The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California finally reopened on April 30, 2021! To say it was a long time coming is probably an understatement. The resort had one of the longest closures of any business in the state.
I was able to visit both parks at the Disneyland Resort on the first two days of operation, April 30 and May 1, 2021 and then on June 2, 2021 to see all that’s new, changed, and still closed. I visited again June 14-16, 2021 as the resort changed a number of its operations when the state of California lifted most restrictions in the state June 15, 2021. I was back again for the launch of Halloween Time on September 3, and have another trip planned for early October.
I’m happy to report from all of these visits that the Happiest Place on Earth still exudes all its usual magic – made all the more special and appreciated after its long absence. Practically speaking, however, there is a LOT at Disneyland that is different in 2021. And those differences continue to change and evolve!
The parks are still operating at reduced capacity even though state regulations requiring capacity limits have lifted. As a guest, that means you need to come prepared for things to work in very new ways. Because many of the old tricks and hacks won’t work anymore, you need to have a few new tools at the ready to have the best vacation experience. That’s where this guide comes in!
Last Updated: September 11, 2021.
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Limited Time Offer: California Resident Summer 2021 Ticket Deal
Deal still live! California residents can purchase special deeply discounted 3 day tickets valid through September 30, 2021. These tickets can be used any day in the valid time period, subject to the availability of park reservations. That means no 14 day expiration window like usual! Trips with Tykes partner Get Away Today offers these tickets at additional discounts cheaper than the Disneyland direct price here – both park hopper and one park per day tickets are eligible for the deal.
Basics of a Reopened Disneyland in 2021
Theme parks have reopened around the world at various points in the past year, so modifications are pretty much a given to most of us. But we are now in the stage where there are modifications to the modifications! If you need a refresher on what Disneyland requires exactly at the moment as of Fall 2021, here are the highlights.
- Masks are no longer required outdoors for any guest. All guests must wear masks indoors except when dining.
- Park capacity is reduced. As of June 15, 2021, Disney has been free to set its own capacity but does not appear to have opened the floodgates to full capacity at all.
- As of June 15, 2021, there are no longer any geographic restrictions on visitors. Out-of-state guests can visit freely.
- Testing or vaccinations for visitors are recommended but not required.
- Guests self-determine their own distancing and cast members may encourage guests to fill in all available space in some environments.
- Seating is no longer spaced and single rider lines have in fact even returned on most attractions.
- Hand sanitizer stations have been installed in many strategic locations.
Essential Tips for Disneyland in Fall & Winter 2021
But where the rubber meets the road is how guests need to adjust their planning and touring strategies. Here’s how to truly do Disneyland differently in 2021 for the rest of the year:
Plan Much Earlier
With Disneyland currently at reduced capacity and an increasing number of Americans feeling comfortable traveling the last several months, the demand for Disneyland sometimes exceeds supply. That means you need to plan early to be able to go at all.
One of the advantages of Disneyland over Walt Disney World has always been that Disneyland worked well for those who like to plan vacations last minute. But that’s not quite the case right now. You really need to be planning for a Disneyland vacation well over a month in advance in 2021 due to Disneyland’s theme park reservation requirement (more on that later) – and ideally up to 120 days in advance which is the length of the open reservation calendar.
But it’s not just reservations that are making it important to plan Disneyland early. I’ve already seen a number of hotels selling out of certain room types or skyrocketing in price as demand has returned.
Hotels that are in walking distance of Disneyland are especially booking up quickly. A lot of travelers don’t want to take shuttles or harder-to-find ridesharing to the parks, making these locations extra valuable. And with no parking tram running between the main Mickey & Friends parking structure and the parks, it’s fewer steps for guests to walk from some of the nearby hotels than it would be to drive and park.
Get Park Reservations ASAP
The news that Disneyland now requires theme park reservations has still not reached a lot of people, making it a place where many guests are tripping up. Don’t be one of them!
Be sure to read my comprehensive guide to Disneyland reservations as you are planning your Disneyland trip. The bottom line is that you need to a) check to make sure there are reservations even available for the days you want to visit and the ticket type you plan to buy before planning a trip and b) book those reservations immediately before they disappear. Ideally, you should be booking exactly 120 days out on the day the reservations calendar opens for your travel date, especially if you plan to go at a high demand time like Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays.
Practically speaking, reservations have consistently remained open for almost all dates more than a month out (especially if you have park hopper tickets, where availability is more generous). No, that shouldn’t make you complacent. Availability can really fluctuate and increase, as it did when out-of-staters were let back into the parks after June 15. There are a lot of factors that might cause the parks to book up more quickly as the rest of the year progresses, including improving public health conditions or vaccine availability for younger kids, deals and discounts like the special discounted California resident ticket deal (through the end of September), the return of annual passes (now known as Magic Keys), the draw of seasonal offerings like Halloween Time, Oogie Boogie Bash, and the Disneyland Holidays. In short, it’s possible the parks could book up more quickly even as capacity continues to gradually increase.
Buy the Right Ticket Type
Disneyland recently brought back annual passes (now called Magic Keys). But it’s safe to say that a larger percentage of guests right now are buying regular park tickets – either single day or multi-day (up to 5 total days). There is an optional park hopper add on to both of these as well.
I’ve been hearing a lot of stories of guests who bought the wrong ticket in the first place or who changed their minds as to what ticket was right for them after more research. You really can’t afford to do this right now. You need get your ticket purchase right out of the gate because Disneyland doesn’t make it easy to change or upgrade tickets with the reservations requirement also in place.
For this reason, I highly recommend buying multi-day Disneyland tickets from Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. Get Away Today is the only place that offers refundable Disneyland tickets if you get this ticket purchasing step wrong (free if you purchase their $75 Peace of Mind Plan or otherwise a $50 per ticket fee). Plus, their tickets are discounted off of regular Disney direct prices! Book discounted Disneyland park tickets from Get Away Today here. (And also be sure to peek at their discounted Disneyland hotels and vacation packages too – use code TYKES10 for $10 in additional savings.)
So what else do you need to watch for in terms of tickets? Here’s what is tripping up many guests and what to know:
- One day tickets can only be purchased through Disneyland directly. These tickets have 5 different prices, corresponding to 5 different tiers. Only Tier 5 tickets can be used every day on the calendar. Other tiers have blockout dates. Be sure that the tier you purchase will allow you to even go on the day you want!
- Multi-day tickets thankfully do not have tiers at all, so you are eligible to book any day on the calendar with them.
- Multi-day tickets expire 13 days after first use. This makes them great for a single day vacation for out-of-towners as well as for locals who can bunch up several single day visits in a two week window.
- Park hopper tickets and single-park-per-day tickets each have their own separate reservation availability calendar, regardless of the number of days you purchase on these tickets. Make sure you are checking the reservation calendar that matches the ticket type you intend to buy. The single-park-per-day reservation calendar seems to be filling up first. If you are booking more last minute, paying extra for park hopper may open up more days on the reservation calendar to you.
Adjust Your Restaurant Plans & Expectations
Disneyland is known for its food experiences. When the parks first reopened last spring, things simply weren’t up to speed on the restaurant front. So many locations were closed or had massively pared back menus. Gradually over the summer, many more restaurants returned. As of fall 2021, the vast majority of dining locations are back. But capacity is still limited and reservations have never been harder to find. How does that change how you approach dining?
Table Service Restaurants:
For table service restaurants, book early (and often). Reservations didn’t used to be incredibly hard to get at Disneyland except for a very few popular restaurants, but they are much harder now.
Disneyland has always opened reservations at table service restaurants 60 days in advance, but hasn’t been reliably doing that for all restaurants lately. That makes it hard to know even when to try for reservations. My best advice is to try at midnight and then in the pre-dawn hours 60 days in advance (3:00 am PT & 6:00 am PT are the best bets). Then just keep checking. Disneyland often appears to be releasing these reservations in dribs and drabs.
If you can’t get a reservation though, don’t despair. Because of the scarcity, a lot of guests are booking multiple reservations to hedge their bets and cancelling some as their plans firm up. Snagging those cancellations is possible with some persistence and refreshing, especially a day or two before your trip.
Websites like Mouse Dining are great tools to help you snag a hard to find reservation by notifying you of cancellations or Disney adding capacity. Mouse Dining has both a free and a paid version, and I’ve had personal success using it to snag over a half dozen dining reservations – just since Disneyland has reopened.
Note that there is some walkup availability offered for table service restaurants. You can join a same day walkup wait list on the Disneyland app on the day of your visit.
Quick Service Restaurants & Mobile Ordering:
If you don’t want a fancier or longer meal, head for one of Disneyland’s quick service restaurants. Actually, don’t physically head there. First, you need to open the Disneyland app. The new normal for these dining locations is that you need to mobile order your food on the app. There are many quick service locations that will not take walk up orders at all, although a few cashiers have thankfully returned to many of them (albeit in smaller numbers than before).
To do this, the app will first display a list of available time windows for you to return to each restaurant to pick up your order. The closer you get to lunchtime, the more other guests start to place their mobile orders. And the farther out the return times become – sometimes even a couple of hours later – although this thankfully has improved as time goes on. It’s essential to order early, especially if there is a particular restaurant that is a must-do for you. You can always cancel an order with no penalty if you change your mind.
See the quick and easy guide to Disneyland mobile ordering that my friend Casey at Disneyland Daily has created with step-by-step instructions. There are special tricks for mobile ordering in Avengers Campus, so see my complete Avengers Campus guide for those details.
There are several smaller kiosks and carts located in the parks as well that sell snacks – churros, sodas, popcorn and the like. While a some of them remain closed right now, the ones that are open are walk up and order. Use these when you need more immediate gratification on the food front.
Master the Disneyland App
Speaking of the Disneyland app, it’s important for more than just mobile ordering. It’s a backup for your theme park ticket, your way to book virtual queues, your park map, the way to access your PhotoPass images, and more.
Right now, Disneyland is even testing a way to check out of stores by allowing guests to self-scan merchandise in the app.
It’s essential that you download the app, know your login and password, and load a credit card to your account. Every adult doesn’t need to have it, but the most tech-savvy adult in your party (or at least the one managing the Disneyland vacation planning) should.
Note that Disney gift cards are now a permitted method of payment in the app. So if you’ve acquired Disney gift cards at a discount, you can finally use them to save on food too. The only problem is that the app doesn’t store the gift card each time, so be prepared to enter the 16 digit code anew for each purchase.
My friend Jessica from the Happiest Blog on Earth has even more detail and information in this detailed guide to the Disneyland app.
Have a New Lines Strategy
Fastpass, MaxPass, Single Rider, Extra Magic Hour…. all those tricks and hacks we have used to use to shortcut lines over the years are GONE. For every attraction except Rise of the Resistance and WEB SLINGERS all guests are standing in a standby queue together. Oof.
How can you minimize your wait times in this environment? This is an ever changing target as capacity increases. But here’s what I’ve noticed so far:
- Lower crowds means a precise touring plan isn’t as vital as before. Right now with capacity lower and the attractions returning to full capacity seating, the lines at most attractions are pretty reasonable. In this environment, having a detailed touring plan isn’t as essential. Use the app to get a sense of relative wait times for attractions and follow where the shorter lines are. Know too that the app almost always overestimates wait times, especially for non-thrill rides, so you are usually pleasantly surprised. I find it helpful to watch the app wait times in the couple of days before each trip to get a sense of current crowd patterns too.
- Rope dropping still works. Get in the front of the line to enter the parks at little more than an hour before park opening and you’ll be in prime position for your first ride of choice – and maybe even your second and third. While Disneyland was previously letting guests in to ride attractions before official park opening time, that is no longer the case with the official return of rope drop, so plan accordingly!
- Expect longer waits for the newest attractions. Everyone wants to see what’s new. In the first few months, there have been longer lines at the newly redone Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (which is extremely well done, by the way) compared to all other Fantasyland attractions except the always popular Peter Pan. Haunted Mansion Holiday always posts longer wait times when it is back in the fall and winter. WEB SLINGERS is of course new, but the only way to ride it is with the virtual queue.
- Understand the effect of park hopping. Park hopping isn’t permitted until 1pm or later. This creates some artificial constraints on crowd flow. Historically, more guests go from California Adventure to Disneyland right at 1pm than the reverse, although the opening of Avengers Campus has temporarily evened things out. Watch for lines for some attractions to drop right around 1pm as a result of guest movement (and take advantage!).
- Know about the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance & WEB SLINGERS virtual queues. Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is still exclusively using a virtual queue for access, but the rules are different than they were in 2020. You can now try for a boarding group twice a day at 7 am and 12 noon. The first boarding group drops don’t require you to have entered a park for the day. Check out the latest in my Rise of the Resistance boarding group post. The brand new Spider-Man attraction in Avengers Campus, WEB SLINGERS, opened using this same procedure.
- Hop in line for one last ride a minute or two before closing time. As long as you are in line before the park officially closes, you get to ride. Lines are often very short at this hour as many guests head for the exits. Squeeze in one last ride, especially if you are a night owl!
Make New Transportation Plans
If you have a tried and true way of getting to the parks from previous trips, you should probably think through your transportation plans to make sure they still work in these unique times.
For locals driving (or anyone driving from a more distant hotel), know that the parking lots aren’t reliably opening until 1 hour before park opening time. Plus, the parking tram also isn’t running from Mickey & Friends/Pixar Pals. You’ll need to walk that route instead. If that’s too many steps or gets you started too late, consider whether getting dropped off in an Uber or Lyft on the Harbor Boulevard entrance would be a reasonable alternative.
On the flip side, consider whether you feel comfortable with shared vehicles right now – like ridesharing, shuttles that many more distant hotels run, or the Anaheim Resort Transit system (ART). If not, this might be the trip to rent a car and drive yourself.
The Toy Story Lot reopened June 18, 2021 with buses transporting guests to the parks, providing another alternative but often long wait times at park open and close. Guests who stay in hotels near the Toy Story lot often take these shuttles as well.
Be aware too that not all off-property hotels are running their normal shuttles (or at least on as frequent of a schedule as before). Uber and Lyft rides are sometimes harder to come by with so many drivers having left the platform when demand was lower, so wait times for those can be longer than before.
Personally, I think walking distance hotels are great choices for out-of-towners right now. Take transportation issues out of the equation.
Be Prepared for the Avengers Campus Effect
Last but not least, there was a big opening earlier this summer that can affect demand and crowds.
On June 4, 2021, Avengers Campus opened in Disney California Adventure park. This brand new Marvel-themed land launched with one new attraction, WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure, as well as a highly anticipated themed food at Pym Test Kitchen, Pym Tasting Lab, and several other food locations.
Things have thankfully settled down quite a bit in Avengers Campus, so the crazy crowds of this summer have subsided. Disney initially was capacity controlling the land, offering a standby queue once the land filled up. That line is thankfully now gone, allowing Disney California Adventure guests to flow in and out freely.
That said, parts of the land can get pretty busy. Mobile ordering is offered for Pym Test Kitchen and Pym Tasting Lab, and time slots are still snagged quickly. Shows in the tight spaces in the small land can draw big crowds with zero social distancing that may make some guests uncomfortable. Just know that operations will continue to evolve as Disneyland finds its footing with this new land in the coming months.
Additional 2021 Disneyland Tips & Details to Know
That wasn’t enough for you? Here are a few more tips and details I uncovered from the reopening experience that are good to know as you plan your vacation.
- PhotoPass is available for single days for $19.99. You can purchase in the app. The app also shows the locations of PhotoPass photographers in the map.
- While traditional character meet-and-greets aren’t permitted, there are characters aplenty in the parks for distanced selfie and interactions. The locations are now marked in the app but not all the characters are listed, so you may find more detail on the list here.
- If you’ve already been to Walt Disney World this past year, don’t expect Disneyland to work exactly the same way. Even the same attractions operate differently.
- Lockers are back! While they were initially closed in the parks and only open in the esplanade locations, all of them are now open.
- If you are using old tickets that you pre-purchased with Maxpass (which is not currently offered), Disney will give you a Disney gift card as a substitute for a refund. Just go to guest services in the park or submit a help request in advance of your trip on the Disneyland website (select “Online Ticket Purchase”). (H/T to Becca Robins of This Crazy Adventure Called Life for doing the legwork on opening weekend to find this out.)
- Disneyland character dining is back – and all restaurants with character meals will return by September 16, 2021 once Goofy’s brings back its offering.
- There are several special events this fall and winter that will result in the closure of one park early on some evenings. Check park hours closely around both Oogie Boogie Bash which closes DCA early in September and October and the brand new Disney Merriest Nites which will close Disneyland park early some nights in late November and early December.
Where to Book Your Disneyland Vacation
Save big on your Disneyland vacation with trusted Trips with Tykes partner, Get Away Today. Get Away Today sells park tickets at a discount, helps you find great deals at both on-property and off-property hotels, and provides expert customer service from representatives who visit Disneyland all the time.
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To take advantage of hotel and other package discounts from Get Away Today, explore and book Disneyland vacation packages here. Be sure to use code TYKES10 for $10 in additional savings.
Current Get Away Today Specials & Deals for Fall 2021:
- California Resident Offer: Save up to $66 on 3 day tickets (good for travel through Sept 30, 2021)
- Extra Day & Night Free: 4th night free at select hotels plus buy 4 day tickets, get the 5th day free (good for travel through October 31, 2021)
- 25% Off Disneyland Resort Hotels: good for travel through October 2, 2021
- 3rd or 4th Night Free: available at select Anaheim area hotels
Want more? See this web story summarizing the 2021 Disneyland differences!