We went to Disneyland during COVID-19—here's what you need to know
Tips for a painless visit to the Happiest Place on Earth.
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After over a year of being stuck at home with little more to entertain us than puzzles and Disney+, I admit that I've gone a bit overboard packing our weekends with kid-friendly activities. So, when Disneyland announced that it was reopening for visitors, I jumped at the chance to add a theme park visit to one of our weekend itineraries.
While visiting Disneyland during an ongoing global pandemic is definitely not the same as in the halcyon pre-COVID days, there are plenty of ways to make your trip to the "happiest place on earth" go more smoothly. I waited online to buy tickets for eight hours, and dragged my entire family of four—plus all of our gear—to the park in order to report back on what you need to know, pack, and do if a Disney trip is in your immediate future.
1. You need to be a California resident
Currently, Disneyland is only open to visitors who live within the state of California. While we didn't personally have to offer proof that we're residents of the Golden State—either when we bought tickets or arrived at the park—I have heard that they do perform random checks of driver's licenses.
2. You must have a ticket and a reservation
While I totally get the appeal of waking up one morning and deciding to go to Disneyland for the day (a definite perk for those of us who live in southern California) the days of spontaneous visits are in the past. In order to visit Disneyland you must buy tickets and have a reservation for the date(s) you plan to visit.
Be aware that not all tiers of tickets are available for all days, and it's worth checking the availability for the days you want to go before you purchase tickets. Many of the peak visiting days are only available if you purchase a Park Hopper ticket, which is more expensive.
3. Yes, you need a mask
Mask mandates may be easing across the country, but Disneyland is still very strict about all visitors wearing masks during the entire time they're in the park, unless they are actively eating or drinking. Neck gaiters and bandanas are not considered to provide sufficient coverage, and all children over the age of 2 must wear a mask for the entire day.
Our pick for best kids' face masks, the Disney Cloth Face Masks, are a great option for visitors who want to dress on theme, but my kids opted for their Vistaprint masks instead, as they tend to be more comfortable—and cooler—for a long day of wear.
- Get a set of four Disney Cloth Face Masks at Shop Disney for $19.99
- Get a Vistaprint Face Mask starting at $13
4. The Disneyland App is your BFF
Before you head to the park, download the Disneyland App. Disneyland's much-beloved Fast Pass system is on indefinite hold during their phased reopening, but some attractions, like Rise of the Resistance and Indiana Jones, operate solely on a "digital queue" system, which you can only access through the app.
The digital queue for Rise of the Resistance, the park's newest Star Wars-themed ride, is open only twice a day, at 7 AM and at noon. The day that we went all of the available spots were taken in less than a minute, so if you really want to ride Rise of the Resistance—which is totally and completely awesome, by the way—you need to keep refreshing the app every few seconds in order to score a coveted spot in a boarding group.
5. Bring a back-up phone battery
The Disneyland App is a must-have, but, unfortunately, it also rapidly drains your phone battery. Don't risk running out of battery life only an hour or two after entering the park: Bring along a backup battery pack so you'll always have plenty of power. I brought the battery pack from my Away suitcase, but the Mophie Powerstation Pd is a reasonably priced option.
6. Pre order your food early
One of the best parts about visiting Disneyland in the COVID era is that the park is only at 25% capacity every day, which means lines for rides are short, and you don't have to mow people down with your stroller just to get down Main Street. The downside to the smaller crowds is that a lot of the food vendors and restaurants aren't open, so when lunchtime rolls around, there are only a few options and lots of people trying to order food for their hungry children.
Save yourself the stress of having your children screaming that they're starving, and preorder your lunch through the app. You can place your order for your desired dining time as soon as the park opens at 9 AM, and then you can pick up your lunch during your allotted 30-minute window. If you're at all considering living on the edge and not preordering, please reconsider: There are only a few eating establishments open in the whole park, and once all of their time slots are filled, they won't have any more available for the rest of the day.
7. Pack lots of snacks
I'm sure there are magical unicorn children who do not complain about being hungry every 20 minutes, but I have yet to meet them. While it used to be easy-peasy to purchase snacks at Disneyland thanks to the food kiosks around every bend, that's not the case anymore. Food carts are few and far between, and the lines at the ones that are open are very long.
Bring along a selection of tried-and-true snacks, both to appease your constantly-hungry children, and to save yourself from spending a lot of money on overpriced junk food. I always pack a few bags of crunchy apple chips, seaweed, and popcorn to keep my kids from getting "hangry."
You can also opt for bringing along a picnic lunch for your whole family—our round-up of the best lunch coolers offers plenty of options for keeping perishable food fresh—though it is worth noting that all food and drinks have to be consumed in one of the designated eating areas (no line snacking allowed).
- Get a bag of Bare Baked Crunchy Apple Chips at Target for $4.89
- Get a 20-pack of gimMe Snacks Organic Seaweed at Amazon for $15.99
- Get a 24-pack of BoomChickAPop Popcorn at Amazon for $20.25
8. Bring your own water
Even on an overcast day Disneyland can be hot, and you'll be walking a lot, which means everyone in the family will be thirsty. Fill up water bottles for everyone before you head into the park, and top them off over the course of the day at one of the built-in water bottle filling stations (there are a bunch in Galaxy's Edge). We love the Hydro Flask for kids because it keeps liquids cold and doesn't leak.
9. They'll keep you sanitized
Even before the coronavirus, I brought hand sanitizer with me everywhere (hey, kids are gross), but now people think I'm normal and not neurotic. Disneyland has freestanding hand washing stations placed throughout the park, and there are sanitizer dispensers next to every attraction, so you can have every family member sanitize after every ride.
If you want to bring your own sanitizer just to ensure that you're never without clean hands, I recommend the Honest Company Hand Sanitizer Spray. It comes in compact 2-ounce bottles that easily fit in my fanny pack, it's not super-drying, and the range of scents—lavender, grapefruit, and coastal surf—are appealing to adults and children alike.
10. Wear plenty of sunscreen
Disneyland has reconfigured the lines for the attractions to reduce the amount of time that crowds of people are in an enclosed space. This is great if you're worried about COVID, but it also means that you'll be standing outside in the hot sun while you're waiting to get on every single ride. The temperate climate in Southern California means that there's a very good chance that it will be hot on the day you visit Disneyland, so don't leave home without a bottle of dermatologist-approved sunscreen.
Slather everybody up first thing in the morning before you leave your hotel or house, and be sure to reapply throughout the day. We like EltaMD because it's light, blends easily, and doesn't leave a greasy residue. Plus the small bottle fits inside a fanny pack for easy reapplication throughout the day.
11. Everyone should wear a hat
Don't let a sunburned nose be one of the souvenirs you bring home from Disneyland—pack hats for every member of your family. My kids insisted on wearing their Disneyland baseball caps that were purchased on an earlier trip to the park, but if I had less willful children I would've forced them to wear their wide-brimmed sun hats. All of our favorite hats are easy to pack, and don't get bent completely out of shape from being squashed into a suitcase or a backpack. My daughter is particularly fond of her pink Hgge sun hat because it has an opening for her ponytail.
12. Keep your phone handy
As with many businesses in the COVID era, Disneyland has made major efforts to go paperless and cashless. That means that you'll need to have your phone with the Disneyland App within easy reach at all times. Whether it's for scanning your QR code at the entrance, placing a lunch order, or snapping a photo of your kiddos on a ride, you don't want to spend the day trying to locate your phone in the depths of your purse.
Keep your phone and camera within easy reach by wearing it across your body in a Bandolier. The high-quality leather phone cases are available for different brands and sizes of phones, and they have adjustable (and removable) straps. There's even a slim pocket on the back where you can stash a driver's license and a credit card.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.