Planning a Disneyland Trip in the Age of COVID-19

Disneyland
Via Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

We are not yet in a ‘post-pandemic world,’ but many have grown more comfortable with the idea of traveling if certain precautions are taken to keep each other safe. One of the more popular destinations is Disneyland, which was closed for 14 months due to the virus.

But planning a Disneyland vacation now is very different from planning things in the Before Times. Not only do you need to consider safety while traveling, but you also need to work with the limited capacity and fierce competition for many of the attractions and dining options. A trip to the Happiest Place on Earth is possible, but you should plan ahead to make the most of it. And, most importantly, you should be willing to take steps to mitigate further spread of the virus if you make plans to go out into it. If you aren’t willing to take precautions to help reduce the spread of the virus, you shouldn’t be venturing out into crowded places right now.

So let’s go over some of the changes at the park, and what you need to do to plan your trip. Keep in mind that these policies could change, so what’s written below is true as of October 11th, 2021. Always check official Disney resources for updates.

Disneyland Requires Reservations

Long gone are the days where you can decide on a whim to visit the Happiest Place on Earth. Now you need to make a reservation in advance in addition to your ticket purchase. You can make a reservation up to 120 days before your trip, though most reservations for tickets with single-day or park-hopper tickets (a ticket that allows you into both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure) don’t get full that far in advance. Right now park reservations are full for most of the next two weeks, but there’s plenty of availability beyond that. As we get closer to late December, I expect the availability to get even more sparse.

Annual passholders, which have now been dubbed as “Magic Key” holders (there are some pretty major differences! But that’s a topic for another day) have had some trouble getting Saturday and holiday reservations even when they attempt to get them on the first day available. It’s been pretty difficult for them. But oddly enough, it’s easier for those of us planning to just go for a day or two than it is for them and I haven’t seen too many complaints from the out-of-town crowd about getting reservations. Still, I would plan as far ahead as possible and make sure you can reserve your park before you buy airfare or hotel accommodations. You never know when popularity will spike and you’ll be locked out like the “Magic Key” holders.  

Both parks at the Disneyland Resort are running at a reduced capacity, though after cruising through some YouTube videos from “Magic Key” holders who have been frequenting the park since it reopened last spring, it doesn’t seem like the parks have shut down due to capacity and turned anyone away quite yet. Even when all their reservations are listed as full on the website, people haven’t seemed to encounter any problems getting into either park or park hopping when allowed to do so at 1:00 pm. 

As the holidays approach, however, park closures could start happening. If you have a limited number of days to visit the parks and are going during a peak time, I’d make sure you head into the parks early before they possibly shut the gates. I personally plan on getting there right at the rope drop, but you don’t have to go nearly as hard as I do. 

Again, park closures due to capacity hasn’t happened yet, but it could. So just be prepared for the possibility, especially on Saturdays and holidays.

Masks/Vaccines/Etc.

At this time, vaccines or testing is not required to enter either park. This is a requirement for Universal Studios, but that’s in Los Angeles County. Disneyland Resort is in Orange County, and no such mandates are in place there at this time. That said, if cases spike in Orange County, they could implement a similar policy, or Disney may become proactive and implement it anyway. You might as well toss your vaccine card into your luggage just in case. This is especially true if you plan on dipping your toe into Los Angeles County for anything at all.

Honestly, you should get vaccinated if you are planning on going on vacation to a crowded place. This seems obvious, but there are a lot of holdouts still acting like it’s the Before Times, and that’s simply not the reality of the situation. If you’re hesitant about the vaccine or have a medical condition that prevents you from getting this vaccine, talk to your family doctor about it and make the right decision for your health based on their professional advice. And if you aren’t going to be vaccinated, scope out nearby testing places so that you’re prepared for that alternative requirement should Disney decide to follow Universal’s lead.

You will, however, be required to wear a mask indoors regardless of your vaccination status. If you don’t like this rule, you should probably hold off on your Disney vacation for a bit. They do sell masks in the parks (which, like all things, are more expensive), and I’ve heard rumors that some cast members have free disposable ones with them at some locations. But you should pack a couple for the day. More than one is best because if you plan on going on a water ride, you won’t want to walk around with a wet mask afterwards. As someone who has been caught in some rain storms while masked recently, it’s extremely unpleasant.

Masks aren’t required outdoors, and based on reports from recent visitors it seems less than half of attendees are choosing to wear them outside. This is one of those situations where you need to consider your personal risk, and decide if being around unmasked people outside is worth it. This part made me a bit hesitant to continue with my trip, but after considering my own circumstances I decided to go forward with it and do the best I can to distance myself and mask up outdoors despite the more lax policies.

Neither park is really social distancing right now, though there are markers on the ground in a lot of places to indicate that you should be social distancing. I would have hoped this would be more enforced, but the cast members (who should definitely be getting paid more) have to put up with rowdy guests just for the mask issue, so I can see why they are picking and choosing their battles. Do your best to distance yourself, but be prepared for moments where it’s impossible.

Disneyland’s Upcoming Genie+ System

The current line system as we know it is about to change. Disney will be releasing a new system called Genie+ for both of their USA-based parks sometime in the fall. Right now Walt Disney World is set up for an October 19th release, but there’s no expected release for Disneyland quite yet. That said, I have downloaded the Walt Disney World app so I can poke around when their Genie update gets pushed through, so I’ll at least get a sneak peek at how it functions. Keep an eye out for a follow-up article with details on how that’ll work!

As of right now, all we know is that the Genie+ system will cost $20 for Disneyland and DCA (it’s $15 at Walt Disney World), and include 22 rides that you can use the ‘Lightning Lane” option for. The following rides will have this option:

Disneyland Park

  • Autopia
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  • Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • “it’s a small world”
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Space Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue

Disney California Adventure Park

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!
  • Incredicoaster
  • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!
  • Soarin’ Around the World
  • Toy Story Midway Mania

The wording for this system is a little funky, but it seems like you can only use the Lightning Lane once for each of these attractions. If you want to ride them again, you’ll need to wait in the standby line.

Additionally, Rise of the Resistance, WEB SLINGERS, and Radiator Springs Racers will be ‘a la carte’ and available for purchase outside the Genie+ system. The price range for individual purchases at Walt Disney World is in the $7-15 range, and will change based on demand. A price range hasn’t been released for Disneyland yet, but I’d guess it’d be somewhere around the same price if not slightly higher. You do not have to purchase the $20 Genie+ option for the a la carte lines, thankfully. But it’ll still be a costly addition to your trip either way.

I’d usually offer advice at this point, but since the system hasn’t been put in place yet, I have nothing else to offer you here. 

If you do go before this system rolls out, please be aware that there are no Fast Passes or Max Passes available, and that Rise of the Resistance and WEB SLINGERS require obtaining a boarding group slot at 7 am or noon. Those slots fill up fast – often in under a minute – so if you’re going soon you should research strategies on that. I would expect the Genie+ system to go into effect relatively soon, though, so brace yourself.

Food and Attraction Closures

Right now the biggest closure impacts seem to be centered around food choices. Most of the eateries in Toon Town are closed as of this writing, as are all of the options in the Paradise Pier Hotel. There aren’t as many food carts as there were in the Before Times, either. My suggestion is to plan your meals ahead, especially if you are traveling with people with sensitive food needs.

The reservation system for table service restaurants is a pretty frustrating experience. They open ‘up to 60 days in advance,’ but could really drop at any time after the 60-day mark. And it could drop in the middle of the night, which means most people who wake at a reasonable hour don’t have a chance for the popular places. There are walk-up waiting lists, but if you have your heart set on one particular place, I suggest heading directly to that place in the morning and putting yourself on the list right away. Even the walk-up lists get full fast.

A lot of places have mobile order options, and some are even mobile order only. So download the app if you can and check the available mobile order slots as soon as you start to feel a bit hungry to gauge how long the wait is at your desired eatery.

Most of the food option limits are apparently the result of staffing issues. Because, let’s be real, staffing is an issue for just about everyone right now. But this change has the added benefit of having less time in tightly packed lines, so it’s overall great for the pandemic world we’re trying to navigate through. My advice here is to just adapt and make the most of what you can.  Things are weird right now and we have to adjust for these things accordingly.

Several attractions are down at the moment, including the Monorail, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tarzan’s Treehouse, and Sailing Ship Columbia. Some of these might be maintenance issues since the park has been closed for so long. That’s certainly the case with the World of Color, which was left alone for 14 months and apparently suffered damage as a result. There are also no parades happening at the moment, though I have heard discussion that this will change with the Christmas Season. I would expect more news about that after the Halloween stuff dies down. By mid of next month the Christmas news should be plentiful. 

Be Kind to Disneyland Resort Cast Members

No matter what happens, be kind to the Cast Members at the park. They are definitely not being paid enough to put themselves out there on the best of days, let alone during a pandemic. If a Cast Member asks you to pull your mask up, just do it. If lines are going slow or things have run out of stock, don’t take that out on the people working there. If they aren’t at their most 100% magical selves, be understanding. They don’t control policies, crowds, or our disrupted supply chain. They are just average folk trying to pay their bills, so be kind to them.

Be safe. Be kind. And have fun.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.


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