For the first time ever, Richard Grant of San Diego felt dizzy during a recent trip to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
The 31-year-old personal trainer and his girlfriend were resting on a bench outside California Adventure’s Soarin’ Around the World simulator on the afternoon of May 5. Like thousands of other guests, they had returned to the parks smack in the middle of reopening week after a whopping 13-month closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s because you can go on so many rides in a row so quickly,” Grant said of his lightheaded state. “That’s why we’re sitting down right now, because I was feeling kind of nauseous. I needed a minute.”
Grant and Stephanie Bush, a 23-year-old hotel office supervisor from San Diego, had ample time to make themselves queazy because capacity at the Disney parks in Anaheim, with tickets available for California residents only, was capped at 25% in compliance with pandemic safety guidelines. When Orange County entered the yellow tier in mid-May, Disneyland was given the go-ahead to raise its cap to 35%. That still means shorter wait times for attractions.
But all good things must come to an end. On June 15, Disneyland will open to out-of-state visitors and there will be no capacity limits imposed by the state (though it’s unknown if staffing can be fully ramped up so quickly). This means ticketholders have a unique opportunity to experience a less-crowded theme park.
Of course, with fewer employees in the park the lines for food can be lengthy. And since the rides have remained socially distanced, a Pirates of the Caribbean boat might be loaded with just two guests. That means wait times can fluctuate greatly. One day, according to visitor reports, lines for the Haunted Mansion jumped from 25 minutes to 60 minutes with little warning — though as you’ll read, some guests have been offered an intriguing short cut resulting in a wait time under seven minutes. And waits for Radiator Springs Racers can range from 13 minutes to an hour.
But what would life in pandemic times be without unpredictability? (For those who want a little more certainty, Disneyland has a mobile app for checking wait times while you’re in the park and there are other websites that track the park’s wait times.)
A Los Angeles Times study from 2017 concluded that pre-pandemic wait times for Disneyland and California Adventure attractions averaged about 24.4 minutes each. On May 5, we clocked post-reopening wait times of 17 rides across both parks at an average of 11.9 minutes — and that’s based on a sampling of what were considered the busiest rides before the public health crisis hit.
“It’s definitely given us a chance to explore a little bit more,” Bush said. “It’s also given us a chance to try out smaller rides that I don’t think we would really go on, like … the ‘Monsters, Inc.’ one. We’ve never really been on that one before, but we went on it because we get to ride all the rides twice today.”
Multiple reopening-week attendees suddenly found themselves lining up for in-demand attractions they’d grown accustomed to ignoring, previously deterred by eternal queues jam-packed with hundreds of tired, sweaty visitors.
“I feel like I’ve never even made it on Radiator Springs [Racers] because the line’s always been so long,” Grant said, referring to the premier attraction at California Adventure’s Cars Land. “Today, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Just, like, a breeze.”
“There’s no way that we could have ever gone on Splash Mountain,” said James Wilde, a 30-year-old street artist from Los Angeles. “The line’s always been so crazy. … I would skip it normally because it’s just such a time suck.”
Still, some couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic when reminiscing about what was once an essential — if sometimes frustrating — slice of the theme park experience.
“Honestly, I feel like half the ride is the anticipation building up to it,” said Brian David, a 39-year-old producer from Los Angeles. “I mean, obviously you just want to ride the rides, but I have a lot of fond memories of standing in some of the lines.”
In the name of science, this Los Angeles Times reporter documented her experience in the enchanted reduced-capacity theme parks, bouncing from queue to queue at record speed, flanked by her 19-year-old brother and longtime Disneyland companion, Andrew. Here’s what we found, complete with comparative data from 2017 and expert insight from helpful cast members.