Nearly a year ago, the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California closed its gates. What we all hoped would be a temporary closure of a few weeks was extended into an indefinite shuttering.
After a lot of false starts, rumors, and contentious political wrangling, there is light at the end of the tunnel for a Disneyland reopening. On March 5, 2021, the California Governor’s office announced new rules to pave the way for many major theme parks to reopen as early as April 1, 2021. The Disneyland Resort’s home in Orange County is well on its way to meeting the required metrics in time.
This announcement was fairly sudden, and Disney has not given a specific reopening date just yet. It takes Disneyland a number of weeks to ramp up in order to train cast members and test attractions. On the March 9, 2021 shareholder call, however, Bob Chapek indicated that Disney is targeting a “late April” reopening date for Disneyland. It’s coming – for real this time!
BREAKING March 17, 2021: Bob Chapek just announced an official Disneyland opening day – April 30, 2021 – on a CBNC appearance.
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Quick tip: Although Disneyland ticket sales are currently paused, this reopening announcement means a lot of hotels around Disneyland are booking up fast, especially for summer trips. Check out my top hotel recommendations near Disneyland to start locking in refundable reservations. Or contact Trips With Tykes travel agency partner Get Away Today for expert assistance and exclusive hotel discounts – you can purchase discounted tickets later from Get Away Today when tickets are available again to complete a vacation package!
The Long Road to Disneyland Reopening
The road to this Disneyland reopening has been a long one. Before we get into what a reopened Disneyland will look like, let’s explore how we got to this moment. Buckle up.
(Prefer the shorter summary? Here are the highlights in my web story on Disneyland reopening.)
Disneyland’s July 2020 Reopening False Start
In June 2020, Disneyland announced a planned reopening date for the parks of July 17, 2020 – the resort’s 65th anniversary and just 6 days after Walt Disney World reopened in Orlando.
While the Downtown Disney shopping district reopened on July 9, this summer date for the parks was not to be. The public health situation in Southern California deteriorated during a summer spike, and the governor’s office never issued theme park reopening guidelines that would pave the way for the park to reopen on this date.
State of California Theme Park Reopening Guidelines
The spike subsided in the late summer, and hopes grew that Disneyland would have a second chance at reopening. Theme park employees and fans anxiously awaited guidelines from Governor Newsom that might enable Disneyland to reopen as a theme park. But those were not forthcoming. The public relations battle between Orange County and Anaheim business leaders and officials, Disney itself, and the Governor’s Office got a little contentious.
On October 20, 2020, theme park guidelines finally came out. Everything was pegged to California’s colored tiers (also known as the Blueprint for a Safer Economy). These tiers had governed permitted activities in each county in the state since the summer. Counties in purple (substantial) faced the most restrictions, followed by red (widespread), orange (moderate), and yellow (minimal) as the least restrictive.
The new October theme park addendum (available in full here) put theme parks in very restrictive tiers. The state distinguished large theme parks like Disneyland and Universal Hollywood from smaller local and regional theme parks, of the likes of Gilroy Gardens, the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, or Belmont Park. Small theme parks could reopen in the orange tier to in-county guests with highly restricted capacity and only outdoor attractions.
Larger theme parks like Disneyland, however, were forced to wait until their home county entered the state’s yellow tier to reopen. Capacity was limited at 25%, but there would be no geographic restrictions on guests.
The Winter Surge Crushes Reopening Hopes
At the time the guidelines came out, Orange County was in the red tier. That meant the OC had to move down two tiers, from red to orange and then from orange to yellow, in order for Disneyland to open.
When the guidelines were issued, I wrote the following: “Many theme park watchers are predicting the yellow tier is not a realistic goal for most urban counties in the state until a vaccine has been deployed widely…. Personally, I’m skeptical….In short, it could well be late spring or even summer of 2021 before Disneyland is permitted to reopen if these guidelines remain in place.”
That prediction was right. The OC hovered tantalizingly close to the orange tier in October but never made the move. As Halloween and Thanksgiving and cooler weather approached, the winter surge began. Almost every county in the state went back to purple. The Governor issued a further order that closed the state down even further.
March 2021 Revisions to Theme Park Guidelines
This California order was lifted in late January, and public health metrics began improving rapidly throughout February. Unable to open as a theme park, Disneyland planned a spring food festival in Disney California Adventure park, A Touch of Disney that sold out almost immediately.
And then on March 5, 2021, California officials announced some major changes to the theme park guidelines. In a pretty surprising move, all theme parks regardless of size would now eligible to open in the red tier after April 1, 2021. New capacity guidelines were announced, along with new restrictions on types of activities allowed in the parks in the different tiers, as follows:
- Red Tier: 15% park capacity, indoor capacity restricted to 15% with time restrictions, & no indoor dining
- Orange Tier: 25% capacity, indoor capacity restricted to 25% with time restrictions
- Yellow Tier: 35% capacity, indoor capacity restricted to 25% with time restrictions
Most notably, the current guidelines will also permit theme parks to reopen to California residents only. This requirement applies to every tier right now. But it seems likely that the rule will be lifted in the not-too-distant future. California currently has a travel advisory asking anyone coming into the state to isolate for 10 days. When that advisory is lifted, it seems safe to assume that the in-state requirement for theme parks will lift too.
Disneyland Announcements in Response to New Theme Park Guidelines
So what moves has Disneyland made in response to these new guidelines so far? Bob Chapek announced that Disney was eyeing a “late April” opening, but it will likely be a few weeks before we get an exact date pinned down.
It seems likely that A Touch of Disney will take place as planned through April 19 (the last date on which tickets were sold) before regular reopening happens. When regular reopening does happen, we also don’t expect Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure park to open immediately. In the March 9, 2021 shareholder call, Mr. Chapek said only that the land is coming “later this year.”
There is still so much more to know that will shape the reopening. We don’t know yet when the three on-property Disneyland hotels will reopen (Related: Comparing Disneyland Hotel & Disney’s Grand Californian.) Disney had already announced that the Disney Vacation Club villas at the Grand Californian would open May 2, 2021. Whether that date will be moved earlier or the rest of the hotel will become available then too remains to be seen.
And, most importantly, we don’t yet know what tier Orange County will be in when the parks reopen. That’s crucial to knowing the park’s capacity and how much demand it can accommodate. It seems safe to assume Orange County will be in the red tier at least in the next week or so. It will then be eligible to move to the orange tier no sooner than three weeks later. So it’s conceivable that it may make that move to orange before late April. But that all depends on whether case rates continue to decline quickly enough.
What Changes Are Coming to Disneyland When it Eventually Does Reopen?
That’s a lot of contingencies and what ifs! But because Disneyland has already had multiple false starts with reopening, there are a lot of details that had already been released about the plans in place to open Disneyland. And of course Walt Disney World has been operating since July, with constantly evolving protocols that reveal what is working for the parks and what might be coming to the other Disney coast too.
For guests interested in looking forward to what that very first Disneyland day will look like, you’re in luck!
The bottom line is that things are going to look a lot different at Disneyland when it reopens. Expect new safety protocols and seriously restricted capacity. Additionally, the parks simply won’t be able to offer everything that guests have come to expect in the past.
Everything at Disneyland is still a moving target like all of life has been this past year, so I’ll plan to keep updating this post in the next coming weeks with more specifics. But here’s what we know so far about how things will be different in the re-opened parks.
1. Park Entry Reservations Will Be Required.
Just like at Walt Disney World, Disneyland is going to reopen its parks on a reservations-only basis. Guests must have a valid theme park ticket in hand to make a reservation (note that ticket sales have currently been paused).
We know little else about how this reservations process will work at Disneyland, but can certainly take cues from what Walt Disney World has done with its Disney Park Pass system. At Walt Disney World, on-property hotel guests were given the first window to make park reservations. Guests holding tickets from vacations canceled due to the closure were also given priority to book reservations before new tickets went on sale to the general public.
Whether the demand for reservations will exceed supply is an open question. The capacity and demand at Disney World has fluctuated pretty wildly, but that was in a very different time and context! I suspect that with so many local SoCal Disney fans locked down with nothing to do for a lot longer time period, Disneyland will be a resort that sees a much bigger crush of initial demand. But we shall see!
2. Park Hopping Could Be Allowed.
Although park reservations are needed, Disneyland told its ticket partners last summer that it still planned to allow park hopping. In contrast, park hopping was initially not allowed at Walt Disney World when that resort reopened. It was only added at the start of the new year (See about this and other Walt Disney World changes in 2021).
With the parks in such close proximity at Disneyland and no transportation needed to get guests between the parks, the logistics of (and risks involved with) park hopping are much easier at Disneyland. Of course, with so many things now in flux since the original promises of park hopping were made, this could well change again.
3. Parades, Shows, and Fireworks are Out.
Large gatherings within the theme parks come with increased risk and crowding. As such, Disneyland won’t be able to offer its usual parades, stage shows, or fireworks spectaculars at first. Since the new Magic Happens parade debuted earlier in spring 2020 just weeks before the closure, that’s extra sad of course. But safety first, so we’ll just wait patiently for these larger gatherings to safely return.
In the meantime, Disney World has filled the gap with smaller character cavalcades that happen at unannounced times that work like mini-parades. I’d expect Disneyland has many similar plans as well.
4. No Character Meet & Greets.
The need for distancing makes traditional character meet and greets impossible for now at Disneyland. But don’t give up hope on seeing the Fab 5 or your favorite princess. Disneyland will surely find a way to integrate character appearances into the parks from afar, and Disneyland’s earlier official press releases about reopening plans have hinted as much.
Disneyland has been silent about character dining, but Walt Disney World has been able slowly reintroduce character meals since its reopening allowing characters to remain at a distance from tables. Topolino’s Terrace in the brand new Riviera Resort was the first offering, followed by Garden Grill and then Hollywood & Vine. So perhaps there is hope for modified character meals at Disneyland too!
California has been much more restrictive, however, about indoor dining generally. All of Disneyland’s character restaurants are indoors, with the exception of Plaza Inn which has a mix of both indoor and outdoor seating. With indoor dining prohibited in the red tier and still very limited in orange and yellow, that may make character meals at the smaller venues like Storytellers Cafe or PCH Grill impracticable. But I’d also hope and think that Disneyland may get more creative with outdoor options. Stay tuned!
5. Masks and Temperature Checks Will Be Required.
As with all major reopened theme parks around the world, some basic health precautions and checks will be in place. Disney will also likely be monitoring guests temperature with no-contact thermometers as they enter through security. Social distancing reminders and signs will be all over the park.
And, of course, face coverings will be required to visit Disneyland. All guests ages 2 and up will be subject to this requirement. And as we’ve seen at Walt Disney World, expect Disney to mean business. Guests there are quickly corrected by cast members if their masks drop below their noses, and guests also are not allowed to take masks off to eat or drink unless they are stationary.
California has also has a statewide mask mandate still very much in place. So masks will be required in a lot of other places for guests staying off Disneyland property.
While most Americans have gotten used to mask wearing, it’s important to note that SoCal can get hot a lot of times of the year. Wearing a mask for a full day is also very different than wearing one for an hour long trip into the grocery store. Many families with little ones may find that they will need to visit the parks for shorter periods of time or even wait to go at all (see Mom Rewritten’s excellent piece about whether you should take kids to Disneyland when it reopens that addresses this topic). But hey, if Orlando visitors inn much more oppressive heat can handle it, I think a lot of Disneyland visitors can too!
6. Mobile Ordering & Contactless Tech Services Will Be Expanded.
One of the ways Walt Disney World has improved safety is by minimizing cast member and guest interactions using technology. From using QR codes to pull up restaurant menus to mobile ordering at quick service restaurants, contactless is where it’s at.
Disneyland will be no different. The OC Register recently reported that Disneyland plans to expand its already popular mobile ordering service.
Both Disney Gift Cards and Apple Pay will be added as pay methods on the official Disneyland app (in addition to the current credit card options). And mobile ordering will be permitted for guests as young as 13 years old, up from 18.
While many of Disneyland’s largest quick service restaurants are already integrated into the mobile ordering process, not every one is yet. Disneyland has already announced that Tropical Hideaway in Disneyland park and Studio Catering Co. in Disney California Adventure will be added to the mobile ordering service when the parks reopen. Expect additional restaurants to be added to that list.
7. We Don’t Know Yet about Maxpass, Virtual Queues, Extra Magic Hour, Magic Morning, and More!
A huge part of planning a Disneyland vacation is figuring out a smart touring strategy to dodge crowds and lines and ride more attractions. And all of that is in flux in this reopening so far.
We know that Disneyland will be restricting overall guest capacity in the parks but we don’t yet know what that means for attraction lines and access. Disneyland normally offers same day free digital Fastpass or the paid Disney MaxPass option that allows guests to book Fastpass reservations on a smartphone. It has also used a virtual queue for the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction. Any, all, or none of these options, along with old-fashioned standby lines only, could be on the table. At Disney World at least, we have learned that the resort’s Fastpass+ system is not used for now, leaving standby lines as the way guests currently ride for all rides except Rise of the Resistance.
Also in question is whether Extra Magic Hour or Magic Morning will still be offered. These early entry options give guests access to a even less crowded park for shorter lines. So stay tuned for more coming soon.
8. Annual Passes Are A Thing of the Past.
Last but certainly not least, Disney announced earlier this year that it was cancelling the annual pass program at Disneyland. With so many local APs, there would simply be no way to manage the resort at limited capacity to accommodate them. A new revised program will be coming in the future, but APs have all been refunded for now.
That means that everyone coming to Disneyland in these early days after reopening will need regular tickets. And it means demand patterns will look radically different than we are all used to.
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Are you anxiously awaiting Disneyland’s reopening? Will you go when it reopens? Do you agree with the latest theme park guidelines?