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21 Things to Know About Going to Disneyland in 2021

21 Things to Know About Going to Disneyland in 2021

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Going to Disneyland in 2021? There are many changes to know about – enough to confuse even a veteran traveler like me! Even if you’ve been to the California theme parks before, these are the things you’ll want to know about before returning to Disneyland.

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Going to Disneyland in 2021

In the past, a spur-of-the-moment Disneyland vacation was the norm for many Southern Californians. I know my family has personally decided on a whim, “Hey, let’s go to Disneyland today!” If you’re planning your first Disneyland vacation, the information you read needs to be freshly updated. Travel protocols are changing by the day! This article will be updated as needed with any relevant changes.

Physically distanced characters on Main Street

It’s very important to understand that during this current travel climate, Disneyland has had to flex with the times. This means, limiting the park capacity via advance ticket sales and park reservations. If you’re going to Disneyland in 2021, please read carefully through each section to know what to expect.

Disneyland Reopening Day

I was able to attend Disneyland’s reopening, April 30th and May 1st, 2021. Some of the points I make throughout this article are based on what was observed and experienced during that visit. I’ve been able to attend the parks multiple times over the past few months and will continue to update this post with changes.

Where to Get Tickets

  • All Disneyland tickets are being sold online only – no tickets will be available for purchase at the front gates.
  • Consider purchasing a multi-day park ticket from my trusted travel partner Get Away Today. They offer a discount lower than purchased through the Disneyland site.
  • Multi-day tickets are still the much better value when compared to a single day ticket. One-day tickets will always be sold at full price, based on a tiered calendar (found on the Disneyland website). Weekend, popular dates and holidays will always be more expensive.
  • Buy now to lock in the best pricing on Disneyland tickets before Disney raises the prices! Multi-day Disneyland tickets purchased now expire on January 12, 2023 or within 13 days after first use. Single day tickets expire on December 30th, 2022.
  • Guests 3+ are required to have a valid park ticket. If your child has not yet turned three years old, they may enter the park for free without needing a ticket or reservation.
  • Do you have a ticket that expired during the Disneyland closure? Read more about how those Disneyland ticket expiration dates were extended.

Booking Reservations

In addition to having valid tickets, every guest must have a separate reservation booking. Each individual guest with a park ticket must also have a day-of Disneyland parks reservation. This can only be done directly through the Disneyland website.

Here’s how to do this:

  • Create a Disney account on the Disneyland website.
  • Link your Disneyland tickets through the My Disneyland section.
  • Click the “Theme Park Reservation System” section, then the “Make Park Reservations” button.
  • Choose the day you’d like to reserve. You’ll need to reserve each day separately for all the tickets in your group.
  • Disneyland will email a QR code that will also be added to the Disneyland app. Upon entry at the gates, each guest will need to show their park ticket as well as their separate reservation QR code.

Who Can Go to Disneyland?

California residents may currently visit the Disneyland theme parks. On June 15th, 2021 Disneyland Resort opened to out of state travelers as well. The State of California highly recommends that all visitors be vaccinated. However Disneyland does not require guests to be vaccinated and proof is not needed for entry.

Safety Measures

With cases spiking and Los Angeles county requiring facial masks indoors, where does Disneyland stand? Located in Anaheim, Orange County, facial covered are not required outdoors for fully vaccinated individuals. Guests do not need to show proof of vaccination and only need to self-attest that they are in compliance.

All guests aged 2+ must wear proper face coverings while indoors (except when dining). Masks must loop behind the ears, be tight fitted and made of a multi-ply material (no bandannas or gaiters).

Expect to see LOTS of these reminders posted around the resort

Expect to see the following safety protocols in place:

  • Limited capacity within the parks
  • Plexiglas barriers between rows on some attractions
  • Physical distancing markers have been removed but guests may maintain their own personal spacing between other parties.
  • Enhanced cleanliness including hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer
  • Gentle reminders from Cast Members to follow park rules
  • Designated dining areas – tables & benches that are marked as such for guests to eat, relax and remove facial coverings

READ MORE about the safety measures to look for in this article about Disney Parks reopening 2021.

Morning Strategy

While your usual Disneyland morning strategies of old might not currently be of use, there’s still good reason to employ a plan. Arrive early to security lines, which are well-spaced and efficient. Guests bags are still checked manually.

During the days of my visits, the entry gates were opened early (45 minutes before official park opening). During times of shortened hours, the extra time given here is an excellent way to maximize your time in the theme parks.

Line for morning security before opening

Crowd Levels

As noted, the parks will be maintaining a lower capacity. This will allow guests to more easily keep with physical distancing. I attended Disneyland on reopening day, April 30th, 2021. The minimal crowd levels were as I haven’t seen them in years.

On subsequent visits, the parks were definitely busier, though it’s obvious that capacity is still being controlled. Certain areas (like Fantasyland) will feel more crowded than others. The large number of strollers, narrow walkways and outdoor, distanced queues can make spaces fill up.

Plenty of room and lots of seating throughout the parks

Ride Wait Times

With the current pause on the former FASTPASS/Maxpass sytem I was concerned stand-by lines would be massive. But as a result of the lower park capacity, ride wait times were lightened as well. Disney Genie and the paid version, Disney Genie+, will incorporate the new Lightning Lane (aka: FASTPASS lines). Date to be announced and implemented sometime in fall.

It was noted that the posted wait times at each attraction and on the Disneyland app often were longer. For instance, Peter Pan’s Flight posted a 20 minute wait time but we really boarded after about just 5 minutes in line.

But not all lines were consistently short. While I waited minimally for Radiator Springs first thing in the morning, other attractions including Toy Story Midway Mania had longer wait times.

Pay attention to estimated wait times on the Disneyland app. We found that the times on the app were generally exaggerated and that actual time spent in line was less.

Because of personal social distancing, queue lines can be strange and out of place. Many lines look extremely long but only because parties are spaced apart.

What About These Disneyland Services?

City Hall – Still available for assistance, guests must check in via a QR code. These guest relations buildings are closed to drop-in traffic.

Rider Switch – Yes, rider swapping is still available and working as it always has.

Disability Access Service – No changes were made to the DAS system. Changes are coming to this program however, to be announced soon. For the moment, families should follow the same protocols for Disneyland Disability Access Service as they have in the past.

Fuel Rod – These convenient portable phone charging stations are still located around the resort. They are all located outdoors instead of being inside shops. The best value is to purchase a Fuel Rod ahead of your trip, then exchange them for a full charge inside the parks.

Strollers – Yes, Disneyland stroller rental is still open and operating. In addition guests may bring their own personal strollers into the parks (using the regular guidelines).

Baby Care Centers – Both Disneyland and California Adventure baby care centers are open, though capacity is limited inside.

Disney California Adventure Baby Care Center

How to Get on Rise of the Resistance & WEB SLINGERS

When Disneyland closed in 2020, the newly opened Rise of the Resistance inside Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was the hottest ride in the park! And WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure is the new attraction, inside Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure.

A virtual queue is in place for both attractions. If you’re going to Disneyland in 2021 and want to ride either Rise of the Resistance or WEB SLINGERS, this is must-know info.

  • The first virtual queue window opens at 7 am each day. Guests do not have to be inside the theme park to secure this ride reservation. I was able to book my boarding pass while still inside my hotel room.
  • The second virtual queue window opens at noon each day. Guests must have scanned into one of the theme parks.
  • You will need to show your boarding group on the Disneyland app to enter the ride line.
  • Most of the queue is outdoors. Some of the indoor ride sequences have been eliminated or abbreviated.
  • Guests may not hold both a WEB SLINGERS and Rise of the Resistance virtual queue at the same time.
  • Read for more strategies on how to get on Rise of the Resistance without the wait.
Prepping for the second virtual queue window

Is Park Hopping Available?

Yes, guests holding a valid Park Hopper ticket are permitted to hop but only after 1 pm each day. When guests make their park reservation on the Disneyland website, you’ll be asked to choose which park you wish to start your day at.

Pay attention to which icon is available on the reservation calendar (castle icon for Disneyland, or the Ferris wheel for California Adventure). Availability is dependent upon park capacity and park hopping is not guaranteed.

On opening day, I hopped from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure easily (in fact, the esplanade between the parks was practically empty). The return “hop” back to Disneyland was just as simple. I arrived before the stated 1:00 pm Park Hopping time and there were guest lined up at not-yet-open entry gates. As park capacity increases, Park Hopping may become more of a challenge, with longer wait times.

What Restaurants are Open?

At this time, not all full-service restaurants are available for Advance Dining Reservations. Didn’t grab an reservation ahead of time? There’s still a chance you can dine. A scannable QR code located at each restaurant details what’s available. Most quick service locations are open but not all.

Quick service dining is best option for now

Mobile Ordering vs. Walk-Up

Many of the quick service dining locations inside the Disneyland parks are encouraging mobile ordering. This time-saver has been a longtime favorite of mine. Guests can simply order food via the Disneyland app at participating locations. Then click the, “I’m here” button and approach the mobile ordering window. Within a few minutes, your food is ready!

  • Some quick service restaurants are ONLY using mobile order without any walk-up ordering available. Other locations are offering both. Signage is good outside each restaurant so be sure to stop and read to know what to expect.
  • As I discovered during A Touch of Disney event, gift cards can now be entered as a payment option for mobile ordering.
  • Mobile ordering times can fill up quickly. If you know you want to purchase food from a certain location, plug in your order early in the day to grab a time slot. Don’t press the “I’m here” button until you’re ready to pick up within your chosen time frame.
  • As it’s always been, the Starbucks locations inside the Disneyland parks do not have mobile ordering. The Starbucks are located inside Market House at Disneyland & Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe inside Disney California Adventure. Walk-up will be the only way to purchase coffee and food here. For families looking for breakfast options, this is one not to forget.
  • There are additional Starbucks locations inside Downtown Disney that do allow mobile ordering but only through the official Starbucks app (not the Disneyland app).
  • Expect wait times for Avengers Campus dining, specifically Pym Test Kitchen, to be lengthy. Mobile orders will fill up early in the day!
  • Breakfast options seems to be the most difficult meal to mobile order. Locations and options are currently scarce for meals in the morning hours. Best to eat at the hotel or bring in breakfast foods, as most lunch options do not begin until the 10:30-11 am hours.
The Disneyland app is a must-have for mobile dining

Full Service Dining

In the past, guests who wanted to book Advance Dining Reservations could plan on snagging them exactly 60 days out. No so, anymore. Restaurant reservations are currently trickling out. This makes it very difficult to plan meals for a trip.

Rather than stalking the Disneyland app to book ADR, try MouseDining. There’s a way to upgrade your account for additional features but for most people, their free program is adequate. Here’s how this system works:

  • Open the MouseDisney website and search the restaurant you want to dine at.
  • Add in your dates to see if a reservation is available.
  • If everything is booked, simply set up an alert with more details including meal, preferred time, and party size.
  • MouseDining will email you when a reservation comes available!
Wine Country Trattoria requires an Advance Dining Reservation

Snacks and Outside Food

Want a churro, pretzel or a bottled drink? Outdoor snack carts are still open throughout the parks. Families can also bring in their own outside food to the parks. Mobile ordering times can be tricky to lock in later in the day. It’s important to have your own snacks for hungry kids.

Looking for more ways to save money on a Disneyland vacation? Consider the Disney Visa and earn rewards that can be applied to your next trip!

Designated Dining Areas

Walt Disney World has set aside areas called “Relaxation Stations”, where can guests can eat, drink and remove their masks. At Disneyland these spots are marked as a “Designated Dining Area”. A great many of additional benches, standing tables, chairs and shaded tables have been placed around the park for designated dining.

How to See Characters

While hugging Mickey Mouse is off the table, there are big changes to the character greetings. No personal up-close character meet ‘n greets are happening, however guests will still see many of their favorites!

  • Disney characters are located all over the theme park. During regular park hours, guests can spot characters but finding them is the challenge. Their locations and times of appearance are not on the Disneyland app.
  • All characters can be seen at a social distance. Selfie photos encouraged.
  • With the walk-through portion of Fantasy Faire closed, new character greetings can be a great way to see princesses without the usual long waits.
  • Some rarely seen characters, including Tangled’s Flynn Rider and Miguel from Coco can be seen in the parks.
  • Character dining has returned with a modified experience. Read next section for more details.
  • Don’t expect to spot characters in their usual locations. For instance, instead of being inside the Animation Building at their Royal Welcome, Anna and Elsa from Frozen were found together near the Buena Street fountain.
No need to wait in line for hours to see Frozen characters anymore!

Disneyland Character Dining Changes

Character dining experiences are returning to Disneyland, with a few important modifications. I have been able to experience several of these character meals since Disneyland reopened. In the past, Disney character dining was a must-do. Is it still a good option when going to Disneyland in 2021?

At each location, characters no longer visit each table individually. There’s no autographs or intimate interaction. Guests are reminded to stay seated in their chairs when characters are present. There are still complimentary character dining buttons for each guest. Here’s what to expect at each location-

Grand Californian Hotel – Storyteller’s Cafe – Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast – Breakfast favorites abound here, including Mickey waffles, chilequiles, bagels and lox and additional upscale pastries and dishes. As in the past, the food here is a highlight. Guests may serve themselves at the open buffet. All seating is indoors and guests may remove masks while seated.

Characters parade through the dining room several times for each visit, only about 5 minutes at a time. We saw Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Chip ‘n Dale during our visit. They participate in a quick dance in the main lobby. Characters briefly stand near tables, stopping only briefly for a quick photo. The experience is extremely speedy.

Paradise Pier Hotel PCH Grill- Donald Duck’s Seaside Breakfast – no return date announced

Disneyland Hotel – Goofy’s Kitchen – this whimsical breakfast and dinner buffet has returned. Characters will not be back until Sept 16th.

Grand Californian Hotel – Napa Rose Disney Princess Breakfast Adventures – This upscale dining experience is back but with a few adjustments. Princesses no longer visit each table, instead greeting on the outdoor patio. The 3-course meal remains, delivered personally to you table and served “family-style”, as before.

Plaza Inn (inside Disneyland) – Minnie and Friends Breakfast in the Park – Each guest/party may stop to meet n’ greet with Minnie personally before sitting for the meal. A PhotoPass photographer is present and downloads of the images are complimentary.

Buffet is a combination of cast member served and self-serve. Seating is both indoors and outdoors (guests may remove masks when sitting). Traditional dishes are available, like Mickey & Minnie waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon and fruit.

The character parade takes place both indoors and out through the dining room several times. We saw Minnie (only at the entrance), Pluto, Daisy, Tigger, Winnie the Pooh and Chip ‘n Dale during our visit. Characters seem to move fast through the room and rarely pause behind tables.

Is Disney PhotoPass Available?

Yes, Disney PhotoPass is still available for purchase at $19.99 per day. PhotoPass photographers are located at key points around the parks. The unlimited photo downloads will also include images taken on designated attractions. I did notice a few things about PhotoPass. There seemed to be fewer available photographers. However as a trade-off the lines for pictures were much shorter!

If you’re going to Disneyland in 2021 best to bring your own camera or fully charged smart phone to capture images. Note that Disney PhotoPass photographers are unable to take photos with your phone or camera at this time.

What’s Not Available at Disneyland?

While most of the park is operating fully, there are some attractions and park aspects that haven’t returned yet. This is what you need to know about closures:

Princess dresses available for sale but no makeover

Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique – The actual shop is open for the purchase of princess dresses and accessories. However the makeover experience is not operating at this time. Click over to find out how to recreate your own DIY Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Parades & Shows – At this time, parades and some live shows are not taking place. This includes World of Color, Disney Jr. Dance Party, Magic Happens Parade, Mickey & the Magical Map and Fantasmic! No date has been given for return of this entertainment for the theme parks. However the nighttime fireworks spectacular Mickey’s Mix Magic is currently being offered. Dapper Dans have begun their harmonies on Main Street again. Halloween Screams also returned to Disneyland during Halloween.

FASTPASS and Maxpass – Neither FASTPASS or Maxpass have returned to the Disneyland parks. Both features will not return and a new program will be taking their place. Disney Genie and Lightning Lane will be coming to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World later this fall.

Lockers inside the parks – All locker areas in both the parks and esplanade are available for daily storage.

Lockers in the esplanade area are available for storage

What’s Closed at Disneyland

High Touch Attractions – In Toontown Mickey, Minnie, Goofy & Donald’s houses are all currently closed. Newly reopened are the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail and Frontier Land Shootin’ Exposition.

Limited Space Locations – Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island has reopened. However expect to see some caves closed because of the narrow indoor spaces and limited ventilation. Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage is also not operating. Sleeping Beauty Castle walkthrough has recently reopened.

Certain Indoor Entertainment – Star Wars Launch Bay is not currently operating. However Turtle Talk with Crush, Mickey’s Philharmagic and the Enchanted Tiki Room (all indoor shows) are available. The Bakery Tour and sections of the Animation Building have reopened.

Shopping Changes

  • To limit the number of people inside, some shops may monitor guests allowed to enter.
  • Physically smaller stores, including the Silhouette Shop, may be closed.
  • Merchandise mobile checkout is currently being tested within the Downtown Disney District. At World of Disney, guests can scan items and check out through the Disneyland mobile app. Follow the steps on the app which includes a designated mobile checkout shopping bag, self-scanning, and paying through the app.

What’s New at Disneyland?

During the closure, Disneyland was still able to complete several of their projects. I found the parks to look better than ever, with fresh coats of paint, gorgeous flowers and heightened cleaning. Here are few things to watch for:

Snow White’s Enchanted Wish – formerly called “Snow White’s Scary Adventures”, this attraction has been fleshed-out, with enhanced scenes and a more complete ending. Some of the scary aspect remains in regards to Evil Queen but Snow White has more parts and still receives her “happily ever after” in the end.

King Arthur’s Carrousel – beautifully refurbished with shining gold accents, purple shade cloth banners and bright lights. The view of the carrousel through Sleeping Beauty Castle is a can’t miss!

What’s New at Disney California Adventure?

Spotted new Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT! is a trail of slime embedded into the concrete. This is an extension that stretches into the new Avengers Campus area.

Colorful slime trails at Guardians of the Galaxy will lead guests towards Avengers Campus

Avengers Campus, a Marvel-themed land opened to guests on June 4th, 2021. This Marvel-theme land features a new attraction, WEB SLINGERS: A Spiderman Adventure. I was there with my family on opening day and we ate at Pym Kitchen, a new quick service dining location. Read more about the details of this area, including ride virtual queue.

Main entrance to Avengers Campus

Which Disneyland Resort Hotels are Open?

All of the Disneyland resort hotels have reopened to overnight guests. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has reopened their private entry into the California Adventure theme park. The Disneyland Hotel recently reopened after refurbishment. While the hotel is open, some aspects of The Paradise Pier Hotel remain closed, including dining locations.

Entry/Exit from California Adventure to Grand Californian Hotel

This leaves many out-of-town travelers looking away from the Disneyland resort hotels and towards Good Neighbor hotels in the Anaheim area. Fortunately there are a great many nearby locations, many within walking distance of the front gates.

During my recent visit, I was able to tour 10 hotels in the Disneyland area. View the videos and details on each area including top amenities, location and rooms on this Instagram Anaheim Hotels highlight.

When you’re ready to book your full Disneyland vacation, my friends at Get Away Today are ready to help! Mention code REWRITTEN to receive an extra discount off your package of two or more days.

Spider-Man character greeting guests on the rooftops

Top Tips for Going to Disneyland in 2021

For those guests who are not fully vaccinated or are under 12 years old, wearing a facial covering all day can be a sweaty and uncomfortable experience. Pack multiple masks to switch out. My favorite has been the HaloMask which has a curved piece to keep fabric away from the nose and mouth for easier breathing.

Take advantage of the many designated dining areas as a place for a mask-break. I found myself feeling nauseated mid-day. I chalked it up to dehydration and took an extended break for a rest, water, snack and sunscreen reapplication. Be sure to work in plenty of breaks throughout the day.

With lockers closed inside the parks, guests have a few options.

  • Families should have a stroller with a large basket for storage.
  • Pack light. Bring a backpack for each family member to hold bottled water, snacks, jackets and extras.

Do the Parks Still Feel Magical?

In a word: YES. While the current changes are different, they’re not all negative. In fact, some changes (like increased mobile ordering) are here to stay. Families who are waiting for Disneyland to return to what it was before might be out of luck. The newly adopted reservation system may be around for a while, as a way for Disney parks to monitor guest traffic.

This newly reopened Disneyland isn’t as it was. And for those who are hardcore fans and touring experts, it’s a lot to get used to if you’re going to Disneyland in 2021. But the trade-off is so worth it. For those who are ready to embrace the changes, these guests will be rewarded with lighter crowds, gracious cast members and a Disney magic that will never disappear!

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