Although I’ve visited Disneyland over the years as an annual passholder, this was my first trip back since reopening. As someone who has made dozens of visits to Walt Disney World since their reopening, I find it important to note some observations about my time in Anaheim.
By Carly Caramanna
I was surprised at how little social distancing was in place given how far behind California’s reopening guidelines have been in comparison to Walt Disney World. For as much criticism as Florida continues to receive, Disneyland’s lounge and restaurant seating was plentiful, allowing those to easily belly up to a packed bar a la pre-COVID times. On the other hand, there’s still many seating limitations across Walt Disney World, including Sanaa and Tambu Lounge, both of which continue to restrict bar seating. I felt comfortable during my visit to Disneyland but could see the more hesitant being put off-guard.
With crowds back and summer in full swing, it is full steam ahead for the property as I checked out re-openings, new food offerings, and their 66th birthday festivities.
Since Disneyland’s 2020 birthday plans were sidelined due to the then-ongoing closure, the air was ripe with excitement for this year’s festivities. As part of the one-day-only celebration, the Fabulous Five were greeting guests (from a distance) in their colorful birthday costumes. Although there were no officially announced times for the birthday cavalcade, cast members were happily providing the information to the many hopeful watchers. The short parade, featuring Mickey as the ringleader, made its way down Main Street, U.S.A. before stopping in front of the train station for a brief tribute to Walt Disney. It was a scene full of emotion as audio from his opening day dedication speech played before The Disneyland Marching Band erupted in a performance of “Happy Birthday” with the entire crowd eagerly participating.
I happen to share a birthday with Disneyland, so it was extra special to spend the day with the most loyal of fans. In the crowds were a number of former opening-day cast members, fans who have visited the park since the early years, and even a sighting of Disney Legend Tony Baxter.
One of the highlights of the anniversary was a cupcake available only on July 17th from Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe. I reserved it early in the day through mobile ordering and was glad I did, as they quickly sold out by that afternoon. The well-executed double chocolate chip cupcake was equally delicious as it was photogenic and made for a great photo-op in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle.
“The Happiest Place on Earth” also felt like the most crowded place on Earth with eager visitors in line to experience newly re-imagined attractions, like Jungle Cruise and Mickey’s PhilharMagic. The Tropical Hideaway, no longer using mobile order, maintained a long line throughout much of the day with many hoping to get their hands on the newly released Dole Whip sundae in a souvenir Jungle Cruise Boat.
At the top of my list of new foods to try was a banana popcorn, cleverly named Batuu Wilds Banana Popped Grains, available from Kat Saka’s Kettle in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Sticking with its reputation of Disneyland popcorn putting others to shame, this ended up being a delicious new snack option and pairing it with the existing chocolate flavor made for the perfect balance of sweet and salty.
With my starting park being Disneyland, I was able to land a boarding group for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at the 7 a.m. virtual queue opening. Once we were called, the process proved to be seamless and we were quickly able to take part in the experience. When 12 p.m. hit, I also then able to secure a boarding group for Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure. As it was finally time for our boarding group, the line extended to the entrance of Avengers Campus, resulting in an over hour-long wait once we were called. This was likely the result of it being the park’s newest attraction and the team still working on the ebb and flow.
Despite the crowds, mobile ordering time slots were readily available throughout the day, even for newer locations like Pym Test Kitchen. The in-app walk-up feature also provided quite a few dining options throughout even the busiest parts of the afternoon, including Oga’s Cantina and Café Orleans. I was able to land a table at Carthay Circle Lounge Al Fresco Dining with a wait time of only 10 minutes. Their duck confit empanadas and Moroccan roasted chicken meatballs easily stood out as the best meal during my time at Disneyland. Combined with well-crafted cocktails and excellent service, this continues to be a solid option for those seeking inventive bites in a sophisticated, yet relaxing atmosphere. Management also mentioned during my visit that the entire first floor and outdoor section will continue to operate as part of the Al Fresco experience even as upstairs dining reopens.
Over at the Disneyland Hotel, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar has reopened for those itching for a taste of the tropics. While this process could change at any moment, they are currently implementing a walk-up waitlist system. The scene at check-in, just in front of Tangaroa Terrace, was a bit chaotic on my visit with multiple lines of people not exactly sure just what they were in line for. I ended up being able to check-in at the host stand and was informed that my preference of indoor seating would be available for my party in approximately two hours.
Given the overall hectic nature, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a text just over two hours later that our spot was ready. With only 10 minutes to return to check-in, I highly suggest not venturing beyond Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen at Downtown Disney. Cast members were enforcing a strict 90-minute time limit once seated, which I thought was a totally acceptable way to control crowds and ensure that as many people as possible could experience the unique bar without feeling rushed. This time period allowed my group ample time to enjoy several rounds of Zombies as well as appetizers, including the just-as-delicious-as-I-had-remembered sweet-and spicy wings.
I’m happy to say that the magic is back at Disneyland and it was a wonderful return to the property. Crowds were there in droves, but the previous issues with mobile ordering seemed to have been solved on my visit. With patience and proper planning, now is a great time to visit Disneyland Resort.