The Disney parks where you will have to wear a mask 0:41
Disneyland Resort traditionally draws millions of visitors from around the world each year to the "happiest place on Earth," but after closing for more than a year due to the pandemic, the resort was forced to do some major changes aimed at welcoming visitors safely.
A month after the Southern California attraction reopened to out-of-state visitors, I took a road trip from Arizona to see how much of the magic was left.
The crowds are back
The crowds feel like they did before the pandemic, with people crowding the aisles and rushing to get to the next attraction.
Credits: Megan Marples / CNN
When I visited the Disneyland and California Adventure parks the weekend after July 4, they were packed.
Since its reopening, Disneyland Resort has operated with a reservation system, so you have to make a reservation for the park you want to visit in advance and there are some capacity limitations.
Disneyland makes clear on its website that offers are subject to change.
"Certain parks, hotels, restaurants, attractions, experiences, and other offerings may be modified or unavailable, have limited capacity, and be subject to limited availability or even closure, and park admission and offers are not guaranteed." , it reads on the site.
The reservation system didn't seem to have done much to control the crowds when I was there.
Within two hours of the parks opening each day, crowds filled the hallways, so tight that my shoulders brushed those of other people in the busiest areas.
Some distance markers remained on the ground, but no one seemed to be following them.
Both walking freely in the park and waiting in line for attractions and food, people kept less than 12 inches apart from each other.
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Masks were rare and widely scattered
Very few people, adults or children, wore masks, both inside and outside, when I was in the park.
There was no way to know who was vaccinated.
Many of the Disneyland visitors are children under the age of 12 and cannot yet get vaccinated.
At the time, Disneyland Resort regulations required unvaccinated guests to wear masks indoors.
Beginning July 30, all visitors ages 2 and up will be required to wear masks indoors, regardless of their vaccination status.
The rule applies to many attractions and closed transportation vehicles.
Disney World and Disneyland will again require indoor masks
The food supply was considerably reduced
Many restaurants offer limited dining options, and some establishments like the Carthay Circle Restaurant are temporarily closed.
Credits: Megan Marples / CNN
About a quarter of the food options, both quick service and table service, were temporarily closed during my visit.
It is also necessary to have a theme park ticket and reservation on the same date to eat inside the parks.
The places that were open tended to offer reduced menus.
For example, Flo's V8 Café in Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure offered meatloaf and club sandwiches before the pandemic.
Now, they only offer burgers, fried chicken, and chicken nuggets.
The staff shortage may partly explain the food's limitations.
On my first day, I ate at Blue Bayou, a fine dining restaurant located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
They usually offer a complimentary bread service before the main course arrives, but I noticed it was missing.
I asked the waiter and he told me that the restaurant runs at half machine, so they had to cut the bread service.
In the rest of my trip, I realized that the disappearance of bread went beyond this restaurant.
Sourdough bread bowls are very popular in parks, and restaurants that typically served them were either completely closed or offered soup with a bun on the side rather than in a bread bowl.
It is recommended to order via mobile phone
The resort has relied heavily on Mobile Order, a system they launched a couple of years ago in which guests can order food through the Disneyland app and skip the line to pick it up.
If the goal was to reduce lines and crowds at food outlets, the results were questionable.
By encouraging so many people to order mobile, long lines formed at the mobile order picking areas.
The system is not the most intuitive, so there are staff members at the front of most quick service restaurants who guide customers on how to use it.
FastPass are gone
The temporary removal from the FastPass system is a positive for visitors who often wait in line.
The MaxPass service through the Disneyland mobile app is also suspended.
Before the pandemic, visitors could go to attraction entrances and book a FastPass, which allows you to jump to the front of the line at a specified time to greatly reduce wait times.
The biggest drawback to the FastPass system was that it made the normal queue lengthen because it allowed people to constantly walk to the front of the queue.
Since the FastPass system was temporarily suspended, waiting in line for attractions was a breeze.
The wait times for the attractions were roughly the same as before the pandemic, but the lines were moving almost constantly.
This made waiting in lines up to an hour and a half long for popular attractions like WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure at California Adventure's new Avengers Campus that much more enjoyable.
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Meet the characters from a distance
An iconic Disney activity for any kid, or kid at heart, is meeting their favorite characters.
To maintain social distancing, characters wander through landscaped areas behind short fences or on platforms for guests to keep their distance.
Instead of waiting in long lines to chat with your favorite character, almost all the meetups and greetings are free, where you walk up to a meter and a half away to meet them.
The characters go out of their way to take turns with each person, and you can also take a quick photo with them.
For young children who enjoy individual interaction and don't understand distancing, this can be a less than ideal experience.
I saw many young children running towards their favorite character to be grabbed from behind by their parents and stopped.
On the other hand, this is a great opportunity for people like me who like to take pictures with the characters but don't necessarily wait in long lines or interact with them too much.
During a typical trip, I don't have time to wait to see the characters.
But on this last visit, I was able to chat and take photos with at least half a dozen characters.
It's still magic
Despite some significant changes since my last visit, I enjoyed my trip as much as I did in the pre-pandemic times.
Disneyland has thrived for more than 65 years, and its ability to adapt without losing the magic is what keeps people visiting it, even in the midst of a pandemic.
The week before my visit, the park reintroduced the nightly fireworks show, which was a great celebration of joy and perseverance.
And we could all use a little more of that these days.
The theme park may look and function a bit differently, but the magic of Disneyland remains strong.