I spent 6.5 hours on hold to buy Disneyland tickets — was it worth it?
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Three weeks ago, I did something I never thought I would do as a single person with no kids: I spent 6.5 hours on a virtual hold to buy tickets for Disneyland’s opening day.
It all started innocently enough: I wanted to cover Disneyland’s reopening on April 30 for TPG readers and bring my niece along to cement my status as The Best Aunt Ever. Earlier that week, I had used existing tickets to make reservations for a different date and it only required a 20-minute wait. I had no idea what I was in for to try to snag a reservation for reopening day.
Reservations for April 30 were unavailable to everyone except California residents with Tier 5 tickets. I assumed I would be on hold for two hours at most to get opening day tickets. Demand wasn’t exactly sky-high on April 12, when California residents with existing tickets were allowed early access to the reservation system. And with some rides being unavailable and the Avengers Campus opening on June 4, I didn’t think people would be rushing to pay for unrestricted Tier 5 tickets. Most people would want to get their money’s worth and opening day just wasn’t going to offer that. Or so I thought.
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My last visit to Disneyland was President’s Day weekend in 2018. It was packed, but we had MaxPasses, so it was manageable. I expected this visit to be similar to that one. After visiting Disneyland and California Adventure on reopening day, I took some time to compare the two experiences.
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The 6.5-hour wait to buy tickets
Tickets went on sale at 8 a.m., so I headed to the Theme Park Tickets page at 7:45. I was then placed into a virtual queue. The initial wait time was “more than an hour,” which was vague and somewhat reassuring. I fully expected the hold to be a couple of hours. That turned out to be an understatement because I ended up waiting for almost 6.5 hours. I finally got to the front at around 2:35 p.m.
A few people messaged me on Twitter and Instagram to report they spent hours on hold, only to be redirected to a random page on the Disney site. Luckily, I didn’t experience any technical issues during the hold.
Because of such high demand, I wasn’t able to start my day at Disneyland. I had to visit California Adventure first and then hop over to Disneyland at 1 p.m. It wasn’t ideal, but I figured California Adventure would be way less busy, so we’d spend less time in line.
How Disneyland is different during the pandemic
As to be expected, Disneyland wasn’t exactly the same on reopening day. Some safety precautions were in place due to the pandemic and dining options were pared down. Aside from that, here’s how the experience was different from my previous visit:
Entering the park
Both parks opened at 9 a.m., though we arrived at around 8:25 a.m. and it took well over 30 minutes to actually get into the park. Guests were shepherded through a long line through the parking lot before entering a temperature checkpoint.
Beyond that was the security checkpoint and, past that, the park entrance. It definitely took way longer to enter the parks than last time, when the path was more straightforward, there were no temperature checkpoints and we showed up 10 minutes before the gates opened.
Once we made it past the security checkpoint, the lines to enter the park were surprisingly short.
Another difference this time around was the row of staff members lined up past the gates, waving and exclaiming, “Welcome back!” as excited park guests made their way inside.
COVID-19 safety measures
Disney’s COVID-19 safety measures on reopening day really blew me away. Their crowd control measures ensured that people weren’t clustered together — upon entering the park, standing in line or even dining. There were signs instructing people to keep their masks on throughout both parks, except when eating in designated dining areas.
Some benches were closed off to prevent clusters and social distancing markers were present at every ride. Some of these markers were longer than six feet and I noticed employees adjusting them to keep the lines moving at popular rides like Toy Story Midway Mania.
It would have been perfectly acceptable if they had placed hand sanitizer throughout the park (which they did), but they went above and beyond with handwashing stations. There were full-blown sinks located throughout the park, equipped with soap, paper towels and hand sanitizer. These were great for encouraging hand washing without going out of your way to find a bathroom.
The concession stands had plastic partitions and staff wore both masks and shields. At some of the concessions, the staff spoke into a microphone, which was helpful because we all know how difficult it can be to communicate with a mask over your face.
Though park guests weren’t always good about social distancing, I didn’t see one person with their mask down outside of the designated dining areas. Many people ignored the social distancing markers in longer lines, though when the staff noticed, they stopped to remind them.
It’s worth noting that masks have to stay up at all times, including when you’re taking that classic photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. There are staff members nearby who will remind you to keep it on for photos. (That’s different from Disney World in Florida, where you are allowed to lower your mask for outdoor photo opportunities.)
I frequently observed staff members wiping down rails, tables and other common touchpoints. It was really reassuring to see them being extra diligent when most park guests may not even have paid attention.
Not all rides were open
Of the 53 attractions at Disneyland, 30 were operating on reopening day. At California Adventure, 20 of 37 rides were open. Rides like Jungle Cruise and Matterhorn Bobsleds were closed (the latter for refurbishment), while classics like Splash Mountain and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (formerly Tower of Terror) were in full swing.
Because so many of the popular rides were open and lines were not really an issue, it didn’t matter that others were closed.
Lower capacity = fewer lines
Disneyland reopened at just 25% capacity, limited to California residents only. The low capacity was more evident at California Adventure, which was virtually deserted upon opening. The only long line we experienced was a 15-minute wait for Toy Story Midway Mania.
Some lines certainly appeared longer because of social distancing, but we breezed through them. My niece and I were able to repeatedly ride the Incredicoaster without a wait.
While the crowds at Disneyland were bigger when we made our way over at 1 p.m., the lines for most rides were around 5 minutes. Most other rides had a five- to 10-minute wait, which was perfectly manageable. Even popular rides like Splash Mountain ended up being a 10-minute wait, despite advertising 30 minutes.
We did spend more than 40 minutes waiting for the Indiana Jones Adventure. The crowd control measure was pretty elaborate, taking us to the building across the way, up the stairs, back down, around the building, up the stairs again, then back to the ride entrance, where we spent another 15 minutes in line before finally entering the ride.
No lines at the awesome Millenium Falcon ride. (Photo by Ariana Arghandewal/The Points Guy)
Thanks to short lines, we got to ride our favorites multiple times. We rode the Mission Breakout so many times that we got used to the drops and stopped jumping out of our seats. The entrance to the Millenium Falcon was clearly set up to accommodate long lines, but the only hassle we encountered was actually walking the long path to the ride.
Overall, we probably spent less time standing in line during this visit to Disneyland than we did in 2018. A week after our trip, I checked wait times in the Disney app and found them on par with reopening day, except Indiana Jones was now down to 25 minutes.
While the crowds at Disneyland looked on par with the crowds three years earlier, the lines were not an issue. Basically, it was like having a MaxPass.
Character meet-and-greets were a little different
Meeting characters is an essential part of the Disneyland experience and, as you can imagine, the experience has changed. Photos with Disney characters are still possible, though the experience is much more socially distanced. Characters now stand on a roped-off stage and park guests are invited to stand on a mark six feet apart to take photos.
The line for these photo ops is well-executed, with social distancing markers encouraging everyone to stay six feet apart. At the California Adventures entrance, staff was actively enforcing these rules.
One of the most memorable aspects of taking my nieces to Disneyland three years ago was seeing them get excited about meeting their favorite characters. The cast really took their time to talk to them and give them hugs before posing for photos. Unfortunately, that’s not possible during the pandemic.
It’s also worth noting that the character houses, including Mickey’s, in Toon Town are closed. On our last visit, we made it all the way through Mickey’s House for the photo-op finale. My niece was slightly disappointed not to have this option this go around.
That being said, I think kids still get a kick out of meeting characters from afar and they remain an effective crowd control tool.
Dining isn’t the same
Dining was the one sore point of this trip to Disney. For starters, concession stands didn’t open until 11 a.m. – a full two hours after the park opened. Luckily we had breakfast and brought snacks, but a few people did stop us and ask where we got our bottled water from. It was a hot day and people expected the concession stands to open along with the park.
When the concessions opened, there were immediate lines and people began occupying the designated dining areas.
At California Adventure, the dining areas consisted of the previous FastPass pick-up spots and some benches. The FastPass spots were shaded and had ceiling fans, while some of the benches had umbrellas to provide much-needed shade. Quite a few benches were closed off for seating, many of them in the shade, which was not ideal.
At Disneyland, all dining was outdoors though seating was still hard to come by. The wait at most restaurants was about 45 minutes and you had the option to either make a reservation through the app, place an order for pick-up or wait in the stand-by line. We ended up eating at French Market Restaurant, which had no line and about a 5-minute wait for seating.
If you’re a Disney foodie, you’ll want to reacquaint yourself with the menu at each dining establishment. For example, Tiki Juice Bar is closed, so you’ll need to get your Dole Whip fix at The Tropical Hideaway. You also might miss the turkey leg cart since the crowd favorites are now prepacked and easy to miss.
That being said, the food was overall disappointing. We had lunch at the French Market Restaurant and the options were much more limited than during our last visit. I had a roast beef sandwich that was dry and cold, while my niece’s pasta was way undercooked.
We also stopped by the Jolly Bakery, where we ordered cupcakes and mac and cheese. Once again, everything tasted like it had been sitting out for a long time.
On our last visit to Disneyland, we simply walked up to whatever restaurant we wanted, got our food and sat down to eat it. This time around, the wait at some restaurants was well over 45 minutes. So guests were encouraged to make reservations or order meals to go using the Disney app.
Making a reservation was fairly easy and most of the time required just a 10- to 15-minute wait. While reservations aren’t mandatory, they will make your dining experience much easier.
Restaurants aren’t the only places that require a reservation. Park guests also have to reserve their spots for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance in the app early in the morning. They will be assigned a group and a specific time slot to visit the attraction.
The park closes early (but dining stays open for another hour)
While Disneyland and California Adventure now close at 7 p.m., the good news is that the dining establishments remain open for another hour. So while you can’t visit any more attractions, you can wind down and relax at one of the on-site restaurants.
At the end of a long day, we sat down at the Jolly Bakery and just watched the crowds go by. People got their last-minute selfies in at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, they roamed around just to observe everything and stocked up on their favorite treats.
While it’s unfortunate that the park closes early, it’s worth noting that you won’t be rushed out of the gate right away.
Since Disneyland currently operates at just 25% capacity and is limited to California residents, hotels are competing harder to attract visitors. In fact, several new hotels have opened in the last few weeks and there are some terrific deals to be found. For example, I booked the Magical Reopening package at the Radisson Blue Anaheim. It cost $30 more than the standard rate and got me free daily parking (normally $25), a $25 Disney gift card and a daily $100 food and beverage credit.
Booking this rate was a no-brainer since I got $150 in extra value per day for a $30 upcharge. It’s definitely worth shopping around for hotels and checking for special offers like this one.
What hasn’t changed
Even though not all rides had reopened, the Disneyland park got a little crowded and the concession stands opened late, we had an absolute blast on Disneyland’s reopening day. Disneyland is all about the rides and those are just as fun as ever. With lower capacity in place, we got to ride popular attractions multiple times without enduring long lines.
And while the food options were a little disappointing this time around, I chalk that up to reopening pains. Not everything will be perfect right out of the gate and it may be something Disneyland improves on down the line.
Is Disneyland worth it during the pandemic?
So was Disneyland worth the 6.5-hour wait? Yes. Though the “wait” consisted of keeping an extra window tab open and making sure my laptop was charged.
California is set to reopen fully on June 15, 2021, and that’s when Disneyland might begin operating at full capacity again. On June 4, the new Avengers Campus will open as well. So if you’re coming from out of state or holding out for the new rides, then I suggest you wait it out.
That being said, I thought reopening day was a total success. I was impressed with the COVID-19 safety precautions and the extent to which they kept the park clean and ensured everyone was complying with mask mandates. Despite a few closed rides, we didn’t feel like we missed out on the quintessential Disney experience. We had just as much fun on reopening day as we did three years earlier.
I would absolutely go back to Disneyland and recommend visiting if you’re vaccinated and feel safe doing so.
There are plenty of rides to keep you entertained and while character photo ops are a little different, it’s still possible to get a (somewhat distanced) selfie with your favorite Disney character. Besides a few ride closures, strict COVID-19 safety protocols and fewer food options, I found that not much has changed at Disneyland and what has is mostly positive. It’s still very much a happy, fun place to escape to.
Featured photo by Ariana Arghandewal / The Points Guy
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