As we’re sure you know by now, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA has been closed for over a year now and during this time only Downtown Disney has been open to the public for about half of it. In March Disney opened up a new event for guests called A Touch of Disney. Now, Disneyland has an official opening date of April 30th, 2021. Cast Members who were furloughed have started to be called back, preparations for social distancing and other COVID guidelines are now being implemented and guests are ready to return to a “tickets only” theme park.
While our planning guides typically cover topics like hotels, dining, savings, and crowds, this guide is going to be a bit different. We’re not sure how long it will be relevant as nothing is known during COVID but we’re hoping that, like Walt Disney World, Disneyland will be mostly normal by Oct. of 2021. While this is an obvious goal for Disney World who is celebrating their 50th anniversary then, Disneyland doesn’t have a timeline like this (Updated April 8th, 2021).
They did miss their 65th birthday celebration so there’s a chance Disney celebrates this retroactively but we doubt it. We think their timeline will follow California’s strict rules for reopening which, for the time being, will only allow Disneyland to open to CA residents and a 15% capacity limit. Assuming this continues, as well as vaccination efforts, we see Disneyland entering into some normalcy in early to mid fall.
What you’ll get from this guide is a chance to plan and prepare for a Disneyland vacation while COVID restrictions are still in place. The parks change quite a bit as we’ve learned from Disney World, so it’s always good to know what you’re jumping into. Being prepared will help you plan a better vacation for yourself and your party.
WHEN DOES DISNEYLAND REOPEN?
Disneyland plans to reopen on April 30th, 2021 after being closed since March of 2020. Currently Cast Members are being called back for safety training and to help prepare the parks for guests by implementing COVID safety measures which we’ll talk about more in detail below. For now, only Cast Members are allowed inside Disneyland Park and the hotels. Guests can still access Downtown Disney and California Adventure Park via the Touch of Disney Event.
When Disney announced their reopening date they included several notes as to how it was going to happen. First, Disney plans to offer small Cast Member previews before April 30th as well as possible local resident previews. No information has been released on either of these but we do expect the previews to last at least a week. These allow Disney to see how things will function in a very small, controlled environment. Not everything is “up-to-par” during these events and tweaks typically happen before opening up to everyone else.
Upon reopening Disney plans to only allow guests from California to enter the parks. We don’t know how long this restriction will apply but so far they have not announced any changes to this rule or commented on when it might be removed. What this means for guests who don’t live in California is, be patient. April and probably May will be committed to residents only. Disney will announce when guests can start to make Park Reservations and book hotels. You’ll want to jump on this ASAP as competition will be fierce.
For guests who are residents of California, look for announcements about possible previews for park opening, particularly Legacy Passholders and old annual passholders. We suspect this is the crowd they may be looking at for previews. That or Anaheim residents only. At some point though, Disney is going to release a Park Pass Reservations System like Disney World did. You’re going to want to watch for this as it will be the only way to get into the parks upon reopening. For now, it looks like residents will have the parks to “themselves” for at least a month if not longer.
Disney will also open up hotel reservations at the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Residents and non-residents will be able to make reservations to stay at this time. However, keep in mind that for the first while only residents will be able to enter the parks. Non-residents will only be allowed to enjoy the hotel and Downtown Disney. Now this could change before opening and it could end up being that non-residents with a hotel reservation can enter the parks. Only time will tell on this.
COVID-19 SAFETY MEASURES
Upon reopening, the resort and parks are going to look a bit different. This is going to affect everything from how you enter the resort and wait in line to how you dine and shop. Already guests have experienced some of this as Downtown Disney has already implemented the basics of these. Guests who come onto the resort are subject to a quick health questionnaire and a temperature check. Of course masks are required to be worn at all times except when eating or drinking while standing still or sitting.
If you haven’t been to Downtown Disney or Disney World during COVID, how this process works is there are tents on resort property that house healthcare workers. Lines are set-up to accomodate parties every 6 feet. Once in line you’ll continue to move forward as the group in front of you moves forward. Once you’ve arrive at the tents a healthcare worker will take your temperature. Assuming you pass you’ll head to the next step which is security.
Nothing for security has changed other than you’ll have your mask on while going through and so will all the Cast Members.
Once through you’ll be able to head to whichever park you have a reservation for or into Downtown Disney. Again, masks are required to be worn by anyone ages 2 and up at all times except when eating or drinking. Cast Members at the gate will be scanning tickets without trying to touch them so follow the instructions given to you. At the Touch of Disney event, tickets were placed onto the turnstyle and then scanned by the Cast Member. Once verified you simply picked up your ticket and entered. We imagine Disney will be doing this or something similar upon reopening.
Inside the parks guests will not be 6 feet apart when walking around or shopping. It’s really only when it comes to lines does the social distancing take place (although you are encouraged to space yourself when walking around). The truth is, you have a mask on when you can’t social distance and this is going to happen a lot while in the parks. So when you’re getting in line to buy something, pick up your food, or get on an attraction, you’re going to be spaced apart by lines on the ground.
Guests will see signage throughout the parks reminding them of the healthcare rules and how to properly wear their masks. Cast Members will be doing the same. We highly encourage you to follow these rules as guests who do not comply are asked to leave. Keep in mind too that Cast Members jobs hinder on Disneyland and it’s guests being able to follow these rules. It’s not just about the guest and what they think is right or wrong. By going to the parks, you’re accepting to follow these rules on your own accord. No one is forcing you to do so. Just be respectful and everything will go super smooth.
Don’t be worried when you see attraction lines much longer than they used to be. Remember that everyone is being spaced 6 feet apart so naturally the lines are going to look longer. Wait times can be longer than normal because attractions may not be loading as many guests as they used to. It will come down to the ride itself and how it’s loaded or seated. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean may skip every other row under the new guidelines while Dumbo hasn’t changed at all because each elephant is already spaced 6+ feet apart.
Guests who need a break from their masks should either find a designated resting spot which allows you to sit apart from other groups and take your masks off for a breather or they should think about eating or taking a water break. Any of these things will allow you to remove your mask. When eating at a table you can take your mask off completely. If you decide to just take a water break you will have to sit or stand somewhere in the parks, drink your water or eat your snack and then put your mask back on. You cannot eat or drink while walking.
DISNEYLAND CAPACITY RESTRICTIONS & PARK PASS SYSTEM
As we mentioned earlier, Disneyland will open to limited capacity. Their first number was 15% and we imagine they will keep it between 15%-25% capacity while it’s residents only. Upon reopening to everyone we believe they will be at or around 25%-35% capacity. These numbers are in line with the Walt Disney World reopening though they are subject to California’s restrictions.
Because of the capacity restrictions, Disneyland will be implementing a Park Pass Reservation System like Disney World has. It allows guests to make advanced reservations to access the parks on any given day as long as they are available and the guest has valid theme park admission. Park admission must be obtained first in order to make reservations. This means you must have a ticket or annual pass before you can make park reservations. Guests without park reservations will not be allowed in.
The Park Pass System will work on a rolling basis and be slightly different from the one in Florida. This is due to the fact that there are currently no Annual Passholders at Disneyland (expect Club 33 members). Assuming everything else falls in line, there will be two availability options for this system: the first will be ticket holders. Anyone who has a valid ticket to the parks, old or new, will be able to see what days are available and make reservations. These reservations will open April 12th. For guest who need to purchase new tickets and then make reservations, they can do so on April 14th.
The second part of this will be guests who have a hotel reservation. Availability will be different for these guests and in a way, a priority with more availability (most likely).
Park Hopping is going to play a big role how this reservation system works. Assuming guests will be able to park hop upon reopening, reservations will be done based on both parks. This has been confirmed by Disney and guests will be able to park hop at 1 pm each day. Only reservations to 1 park is needed initially and then the guest can park hop to the other park without a reservation. For example, a guest can make a reservation for Disneyland Park for 1 day and then at 1 pm, without needing a reservation to California Adventure Park, may park hop over.
We anticipate Disneyland capacity to remain around 25%-35% for sometime through early to mid-fall. However, vaccinations seem to be speeding up timelines so there’s a chance summer could see a capacity increase.
There are a lot of guests who are concerned about what will be open and closed at Disneyland during COVID. While thus far not ALL attraction details have been given, Disney has mentioned a few including “it’s a small world”, Incredicoaster, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Pirates of the Caribbean, Radiator Springs Racers and Peter Pan’s Flight. Rumors that no inside rides will be open during this time are untrue as Disney confirmed the above attractions with their initial announcement.
Wait times for rides will most likely increase even with capacity restraints in place. Again, this mostly has to do with how many guests can be loaded onto a ride at one time as well as how often the ride vehicles need to be cleaned. Basically what happens in these situations is the ride stops loading guests as Cast Members clean and disinfect vehicles and railings. This can last between 10-20 minutes. Once completed they resume the line again. They only do this every so many hours so it’s not a big hindrance but it does allow a line to build.
Unlike Disney World’s reopening, we foresee Disneyland being at capacity most days as people are now more willing to travel out than they were in July of 2020. This will make Disneyland’s reopening experience much different once they hit 35% capacity or so.
Fastpass and MaxPass will not be available upon Disneyland reopening so don’t bank on lowering your wait times based on these services. No announcement has been made as to when these they will resume. The Disability Access Service will be available for guests to use when needed and function the same as it did before.
The monorail will most likely not resume service until a later date.
HOTELS AT DISNEYLAND
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa will open April 29th so guests will be able to make reservations starting April 14th. The Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier will not open the first several weeks but will at a later date. The hotels will have limited capacity just like the parks so reservations may be hard to come by. Availability will be released for 2021 at the same time and increase as Disney is allowed to.
Hotels will also follow the same guidelines as the parks including social distancing and masks while walking around. Once inside your room you’re able to remove your mask. The pools should be completely open minus poolside service of food. The lounges in or nearby should be open for guests to eat. Chairs at the pools will be spaced and cleaned once someone is done using them.
Checking in won’t be too different other than spacing. We anticipate the merchandise stores and most dining locations to be open except for character dining which will open at a later date. Reservations will be required for these as they fill up fast except for lounges who will continue to serve on a first come first served basis. Their capacities will be limited as well and some tables may be closed to help with spacing.
Good Neighbor Hotels surrounding Disneyland will be subject to their own openings and capacity restrictions. We anticipate most will reopen several days before Disneyland does if they haven’t already. Walking to the resort from these hotels will remain the same as both the Katella Entrance (east side) and the Downtown Disney entrance (west side) will be open.
DINING AT DISNEYLAND
If you haven’t already you should download the Disneyland Resort app to your phone. This is going to play a very important role in how you eat at Disneyland during your vacation. During the Touch of Disney event the mobile app was almost the only way you could order food. Every marketplace and quick service location asked that you mobile order. The exception was two cash registers where you could use cash or card after choosing what you wanted.
Disneyland will be pushing mobile ordering like never before during COVID (and probably after). It’s convenient and keeps guests from crowding at the registers and food lines. Essentially guests will be required to show that they have mobile ordered and that their food is ready for pick-up before entering the quick service location. Once inside you’ll be assigned a line and pick your food up.
Guests who cannot mobile order for whatever reason will be assigned to a cashier who will help them. We’ve seen these lines before and they can get long so we highly recommend you get your mobile ordering skills up to par.
Tables at quick service locations can get scarce due to many being closed off so keep this in mind while you get your food. Maybe send someone to grab a table while you carry the tray over.
If you’re looking to do sit down dining you’ll want to make sure you grab reservations in advance. We anticipate these to operate at capacity on most days with walk-ups being turned away. Popular restaurant ‘s such as Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou are bound to return on park opening. Others will be phased in overtime. All of them will operate at reduced capacity to a certain degree.
SHOPPING AT DISNEYLAND
Currently at Downtown Disney guests can shop at most stores located there including World of Disney. When the parks reopen, bigger shops like Main Street Emporium and Elias and Co will be open. They will have designated entrances and exits with Cast Members station at each of them. Disney will reduce capacity for these shops by counting the number of guests that have entered. Once at capacity they will let parties in as others leave.
Smaller shops may not reopen when the parks do so don’t plan on everything being open. Smaller shops will eventually be phased in overtime. New, temporary shops may be available including locations near Monsters Inc. in California Adventure Park and possibly Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
Park services including package delivery will not be available. Guests who shop will need to hold on to their packages or store them in lockers.
PARKING AT DISNEYLAND
Parking will mostly likely be limited to the Mickey & Friends structure at reopening and then expand from there. The trams to Disneyland may not run from the parking structure to Downtown Disney until a later date thus guests may need to use the pedestrian bridge to Downtown entrance by the hotels and then walk to the parks.
BUYING TICKETS AND ANNUAL PASSHOLDERS
Disneyland will be resuming ticket sales for guests in early April. Specifics including how many days and park hopper options are unknown. Disney may limit visits to 3-4 days only for the first while to allow more guests to come back. Special tickets for residents only will most likely not be available. CA residents and all guests will most likely be buying tickets the same way. Pricing is expected to be up just a bit but vendors like Undercover Tourist can always discount them.
Tickets will be available for sale online, through the mobile app and at some point the box offices. We say some point because if you just show up to the parks to buy tickets, there’s a 100% chance you don’t have a park reservation yet and a 90% chance they don’t have anymore. Box offices will probably be available on a limited basis for answering ticket questions.
Annual Passholders are no longer at Disneyland and no new news has been announced on how Disney plans to resume that program and what it will look like. We believe Disney has made these changes to prevent park over-crowing by So. Cal Residents and to help increase their ticket sales and overall profit. It’s clear that a resident who goes 2-3 times a year and buys a regular ticket is making the resort more money than if they have an annual pass and attend 20-30 times. Eventually the program will come back but not in the same way. We doubt there will be a So. Cal Resident pass available to guests; instead, just a basic pass to make an advanced reservation like the Flex Pass did.
Current Legacy Passholders do not have access to the parks, just the perks. We don’t see this changing even upon reopening as the program has been cancelled and not yet replaced with something.
Disneyland’s reopening will not be like its sister park was in way of capacity and demand. Capacity will be very limited but demand will be high. Guests will want to have a plan in place before visiting so they know what changes to expect and the new rules to follow. COVID will have the parks looking and functioning very different for most of 2021. Guests will need to abide by new healthcare guidelines including social distancing and wearing masks.
Guests will have to make park reservations before they can enter and this must be done in advance. They will be limited and will either function under individual parks or together if park hopping is available. Shopping, dining and staying on property will all be affected by reduced capacity and an increased dependability on the mobile app. Ticket sales should resume in early April and may be limited to number of days and options. Plan on California Residents being the only guests who can attend the parks in April and May. We recommend planning for late summer or fall before they fill up.
Overall we are thrilled for the parks to reopen and think that guests who feel comfortable traveling should make the trip. It seems like there’s a lot to take in but the main things to get are buying your tickets and getting park reservations. From here, everything else will fall into place one step at a time.
Planning a trip to Disneyland soon? Be sure to see our “normal” planning guide as well as our top-rated post on how to save money on your Disneyland tickets. We also have reviews of the Disneyland Hotels and Good Neighbor Hotels that you may want to check-out. Lastly, be sure to see our What to Park for Disney guide that helps you know what you should and shouldn’t bring with you!
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.