On the last day of April 2021 Disneyland reopened after a pandemic related shutdown of nearly 14 months. I was lucky enough to visit the park during that first opening week and what I found was an empty park that allowed for back to back rides with no waits, meandering down Main Street without the risk of bumping into anyone, and quiet moments that you could only dream of prior to the shutdown. I wanted to check in with the park after one month of being closed, so I grabbed my fiancé Paul and made reservations at the Grand Californian to see what had changed in the one month after it had reopened.
The answer is best described in one word: busy!
Gone are the quiet walkways and empty queues from that opening weekend, the fans are back in full force and Disney has increased capacity dramatically. For example, in early May I was lucky enough to ride Radiator Springs Racers three times with a wait of 5 minutes each time, on the June 1st trip we waited 60 minutes, all 60 of those minutes. This is because of two conflating issues, first, increased capacity, and second, not filling every ride vehicle because of covid protocols. As we spent that long and hot hour standing in the sun, waiting to ride one of Disney’s greatest theme park attractions, we watched car after car pass by the outdoor section of the ride with six-seat cars filled with one or two people. It was actually a bit frustrating, even though it is not Disney’s doing, it is due to California’s restrictions. Restrictions that are about to lift on June 15th.
While the crowds increased and the ride vehicle capacity stayed the same, the waits swelled for many attractions, but it also led to some highly inconsistent wait times at a number of huge attractions. Splash Mountain had a posted wait time of 55 minutes and we waited only 25 minutes, Haunted Mansion had a line that wrapped around the exterior with a posted wait time of 50 minutes and we were on the ride in 5 minutes due to a side entrance opened during the reopening period.
It is well documented that wait times are purposefully inflated to make guests feel positive about their experience when they reach the ride loading zone earlier than anticipated, however, having one ride board 45 minutes faster than posted and another 30 minutes faster than posted, really made it feel frustrating when we ended up waiting the full 60 minutes for the ride in Cars Land. Aside from that, the erratic wait time discrepancies made it hard to plan your day or decide if you really wanted to do certain attractions. Would I wait 45 minutes to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? No. Would I wait 20 minutes to ride it? Yes. Do I know if the 45 minutes posted means 45 minutes or 20 minutes? No, and that can get frustrating.
The experience was great overall, we nabbed Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding groups in the morning and also enjoyed the Indiana Jones Adventure virtual queue system recently implemented. We rode the new Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, my third time and my fiancé’s first, he agreed that the changes were amazing and completely elevated the ride to a whole new level.
We snagged snacks and treats around the parks. While there have been stories recently written about people struggling to get their frozen sweets at Tropical Hideaway in Adventureland, due to long waits on the app and even longer waits once your number was called, we had no trouble and quickly got our dole whip swirls (lemon raspberry for me, pineapple raspberry for Paul).
The park did feel a bit on edge and it seems like the change to capacity, masks, distancing guidelines, and indoor shows, coming on June 15th, will be a huge relief for the park if Disneyland implements the changes. The crowds were struggling to find places to stop and eat their snacks in the designated dining areas and the cast members just seemed a bit off. At times the theme park experience felt like a meal that was lacking some salt, it was all there and it was delicious and fulfilling, but that extra pinch of salt that makes the flavors come alive was missing. This will easily change once queues no longer need to stretch around New Orleans Square for both Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion and ride vehicles can be fully loaded.
One month ago the park was experiencing a brief moment of quietness as the behemoth was slowly reawakening, it feels that the once serene park is ready to burst and the easing of restrictions couldn’t come any sooner.
My fiancé and I still had an amazing time and we know that we will never experience Disneyland like that again. Later this week Avengers Campus will open in Disney California Adventure, in two weeks capacity restrictions and other guidelines will slowly lift throughout the parks, Disney’s two other hotels will open (Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel), out of state guests will be allowed back in, and a plethora of other changes will get the original Disney park humming along even bigger and better than before. I am so grateful to have experienced the first week of the reopening and again after the first month, now I am ready for the next step in the evolution.