Editor's Note: Those who choose to travel are strongly encouraged to check local government restrictions, rules, and safety measures related to COVID-19 and take personal comfort levels and health conditions into consideration before departure.
As COVID-19 restrictions continue to loosen around the world, California hit a significant milestone with the grand reopening of Disneyland Resort's Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim this weekend. The world-renowned theme parks finally reopened after a year-plus long hiatus, so I visited to see what's new and what has changed. As I walked into "The Happiest Place On Earth," I had only one question: In this new era of travel, can Disneyland still bring the magic?
I noticed two major differences at the park right away: the presence of masks and the absence of crowds. Masks are mandatory for all guests over the age of two, and they can only be removed when eating or drinking in designated areas. Additionally, Disneyland is currently operating at a limited capacity of 25% to prevent crowding.
The limited capacity was noticeable from the moment I stepped into the park. Even with additional health and safety measures such as temperature checks at security, the line moved quickly, and I was inside Disneyland Park in no time. Main Street, which is usually bustling with crowds, was now merely sprinkled with a few groups here and there, and guests were very diligent about keeping their distance from other groups.
The smaller crowds were comforting to me -—this was the biggest group of people I'd been around in over a year, and even though I am fully vaccinated, I still think I would have been anxious to be at the park with a full capacity reopening. Even better, the limited park capacity gave way to smaller lines and much shorter wait times for rides. Compared to pre-pandemic levels, the wait times for even the most popular attractions were next to nothing. I've waited upwards of two hours for my all-time favorite ride, Space Mountain. This time around, I breezed through the line in 20 minutes.
As I made my way through the park, I noticed another significant change: Interactions with Disney characters have been modified to encourage social distancing. Instead of close and personal meet and greets with the characters, park goers could wave and interact with the cast from a distance to keep everyone safe. It is definitely not as intimate as before, but even though children couldn't go in for hugs or high fives, they were still able to engage with the characters in a thoughtful manner, and the children I saw interacting with the characters didn't seem to mind this change at all.
Additional new health and safety measures include labeled entrances and exits in the stores on Main Street, designated dining areas to keep people from taking off their masks while walking around, and an emphasis on mobile ordering at restaurants to cut down on prolonged interactions with staff. Lastly, in efforts to avoid large gatherings of crowds, the acclaimed parades and fireworks are currently paused.
Despite all of these new changes, the guest reaction to the Disneyland Park reopening was overwhelmingly positive. One park goer told me that her visit to Disney over the weekend was "one of the best" experiences she'd had at the park, and specifically mentioned the short wait times and positivity of the staff as reasons that this visit stuck out for her. She also noted that since she knows the current modifications are in place to keep everyone safe, she doesn't mind the updates, which seemed to be the general consensus for most of the park goers. The entire time I was in the park, I only saw two people wearing their masks incorrectly, and they both quickly adjusted their masks when asked by a nearby staff member. It was clear that after over a year of closure, California residents were more than happy to accept the park modifications if it meant that Disneyland could be open again. In short, the pros heavily outweigh the cons.
Disneyland is not trying to make park guests forget about the pandemic. Rather, the new protocols and procedures are implemented in a way to show that it's possible to navigate this "new normal" safely and still have fun. My visit to Disneyland reminded me that there is a light at the end of this COVID tunnel, and we're getting closer to it every day. I don't know about you, but that's pretty magical to me.
Vanessa Wilkins is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Los Angeles. Follow her adventures on Twitter or Instagram.
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