Disneyland with Small Crowds (Incredible Day!)

What’s it like visiting the Happiest Place on Earth during a pandemic? Disneyland 2021 is much the same with more masks and less crowds!

Finally! We get to experience Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as the Disneyland Resort begins to open back up.

California’s stringent COVID rules have made Disneyland 2021 a unique experience with the State imposing 25% capacity on Orange County (the home to Disneyland) and Disney rumored to be further limiting guests in their first few weeks.

Like the Nerd, you need venture no further than the Disneyland app to spot wait times lower than we’ve seen in years (decades?).

Throughout the day, the Disneyland 2021 crowds have shown to be lighter than expected and a joy ride for those making their way to the Golden State’s top theme parks.

Also read: Grad Nites at Disneyland: Insider Tips for Maximizing Your Fun and Avoiding the Crowds

Disneyland with small crowds

Tickets and Reservations

When Disneyland tickets went on sales in April, there were horror stories of 6+ hour waits on hold to purchase tickets while the web site would just spin and spin. Truth be told, the Nerd was going to sit out some of the kinks. But, oh behold those beautiful, taunting wait times.

The beckoned the Nerd like a Mickey Pretzel (for those of you new to us…that’s a powerful beckoning!!). Finally, the Nerd broke down and bought tickets.

By early May, getting tickets to Disneyland 2021 wasn’t easy. Sure, California Adventure was wide open – especially on weekdays. But the Nerd remembers opening weekend at DCA in 2001 and knows that small crowds at this park means it will not hold your attention for more than a few hours….so this meant reaching deep into the reserves and purchasing two $209 1-day Disneyland 2021 park-hopper tickets (GASP!).

Learn about the NEW Disney Annual Pass program: Magic Keys

Before committing to a purchase, we followed Disney’s recommendation and reviewed the theme park reservation availability for our dates.

This screen shot from Disneyland’s web site showcases their recommended procedure of checking the reservation availability prior to purchasing….but BEWARE, this is no guarantee that the spot will be available even 60 seconds later!

We saw that we could start in either park and we went to purchase our Disneyland 2021 tickets.

Disneyland 2021 ticket prices shot through the roof as limited capacity necessitated higher prices.

Minutes later, with Park Hopper Tickets secured, we ventured over to Disneyland’s reservations page to find that our ability to begin the day at Disneyland had disappeared and our only option was to start at California Adventure. Park Hopper tickets allow guests to enter the other park at 1pm. Bummed about this change, we quickly adapted…we were going to Disneyland more than a year after our last visit (we visited days before the parks closed in 2020).

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait and Continuously Check the Web Site

The Nerd was not satisfied with beginning the day at DCA and, a few days later, decided to keep an eye on the reservations page. After refreshing the page off and on over the course of an hour, the ability to start the day at Disneyland became available. Now, it was time to fly! First, we had to cancel our existing reservation:

We navigated to “My Theme Park Reservations” to cancel the existing reservation.

We were getting pretty anxious at this point. What if, in the 30 seconds it took us to cancel and re-book, the option to start at Disneyland was taken AND someone also snagged the California Adventure openings? Well…we were going to try. And – BOOM! We nailed our Disneyland

We were thrilled to be starting our day at Disneyland.
disneyland with small crowds

We wanted to arrive fresh and booked a $90 room at the Four Points by Sheraton; a decent hotel at a great price and location just a 0.7 mile walk from the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Main Entrances. Arriving the night before so we’d be fresh and “on our game” for the big day, we of course ate at Naples Ristorante in Downtown Disney.

Naples downtown disney
Naples is a Nerd favorite at Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort and Epcot in Florida!
disneyland with small crowds
Downtown Disney was anything but crowded on a Wednesday afternoon around 430pm…a rare sighting and something we suspect will not last long in Disneyland 2021.

But the reservation system saga would continue. A third Nerd decided to join the fun after everything was set. However, there was no availability for the Park Hopper to begin at Disneyland. Based on the Nerd’s extensive Disney experience, he remains confident that a visit to a ticket booth the day before our reservation would have yielded an exception – especially considering all three reservations were on the same account. But Nerds don’t like winging it.

After refreshing the reservation page throughout the day, the Nerd broke down and called Disneyland. Just as the iPhone timer ticked to 3 hours on hold (yes, T-H-R-E-E  H-O-U-R-S), the reservation page showed availability to begin the day at Disneyland. The phone had sparks as fingers flew across the screen – log in, navigate here, cancel reservation, go back in, add reservation, switch to Park Hopper, look for openings and #WINNING, third reservation secured.

The Nerd considered staying on hold to report back just how long the wait was…but he was cranky, so he hung up disgusted with the lack of service (and still a lack of response on Twitter days later from Disneyland) that he was prepared to report back all about it.

Rise of the Resistance Planning

Rise of the Resistance remains a top draw for guests (and Nerds) and Disneyland. Working the virtual queue into your day has changed slightly. So this article is still 99% accurate for Disneyland, with just a couple minor changes:

  1. Times should be Pacific and not Eastern (we’re hoping you caught that one on your own).
  2. You must have either a Disneyland reservation or a park-hopper reservation that begins in Disneyland in order to make use of the 7am daily virtual queue release.
  3. If you do not snag a spot in the 7am release and/or you had a park-hopper beginning in California Adventure, then you will want to set an alarm for a 12pm/noon release of the afternoon virtual queue

Given the limited capacity, your odds are pretty strong as long as you follow the steps in our article and are focused on the app with a strong signal at the appropriate time.

A Note on the Indiana Jones Adventure

During our recent trip, Disneyland was experimenting with using the virtual queue for Indiana Jones. The Indiana Jones Adventure virtual queue is located in the exact same place as Rise of the Resistance within the Disneyland app. The major difference is that your opportunity to secure a spot in the queue begins when the park opens.

Again, with limited capacity and even fewer people paying attention, if you attempt to get a pass when the clock strikes park opening, you shouldn’t have any problems.

disneyland with small crowds
Screen shot of virtual queues from the Disneyland app.

On a side note, we are very curious how this virtual line “tinkering” progresses. For years, Disney has been flirting with the idea of moving additional attractions into a virtual queue to allow guests more time to shop, eat and explore the park…we’re rooting for the system to succeed! Disney 2021 continues to surprise.


We stayed at a hotel near Disneyland so we could easily walk to the park! We arrived around 8:20a (9am park opening) and found the line of people for temperature screening wrapped around the bus loading/unloading area. Was Disneyland 2021 going to be a mess or were they ready for the crowds?

disneyland with small crowds
The Disneyland bus area sported crowds looping throughout!
people waiting in line at disneyland
A stressed out (not really) Nerd documenting the beginning of what looked to be a long Disneyland 2021 line!

Fear not. It took a mere 18 minutes to get through the long screening line and look what we found (or rather what we didn’t find – crowds!) on the other side of security.

mom dad and son at disneyland
Hardly another guest in sight at the esplanade separating the two theme parks.

Three short minutes later (21 minutes after getting in the screening line) we were inside Disneyland.

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Entrance crowds at 840am – the lines only look long due to distancing. It took less than two minutes to make our way through the turnstyles and into the park.
disneyland with small crowds
DCA’s lines were even shorter just before the park’s published 9am opening time.

The Crowds

The real question is what did we find once we were inside the park?

disneyland with small crowds
For starters, there were a few people taking photos in front of the Main Street Station – but not a lot!

And it just kept getting better…

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Almost 9am and the Nerd had not seen the park this empty in decades!

After practically walking onto Space Mountain, we headed for Fantasyland…and a beautiful sight.

disneyland with small crowds
By now, we knew it was going to be a great day!
disneyland with small crowds
And a quick look over our shoulder confirmed it…the park had been open for more than 10 minutes and we had room to roam!

The crowds, or lack of crowds, was crazier than early entry in the rain from decades past.

disneyland with small crowds
Never have I ever…walked on to Alice in Wonderland with no person in sight.
disneyland with small crowds

Even as we moved further into the park, we were not finding many people. In fact, we counted significantly more Cast Members than guests for the first 35 minutes or so.

disneyland with small crowds

Although the crowds would pick up later, it was never “crowded”. We walked without bumping into people through the most congested parts of the park like Adventureland and New Orleans Square…sure, people were there, but there was room to roam comfortably!

The Overall Plan of Attack

The Nerds never rarely go to a Disney park without a plan. Now that we only had one day – 10 short hours from 9am to 7pm – to conquer two parks (and we’d paid a pretty penny), we didn’t leave anything to chance. As usual, we did a couple of minutes of homework the night before and navigated over to touringplans.com (worth every penny of the $7.95 annual charge), entered in the attractions we wanted to experience and waited for their amazing computers to spit out this plan:

Disneyland (9a start)

  • Space Mountain
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • “it’s a small world”
  • Gadget’s Go Coaster
  • Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin
  • Pinocchio
  • Snow White
  • Big Thunder Mountain
  • Splash Mountain
  • Winnie the Pooh
  • Haunted Mansion
  • Indiana Jones
  • Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Peter Pan

California Adventure (230p start)

  • Grizzly River Run
  • The Little Mermaid
  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • Incredicoaster
  • Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree
  • Monsters, Inc.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy

Based on the crowds we were seeing, we were going to win the day!

The Day in Review – And What a Day!

We Nerds are confident enough in our Disneyland strategy that we use Touringplans.com as a baseline and adjust a little as needed. Here are some notes on our super-awesome-fun-low-crowd-amazing-day at Disneyland 2021:

  • We arrived at Space Mountain at 850a and found it open and operating, so we kicked off our day early riding our first attraction less than 40 minutes after leaving our hotel.
  • By 10a, we had finished Space, Alice, small world, Gadget, Roger Rabbit and Pinocchio
  • We skipped the 20+ minute wait for Snow White and headed for Big Thunder and then experienced Rise of the Resistance.
  • At this point, we were just meandering from place to place. by 1140a, we had finished Pooh and Splash and headed to the Red Wagon for some corn dogs.
disneyland with small crowds
Corn dog and Diet Coke. Disneyland 2021 was delivering on the goods!
  • Only mobile ordering was available (if you asked very nicely or told them you didn’t have a phone/app, they would take your order the old fashioned way) and beignets weren’t available for 90 minutes…the longest wait of the day!
  • After filling our bellies, we waited for Peter Pan in a line that stretched to the Main Street hub, but only took 20 minutes!
  • We added Mr. Toad to the itinerary, went back for our beignets, rode Haunted Mansion and strolled over to DCA skipping the 40 minutes Pirates wait as Disneyland began to fill up a bit; likely due to Park Hoppers being admitted from California Adventure to Disneyland at 1p
Disneyland 2021 esplanade
Disneyland resort’s esplanade was nearly empty as we traveled from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure.
  • First stop at California Adventure was the Cozy Cone for a few ice creams (there would be more later in the day)
  • By 3pm we had finished the Little Mermaid and began our circuitous route around Paradise Pier where we rode Goofy’s Flight School and walked on – yes walked on!! – to the swinging gondolas without so much as a 30 second wait.
  • The Incredicoaster had some technical difficulties, so we got ice cream treats and rode Grizzly River Run followed by all three rides in Cars Land (+/- 15 minute waits for both Radiator Springs Racers and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi was a walk-on.
  • From there, it was the Incredicoaster, another soft serve (I told you there would be more) and by 6p we were done with Guradians and ready for dinner.
  • After a leisurely dinner at Flo’s V8 Cafe, we packed up and headed home despite there being time for more rides. We were exhausted, full and satisfied with one of the best Disneyland days ever!!
disneyland with small crowds
Flo’s V8 Cafe offers from delicious eats during a Disneyland 2021 adventure.

The Mickey Pretzel Challenge

Really, the only disappointment in an otherwise spectacular day was the challenge in locating Mickey Pretzels. All of the carts selling this doughy goodness were closed and we finally spotted some at the fruit/snack/turkey leg stand along the Rivers of America opposite the entrance to Big Thunder Mountain.

The Nerd waited in the long line for about 5 minutes – this seemed to be the one place in the park not offering mobile ordering – and after only moving about 4 feet, decided to find another spot for his coveted Mickey Pretzel. By the time we were experiencing Radiator Springs Racers at DCA, we had not spotted another pretzel and decided to contact Disneyland through the app’s chat feature.

Alina was quick to respond but, sadly, confirmed that the only place selling Mickey Pretzels was the Big Thunder Mountain stand. By now, the Nerd was 2.5 ice creams into his afternoon and elected to pass on his coveted treat. rest assured, he is already planning a next time.

disneyland with small crowds