Disneyland reopened on April 30 after a year of COVID-19 closure. Planning a visit? From the mask policy to booking reservations, here's what to know from one of the first moms back through the gates.

By Alesandra Dubin
May 20, 2021
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When Disneyland announced its phased reopening beginning April 30 after more than a year of pandemic closure, I jumped at the chance to get tickets. After all, my 6-year-old twins had spent 400 days almost entirely at home and adapted earnestly. And what's bigger a reward than Disneyland?

Plus, the park announced that its first phase of reopening would cap visitors at 25 percent of the typical daily flow. And I saw that as a rare opportunity to traipse through Disneyland with no lines and no crowds.

Well, now that we've just been some of the first guests back through the park gates since its reopening, I'm back with insider intel for other parents planning a visit. Here's what to know before going back to Disneyland post-pandemic — from a mom who's been there!

Now you have to get a ticket and make a reservation.

Now, everyone in your group age 3 and up will need not just a ticket—but a reservation too. The theme park reservation system is new and guarantees staggered arrivals at a reduced maximum capacity, so make sure you handle both of those pre-reqs before just showing up. For now, you have to be a California resident to visit, and in groups no larger than three households, per state guidelines. But this is a rapidly evolving situation and I'd suspect to see swift changes to these fluid policies so be sure to check Disney's site here for the latest rules.

Reduced capacity doesn't mean no lines.

Remember how I expected no lines or crowds? Spoiler: I was way wrong. During our visit on May 15, we experienced robust crowds—big enough that we actually asked staffers if the max capacity had changed. (It hadn't, to their knowledge.) Still, most lines were reasonably short; we didn't wait more than 20 minutes or so on the high end and much less in many cases. But there were nevertheless throngs of people walking throughout the park as you might expect to see any spring Saturday. Total time from arrival at the parking garage to stepping foot through Disneyland's front gate? One hour. (About 20 minutes each for parking, screening and walking, and waiting in line for entry.)

An image of a family at Disneyland.
Credit: Getty Images.

You should definitely download the app.

As it emerges from COVID-19, Disney is moving toward cashless, contactless payment systems as much as possible. Definitely download the My Disney Experience app on your mobile before you go (and enable location services and notifications) so you can use it to make transactions. Plus, you can use its cool features to do stuff like check ride wait times in real time, see and download your snaps from rides and other photo opportunities, and reserve meals (more on that in a minute).

Don't wait until you get hangry to make a meal plan.

Every parent should heed this warning big time. Because masks are required 100 percent of the time—and that policy is strictly enforced—you can't just walk around nibbling a churro willy-nilly if you and your brood gets hungry. Instead, you must eat in designated areas only.

Further, don't expect the same grab-and-go scenario you're used to at park restaurants: Order ahead through the app and have your food ready during a particular arrival window, a requirement meant to stagger arrivals at eateries and space out crowds.

During popular times—like standard lunchtime—you might not be able to book a window immediately. So think about your meals in advance and plan hours ahead. My tip? Don't eat at typical meal times, when places are slammed. Stagger your meals so you break for "lunch" at 10:30 am and "dinner" at 4 pm, tucking in snack breaks accordingly.

Character meet-and-greets look different now.

If your kids' favorite part of the experience is chatting with princesses—good news! Character meetups are in play. However, they look different now. For instance, instead of holding court for private one-on-one photo opps and hugs, princesses now stand behind a rope, where they chat with kids who stand in designated zones outdoors for socially distanced greetings and photos.

The tram isn't running.

Now, I can hardly claim to be the first mom to suggest wearing comfortable walking shoes to Disneyland. But I'm here to emphasize the importance more than ever. That's because the tram that typically takes guests between the parking structures and the park entrance is not currently running in this phase of re-opening. You can bring or rent strollers and wheelchairs as needed, of course. But anyone in your party on foot will be getting those steps in. (For my stride, and according to my Apple Watch, it was 2,000 steps each way between the parking structure and park entrance.)

You (yes, you) absolutely have to wear a mask.

Despite the CDC's new relaxed guidelines for mask-wearing, everyone over 2 years old will need to wear a mask at Disneyland 100 percent of the time, except while eating in designated areas. No, it doesn't matter if you've been vaccinated against COVID-19. Yes, this policy will be enforced swiftly and uniformly.

The Bottom Line?

Come prepared to play by the rules and adapt to changes, and you'll be ready to make new kinds of magic at the Happiest Place on Earth.