While I love Walt Disney World, there is something special about Disneyland. Being able to walk the same pathways as Walt himself is a remarkable feeling. I visited Disneyland for the first time in 2015 for the 60th anniversary and immediately fell in love. Last December, my family moved to Monterey, California. We frequently move for my husband’s job and have had the opportunity to live in some beautiful places over the years. In July 2020, we found out California would be our next destination, and to say I was ecstatic is an understatement. We had been in Florida for 2.5 years, and I visited Walt Disney World often, but it had been since 2016 since my last Disneyland visit.
When it was announced that Disneyland would be reopening on April 30th and tickets would be available on April 15th, I knew I had to do everything in my power to be there. Even though Disneyland is only open to California residents currently, I knew I would be facing many other Disney lovers trying to get those coveted opening day tickets. After 10 hours (yes, you read that correctly), I was able to book a reservation at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, park hopper tickets, and most importantly, Park Pass Reservations. Disneyland implemented the exact Park Pass Reservation System as Walt Disney World to limit capacity.
I arrived at the hotel on April 29th to be up early on the 30th and get in line for Disneyland many hours before the official park opening. You know that Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort is my absolute favorite resort at Walt Disney World. The Grand Californian is very similar, and I felt right at home. After exploring Downtown Disney and grabbing dinner, I went to bed excited about the day to come.
My alarm went off bright and early on the 30th. I had told myself I wasn’t going to line up until 7 am (for a 9 am official park opening), but the excitement got the better of me. I made my way downstairs. The Grand Californian has its own entrance to Downtown Disney, where you go through temperature screenings and security. By 6:30, I was in the queue outside of the Disneyland Esplanade. During the wait, I met Dani and Tony (my new favorite Disney line buddies), and the time passed quickly. Once all the Grand Californian guests were let into the queue, individuals from the parking structure and Harbor Boulevard were brought in to line up behind us. Being able to line up first is a significant perk to staying at the Grand Californian. Around 6:55 am, the crowd went silent as everyone prepared to secure boarding groups for Rise of the Resistance. There are two boarding group opportunities at Disneyland – 7 am and 12 pm. You can only get a boarding group at the 7 am drop if you have a Park Pass Reservation at Disneyland. At 12 pm, anyone scanned into Disneyland or Disney California Adventure Park can attempt to get a boarding group. Luckily, I was able to secure a boarding group which only increased my excitement. At 7:30 am, the first set of gates were opened, allowing the queue to move into the Disneyland Esplanade. The emotion standing at the gates of Disneyland was palpable. From the gates, you could see Cast Members inside performing last-minute preparations. Slightly before 8 am, a Cast Member started our 10-second countdown. Just like that, after 412 days of closure, the gates to Disneyland were open again – I was home.
That first walk back down Main Street was even more impressive than I anticipated. Cast Members, including Disney executives, lined the street waving and welcoming us back. Many were saying, “We missed you,” with many crying. The most overwhelming moment was seeing Josh D’Amaro, Chairman – Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, and Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney. Meeting Josh D’Amaro has been a Disney bucket list item for me, so I reigned in the nervousness and walked over to meet him.
After spending more time than necessary taking photos in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, I made my way to Haunted Mansion to start my attractions for the day. My goal was to ride as many attractions as possible. Given the limited capacity, I expected similar wait times to what I experienced in Walt Disney World in September. It was pretty close. One important thing to keep in mind is that due to COVID restrictions in California, guests can’t be in an indoor queue for more than 15 minutes, which has caused almost all queuing to be outside, which causes the length of the queue to look a little scary. Many of the rides were walk-on, with the longest wait I experienced being 35 minutes for Indiana Jones Adventure at the end of the day. Honestly, I was willing to wait however long was necessary for Indiana Jones as it is my favorite ride in all of the Disney parks.
During the closure, Snow White’s attraction in Fantasyland was updated to Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, and the Haunted Mansion received some new touches. I was a fan of the old Snow White attraction, but I have to admit the new one is fantastic as well. If you have visited Walt Disney World since its reopening, you know that the stretching room section is skipped. This is not the case at Disneyland. Instead, five small groups are allowed into the room and given a spot to stand. The other most notable difference from Walt Disney World is the lack of the first part of Rise of the Resistance with Rey and BB-8. I’ve experienced this attraction multiple times at Walt Disney World, so I was a little let down by the change but completely understand the necessity with precautions to remove it. Rise was just as incredible as I remembered from my last Walt Disney World trip. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Star Wars fan, but I will attempt to get a boarding group for this attraction every single visit to Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
As anticipated, wait times were pretty low. I was able to experience every single attraction on my list. Just don’t forget that sunscreen, because you are going to be outside a lot.
Character experiences are high up on my list of favorite things to do at the Disney parks. I was very anxious to see what interactions Disneyland had in store. Unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland is not hosting character cavalcades. When I realized this, I was slightly disappointed. If you follow my travels, I’ve made it no secret that I think the cavalcades should replace traditional parades forever. I love them. Even though I started disappointed, it changed quickly into excitement when I saw how many character interactions are located in Disneyland. While you may have to search them out, they are there in abundance. I stumbled upon Anna and Elsa while waiting in line for Snow White’s Enchanted Wish. Later in the same spot, I found Flynn and Rapunzel. Just steps away is a princess lineup that alternates between 2 and 4 princesses at a time. Mickey and friends can be found at the Train Station. My favorite interactions came from the Pirates of the Caribbean queue, where I was able to have a conversation with Redd and later jack Sparrow. The point is – characters are there in abundance providing those same interactions
Having lived in California the last few months, I anticipated the limited seating for dining. I made two dining reservations in Disney California Adventure Park for my visit – Carthay Circle and Lamplight Lounge. Both were delicious. There is no indoor seating at the restaurants, which has caused significant issues with availability. I attempted to utilize the walk-up waitlist feature in the app since I had success with this in Walt Disney World but could not get any day-of reservations. However, there are still several great options available for mobile ordering. My biggest recommendation for mobile ordering is to plan ahead. Select your pickup time as early as possible because they go quickly. When I decided I wanted my favorite Mickey beignets from The Mint Julip, the soonest available time to pickup was over an hour and a half from when I was attempting to order. Did I wait that hour and a half because I missed mickey beignets so much? Absolutely I did.
Hand washing and sanitizer stations were placed throughout the parks and at the entrances and exits of attractions. Six-foot markers were identified in attraction and dining queues. Mask compliance was 100%. I did not see a single person at Disneyland with their mask on incorrectly. The temperature checks were very organized, which helped speed up the process. I was pretty impressed with the COVID procedures!
The Disneyland reopening was nothing short of magical! Currently, only California residents can visit, but stay tuned for updates regarding when non-residents can make their way back to The Happiest Place on Earth. Ready to start planning your Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation? Email me today! Stacy@travelwiththemagic.com Make sure to follow all my journeys on Instagram and Facebook!