When I was a kid, my single mom managed to take us to Disneyland once or twice a year, and I can still remember the anticipation of waiting to spot the Matterhorn from the freeway so I knew we were approaching the park. On Friday, April 30, after a pandemic closure that spanned more than 400 days, the park reopened to visitors. My mother and I were among them, and we were giddy as kids once again.
While I thought that getting up at 4:45 a.m. to leave for the park by 5:25 a.m. was impressive, a Colton, California, couple named Ashley and John told me that they started waiting at 2 a.m. in the Grand California hotel, where they’d stayed the night. A group of teachers admitted to me that they’d played hooky to visit on opening day. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits as they stared at their cellphones and waited for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance reservations to open at 7 a.m. At a little before 8 a.m., we were let into the plaza between California Adventure and Disneyland, where we finally able to line up in front of the official entrance to the Magic Kingdom. With some good luck, my mother and I were seventh in line for our entrance, and we were in the park by 8:05 a.m.
It was instantly magical. Lined up on either side of Main Street all the way to Sleeping Beauty Castle, cast members waved and clapped as the first official guests entered Disneyland. For a change, they were the audience and we were the opening parade. I had told myself I wasn’t going to cry, but of course I cried. Cast members were crying. Everyone was crying.
In the swirl of tears and joy, we caught the first marriage proposal to take place at Disneyland post-reopening. Deanna Richardson and Justin Weiss are longtime Disney fans, and Justin had been waiting to ask Deanna to marry him since last year, when they had planned a trip to Disney World right before the pandemic struck. It was worth the wait. Deanna said yes and they kissed right in front of the castle, a perfect beginning to their new life together.
After getting our photo taken, we headed straight to Fantasyland to the revamped Snow White ride, which is now Snow White’s Enchanted Wish rather than Snow White’s Scary Adventure. (Sadly the Queen popping out at you with an apple has been removed from the ride.) We did a quick detour to go on Peter Pan, Walt Disney’s personal favorite ride in the park, and then it was off to the Haunted Mansion, which got a welcome facelift during the closure. Among the changes: faux smoke is no longer being pumped in so you can more clearly see the graveyard scene, which is cool.
After a quick walk through Galaxy’s Edge to get some blue milk, we ended up at It’s a Small World, partly because we love the ride and partly because it’s ten minutes in an air-conditioned boat (and Friday was hot). Small World is currently running with only every other row occupied, and the same goes for Pirates of the Caribbean and other that have multiple people in the same car, boat, or galactic transport vehicle. There are no more single-rider lines, and you’ll never be placed with a party other than your own.
When you start jonesing for nachos or churros, keep in mind that there are no physical lines to buy food and drinks. Instead, everything has to be purchased through the Disneyland mobile app (be sure to download it in advance), and as the day goes on the wait for mobile food orders gets longer and longer. At 10 a.m. the wait for blue milk was 20 minutes. At the same time, the wait to get a table in the French Quarter was over an hour. If you’re a planner, pre-ordering all of your meals as soon as the park opens wouldn’t be the worst idea.
Another COVID-19 safety measure: all of the characters at the park are situated on stages or in areas where children can wave and take photographs in front of them, but can’t hug or touch them. This has turned out to be a wonderful method of greeting your favorite characters, one I almost hope they keep in place after the restrictions are lifted.
Rides currently can’t last longer than 15 minutes, so parts of Rise of the Resistance have been abbreviated. Additionally, plexiglass has been installed in each of the cars so that the front and back rows of the ride don’t interact with each other.
Walking back along Main Street at the end of a long day, I couldn’t help but marvel at how wonderful it was to be back at Disneyland. We watched the Flag Ceremony in front of the Main Street Train Station and left the park for the first time in over 400 days. We didn’t even mind the long walk back to our cars for a change.