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After over a year of no Disney, my girls were beyond excited about the Disneyland reopening.
After waiting in the queue for 14 hours (yep, 14!) we finally scored some tickets and reservations for the second week in May. 17. If you are looking for tickets now, you should be able to jump right in and buy them without waiting in the queue, though only certain dates are available.
After shopping for some fresh new Disney attire and accessories to wear for our visit and booking one of our favorite area hotels, we were ready to hit the parks. While some things were the same as always, many things were different and if we decide to go back again during Covid, we will certainly use our learnings to help us better plan our next trip.
1. Disneyland Reopening Hours of Operation and When to Get to the Park
The Disleyand hours of operation have changed since the reopening and they are still changing regularly. Our visit was the first weekend the parks were open until 9pm and that was magical. We were able to see the castle lit up (PHOTO) and many of the rides had shorter lines during the last hour of the day. That said, the parks are opening much later than usual at 9am. For now, there is no magic hour. This creates major congestion at the entrance.
On Friday we arrived at Disneyland smack dab at 9am and the line was already snaked down past the typical entrance. From start to finish we waited about an hour from when we got in line to when we entered Disneyland.
The second day we snoozed in a tad to catch up after our 12-hour day at Disneyland. We arrived at 10am and we waited a whopping two hours to get into California Adventure. This was not fun at all, and knowing what I know, I would certainly make the extra effort to get there 15-20 minutes before the park opens to avoid the long wait.
Bottom Line: Get there early ahead of opening to beat long lines at the entrance.
2. Disneyland Reopening Capacity and Crowds
As a family, we have been pretty Covid-risk averse over the past year and we didn’t make the decision to buy tickets to the Disneyland repopning lightly. Our rationale was that at limited 15% capacity it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the parks without the massive crowds. We had heard from friends that visited on reponing week that the lines were super short allowing a major uptick in the amount of rides you could do in a single day.
The capacity is changing each day and although Disney has not been fully transparent with it’s capacity decisions, Orange County moving into the yellow tier will certainly have an impact on increased capacity in the coming weeks.
The net-net is that the park did not feel any less crowded than on a normal pre-Covid visit. We waited around 30 minutes for most of the rides in Fantasyland. Peter Pan was around 40 minutes as were the new Snow White Ride and the King Arthur Carrousel (which we did wait for despite my pleading with my kids to not spend 40 precious minutes riding the Merry-Go-Round!)
If your kids are old (tall) enough to go on some of the bigger rides, the waits were similar. The Star Wars Rise of The Resistance Ride needs to be reserved in advance – two queues open at 7am and again at noon. The ride was completely epic and the wait time (even with the queue) was around 30 minutes. Haunted Mansion and Pirates of The Caribbean were each around 40-minute waits.
At California Adventure the wait times were similar. The app helped us a bit as sometimes the rides that typically have long waits would drop below 30 (usually around lunchtime and towards the end of the day) and we would hightail it to those rides. Crowd favorite, Radiator Springs Racers was about an hour wait, but only because it shut down for about 15 minutes during the wait. Soarin’ and Guardians of the Galaxy were both around 45 minutes.
Bottom line: Don’t expect shorter lines and wait times for rides at the Disneyland reopening. You still need to be strategic and have a rough list of priorities going in.
3. Food Options at the Disnelyand Reopning
Here’s where things start to get challenging. We already knew going in that dining options were slightly limited for the reopening due to Covid. We were able to get dinner reservations at Downtown Disney for both nights by booking them 3 weeks in advance (even then, times and options were very limited).
Lunch was a big challenge. All of the “grab and go” restaurants at the park are currently operating using mobile ordering ONLY. At one point my husband walked up to an empty stand to buy two bottles of water and they would not sell it to him. Instead, they sent him away to order on the app which showed the “next available pick up window” for 20-minutes later.
Back to lunch, all of the grab and go restaurants operate on mobile ordering and pick up window schedules. If you want to each lunch around 1pm, you really need to order by 10:30/11 to make sure you have a window for pick up around lunchtime. Once you are within your pickup window you check in with a ream member and then still need to wait for your order to be prepared! Once your order is ready you get into a line and wait to pick it up.
Disneyland seemed to have this system better figured out than California Adventure. When we tried to order lunch at Smokejumpers we arrived during our window and still had to wait over 45 minutes! Many people in the line were canceling their orders and there were a lot of unhappy customers.
The lesson here is you sort of need to anticipate what you will want before you want it, which is counter to the typical Disney experience. At one point my kids wanted ice cream and we had to reserve a window to pick it up, but by then my little one had fallen asleep in her stroller (I had to take one for the team), but it was a bummer. Then by the time she woke up it was a longer wait for ice cream and not that convenient to go back across the park to grab it.
ALSO, there are very limited options for healthy snacks. My husband wanted to grab a granola bar or a veggie plate, but that did not seem to be an option at either park. You really need to plan in advance and order a salad from one of the grab and go restaurants. I would highly recommend brining snacks and extra water given the challenges in getting food/drinks quickly.
One thing that you don’t need mobile ordering for is retail, so if you need a quick sweet treat, you can typically grab something pretty quickly. If you see it, score a bag of the limited release Disneyland Toffee. You will thank me later!
Bottom Line: Make dining reservations well in advance, pack lots of snacks and extra water and score some of the Disneyland toffee!
4. Characters and Princesses at the Disneyland Reopening
We saw many more characters and princesses than usual at both parks. California Adventure, which is typically short on characters except at the Anna and Elsa Meet in Greet (which is currently closed due to Covid) even had lots of folks around.
You do not need your autograph book this time because all characters are behind ropes or in other Covid-safe locations. The characters did their best to try to interact with the kids, but it’s really difficult with space constraints. The best interaction we had was near Cinderalla’s castle at Disneyland where we saw Ariel and Elena of Avalor. At that location there was a structured line and being under the dome prevented some noise from getting in.
Of course, it’s always great to see characters at the park, but I could tell my little ones were disanointed that they couldn’t hug Minnie Mouse. Once they understood the situation, they were happy to just give a wave from the stroller as we walked by, but it takes a lot of the excitement and energy away. I don’t think there is anything Disney can really do about the character meet and greets given the pandemic, but it’s worth noting that the experience is very, very different and might be upsetting for little ones.
5. Disneyland Reopening Shows and Events
At the current time, there is no character dining, parades, fireworks or any other shows at either park. This is definitely a bummer and something to keep in mind because the shows and parades tend to break up the day and provide a little downtime for little ones.
6. Disneyland Reopening Covid-19 Safety Protocols
Overall, I thought Disney did a really good job with safety protcols. They are adamant about mask compliance for everyone over 2-years old. The parks have added designated eating and drinking areas and there is no eating or drinking in lines (cast members will enforce this, which I appreciated).
I brought two back up masks for each of us and they also sell masks throughout the park. If you prefer the single ply disposal masks, there is a vending machine where you can buy both kids and adult sizes for $2 before you enter the park.
There are hand sanitizing stations and handwashing stations throughout the park. We took full advantage of the sanitizer and used it after each and every ride, which was great because we probably would have burned through $40 worth of our own. Lines are spaced to accommodate distance. It’s a valient effort, but around 50% of people ignore the line markets. The lines at the front entrance are not spaced out and we felt specifically very nervous when trying to enter CA Adventure on Day 2.
Bottom Line: Use the free hand sanitizer at the parks, but watch for big crowds in certain areas.
Closing Thoughts About the Disneyland Reopening
In conclusion, we had a great time on our trip and our kids were extremely happy. I don’t think we will return to Disney parks until they work out some of the kinks around lines, mobile ordering and dining, especially as capacity increases.
That said, if you are Disney lovers like we are, one trip might be enough to get you through what is hopefully the last few months of the global pandemic.