We already know how big of a struggle it was with the new Disneyland Resort Reservation System that launched in April in anticipation of Disneyland’s reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, I somehow won the favor of the Disneyland Internet Gods and obtained reservations for Disneyland’s reopening day on April 30, 2021.
I had my “return to Disneyland” outfit planned for months (a Stitch Shoppe by Loungefly Peter Pan Mermaid top and skirt), but leading up to The Big Day, I was texting friends and finalizing our plans for parking, eating, and general Disney fun. I joked it was going to be like going to a high school reunion and I couldn’t wait to see my friends.
Too Excited to Sleep
I was too excited to sleep the night before, so I got up and got ready early, and arrived at the resort area around 5:45am. I assumed I would be too early, but there had been lines forming for the entrance hours before I decided to give up on sleep!
There were rumors that during the Cast Previews, parking at Mickey and Friends was crowded and confusing, so I opted to enter the Resort through the Harbor Blvd side of the property. I parked at a nearby hotel (several in the area were offering day parking for those wanting to attend Downtown Disney during the pandemic — unsure how long this will last so call ahead before trying this route). This ended up being a bad idea.
We were moved from the Harbor side across the esplanade to a new line being formed in the tram path. It made sense – the esplanade could barely hold people during the early RISE OF THE RESISTANCE days – and now with the 6ft spacing, there really wasn’t anywhere else to hold the large crowds of excited guests. Many people online seemed to be shocked at this, but for most of us in the crowd, we were simply excited to be back. The cast was polished and prepared, and everything ran smoothly, despite what some other photos and commentary online would lead you to believe.
To everyone’s surprise, the park opened at 8 am – a full hour before advertised. Despite how far back we were, I walked through the turnstiles at 8:06 am. There were several news cameras set up in the Town Square area, and I began filming because of the uniqueness of it – a sign of the outside world inside Walt’s Magical Land. But as I turned the corner to walk down Main Street, it was lined with Cast Members applauding and cheering. If the fireworks are considered Disneyland’s “Kiss Goodnight”, then this was their “Kiss Hello” – a warm welcome after 412 days without Disney magic in Southern California.
This is a Homecoming
After experiencing the overwhelming welcome from the Cast (and after getting to meet former Disney CEO Bob Iger!) I sat at a table near the Market House Starbucks with my morning coffee and watched the crowd continue to pour in. Many people were sobbing (yes, I was one) and I realized this isn’t a High School Reunion – This is a Homecoming.
I heard someone in passing say this was the closest they would get to the opening in 1955, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In 1955, no one knew what Disneyland was and certainly couldn’t foresee what it would become. Disneyland means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and the reopening symbolizes something bigger than Disneyland itself.
I’m reminded of Episode 5 of the Imagineering Story on Disney+, when Tokyo Disneyland reopened a month and a half after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. As Daniel Jue said in the episode “Tokyo Disneyland had to open for the country to begin to heal.” Disneyland in Anaheim is Walt’s first park, but, along with Disney California Adventure, the last of the Disney Parks to reopen after the COVID 19 pandemic. I have been saying since last year, that I won’t feel safe until Disneyland reopens. While many other areas of the country have reopened, the reopening of Disneyland symbolizes the biggest return to normal we’ve seen so far.
We Can Heal and Laugh Again
I was a Disneyland Cast Member in the early aughts. I distinctly remember when my shift was canceled because the Park had closed in response to the sobering moments that occurred on September 11, 2001. A year following that date, I was working crowd control on Main Street for a ceremony commemorating the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. While the ceremony was somber and emotional, we were still in the middle of a theme park, and I could hear children laughing in the distance. I made note of the contrast – things have changed drastically, but we can heal and laugh again.
I want to remember April 30, 2021 the same way I remember September 11, 2002. I will save the video I took walking down Main Street and play it on days I’m stressed or sad. “Hi again!” “Welcome Home!” “The Park is ready and waiting for you!” “I love your outfit. It’s beautiful!”
Disneyland is more than just a place to see a bright pink castle and take a picture with Mickey Mouse. This visit back to Happiest Place on Earth reaffirmed and reminded me that we can keep moving forward.
I hope it does the same for you.