Downtown Disney in early 2021 is a combination of Disney fun and a little bit sad.
As COVID cases continue to soar in California, Orange County has closed down restaurants and the Christmas shopping season is behind us.
As a result, Downtown Disney crowds are (expectedly) much lighter.
With the main Disneyland cancellations behind us, we recently visited on a Sunday evening – a time that even throughout the pandemic normally see large lines and crowds to enter the shopping and dining district – and it was an enjoyable stroll.
A Tale of Two Entrances
Currently, there are two ways to get into the Disneyland Resort. There is the Disneyland Drive entrance through Downtown Disney near the Disneyland Hotel by parking in the Simba lot behind Paradise Pier. The other is from Harbor Boulevard adjacent to the other hotels near Disneyland, otherwise known as the Disneyland Resort Good Neighbor Hotels.
1. Disneyland Drive Entrance
The Nerd was staying near the Convention Center and decided to walk to the Disneyland Drive entrance behind Paradise Pier. The walk from the corner of Harbor and Katella on a Sunday at 6pm was….weird.
The normally vibrant backside of Disney California Adventure was dark. Gone were the lights of the Incredicoaster or Cars Land’s Radiator Springs Racers. There was no music or smells of food wafting. Just silence.
The Simba parking lot was not full, but decently crowded considering it was dinner time, restaurants are closed and what food was there is prohibited from being consumed on Downtown Disney property.
So, as far as food goes, it was Wetzel’s Pretzels (sadly, Mickey Pretzels were nowhere to be found!) to go, churros to go or ice cream to go…and we’re curious how that sale worked out for some people.
There are three levels of screening prior to being admitted to Downtown Disney:
- Temperature Screen
- Walk past the security dog
- Security screening via metal detector
Each of them require guests to be spaced out for social distancing and so the dog can focus on one group at a time.
It was a short walk to the temperature screening where we waited behind just one group. Along the way, it seemed more people were heading into Downtown Disney than were leaving, but it was a gentle trickle of people both ways.
We faced an odd bottleneck at the dog section, but it cost us about 30 seconds of waiting and then it was smooth sailing all the way into Downtown Disney.
2. Harbor Boulevard Entrance
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Disneyland Resort, it was pure crickets. Our visit was closer to 730pm and between the Anaheim Convention Center and the entrance, we past three people. As we strolled past Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission BREAKOUT! along Harbor, we were glad to see it at least partially lit up; likely due to it being visible from the areas within California Adventure that are open to guests.
As we approached the Harbor entrance to the Disneyland Resort, it looked like we were not going to face many crowds.
We were right. We saw one other group who was probably 50 yards away and other than that, we saw just a few other people all the way to the DCA entrance.
It was eerie and yet had that feeling of “extreme luck” that you showed up to Disneyland on a day where there was nobody there! These feelings are deeply routed in the Nerd.
Most of the stores throughout Downtown Disney were open with stickers on the ground indicating where guests should wait to enter. Some stores like Sugarboo and Co. didn’t have anyone manning the door, though one set of doors were marked for entry and one set for exiting (a theme that would repeat at every store with more than one door).
Although no line to get in, there were a handful of people social distancing in front of the LEGO store while they waited to take photos with some of the large displays.
There were signs throughout Downtown Disney and benches were 75% stickers reminding guests to socially distance by prohibiting them from sitting in most spots.
Other stores, like Star Wars Trading Post and Disney Home had one or two Cast Members at the entrance door tracking people coming and going and giving those waiting the “green light” to enter. Some of these more popular stores had anywhere from 2-7 groups waiting in line; the wait more a function of the store’s capacity than its popularity.
The Nerd waited patiently to enter Disney Home behind one other group for about 4 minutes. Once permitted entry, we counted 6 total guests and three Cast Members. As we exited, the next group was permitted entry.
We missed the holiday shopping season and based on this, we are glad we did – this visit certainly didn’t require making reservations to gain access to Downtown Disney, scanning in to enter a virtual queues at individual stores only to obtain a time when we could get in line to wait to enter.
The longest line we observed, by far, was to World of Disney and even then it was about 15-20 groups and a wait of 10-20 minutes, depending on the speed of the shoppers inside.
As we neared the plaza separating Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, we found it to be….even less crowded than Downtown Disney.
There were signs beckoning guests to Buena Vista Street and so, like any good guest, we obliged.
Buena Vista Street
It was off walking into Disney California Adventure without a ticket – it almost felt like sneaking in with no people around and no Cast Members watching over the turnstyles.
Buena Vista Street had some crowds here and there, but there were also large swaths of the park wide open. In fact, capturing a selfie devoid of other people has never been easier.
Turning left at Carthay Circle from Buena Vista Street, the entrance to Hollywood Land was one of the livelier spots! The lights were shining and flashing, people were milling about, there were small lines for most shops.
Heading towards Monsters Inc. Mike & Sully to the Rescue! there is the nearly hidden Disneyland Resort Backlot Premier Shop.
Nearby, Off the Page had a small line and about a dozen guests shopping inside. Throughout DCA, there were vendor carts, Disney snacks, and plenty of places for guests to wander and purchase to their heart’s content.
Being in California Adventure and strolling along Buena Vista Street and checking out the shops had a nostalgic feel. It felt like things were back to normal and that we were window shopping after a long exhaustive day at the them parks. The cool weather, the moon out, the limited crowds – it all felt like one of those nights the park was open late (sadly, it was only 730pm!).
So, we’ve kicked off 2021 and we’re looking forward to the full reopening of the Disneyland Resort.