UPDATE: Disneyland has substantially increased capacity, and crowds are already back to normal levels.
Fully reopened theme parks are grappling with long lines and big summer season crowds — except for Disneyland. The “Happiest Place on Earth” is surprising parkgoers with short wait times and empty walkways, and with major changes expected to stay in place, some fans are wondering if this is the new normal.
Disneyland’s Viral Re-reopening
Disneyland had a second reopening of sorts on June 15, when California fully reopened, and eager theme parks led the charge in lifting restrictions. Six Flags Magic Mountain essentially went back to business as usual, removing all mask, social distancing, and reservation requirements. Over at Universal Studios Hollywood, wait times for attractions, which had climbed to agonizing levels since reopening (3-4 hours long at times), returned to normal thanks to rides being allowed to be operate at full capacity again. Disneyland eased restrictions as well on mask wearing, temperature checks, and distancing — and the floodgates of massive crowds opened on June 15… or so it seemed.
Viral videos and media posts suggested that Disneyland’s infamous long lines had made a comeback, and the days of a limited-capacity park experience were over. Social media was flooded images of maskless, non-socially distant crowds, concerning many fans that Disneyland had already gone back to its old ways. A popular video on TikTok showing throngs of people lined up outside the parks was even enough for some fans to cancel their plans to visit.
— TwitTok (@TwitTok8) June 18, 2021
So, is Disneyland really that packed again, already? Far from it. In fact, the park has actually gotten less crowded since June 15 — calm enough to earn a “Ghost Town” rating multiple days in a row on the Disneyland Crowd Calendar. While lines aren’t socially distant anymore, they are moving more quickly. The average wait time for attractions is now less than 30 minutes, with many rides only 5-10 minutes (and even walk-on’s!) this past week.
— cstephens2 (@cstephens2) June 20, 2021
“Wait times were incredible. Rarely waited more than 20 minutes. Even for the bigger rides. And there was more room to walk around,” said parkgoer Tony Lever, who visited Disneyland last Thursday. “And it was way easier to find seating for meals or even just to take a break.”
“Definitely won’t last. But for now it’s magical,” he said.
Exactly how long the magic will last is a bit of a mystery right now. Relief from the Disneyland’s crazy crowds has historically proven to be only temporary, as another seasonal promotion or event was always around the corner to snap the park back to reality. Things are a lot different this time around, however, as Disneyland thinks twice about getting back to the way it was.
Average Daily Wait Times (in minutes)
Source: Disneyland Crowd Tracker
Not-So Fully Reopened
A deeper look into the current state of Disneyland’s reopening reveals a park that’s hesitant to go back to normal — and for good reason. Park officials have long struggled to reign in the crowds, as a seemingly endless parade of new attractions at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure boosted attendance to record levels in recent years.
So while most theme parks have fully reopened, Disneyland is taking things slow. The park is still requiring reservations, and they’re not very easy to obtain if you want to visit on short notice. Reservations are usually booked full for the next two to three weeks, and unavailability on certain days can throw a wrench into vacation plans.
“It’s a little frustrating when you can’t book days you had in mind,” longtime Disneyland fan Robert Canha told us, who’s planning a trip to Disneyland from Arizona next month. “I’m hoping they open more reservations up because I see photos from inside the park on sold out days and it’s not packed at all.”
It’s looking more and more likely that reservations are here to stay, reports the LA Times. It’s an easy choice for Disney, as the reservation system is perhaps the most effective way to manage crowd levels, including park capacity. Disneyland reopened at just 25% capacity back in April, but increased capacity to 35% last month. Since June 15, the park has been allowed to operate at 100% capacity again. It’s unclear at what level Disneyland is currently capping attendance, but the parks have been well below full capacity (we estimate it’s around 50% most days). With reservations still in place though, don’t expect Disneyland to go back anywhere near 100% full anytime soon.
The AP Factor
The last time Disneyland saw unusually low attendance was during its last summer season, back in 2019. There was also something noticeably missing from the parks that summer, as there is now: annual passholders.
— Derek Evans (@disgeek) June 17, 2021
Before the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge two years ago, park officials took unprecedented steps to deal with the expected onslaught of crowds. The most extraordinary precaution was a months-long blockout of nearly all annual passholders over that summer. The result was a curiously empty Disneyland with short lines galore, much like this summer. It’s more of a permanent blockout for passholders this time though, as the popular program was discontinued in January.
The absence of annual passes is expected to have lasting effects on Disneyland moving forward. The program, beloved by locals, was one of the biggest driving forces of park attendance. No APs and a reservation system could be the one-two punch that knocks out Disneyland’s overcrowding woes for good. Still, don’t expect annual passes to be gone forever. Disney is already teasing a smarter, more efficient membership offering that’s in the works and could be announced “relatively soon.”
Until then, it’s only ticket holders with a reservation who are enjoying what is, for now, the “new normal” at Disneyland: a bearable line for Space Mountain and a little bit of elbow room on Main Street.
Have you been to Disneyland lately? What were the crowds and lines like? Are you planning on visiting soon? Be sure to let us know in the comments below!