The Park's Reopening Brings Back a Flood of Disneyland Memories

Carolyn V. Murray

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If you’re reading this, it’s because you live in the Los Angeles area and you have a rare opportunity right now, should you choose to take advantage of it. Disneyland has reopened as of April 31, 2021, but only at 25% capacity and only to residents of California – that’s you.

The worst thing about Disneyland was always the crowds

In the seventeen years that I lived in L.A., I enjoyed at least four trips to Disneyland – possibly five. Here’s the kicker – I don’t have any children. I went with a friend or I went with my mother. And it never got old. If I still lived in L.A., I don’t think I could resist the opportunity to visit the park under such unique circumstances.

While most people are focused on the multitude of new restrictions, my mind is on a park that will be 75% less crowded than usual. I know that from the park’s own profit standpoint, that’s far from ideal. But from the customer’s perspective, it’s a pretty sweet opportunity to see Disneyland from the VIP seats.

No dealing with seriously long lines. No need for a FASTPASS (and indeed, they’re not even available right now.) The ability to get back on your favorite rides again and again. I remember that during my first visit, I naturally wanted to experience the evening parade and fireworks. But in subsequent years, I would use the distraction of that big evening event to run back to my favorites, where the lines had disappeared. Leaping off a ride, running back to the entrance, and getting right back on without waiting! I was in Disney heaven.

The Indiana Jones Ride. Buzz Light Year. Pirates of the Caribbean. Haunted House. Star Wars! We rode a single ride over and over again, as the crowds were either fixated on fireworks or slowly making their way to the parking lots. It was like a child’s fantasy except I was an adult and I could do as I pleased. Thankfully, my chosen companions were always on board for the late evening frenzy of rides.

Now, you can have a similar ease of access to the rides, simply because there will be so few people. Yes, you may have to stand in line again for another six or seven minutes. But that’s a whole lot different from standing next to a sign that says you have 65 minutes to wait to reach the attraction.

But you will have to make adjustments

From start to finish, there will be several differences between this and your last Disneyland experience. It’s essential to visit a website that explains the new rules for the park’s reopening so that you’re not hit with any surprises. Here’s an extremely useful one.

To go over some of the highlights, you have to both buy your tickets in advance online and then also immediately make reservations for the day you want to come. If you’re going to both parks, you have to choose which one you’ll go to first and you can’t enter the second until 1 pm.

Masks are mandatory for guests from the age of two on up. This is non-negotiable. The park has been closed for thirteen months, and 15,000 employees have just gotten their jobs back. Any kind of outbreak would be disastrous and the company is not allowing any risks to be taken. So, the only exception to this is while you are eating, at a specifically designated eating spot (which is not only at the restaurants – it might be at a bench or a curb, but there will be a sign to confirm it.)

Not all rides are open. The Jungle Cruise and the Matterhorn Bobsleds are still closed. Nor are all restaurants open. The Blue Bayou Restaurant is closed but will open on May 27th. And speaking of restaurants, you’ll want to make a reservation online well before you arrive for the nicer dining experiences (anything nicer than a turkey leg.) Otherwise, you may be waiting 45 minutes to be seated for a meal. This is definitely a year that requires more extensive planning.

Be sure to get the Disneyland app in advance and be prepared for a cashless day – even for snacks. And be prepared for a long 20-25 minute walk from the parking lot to the park. Those handy trams are not running yet.

Yes, there are many new restrictions and considerations. Will you still have fun? One reporter went on the first re-opening day and had a blast – even though she had to acknowledge that the food service was not yet back on point.

Different strokes

Over the years, the fans of Disneyland have loved it and used it in slightly different manners. I recall following the YouTube channel of a young woman in the Anaheim area who engaged in a long-term weight loss effort. She was having trouble motivating herself to exercise – walks around her residential area were dull and uninspired. And then she got the idea to buy a yearly pass to Disneyland. It kicked off her enthusiasm for walking, big time.

She would decide how long she wanted to spend walking through the park, anywhere from one to two hours. She would enjoy the sights, the ambiance, the people-watching. And then as a reward to herself for getting her daily walking session in, she would get on two rides before going home. Genius.

Another interesting story I heard was of a newly single mother and her child; the mother decided to splurge on a very pricey year-round package for the two of them. It became the year of Disney for them, perhaps softening the blow on a newly divorced family. Not only were there regular trips throughout the summer but on weekends throughout the school year, as well. Her child never got tired of it and no doubt it provided great memories for many years afterward. (Post pandemic, the passholder program is going through a big overhaul.)

A random, but striking memory

I do recall one memorable occasion when I found out that parking was going to set me back ten dollars. Ten dollars! I must have looked stunned and horrified. The parking attendant glanced at my car and then back and me and my mother and said, “Don’t worry about it. Just go in.” Yes, he let us in for free.

Was he so impressed with my snazzy new Jaguar or Lexus that he gave me the VIP treatment? No, he quickly assessed my 23-year-old Ford sedan (didn’t even have bucket seats), with a massive dent on the passenger side, a dozen rusty scars, and a trunk hood that could no longer be closed and was held down with a short piece of strong rope. The attendant correctly concluded that I was on a bit of a tight budget. His generosity was a great start to my first visit to “the happiest place on earth.”

Indulge, if you can swing it

I can’t sugarcoat this – Disneyland is crazy-expensive. If memory serves, the range of prices when I was last there seven or eight years ago was about $69 to $98 (for the Park Hopper.) I lucked out on two or three occasions because I was provided with free tickets from my employer. But once or twice, I had to go on my own dime, and it was a major sticker shock.

Prices vary widely, depending on the day of the week, and the time of the year, as well as the customer’s age, and whether or not it’s for a single park or both. To give you a general idea, a single-park adult ticket ranges from $114 to $154. Yes, that’s a huge change from my last visit. Not to mention, parking will now set you back $25!

But again, would I go if I had the chance to visit the park right now, with a steady income, bills paid, and a few extra bucks in the bank. Heck, yeah! I think a handful of interesting new rides have been added since my last visit – plus, a bunch of old favorites I wouldn’t be able to resist. As sparsely populated as the park is right now? I wouldn’t miss it.

So many attractions in Southern California don’t quite live up to the hype. I’m not going to tell you that Disneyland is a profound or life-changing experience. But I will say that I don’t regret a single visit. And I’d go back in a heartbeat.

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At the moment, I'm highly interested in the ways in which we can cope and thrive during, after, and despite a global pandemic. My background is in sociology, education, and creative writing. If you were to scroll through the tabs on my laptop, you'd find music, travel, politics, longevity, and brain health.

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