A Day at Disneyland Like No Other

A dream come true at 15% capacity…

Not that I want to give Disney any ideas, but if they had 15% Mondays or something like that, I would make sure to go and pay the premium to experience it. Having done special events like the Princess and Pirate Party at Magic Kingdom (awesome by the way) and Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland (again, awesome), I know the value of limited attendance. But to be able to explore the park at 15% capacity was a dream come true – masks and all.

When Disneyland reopened for the first time in over a year, company executives were cautious wanting to make sure they stayed true to California’s guidelines for care during the COVID-19 pandemic. People were starting to get vaccinated, infection rates were dropping, and Orange County was finally descending through the color-coded tier system. After having closed the gates to the Happiest Place on Earth for more than 12 months, it was time to let the public back in. But to be safe, masks had to be worn, social distancing had to be in place, hand washing stations had to be plentiful, and in what turned out to be serendipitous – attendance was limited to 15% of capacity.

This is what 15% looks like

That first day when tickets went on sale, the Disneyland Diehards – my buddies who like me are complete Disney Nerds – were all online trying to get in. In what is sadly turning out to be a Disney tradition, we all were stuck in the virtual queue, crawling along at a snail’s pace. But finally one of us got through and we ended up buying a small fortune in tickets! With the “3 household” rule in place, we qualified and were able to snag tickets for the day after re-opening day. We were beyond excited as we counted down each day until we were able to go.

When we arrived, we had to line up in what would normally be the street where the tram would take you from the parking structure to the front gate. But because of COVID, no trams were running. Instead they used the space to queue up the crowds – which were substantial! We got there early about 90 minutes early and already we were lined up about half way to the Mickey and Friends garage and there were three lines deep. But the time went by so fast. Everyone was excited and it seemed like there was a palpable anticipation in the air. Even the distance from the structure to the park didn’t seem quite so long.

About to enter the Happiest Place on Earth for the first time in over a year!

Finally, the time came to enter Disneyland!

It was like coming home. Everything was new yet familiar. The walk down Main Street was a walk down Memory Lane. But we also walked with a purpose. Determined to get the most bang for our buck, we were ready to maximize our time, so when everyone else was heading left toward Haunted Mansion or straight toward Snow White, we hooked to the right and walked onto Star Tours. That’s right. Walked on. Absolutely no wait. Afterward we had about a 10-minute wait for Space Mountain. At most. From there, we went on Autopia – again barely any line. It’s A Small World. Gadget’s Go-Coaster. The Disneyland Train. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. And Big Thunder Mountain. All before lunch. Oh, and by the way, we snuck in a visit to Jolly Holiday Bakery, too.

After lunch we went a bit slower, did a little more shopping, and took in some sights. We had a loading time of about 2pm for Rise of the Resistance so after a Monte Cristo lunch at Cafe Orleans we headed over to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. We had a bit of time before our ride so we boarded Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run (again nearly walked on) before heading to the line for Rise. As you’d expect, it was amazing. A little hop, skip, and a jump over to Fantasyland and we rode the newly redecorated King Arthur’s Carousel before getting on board with Snow White’s Enchanted Wish (no longer scary). A nice sit-down dinner at Plaza Inn for some fried chicken and one last ride on Alice in Wonderland – which broke down mid-ride. But it was great! I never had the chance to walk a ride before so this just added to my fun time!

We had such a blast! Shortened hours and no shows or parades, but we still fit all that in one day. By the end, I was utterly exhausted and just glad to make the long trip back to the car. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Not long after we went, COVID numbers continued to drop as more people got vaccinated. Pretty soon, Orange County was dropping into the Yellow Tier and Disneyland was able to increase attendance from 15% to 25% and then again to 35%. Still far below normal operating capacity, but MUCH busier and more crowded. If it means never having to go through a pandemic again, I’m fine if this is my one chance at 15% capacity, but after the Year Without Disneyland it was so good to be back.

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