountain (about an hour) and Radiator Springs Racers (nearly two hours.)
Disneyland is using a virtual queue process for the Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars’ Galaxy’s Edge, Indiana Jones Adventure, and the new Spiderman-theme ride, W.E.B Slingers, at the just-opened Avengers Campus. For these rides, it’s imperative to have the Disneyland mobile app on your phone, as that’s the only way to join these queues. Sadly, it has been notoriously difficult to get boarding passes to these rides as the queues fill up within seconds of opening at 7am and then again at noon. (Yup, seconds.)
The new Avengers Campus, featuring Marvel Superheroes such as Iron Man, Black Panther, Captain America, and Spiderman, and clever culinary creations from Ant Man at the Pym Testing Kitchen, has been extremely popular since its opening on June 4—so popular that the average estimated wait time just to walk through the campus is about three to four hours. If you were lucky enough to get a virtual boarding pass to W.E.B Slingers, you can access the campus when your group is called. Otherwise, you’ll have to stand around and wait. Some guests hope that the standby policy will be relaxed after June 15.
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 spots go fast). Mobile ordering is encouraged nearly everywhere else, like at the Tropical Hideaway for Dole Whip floats.
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).
Previously, the lines for shops were set up for social distancing and capacity limits. These were lengthy, and zapped a little bit of the joy out of shopping for Disney merchandise. Now that social distancing has been lifted, getting Mickey merch will likely happen much faster. Disney is also testing a mobile shopping feature on their app at World of Disney in Downtown Disney, which allows guests to scan and pay for items on their device.
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 first Disney hotel to reopen 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, while the Disneyland Hotel has a reopening date of July 2. 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 opening in June.
The summer should involve more magical returns at Disneyland, especially after the slew of June 15 update. Already several restaurants are set to reopen on June 17, including Oga’s Cantina in Galaxy’s Edge and the Lamplight Lounge at Pixar Pier. Disney hasn’t released any official plans to resume live shows or the fireworks extravaganza but fans should expect a stream of announcements throughout the summer.
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