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

The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California has finally reopened! To say it has been 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, to see all that’s new, changed, and still closed. 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.

The parks are operating at substantially reduced capacity, with some restrictions originating from state regulations and others from Disney’s vast experience having opened other theme parks these past many months. 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!

(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.)

Basics of a Reopened Disneyland in 2021

By now, enough theme parks have reopened around the world that many modifications are pretty much a given to most of us. But if you need a refresher on what Disneyland will be requiring exactly, here are the highlights.

  • Masks are required on all guests ages 2+ (real masks with ear loops – not gaiters or bandanas)
Minnie Mouse mask worn in Disneyland in 2021
(Get this and many other 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 25% per state rules as of the date this article was published)
  • Shorter park hours are in effect (currently 9am-7pm, but will extend from 9am-9pm on May 14, 2021)
  • California residents only are permitted
  • Distancing is required in queues – some made possible by plexiglass dividers
Disneyland Star Wars Rise of the Resistance Plexiglass in Queue
  • Seating on many attractions is modified – either spaced out or divided by plexiglass barriers
  • Temperature checks are required at security checkpoints
  • Hand sanitizer stations have be installed in many strategic locations as well as a few hand washing stations

Essential Tips for Disneyland in Spring & 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 25% capacity and an increasing number of Americans feeling comfortable traveling in the upcoming months, the demand for Disneyland is surely going to exceed supply soon enough. 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 at least 60 days in advance in 2021 due to Disneyland’s new theme park reservation requirement (more on that later).

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 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 60 days out on the day the reservations calendar opens for your travel date.

Yes, reservations for many dates have not sold out right now. No, that shouldn’t make you complacent. Disneyland is currently only open to Californians. When out-of-staters can come (and this will almost assuredly happen in early summer at the latest), the parks will book up quickly.

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 only 25% guest capacity. And with social distancing regulations in effect in the kitchens, restaurants can’t prepare too many different dishes right now.

So that means that 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). Disneyland has always opened reservations at table service restaurants 60 days in advance, but reservations have rarely booked up right at the 60 day mark for most restaurants.

Now, with only two table service restaurants currently operational in the parks (River Belle Terrace and Cafe Orleans in Disneyland park and Lamplight Lounge and Carthay Circle Lounge in California Adventure), those reservations are going super fast. Just as you need to book theme park reservations at 60 days in advance, you need to book dining then too, assuming you want to sit down for a nicer meal.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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 lot of them are 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.

Park rules require that guests be stationary when removing their masks to eat or drink. So whether you are picking up a full meal at a quick service restaurant or just grabbing a churro from a cart, you need somewhere to sit and eat.

One change for the better is that Disneyland has added hundreds of new outdoor seating locations around the park to accommodate this. Marked clearly as “designated dining areas,” these tables (many with shade umbrellas) and benches are where you can go take off your mask and chow down.

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 a virtual queue spot for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, 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 which uses a virtual queue), all guests are standing in a standby queue together. Oof.

How can you minimize your wait times in this environment? A lot will become more evident in the coming days as we watch wait time data come in. I’ll plan on updating this post with more. But here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

  • Low crowds means a precise touring plan isn’t as vital as before. Right now with capacity low, the lines at most attractions are pretty reasonable almost everywhere. They are downright gloriously short for a number of attractions, some of which are walk-ons all day. 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 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, as Disneyland is letting guests in to ride attractions before official park opening time.
  • 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 Haunted Mansion. And expect even longer for WEB SLINGERS – A Spider-Man Adventure when Avengers Campus opens (more on Avengers Campus below).
Snow White's Enchanted Wish Entrance at Disneyland
  • Some attractions are slowed down by distancing more than others. Wait times reflect that. Differing ride vehicles make a big difference right now. Rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Indiana Jones can seat only two groups on an otherwise pretty big vehicle. As a result, these rides are filling far fewer of the available seats than attractions like Peter Pan or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride that already seated one party per ride vehicle in separate vehicles. The relative wait times of old definitely don’t apply so don’t assume you know what will have a long line!
  • Know where to find the end of the lines. With distancing required in queues and all queues required to be outdoors, there are a couple of attractions that have long lines that extend to places you might not expect. Don’t waste time going to the attraction entrance and then backtracking – learn where the lines end instead! The most important ones to know about are Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (line runs out the castle’s left side and through Fantasy Faire and even sometimes down near Frontierland entrance) and Peter Pan (line runs out of castle’s right side by Snow White Grotto).
  • 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, especially in Disneyland park. If you can eat early or late, this might be the window to hit certain attractions.
  • Understand the effect of park hopping. Park hopping isn’t permitted until 1pm or later. This creates some artificial constraints on crowd flow. Most notably, more guests go from California Adventure to Disneyland right at 1pm than the reverse. Watch for lines for some attractions to drop not long after 1pm in California Adventure as a result (and take advantage!).
  • Know about the new Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance queuing procedures. Rise of the Resistance is still exclusively using a virtual queue for access, but the rules are different. 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.
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 so 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), the parking tram isn’t running from Mickey & Friends. You’ll need to walk that route instead. If that’s too many steps, 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.

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.

Get Ready for the Avengers Campus Effect

Last but not least, there is a big opening coming to be aware of in terms of demand and crowds.

On June 4, 2021, Avengers Campus opens in Disney’s California Adventure parks. This brand new Marvel-themed land will launch with one new attraction, WEB SLINGERS – A Spider-Man Adventure, as well as a highly anticipated themed restaurant, Pym Test Kitchen.

How Avengers Campus will affect crowd flow and touring patterns is still of course to be determined. But demand to see it so far is strong, judging by reservations. Reservations for Disney California Adventure are already booked up on opening weekend as well as several subsequent Saturdays for both ticket types.

Disney may well offer a virtual queue for entry or at the very least capacity control the land. If mobile ordering is offered for the new restaurant Pym Test Kitchen, expect time slots to go ASAP.

This opening may even out the crowds a bit between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, especially at the 1pm park hopping time. So, stay tuned to this space for more when June 4 comes. I’ll be in the parks a week later for a family trip to report on all that is developing.

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 yet 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. Disneyland has a lot more spacing on rides in particular. Also, all of Disneyland’s ride queues are outdoors.
  • Lockers are not available in the parks right now, but both locker locations in the esplanade are 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.)
  • While Disney for the most part has done a great job distancing guests, the parks do have a few choke points to be aware of. New Orleans Square can be a bit crowded as the long queue for Pirates of the Caribbean snakes through the terraces there. Cars Land as well can get very busy. Finally, Main Street U.S.A. in the evenings around park closing is perhaps the busiest as guests queue for the limited capacity stores.
Disneyland's distanced line for Pirates of the Caribbean can block some walkways in New Orleans Square

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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Disneyland Sleeping Beauty Castle Jan 2020
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