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Disneyland won’t be locals-only for long. Navigating the reduced-capacity lines

A woman in a pirate costume chats with people wearing mouse ears
Redd the pirate chats with Disneyland guests from a safe distance outside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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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.

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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.”

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Visitors to Disneyland and California Adventure are experiencing more sore feet and sunburn while waiting to ride some of the parks’ increasingly popular attractions.

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.

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8:45 a.m. — Star Tours

Pre-pandemic wait: 41 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 15 minutes, 58 seconds
Ride time: 4 minutes, 11 seconds

C-3PO and a space vehicle
A view of the Star Tours entrance at Disneyland in November 2015.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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The force was with us on a Wednesday morning as cheerful cast members admitted us to Disneyland — our preselected starting park — a half-hour prior to opening. A warm Disney welcome awaited us on Main Street U.S.A., where dozens of employees waved enthusiastically from the sidewalks as we made our way to a near-empty Tomorrowland.

There’s something oddly dystopian about seeing Disneyland’s bustling, futuristic utopia reduced to a late pandemic-era ghost town, where the estimated wait time for the park’s fan-favorite simulator attraction was a measly five minutes. The actual wait ended up being slightly longer — just enough time to apply some sunscreen for the 80-degree day ahead of us.

A cast member estimated that the reopening-week wait for Star Tours ranged from 5 to 15 minutes. A day prior, however, the line reached a maximum of 25 minutes for a special occasion: May the 4th, the unofficial “Star Wars” holiday.

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9:18 a.m. — Space Mountain

Pre-pandemic wait: 65 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 5 minutes, 56 seconds
Ride time: 4 minutes

Guests un-loading and loading in roller coaster cars
Pre-pandemic, there was no social distancing as guests went through the loading and unloading process at Disneyland’s Space Mountain roller coaster.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Tomorrowland projects an idyllic vision of the future, but surely not even the innovative minds at Disney could have envisioned a future in which the wait for its most popular roller coaster would be estimated at five minutes.

Before running up the vacant ramp to the main queuing area, Andrew and I couldn’t help but snap photos of the red figure 5 on the digital Space Mountain marquee — certain we would never see such a sight again.

In the past, we’ve spent 45 to 85 minutes inching through the vast outdoor courtyard of Space Mountain, built to accommodate hundreds of thrill-seeking guests.

According to one cast member, the wait for the pitch-black indoor coaster has occasionally peaked at 45 minutes even under reduced capacity. But most post-reopening guests have queued for about 15.

We arrived at the attraction mere minutes after the park opened (so early that the music was not yet turned on inside the ride), which likely contributed to our miraculously short wait. (Can confirm: Silent Space Mountain is a bizarre experience.)

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9:35 a.m. — Alice in Wonderland

Pre-pandemic wait: 33 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 1 minute, 3 seconds
Ride time: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Simply mad as a hatter how brief the wait was for this glow-in-the-dark classic.

We spent triple the amount of time in our caterpillar buggies as we did queuing for them on the outer reaches of Fantasyland, looking out over the astonishingly deserted magical landscape. A cast member estimated that the post-reopening wait for this kid-friendly adventure has ranged from three to 30 minutes.

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9:44 a.m. — Peter Pan’s Flight

Pre-pandemic wait: 41 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 7 minutes, 36 seconds
Ride time: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Believe it or not, you can fly, you can fly, you can fly through the line now for Peter Pan’s Flight, a timeless Disneyland staple that has maintained its soaring popularity since its 1955 debut.

We’ve often opted not to embark on this beloved voyage over the luminous streets of London because of its notoriously lengthy wait, which — on a busy pre-pandemic day — could rival those of much newer, more action-packed attractions such as Splash Mountain or Indiana Jones Adventure.

On Wednesday morning, however, the wait for Peter Pan’s Flight was estimated at 10 minutes, and our first skyward trip to Neverland in years instantly reminded us why it continues to be a crowd favorite. A cast member told us the wait has consistently fluctuated between five and 25 minutes since the park reopened.

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9:55 a.m. — Snow White’s Enchanted Wish

Pre-pandemic wait: 17 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 14 minutes
Ride time: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Animatronic Snow White and birds and animals
Snow White and her forest animal friends at Snow White’s Enchanted Wish ride in Disneyland on May 3, 2021.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The open-air, cottagecore line for this freshly updated attraction extended all the way to a waiting area typically designated for princess meet-and-greets, which have been restructured to adhere to social distancing guidelines amid the pandemic.

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No complaints here, as the queue for the whimsical ride inspired by Disney’s debut feature film was mainly located in the shadow of Princess Aurora’s castle and subsequently boasted some of the most picturesque views of the park. Formerly called Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Enchanted Wish has emerged from the pandemic with a slight uptick in wait times, likely bolstered by its shiny new figurines and romantic storyline.

According to one cast member, the wait for the fairy tale ride has regularly reached 30 minutes since the reopening, while Times game critic Todd Martens reported a 45-minute wait on opening day.

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10:22 a.m. — Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Pre-pandemic wait: 30 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 5 minutes, 52 seconds
Ride time: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Riders on a roller coaster with a train motif
A pre-pandemic view of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Another mountain, another five-minute wait.

The already all-outdoor queue for this mineshaft Frontierland coaster required zero pandemic modifications — except for some plexiglass dividers between parallel lanes leading up to the runaway-train platform.

A cast member explained that queues for fast-paced rides, such as Thunder and Space mountains, have been chugging right along under new pandemic guidelines, while those of more drawn-out attractions, such as the nearby Haunted Mansion, have seen more significant delays because of holding areas that can no longer accommodate large crowds of people.

As such, the wait for Thunder Mountain has steadily hovered around 10 minutes since reopening.

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10:38 a.m. — Pirates of the Caribbean

Pre-pandemic wait: 23 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 26 minutes, 26 seconds
Ride time: 12 minutes, 32 seconds

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Guests board boats on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Socially distanced guests board boats on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride as a limited number of people come to Disneyland on April 30, 2021 — the first day the park reopened after closing more than a year ago.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Yo ho, yo ho, a Pirates line for me!

The line for Pirates of the Caribbean, practically an attraction in and of itself, easily clinched the award for longest — and most entertaining — wait of the day.

No longer confined to dank tunnels beneath the park’s surface, the reconfigured queue stretched all the way across New Orleans Square to the towering gates of the Haunted Mansion. “Hey, look, it’s Tiana,” my eagle-eyed brother remarked casually as we ambled through the lively riverside town.

Sure enough, there was the elegant Louisiana princess, surveying her New Orleans kingdom at a safe distance from atop an ornate balcony. As if on cue, a little girl wearing a ruffled Minnie Mouse dress in front of us screamed — and I mean screamed — “Tiana!” at the “Princess and the Frog” star, who answered her call with a graceful air-kiss and wave.

Bumbling vagabond of the seven seas Jack Sparrow also appeared on an adjacent patio, locking eyes with individual guests as we passed under a bridge into the main queuing area. (He tipped his pirate hat toward me, nbd.) At one point, Disney worlds collided when Jack said something to make Tiana laugh next door.

Personally, I hope Disneyland sustains this chaotic crossover energy when the park returns to normal operations. Also, it raises the question: Where was Snow White while we waited for Enchanted Wish? Or Chewbacca while we queued for Star Tours? Take notes, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. New Orleans Square is where it’s at.

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11:22 a.m. — Haunted Mansion

Pre-pandemic wait: 23 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 6 minutes, 13 seconds
Ride time: 5 minutes, 42 seconds

People wait in line outside the Haunted Mansion
A view of the pre-pandemic line at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland in 2017.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The line for this cult classic house of horrors snaked along the perimeter of the nearby French Market restaurant and through what used to be a Fast Pass distribution center before arriving at the spooky estate.

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Upon entering the graveyard, however, we reached an unexpected fork in the queue, where a cast member asked us if we wanted to skip the attraction’s swelling portrait room (remember that holding area the Thunder Mountain folks warned us about?) and cut to the front of the line.

More curious than impatient, we agreed and were promptly escorted down a dim flight of stairs, haphazardly decorated with a few creepy paintings and an antique chair — none of which (I’m willing to bet) were there before the pandemic, when the shortcut was likely only accessible to employees. Within seconds, we emerged at the end of the extended portrait hall and plopped straight into our doom buggies, shaving nearly 20 minutes off our estimated wait time.

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11:38 a.m. — Indiana Jones Adventure

Pre-pandemic wait: 45 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 24 minutes, 22 seconds
Ride time: 4 minutes

People sit in ride vehicles
The boarding process for Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure ride was much more socially distanced than this scene taken Dece. 18, 2004.
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

By midday, the lines were getting a little longer, but not much — even for the ever-popular Indiana Jones Adventure, which projected a 25-minute wait.

After crossing under Tarzan’s treehouse, we spent the majority of our time in an elevated, breezy hut that was once rarely used for extra queuing space when Adventureland was particularly busy. Designed to resemble an archaeologist’s quarters, various animal bones and insect specimen decorated the queue and made for a fascinating stroll to the temple of doom, during which I finished half the turkey sandwich I packed for lunch.

No time to look out for booby traps once inside the cave, where the line picked up serious speed in accordance with COVID-19 guidelines. A cast member estimated that the average post-reopening wait for the turbulent thrill-ride has been 35 minutes.

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12:16 p.m. — Splash Mountain

Pre-pandemic wait: 38 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 17 minutes, 35 seconds
Ride time: 9 minutes, 50 seconds

The slightly lengthier line for Disneyland’s fan-favorite waterslide allowed us a few opportunities to stand still (what a concept!) — a welcome relief for my weak legs, which were already a tad sore from walking nonstop all the zip-a-dee-do-dah day.

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While maneuvering through the cavernous queue, my brother had enough time to stream a European football game between Chelsea and Real Madrid on his phone before fantasizing with me about which “Princess and the Frog” songs would be featured as part of the ride’s incoming and long-overdue makeover.

According to a cast member, the opening-week wait for Splash Mountain averaged between 25 and 30 minutes, sometimes hitting 40 in the heat of the afternoon.

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12:57 p.m. — Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Pre-pandemic wait: 90 minutes or more
Post-reopening wait: 11 minutes, 41 seconds
Ride time: 4 minutes, 40 seconds

  People remain socially distanced while they wait in line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
Guests remained socially distanced while they waited in line for the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride on reopening day, April 30, 2021.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

An elongated outdoor queuing area proved ideal for this interactive flagship attraction at Galaxy’s Edge, allowing us time to linger and marvel at the intricate exterior of Han Solo’s trusty spacecraft — basically the Aurora’s castle of the “Star Wars” expansion.

By contrast, we were rushed through the equally-as-intricate interior of the sky cruiser and into the cockpit to ensure we spent as little time in an enclosed space as possible. Overall, a much quicker experience than that of pre-pandemic times, when the ride was still brand new and attracting massive, guess-I’ll-spend-my-whole-day-here crowds.

A cast member told us the post-reopening wait times for Smuggler’s Run have been erratic, maxing out at 40 minutes before suddenly dropping to 15 without rhyme or reason.

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1:27 p.m. — Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Pre-pandemic wait: 20 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 19 minutes, 13 seconds
Ride time: 9 minutes, 30 seconds

 Disneyland employees at the entrance to the "Rise of the Resistance"
On Thursday, March 12, 2020, just before the March 14 closure of Disneyland after pandemic-forced shutdown orders, park employees in rain ponchos stood at the entrance to the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance attraction at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Because of distancing guidelines, the outdoor queue for Disneyland’s newest ride flirted with the Galaxy’s Edge — literally brushing up against the outermost rim of the sci-fi sector.

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Despite the immersive, high-tech attraction opening just a couple of months before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic, pre-COVID and post-reopening wait times have remained pretty consistent thanks to a virtual boarding group system that pulses guests through the queue in smaller packs to avoid the typical deluge.

We entered the Disneyland app’s virtual Rise of the Resistance queue the minute it opened at 7 a.m. and ended up boarding with group 73 around 1 p.m. — an alternative yet effective way of determining a fledgling attraction’s popularity that doesn’t involve endlessly zig-zagging back and forth in the Southern California sun.

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2:30 p.m. — Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission — Breakout!

Pre-pandemic wait: 94 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 1 minute, 46 seconds
Ride time: 2 minutes, 9 seconds

A moment of silence for the production designers behind the queue for this newly reimagined free-fall attraction, who truly outdid themselves when recreating the evil Collector’s lair — complete with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets aplenty, whosits and whatsits galore.

Alas, we had zero time to admire their exquisite handiwork while zipping through this nonexistent line — nor were we able to listen to the Collector’s villainous monologue, or Rocket the Raccoon’s brilliant escape plan. (Key story elements have been removed from the post-reopening queuing experience to lessen the amount of time spent inside the 13-story building.)

Why were we saving the Guardians of the Galaxy and how did they come into the Collector’s clutches? Why were we executing this rescue mission to the tune of Elvis’ “Burning Love” while plummeting several floors in a gantry lift? No idea, but we had a whole lot of fun doing it.

According to a cast member, the abbreviated wait for Mission — Breakout! has plateaued at five minutes.

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2:42 p.m. — Radiator Springs Racers

Pre-pandemic wait: 86 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 13 minutes
Ride time: 4 minutes, 41 seconds

Shout-out to the brave and patient souls who routinely waited upwards of 80 minutes to embark on this Pixar-inspired drag race before the public health crisis. We were not strong enough.

But the extra-reduced capacity at California Adventure presented a rare opportunity to motor through the scenic sandstone canyons of Radiator Springs faster than Lightning McQueen.

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Leave it to Radiator Springs Racers, though, to still post the occasional 80-minute wait due to semi-frequent breakdowns that limit the daily ride window. Luckily, we seemed to catch the temperamental attraction on a smooth day.

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3:14 p.m. — Incredicoaster

Pre-pandemic wait: 26 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 4 minutes, 53 seconds
Ride time: 2 minutes, 27 seconds

Not even Dash Parr himself could have zoomed through the Incredicoaster queue at this rate. (Yes, I will keep making Disney-related speed puns to underscore the abnormally fast pace of every. single. line!)

For anyone who hasn’t seen “The Incredibles,” the mischievous middle Parr child possesses super speed — a fact surely listed in his superhero profile on Pixar Pier. Can’t say for certain, though, because we had no time to read his or anyone else’s bio while weaving through now-useless lane dividers leading to the parks’ sole loop-de-loop coaster.

A cast member told us the post-reopening wait for the Incredicoaster has averaged 10 minutes, but — similar to its sister attraction in Cars Land — has been known to peak at 45 after a breakdown.

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3:23 p.m. — Toy Story Midway Mania

Pre-pandemic wait: 48 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 8 minutes, 50 seconds
Ride time: 7 minutes, 22 seconds

We weren’t quite able to run like the wind, Bullseye, through the carnival-esque queue for this 3D arcade-game of an attraction. But we were able to walk through at a relatively brisk pace while completely skipping the colorful indoor section of the line.

Embarrassed to report that my losing score on this competitive ride was almost as low as the estimated wait, which has consistently ranged from 15 to 25 minutes since California Adventure’s reopening. One cast member mused that Midway Mania has never been so quiet in her five years working the hit attraction, urging us to enjoy it while we can.

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4:02 p.m. — Soarin’ Around the World

Pre-pandemic wait: 49 minutes
Post-reopening wait: 18 minutes, 46 seconds
Ride time: 4 minutes, 49 seconds

Instead of meandering through the museum-esque hall of pilots and aircrafts inside the hangar, most of this wait was spent tracing the perimeter of the keenly disguised IMAX theater. (I took advantage of this open-air setting to safely consume a second turkey sandwich.)

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Once indoors, we skipped the pre-boarding instructions and immediately buckled our seatbelts for takeoff. A cast member informed us that the reopening-weekend wait for Soarin’ has averaged 40 to 50 minutes. But since then, it’s been more like 20.

Todd Martens, Joe Fox, Priya Krishnakumar and Jon Schleuss contributed to this report.

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