Disneyland and Disney California Adventure opened their gates to guests Friday after an unprecedented 13-month closure, welcoming parkgoers to stroll down Main Street USA, pay a visit to the Haunted Mansion and scream down Splash Mountain as the COVID-19 pandemic loosens its grip on the state.
In Disneyland's 66-year history, the theme park has been shut for extreme circumstances only a few times — after the assassination of President Kennedy and following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, for example. Before the pandemic struck in March of last year, none of those closures lasted longer than a day.
Now, with a slew of coronavirus safety adjustments, the Anaheim parks are welcoming back their fans.
Eager parkgoers began lining up hours before Disneyland's official 9 a.m. opening time, and a cheer greeted the announcement that the temperature-check station would start processing them for admission about an hour early. To prevent crowding in Disneyland's Main Street area, park employees invited the admitted guests to freely roam the grounds. Workers, alongside Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Bob Iger and Chief Executive Bob Chapek, waved at people as they entered.
“This is a homecoming for us," said a tearful Claudia Martinez, who visited the park Friday with her mother and aunt from San Diego. Her plans for the day? See the updated Snow White ride and “eat all the Disneyland food they have,” she said. Martinez is a former pass holder who said she used to visit the park almost weekly.
Melisa Howell of Clovis was also crying as she entered the park with her husband, Paul. “It’s been a long year," she said, adding that Disneyland opening felt like a bit of normality.
Meanwhile, park workers patrolled those still in line to enter, reminding people to keep their distance from one another and their masks on.
Among other precautions, park attendance is capped at 25% of capacity. Guests and employees must wear masks, and people who don't live together must maintain physical distance in queues and on rides. On some attractions, that means leaving lots of seats empty. New hand-washing stations and designated eating areas dot the parks.
Parades and fireworks shows have been scrapped — those tend to cause excited parkgoers to cluster too closely together. Costumed characters such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy aren't giving out hugs, but they are posing for pictures and waving from balconies and stages.
Workers roamed the parks ready to enforce the pandemic rules. Guests were told multiple times when boarding the Disneyland Railroad that there was to be no eating or drinking on the attraction, and mid-ride, a conductor reminded people to pull their masks up over their noses.
The changes don't seem to be deterring hard-core fans. Tickets to Disneyland are already sold out for the entire first seven weeks, according to the Disneyland online reservation page. Tickets for Disney California Adventure are sold out for eight days during the first month. Park hopper tickets, which allow a visitor to attend both parks in the same day, are still available for a few dates in May and several in June.
The parks are only allowing in California residents. Visitors must attest that they are Californians when they buy tickets online, and Disney representatives suggest bringing a photo ID as backup confirmation.
In allowing theme parks to reopen this month, California initially prohibited them from accepting out-of-state visitors, but it has since ended that restriction. Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld San Diego are among the parks that have begun selling tickets to people who live outside California and are fully vaccinated, but Disney has chosen to stick with the earlier restriction longer.
Most of the rides at the Disney parks are open. Some are shut for pandemic safety reasons, including Disneyland's Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Sailing Ship Columbia, as well as Disney California Adventure's Red Car Trolley and Golden Zephyr. A few, including Disneyland's Jungle Cruise and the Matterhorn Bobsleds, are closed for maintenance and upgrades. See the full list of open and closed rides.
MaxPass and FastPass, the systems that let visitors avoid long queues by scheduling when to get on a ride, have been suspended, but a virtual queuing system that uses the Disneyland app is required for Disneyland's newest ride, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.
To avoid crowds around the parks' eateries, most food stands and restaurants are taking orders via the Disneyland app. Parkgoers can use the app to make payments and get an alert when their food is ready.
On Friday morning, queues for some rides were unusually quick. About 9:20 a.m., the Haunted Mansion queue was 20 minutes long, and the wait for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run was 10 minutes. “It feels like a non-busy day. You don’t get those anymore,” Elizabeth Brillo of Sun Valley said as she exited the Millennium Falcon ride.
On the other hand, the wait to board the updated Snow White ride early in the day was estimated at 60 to 90 minutes.
By early afternoon, the Snow White line shortened to 20 to 30 minutes and the longest waits for the most popular rides, such as the soon-to-be-refurbished Splash Mountain, topped out at about 35 minutes.
Next door at Disney California Adventure, crowds were sparse. “Wow, it’s so quiet,” remarked a worker at Flo’s V8 Cafe, looking at the eatery's seating area and finding only two tables occupied.
Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, called the first several hours of opening day “remarkably smooth.” He cited the parks' opportunity to work out the kinks during a dress rehearsal of sorts: On Tuesday through Thursday, they had invited Disney employees to visit.
With the exception of the A Touch of Disney food event this spring, the Disney parks — a crown jewel of California's travel and tourism industry — had been closed to customers since mid-March 2020. State health guidelines released last month have allowed the parks to reopen while aiming to lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Before the pandemic, California theme parks collectively generated $1.5 billion annually in federal, state and local taxes, according to a trade group for the parks.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.