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Jolene goes Back to Disneyland - Cast Member Preview

I can't even begin to pretend that this post is going to be entirely coherent or helpful, as I am just so full of emotions while writing this blog - happiness, disbelief, and most importantly, hope. The past year has been so dark for so many, full of tragedy, death tolls echoing from our ever-glowing screens, and uncertainty with no perceived end in sight. Many of us, myself included, lost access to our "happy place."

Before I continue and get into my actual experience, I want to preface this post by emphasizing that everyone has their thing, the thing that brings them comfort, joy, or some strange kind of contentment. These things aren't always logical or easily understood by others. Disneyland is one of my things. To have it taken away for so long, while indeed a first world problem, has been a harsh, painful reality. Readers, you may not understand the magic, but I am asking that you respect those of us who have been heartbroken by this long closure. Hopefully this post will help some of you understand why Disneyland's reopening is like a sprinkle of pixie dust in the midst of darkness.

I will also try to address some questions I got about the new Covid-19 safety measures, and what to expect on a Disney day in our "new normal."

A few notes/tips

  • Disneyland parks are currently only open to California residents, and proof of residence is required

  • Fastpasses are not available

  • Most attractions are open! Check the Disneyland website for a full list of open attractions

  • Face coverings are always required (including on rides) unless you are actively eating or drinking in a stationary/designated place - you cannot walk and eat or drink!

  • Additional tables/seating have been added to accommodate the stationary eating/drinking rule. However, many benches and other seating areas are blocked off to encourage social distancing.

  • Not all dining locations are open, and even at the open locations, not all menu items are available

  • Make sure you know how to use mobile order - most dining locations are only accepting mobile orders

  • Please be kind to cast members. They are doing their best to enforce safety protocols, and they are doing a wonderful job keeping us all safe.

  • Trams are not running. You will need to not only go through security, but you will need to walk the tram route if you park at Mickey and Friends or Pixar Pals parking structures.

  • Some ride experiences have been slightly altered to make room for Covid-19 safety measures. These measures differ from ride to ride. Some rides only load every other row, some rides have dividers, and some rides load one party per vehicle/car.

  • Rise of the Resistance is utilizing a virtual queue like it was previously. Boarding passes are available at 7AM (you do NOT need to be in the park for this time slot), and again at noon (you must be in the park at this point).

Disneyland officially announced its reopening for April 30, 2021 and hoards of California residents flocked to the virtual queue to snag their tickets and reservations. With new capacity limitations, all guests must purchase tickets based on the new tier system, then secure a reservation for specific dates.

Of course, I have been literally saving money for Disneyland for over a year, so I was lucky enough to snag some tickets for upcoming Disney days. If you want to try my saving strategy, use my referral link to download Digit.

I won't tell the whole story, but when cast member previews were announced, my dear friend Connie (you may have read about our trip to the Bower Museum) invited me to come along with her. Needless to say, I definitely started to cry and felt so cherished by her generosity. Cast member previews are like dress rehearsals, "soft opening" days for cast members and their guests. Not only was I going to Disneyland before the general public, but I realized the capacity would be even less than the projected 25% at public reopening.

We did not go right at opening, since all of us are working adults, but we found a way to get into the park by noon. New Disneyland hours are 9AM-7PM, so at first I was a little disappointed about missing the first 3 hours, but arriving late had its perks too. We did not have to wait long for parking, etc.

Once we arrived at the gates, our tickets were scanned and my surreal experience began. My polka-dotted heart was aflutter and my eyes filled with tears as I returned to my happy place for the first time in so long. My desire for cute castle photos in my Minnie-themed outfit melted away as I walked under the familiar stone archway and my gaze met the welcome bustle of Main Street USA. Instead of snapping photos, I squealed at Mickey and felt like a dog chasing its tail in pure, unadulterated excitement and familiarity.

After several moments of absolute disbelief and euphoria, racing down Main Street and periodically declaring WE ARE AT DISNEYLAND, I realized that rides were in fact open, and that we should get on one.

Per my Disneyland "tradition," I talked the group into getting on Space Mountain first. We made our way to Tomorrowland, onto debatably my favorite ride. Yes, I am going with Space Mountain as my favorite Disneyland ride.

Guests were directed to remain on social distance markers, strategically placed throughout the queue to encourage staggering and distancing.

Most queues, like Space Mountain, were mostly outdoors. Once the queue switched to its indoor portion, we simply walked the rest of the way, to the loading area. Another wave of surreality washed over me - was I really getting on Space Mountain? Was this really happening?

Well folks, after feeling surreal since entering the park, the reality of the day finally settled in when I was on the ride. As our vehicle emerged from its futuristic tunnel, we were engulfed in that familiar darkness freckled with innumerable stars and tears began to stream down my face. It really was happening.

The rest of the day started to fly by! We went on the newly updated Snow White's Enchanted Wish, which was very impressive. I don't want to give spoilers, but there is definitely a reason it is no longer named "Snow White's Scary Adventure."

My camera and phone were definitely secondary (with the exception of my all-caps, incoherent tweets) as I continued to soak in as much Disney magic as I could. I'd missed the entirety of Disney ambiance - the immersive landscapes, ever-changing sounds, and all of the magic that goes into the smallest details. It was a joy just to walk through the park!

Speaking of magic, we were very excited to get back to Galaxy's Edge. I finally got to be Engineer on Smuggler's Run, and everything was just as beautiful as I remembered it. Connie managed to get us Rise of the Resistance boarding passes (Group 83) so we knew we'd be coming back later in the day.

We continued around the park with no real plan, contrary to my usual Disney day style. This was not a day to collect unlimited content or rush through every attraction. This was a day to reconnect with the place we had so dearly missed.

That being said, we made a point to revisit "the classics," which included some favorites and for some of us, our least favorites! By some of us, I mean me. We couldn't NOT get on Splash Mountain, an iconic Disney ride (that we may not have much longer), but I can't say I was thrilled to get on it...

Once I dried off, we went on some of my all-time favorites, and all was well yet again.

I'm sure by now you've noticed, especially if you are a regular jolenegoes reader, that there is no food mentioned in this blog. Well, that is because I was not a very responsible adult on this day and... I didn't really eat. We had grabbed a small meal at Downtown Disney prior to entering the park, but for some reason I was solely running on faith, trust and a little pixie dust.

That being said, after visiting Disneyland over 100 times, I realized I'd never had a Dole Whip. Despite having "have a Dole Whip" on my 2020 Disney bucket list, I never did get around to having one until now!

We made a pit stop at Tropical Hideaway and, drumroll please, I had my first Dole Whip!

I expected the Dole Whip to be sickly sweet, but I really enjoyed the tartness of it. I'm looking forward to trying one of the other flavors next!

By this point in the day, we realized our remaining time was truly limited. Using the Disneyland app, we browsed the wait times and created a strategy to make the most of the time we had left.

Before we knew it, we were in line for one of our last attractions: Rise of the Resistance. Despite my fear of this ride (I am notoriously afraid of drops, hence my disdain for Splash Mountain), I felt quite lucky to be getting on this ride for a second time. The sensory overload provided by this immersive experience was so incredibly thrilling, even the second time. I highly recommend grabbing a boarding pass for this attraction!

The sun had begun its descent, bathing Tomorrowland in a warm glow, another reminder that our day was coming to an end. Thankfully, we were able to squeeze in one last nostalgia-filled attraction: Star Tours.

On our way out, cast members lined the sides of Main Street and greeted us one last time. It was such a wonderful sight to see, and there was such an inexplicable camaraderie in the atmosphere. Some cast members even said welcome home as we made our way to the exit.

Disneyland in the time of Covid-19 may look different on the outside, but the magic is still the same. Your favorite ride may come with mandatory face coverings and dividers, but your heart will still skip a beat when you see the castle. You will still get a kick out of reciting the narration in the Haunted Mansion elevator. You will still get whiplash when you do the goat thing on Thunder Mountain. And of course, no matter how old you are, you will still smile when you see Mickey Mouse on Main Street.

Until next time,

Keep the magic alive ✨


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