Commentary: Inside the maddening 28-hour odyssey to buy tickets for Disneyland’s reopening

A woman walks toward groups of people waiting in several lines
Disney fans stand in line for Disney California Adventure’s “A Touch of Disney” food event last month. That queue was nothing compared to the experience of reserving tickets online for Disneyland’s April 30 reopening.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Those of us who grew up in the shadow of Disneyland know how to wait in line. It’s in our collective DNA, like churros, Santa Ana winds and toxic smog levels. But nothing prepared me for the longest wait of my SoCal theme park life — a 28-hour online odyssey queuing in Disney’s new reservation system to secure tickets to the park after more than a year of the pandemic shutdown.

Disneyland and California Adventure will reopen with limited capacity on April 30, and those with a California address and ZIP code were invited to sign on to the new site Thursday at 8 a.m. What they found was a first-come, first-served system that seemed designed by the infuriating and haphazard Mr. Toad. Instructions were muddled. Information on one’s place in line was vague. Wait times were preposterous, even by theme park standards.

An official statement from Disney Resorts asked for patience but only made things worse by noting that it was intentionally prolonging the process by “deliberately pulsing guests through the system” to “deliver a strong guest experience.” My pulse was indeed hitting dangerous levels as the hours mounted, the site crashed, pages glitched and bad cookies (not the delicious kind) derailed my journey to the happiest #*&$%!! place on Earth.

Twitter was full of kindred spirits. Folks who had waited eight, 10, 12 hours to get tickets, and others who gloated that they’d gotten theirs in 30 minutes. (How dare you post among us!) The ticketless weighed in with gifs of the hopelessly slow site, comparing it to the DMV sloth from “Zootopia.”


Others used saltier language to “thank” the resort for only allowing Cali locals: See #disneylandreservations.

Given that the park is reopening at limited capacity, we knew getting tickets was going to require strategy and endurance. Friends and family set up multiple devices and accounts to get in: smartphones, computers, iPads. But as the screen flashed mockingly vague messages about the wait time — like “more than an hour” or the more mysterious “recalculating” — time rolled on and my mood grew gloomier. The accompanying graphic of an animated, empty rollercoaster in the desert, next to cacti, dinosaur bones and a goat holding a stick of TNT, was cute at first.Soon enough, I was rooting for the dynamite.

My sister was the first to fold: “Disney is dead to me,” she said. “As dead as the dinosaur I’ve been staring at for 10 hours.”

How and when can you get tickets to Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott’s Berry Farm? Will all the rides be available? What’s different?

I made it into the reservation room at hour six! So lucky, I thought, until the site crashed. There I was, floating in an empty unpopulated page, untethered, like Wall-E but less hopeful. The phone numbers listed for reservations and website help were all engaged, but they may as well have replaced the busy signal with Mickey’s shrill chirp: “Well there’s six hours you’ll never get back, hee hee!”

Good thing I had two other devices going. My second computer was finally transferred to the reservation page at the eight-hour mark. Or was it 10? Who knows when you’ve been talking to a cartoon goat for the good part of a day. Much to my surprise, the page was fully functioning. The sheer excitement I felt reminded me of the first time my Iraqi cousin Afrah came to America and saw Anaheim’s majestic Matterhorn. Pure joy — until she saw all the people in line ahead of her.

I too was so close yet so far from getting my kid into the park after a year of being shut out. It prompted me to link my tickets to a reservation. The tickets I still didn’t have. It directed me to click the “purchase tickets” option, and boom, I was right in the back of another “more than an hour” line. Apparently, you have to buy tickets in one line, then make reservations in another. Or not? I’m still not clear. Let’s call someone and ask. Oh, wait...

Measured in real-life time: I screened two TV series for review, assembled a floating chaise longue delivered from Amazon, ate ice cream for breakfast, made breakfast for dinner and yelled at the dogs several times before our third device — my son’s smartphone — arrived in the reservation room like a hiker to the peak of Everest. But worn out by the trek, he’d fallen asleep. The site was not designed for guests who require sleep. Mr. Toad does not sleep, as evidenced by his wild rides. We missed our chance.

Is your elevated pulse part of the guest experience yet? I’ll spare you the rest.

Fast forward to noon Friday, when after 28 hours, nine attempts and two hours of sleep, I landed two reservations to the park for my son and me. Oh, the magic!

Disney, of course, can do better, which makes me think the hardship was intentional. A conditioning of sorts, priming us for the horror-show lines of the future when we can say to our kids: “Five hours is nothing. Let me tell you about the great pandemic queue of ’21.”