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How You Need to Do Disneyland Differently in 2021: Tips from the Reopened Parks

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’m happy to report 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: July 12, 2021.

(Trips With Tykes uses affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission if you purchase through links in this post. See our full disclosure policy linked in the menu at the bottom of this site.)

Limited Time Offer: California Resident Summer 2021 Ticket Deal

Just announced! 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.

Get Away Today California Resident Summer 2021 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 post-June 15 California reopening, here are the highlights (previous pre-June 15 policies are struck through).

  • Masks are required on all guests ages 2+ (real masks with ear loops – not gaiters or bandanas). Masks are no longer required outdoors for any guest. Unvaccinated guests (including kids 2-11 not eligible yet) must wear masks indoors except when dining.
Minnie Mouse mask worn in Disneyland in 2021
(I got Disney mask designs from this Etsy seller – so cute and comfortable for all day in the parks!)
  • Park capacity is reduced, capped at no more than 35% per state rules. After June 15, 2021, Disney is free to set its own capacity and appears to be ramping up very gradually.
  • Shorter park hours are in effect (currently 8am-10pm in Disneyland park and 8am-9pm at DCA as of July 1, 2021).
  • California residents only are permitted until June 15, 2021. Starting June 15, 2021, out-of-state guests can visit as well.
  • Distancing is required in queues, with markers along the pathways and plexiglass dividers in some places. After June 15, guests self-determine their own distancing and cast members may encourage guests to fill in all available space in some environments.
Disneyland Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Plexiglass in Queue
This plexiglass has now been removed from the Rise of the Resistance queue.
  • Seating on many attractions is modified – either spaced out or divided by plexiglass barriers. Seating is no longer spaced and single rider lines have in fact even returned on some attractions.
  • Temperature checks are required at security checkpoints (ends June 15).
  • Hand sanitizer stations have been installed in many strategic locations as well as a few hand washing stations.
  • Time indoors for rides is limited, with most guests held in queues held outside until right before vehicle boarding on indoor attractions.

Essential Tips for Disneyland in Summer 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:

Plan Much Earlier

With Disneyland currently at reduced capacity and an increasing number of Americans feeling comfortable traveling in the upcoming months, the demand for Disneyland is starting to exceed 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 new 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 returns.

Hotels that are in walking distance of Disneyland are especially booking up quickly. A lot of travelers aren’t yet ready to take shuttles or 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.

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. And now that there is a special discounted California resident ticket deal through the end of September and news of Halloween Time and Oogie Boogie Bash returning for September and October, the parks could book up more quickly even as capacity gradually increases.

Buy the Right Ticket Type

Disneyland Tickets at Pixar Pier

With the discontinuation of Disneyland’s annual passes, all 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

Pixar Pier Lamplight Lounge Sign in Disney California Adventure park

Disneyland is known for its food experiences, but a reopened Disneyland simply isn’t yet up to speed on the restaurant front. It simply doesn’t make sense for Disney to open all its dining locations with the parks at reduced guest capacity. Disney is still working hard to bring enough cast members back to staff the ones they can open, and has thankfully opened quite a bit more in the days following June 15.

Nevertheless, there are fewer restaurants and snack carts open, and fewer food choices at the ones that are open. How does that change how you approach dining?

Table Service Restaurants:

For table service restaurants, book early (and often). Now, with only a some of table service restaurants currently operational in the parks, reservations are going super fast when they are released. The currently available table service restaurants located within the parks as of June 19, 2021 include:

  • River Belle Terrace (Disneyland)
  • Cafe Orleans (Disneyland)
  • Blue Bayou (Disneyland)
  • Oga’s Cantina (Disneyland) – note this is more of a bar than a place to get a meal
  • Lamplight Lounge (California Adventure)
  • Carthay Circle Lounge (California Adventure)

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 in the pre-dawn hours 60 days in advance, and then just keep checking. Disneyland often appears to be releasing these reservations in dribs and drabs. Websites like Mouse Dining and Mouse Watcher can assist in this search for a fee.

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. And there is some walkup availability offered for these 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:

Mobile Ordering Sign in Disneyland

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 are thankfully returning 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 2-3 hours later – although this thankfully is improving 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 rules for mobile ordering in the just-opened Avengers Campus, so see my complete Avengers Campus guide for those details.

Snack Carts

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.

Where to Sit and Eat

New dining area for 2021 along Pixar Pier in Disney's California Adventure park.

Until June 15, park rules required that guests be stationary when removing their masks to eat or drink. So whether you were picking up a full meal at a quick service restaurant or just grabbing a churro from a cart, guests needed somewhere to sit and eat.

As a result, Disneyland has added hundreds of new outdoor seating locations around the park to accommodate this requirement. Many of these areas that were marked as “designated dining areas” (often tables with shade umbrellas) and some of them remain! This was definitely one change for the better that we hope will stick around awhile longer while the parks continue at reduced capacity. That said, don’t necessarily count on them long term.

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.
App wait times on Disneyland opening morning April 30 2021
  • 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 these first few months, expect longer lines at the newly redone Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (which is extremely well done, by the way) and Jungle Cruise. WEB SLINGERS is of course new, but the only way to ride it is with the virtual queue.
Snow White's Enchanted Wish Entrance at Disneyland
  • Use the lunch hour(s) wisely. I have found that wait times for a lot of attractions drop a bit between about noon and 2pm most days. During these times, so many guests are taking a lunch break or just a break from the heat, especially in Disneyland park. If you can eat early or late, this might be the window to hit certain attractions. We had great luck on June 16 with many rides in Fantasyland (it’s a small world, Mad Tea Party) a complete walk-on right before 2pm.
  • 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. Indiana Jones is also running a virtual queue that works a bit differently.
App screenshots showing new Disneyland Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance virtual queue in 2021.
  • 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 or the exits. Squeeze in one last ride, especially while the parks are closing early!

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 30 minutes before park opening time and 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 just 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.

Disneyland Anaheim Resort Transit new electric bus

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 just a big opening that now radically changes 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.

How Avengers Campus will ultimately affect crowd flow and touring patterns is still of course to be determined. But demand to see it so far is very strong, judging by the insanely long line that formed daily in the first few weeks after its opening.

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. Mobile ordering is offered for Pym Test Kitchen and Pym Tasting Lab and time slots are snagged very quickly as they are released.

Many guests of course still rush for Avengers Campus in the morning, so the rest of Disney California Adventure gets a slower start. Rope dropping attractions like Radiator Springs Racers, Soarin’, or Toy Story Midway Mania is a smart strategy if you aren’t Avengers-obsessed. But know that operations will continue to evolve very rapidly 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 character dining is closed and traditional character meet-and-greets aren’t permitted, there are characters aplenty in the parks. Unfortunately, the locations aren’t marked in the app but they have been released, so check out the list here.
Disneyland Distanced Character Meet with Rapunzel and Flynn Rider in Royal Hall
  • 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.)

Where to Book Your Disneyland Vacation

Planning a visit to Disneyland? Book 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.

If you only need park tickets, don’t purchase direct from Disney and pay more! Book discounted Disneyland park tickets from Get Away Today here.

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.

Headed to a reopened Disneyland in 2021? Your planning and touring strategies need to change for the many differences in place right now! These essential tips from the first days the parks opened will help you navigate ride wait times and lines, limited restaurant availability, tickets and reservations, new character meet and greets, and more.

Want more? See this web story summarizing the 2021 Disneyland differences!

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