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Is Disneyland Resort 'Back To Normal' One Year After Reopening? We Investigate

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland
(Image credit: Disneyland)

It’s been one year since Disneyland Resort reopened to the public following the global pandemic, and when it did, it was a shell of its former self. Inside the Disney Parks, there were no parades or fireworks, and characters were largely unavailable. All that was before all the social distancing requirements drew lines out all over the park. It was better to see Disneyland Resort open than closed, but it certainly wasn’t the same place anymore.

A year has now passed, and it has to be said that many of those missing items, like parades and fireworks, are back, and there are no more requirements for masks or social distancing. So does that mean that Disneyland Resort is back to normal? Well, yes and no. I visited Disneyland several times last summer when pandemic restrictions were still in effect, and while I enjoyed it, it certainly didn’t feel like the place I remembered. Lots of places were closed, and eating indoors was difficult, if not impossible. Even eating outdoors wasn't easy. 

I also spent a day at Disneyland Resort just recently, simply hanging out, going on rides, eating food and wandering the gift shops, like the rest of the tourists. So how much has changed in that time?

World of Color at Disney California Adventure

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

(Nearly) All Attractions Are Back At Disneyland And California Adventure 

In the end, it all comes down to what you can do at the parks and at Downtown Disney; what attractions are available and which are not. If you can see and do all the things that you could do before the pandemic, then Disneyland Resort will feel like it used to. 

In the last couple of weeks, Disneyland Resort has brought back the biggest things that were missing in the parks: nighttime spectaculars and up-close character meet-and-greets. Disneyland has fireworks, as well as the iconic Main Street Electrical Parade, while Disney California Adventure has seen the return of World of Color. Oh, if you want to get a picture with Mickey Mouse and give him a hug, you can.

Navigating attractions now feels like it used to as well. When Disneyland reopened, it did so without the FastPass system, and while the free FastPass offering has since been replaced with Genie+ (which costs money), it functions just like the old MaxPass system. If you were a frequent user of this option, having back is welcome.

Of course, not everything in the parks is open. Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Bayou are both closed, as is Mickey’s Toontown, but that is due to standard refurbishment, not the pandemic. There’s always going to be something getting refurbished when you visit, and that's totally normal.

There are only a few shows that were around the pandemic that were not open when I was there. Storytelling at the Royal Theatre was still closed, but it just reopened this weekend. There are some events that are still MIA however. Frozen - Live at the Hyperion and Mickey and the Magical Map are two stage shows that have not reopened and are not expected to return. However, they also have not seen replacements, and none have been announced. Magic Happens, the daytime parade that debuted just a couple weeks before Disneyland closed, has yet to return, and there’s no word about its ultimate fate. 

Monorail with Matterhorn mountain and Submarine

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

Disneyland and California Adventure Just Feel Right 

If you’re a regular visitor to any theme park, then you likely have your own personal routine. There are places you go and the things you do on every trip. From the time Disneyland Resort first reopened, there’s a good chance you lost some of that. Your favorite spot to grab food might have still been closed. If a trip into Disneyland just wasn’t the same without a “kiss goodnight” like a great fireworks show, you didn’t have that.

I can say that when it came to simply being inside Disneyland or Disney California Adventure, it felt like the old days once again. On the day I visited, the park wasn’t particularly busy, despite reservations being sold out. Having said that, the park certainly wasn’t empty and guests gave the park a life that I found was largely missing when visiting last summer. Maybe it was just being able to see people's faces.

Whether it was seeing Mickey Mouse in front of City Hall taking pictures with guests, or seeing the double decker bus and horse drawn carriages going up and down Main Street U.S.A., from the minute I walked in it just felt right. These are things that just weren’t there a few months ago. 

While I was absolutely in support of mask rules when they were in place at Disneyland (and the resort still recommends, but does not require, guests wear masks indoors) one of the hardest things for me was not being able to eat or drink while walking through the parks. If you grab a bag of popcorn or a churro, you don’t want to sit down (or more likely, stand in one place) and eat the whole thing; you want to snack while moving around. Now you can, and that feels so free.

Blue Bayou interior

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

Eating At The Disneyland Resort Parks Is So Much Easier 

Speaking of eating at Disneyland Resort, doing so in any way is so much easier now. Just a few months ago, the only option for getting food from any quick service location was to use the Disneyland app and order on your phone. The problem with that was because everybody had to it, the demand was incredible. As a result, the “next available” mobile ordering window for most locations could be an hour or more away. It meant planning ahead, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but simply didn’t used to be necessary. It used to be that if you wanted a corn dog, you could just buy a corn dog, with maybe a short wait in line.

Now you can again. While mobile ordering food is still an option, and it is nice, stand-by lines for simply walking up to the counter and ordering food are widely available once more. This makes dropping in to grab lunch as easy as it once was. It also means that since not everybody is mobile ordering, and likely also because staffing has increased, using the mobile order system usually means only having to wait about as long as you may have waited in line anyway. It’s the best of both worlds.

Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

Avengers Campus Is Actually Better Than Ever

Many elements of Disneyland Resort are great now because they feel like they once did, but one part of the resort may actually be better than ever before. Avengers Campus opened at Disney California Adventure last June, about a month after the park itself opened, so we’d never seen what Avengers Campus was supposed to be like outside of the pandemic, until now.

Previously, most of the Marvel heroes that inhabited Avengers Campus could only be seen on a catwalk above the land. Black Widow or Shang-Chi would come out, wave at people, and then go, There were live performances (including one featuring the Dora Milaje) and photo ops, but they were limited. Today, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are all over Avengers Campus. Captain America is taking pictures in one spot while Iron Man is in another. At the same time, Black Widow is walking through and stopping to sign autographs. Avengers Campus feels more alive than ever, and it’s great.

Storytellers statue at Disney California Adventure

(Image credit: Disneyland Resort)

Park Hopping Is Still A Pain 

However, while there’s a lot to like about where Disneyland Resort is right now, it’s not all good news. Some things are not back to the way they were pre-pandemic, and they may never be. The biggest of these is park hopping, which is simply not convenient, useful or fun anymore.

In the before times, if you had a park hopper ticket, you could jump back and forth between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as often as you wanted all day long. Hop into Disneyland, grab a breakfast chimichanga in Frontierland, then turn around and get in line for Soarin’ at DCA. Now, however, things are far more limited. 

Currently, guests with park hopper tickets cannot park hop until 1 pm. This is a side effect of Disneyland's reservation system that requires guests have reservations for a specific park in addition to their valid ticket. While the reservation system was created due to the pandemic, when the parks had to significantly limit capacity, Disney has made it clear that the system isn’t going anywhere.

Park hopping may never return to normal, so the fact that it isn’t the way it used to be may not ultimately matter. Still, at Disneyland Resort specifically, where the two theme parks are mere yards away from each other, limiting park hopping just doesn’t make sense, and it makes the experience less fun because of it.

Disneyland Esplanade

(Image credit: CinemaBlend)

Disneyland Resort Is Still Understaffed 

While there’s a lot more going on at Disneyland Resort than there was even a few months ago, one thing that is clear is that the parks and hotels and everything else is still understaffed, which is resulting in little things here and there that just aren’t like they used to be. 

Everybody has their theme park rituals, and one of mine at Disneyland and Walt Disney World is the Mickey ice cream sandwich (it’s better than the Mickey bar, I will not be taking questions). However, this is one thing I have not had since parks reopened because every time I walk by an ice cream cart, there’s nobody there. 

We’ve also seen images of a largely empty Trader Sam’s, when guests can’t get in. This likely has more to do with not having the staffing required to handle more guests than it is any issues with indoor dining. The biggest issue here is that this is not a problem that can be easily or quickly remedied.

Partners statue and Sleeping Beauty Castle at night

(Image credit: Disneyland)

The Verdict 

So is Disneyland Resort back to normal? If you visit today, will it feel like it did before the global pandemic? In the end, I have to say yes. While there are some exceptions, some attractions that are still closed and other things that have changed, I have to say that the feel of Disneyland Resort is back in a way that it wasn’t when I was there last summer. 

In some ways, Disneyland Resort has probably changed forever. That’s to be expected; Disneyland was never meant to be a museum, so it’s always changing. But what makes the park magical is something less tangible. All the different pieces of what Disneyland is add up to something greater, and from rope-drop to night-ending fireworks, Disneyland Resort feels like itself once again.

Dirk Libbey
Dirk Libbey

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.