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Disneyland Article
I Went To Disneyland Opening Weekend Here Is What It Was Like

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
Julie Tremaine
May 2, 2021
May 5, 2021
Standing at the Disneyland gates at 8:30 on Friday morning, we heard a sound in the distance. A sound no one had heard in more than 400 days: a long, friendly whistle, followed by the chugging of a steam train engine.

A rousing cheer erupted from the thousands of people waiting in line. The Disneyland railroad emerged from the trees and pulled into the Main Street Station.

Some waved and whooped. Some cried. Some held up phones to take pictures. But we all knew one thing at the same moment: This was really about to happen.

“It’s really special to be here,” a total stranger said to the person behind her at the next distancing marker.

Like countless others, I’ve often used Disneyland as a marker of milestones in my life. Going there for the first time crystallized in my mind as an important life event, and I’ve celebrated plenty of birthdays and special occasions there in the years that followed.

I never expected to use the park as a marker of something truly terrible — but that’s what happened last March. When Disneyland announced that it would be closing because of the pandemic, that was the moment when it hit me. Things were about to get really, really bad.

I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. If a multibillion dollar company willingly chose to shutter in response to a health event, it had to mean that the event in question was severe beyond any reasonable doubt.

Standing at those gates, waiting to get into a place that had been closed for the better part of 14 months, it was the total opposite.

Things were about to get really, really good.

I lined up at the temperature check just before 7 a.m. for Disneyland’s 9 a.m. opening, expecting to wait for hours upon hours like I did for the reopening of the Buena Vista Street extension of Downtown Disney in November. But at 8 a.m., they started letting people through, and I was past the temperature check, security dog screening and bag check in less than 15 minutes. Another seamless 15 minutes later, I was inside the gates, walking underneath the sign that says, “Here you leave today, and enter the land of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”

It’s a message that hit harder that day than it usually does. People who love Disneyland haven’t been able to “leave today” for a year that has, at times, felt like it lasted a lifetime, when we’ve been in one unending bad news cycle.

When I got to Town Square, the area in the park that leads into Main Street U.S.A. and down to Sleeping Beauty Castle, I stopped to take it all in. There were people all around me crying happy tears, tears of relief, of sharing something joyful with their friends again, of being able to shed the weight we’ve been collectively carrying for so long. A woman in her 50s in head-to-toe Mickey gear stood next to me, crying and hugging her friend. “I’m just so happy to be back,” she said. It was something I heard over and over again all day long.

Down the sidewalks of Main Street were hundreds of cast members waving, cheering, blowing bubbles in the air with those Mickey bubble wands. “Welcome back!” they said. “We’re so happy to see you! We missed you.” Guests, as they walked towards the castle, gave it all back to them. “We missed you too,” some said. “We missed you so much.”

The park didn’t technically open until 9, but by that time, I had already been on three rides in Fantasyland without a wait at all, including Peter Pan’s Flight, which has not been modified in the closure. Wait times for that ride, and most of the rides on that side of the park, stayed low all day, partly because of the reduced crowd size and partly because a new ride, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, debuted upon reopening. That, and the revamped Haunted Mansion, were the most in-demand rides of the day.

The 30 minutes I waited to get on the Snow White ride brought me through a queue that snaked down the pathway past the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, down the bridge to the Royal Theatre where Cinderella and Rapunzel were inside, interacting with guests by chatting from a distance and posing while people took socially distanced selfies. Unlike Walt Disney World where guests are now allowed to remove masks for photos, Disneyland requires masks at all times unless stopped and actively eating or drinking.

It was complicated to understand where to stand next, but there were cast members throughout to help. “We have to be a little mindful of things like the markers now just so that we can be safe,” one said to me as we were chatting in line, “but it’s worth it though just to get to be here.” I heard and overheard similar things all day long: Cast members were cheerful and upbeat helping people navigate the new systems, and people were complying, even with mask wearing. I asked employees all day long if they had to remind people to wear masks, and across the board, they said no. I’m not sure I even heard a single guest complaining in the way that people who are hot and overtired and paying a lot of money to be somewhere tend to do in Disney parks. The good cheer, it seemed, was everywhere.

While I was waiting in that Snow White line, I watched a woman with a young girl dressed as a princess stop to ask a cast member a question. “See ya, princess!” he said to the girl as they walked away. He turned aside. “Oh, the kiddos,” he said to himself. “I missed the kiddos.”

Across the way at Disney California Adventure, Mickey and Minnie stood in Carthay Circle, waving to guests. Mickey did an occasional softshoe. Minnie blew kisses. The ride times were also generally easy. The line for Radiator Springs Racers, often a two-hour wait, was at times 15 minutes long and at times a walk-on.

The biggest downside of the day had to do with food, which is limited. Most of the park’s sit-down restaurants are still closed, and the procedures for quick service restaurants have changed. Most quick service restaurants are serving limited menus, and have completely stopped taking orders at cash registers, only allowing orders to be placed through smartphones on the Disneyland app or website. To place an order, you pick a time slot to pick up your food, then choose what you want to eat, and pay for it at the time of order with a linked credit card. At lunchtime, there was wide availability, but as the day progressed, people in the know scooped up later pickup times. By 5 p.m., there was no availability to get food at Plaza Inn at all, nor could you get a Dole whip from Tropical Hideaway for the rest of the day. (If you’re planning a trip soon, make sure you order food early, and structure your day around food pickups the way you used to around the not-currently-available Fast Passes.)

There are other downsides. Some of the iconic rides, like Jungle Cruise and the Matterhorn, are closed. You can’t hug Mickey and Minnie the way you used to be able to. Some ride features, because they count as indoor shows, aren’t currently allowed in the state guidelines.

For the most part, though, what wasn’t there didn’t seem to matter much.

The pandemic isn’t over. On Disneyland’s opening day, the CDC reported 53,000 new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. We’re still going to wear masks for a long time. Even Disney CEO Bob Chapek has gone on the record speculating that they’ll be required in the parks through at least the end of 2021.

But that day, being among so many joyful people who were grateful to be there, things felt good again. There was magic in the air that hasn’t been there for a year that felt like it stretched into infinity. It’s what we came to Disneyland for, and we got it.
Attractions Referenced

Disneyland Railroad

Haunted Mansion

Jungle Cruise

Matterhorn Bobsleds

Peter Pan's Flight

Royal Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Castle

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish

Restaurants Referenced

Plaza Inn

Tropical Hideway

Shops Referenced

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Lands Referenced

Main Street U.S.A.

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