The old adage that “less is more” is certainly in play at the Disneyland Resort right now. Less guests mean more opportunity for fun. But as capacity increases in the park, issues are popping up in guest management, queue length, park resources, and even staffing. There’s also another example of the proverb that Disney could learn from as they force more and more complicated procedures on guests via the Disneyland app, things are just getting confusing for guests and for Disney.
We also have photos and news from all over the park, lots of updates, and some brand new photos and videos from one of our all-time favorite dark rides, Alice in Wonderland. Today’s update is so big that we’ve had to cut it in half (Disneyland Update Part 2 Available HERE Now). Let’s get going… We’re late, we’re late, for a very important date…
Changes and Challenges
These past two weeks at Disneyland have been a dream. Low crowd levels and short waits were a fairytale come true. But the size of crowds and waits in the parks have been creeping up this past week, and later this week Disneyland will likely be allowed to expand from 25% capacity to 35%. With another milestone less than a month after that.
Orange County, where Disneyland is located, is about to hit the final Yellow Tier in the state’s reopening blueprint. That means expanded capacity at restaurants, bars, movie theaters, amusement parks, and other venues. That could bring more guests to Disneyland and allow for the reopening of establishments such as Oga’s Cantina (bars that didn’t sell food weren’t permitted to operate in the Orange Tier, but can operate at 25% capacity in the Yellow Tier).
Meanwhile, an even bigger milestone for Disneyland and all businesses in the state will come on or even before June 15th, when the current tier system is set to expire. If the current trajectory is maintained, we can expect a return to near normal operation for the state’s theme parks as soon as next month.
There’s pressure for some normalcy to come even sooner than that. On Friday, the CDC issued new guidance stating that vaccinated individuals could go without a mask. Disney World and other theme parks across the country immediately jumped on board and altered their policies. Disney World is allowing vaccinated guests to go without a mask outdoors only (on a voluntary basis) with guests required to don a mask indoors. SeaWorld in Orlando and Texas allow guests to go without masks entirely.
While we still have a mask mandate in place here in California, our Governor is now on record that masks won’t be required outdoors for vaccinated individuals after the 15th of June, though some indoor restrictions may remain. That revision in state policy could come even sooner according to the Governor:
“If we continue to see these positivity rates, 1.1%, the stability, no question, we will get there on or before June 15. I’m confident of that.”
The ban on vaccinated out-of-state visitors to theme parks was already lifted, though Disneyland hasn’t made a change just yet. But with the expansion of capacity likely coming this week, and a June 15th reopening of the Paradise Pier Hotel looming, Disney will likely be making an announcement about out-of-state guests soon. It sure does look like Disney is waiting for June 15th.
Operations Growing to Match Crowds… Hopefully
It’s not just guest capacity that’s growing, operations at the park are also expanding. Notably, hours have now increased from a 10 hour day (9am – 7pm) to a 12 hour day (9am – 9pm). Downtown Disney and Main Street USA now stay open until 10pm. But that’s not all, many restaurants are also returning and ride refurbishments and closures are wrapping up as well.
Unfortunately, there are some consequences to an increase in crowds at the park (at least until June 15th). As Disneyland has inched crowds up, the limited capacity of the rides and some restaurants have not been able to keep up. Due to 6′ distancing between groups in line, queues rapidly spill out into walkways when attraction capacity can’t meet guest demand. That’s now an obvious issue in several parts of the park and at different times of the day.
Here are our observations on crowding from the past week (we had different staff members in the park Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, you’ll see their names on the photo watermarks below). While it’s gong to seem to you that the park is a mess, it really isn’t. However, these few examples show that the resort is starting to show signs of stress in several areas that we’ll point out. But overall, Disneyland is still VERY enjoyable to visit right now.
The Morning Jumble
Arriving at opening isn’t the best experience. If you are parking at Mickey and Friends, the structure has been backing up as we’ve reported in previous weeks. Disney is trying to deal with this situation by opening more parking booths and lanes, but it’s helping only marginally. Now that the vaccination super pod on the Toy Story Lot has closed, perhaps it’s time to spread parking out a bit more by opening that lot as well.
Once parked and through security, you’ve got a bit of a walk. And while that’s no problem for us, it seems to be quite the issue for many older folks and those with health conditions who don’t need a wheelchair.
Some will find themselves tired before they even step foot in the parks. Though, I’m thankful for the workout, I’ve still got a lot of weight to work off after all these months sitting on the couch.
Once you get to the gates, you’ll notice that things are slower as Disney attempts to take photos on all those new day tickets. That’s a situation we really hope they come up with a better solution for. With all the use of mobile technology Disneyland has been pushing since reopening, why aren’t they asking guests to pair their ticket with the Disneyland app and take a selfie or upload a photo to associate with the admission? Taking photos at the front gate just backs everything up.
But the morning jumble dissipates within an hour or so of opening, leading to a nice couple of hours in the parks where everything other than the most popular attractions have little wait.
Early in the day waits aren’t bad. Most guests will head to Snow White, Haunted Mansion, and the big E-Tickets. But Fantasyland, Big Thunder, and many of the smaller attractions will have very reasonable waits or even none at all. But that starts to shift as the day goes on.
After those first few hours, things start to shift again. At 1pm all those folks with park hoppers at DCA can head over to Disneyland . . . which they do.
And it makes a huge impact on the parks. Lines for Fantasyland rides start to spiral out into walkways and all the way IN FRONT of the castle on both sides.
There are certain areas and times that feel oddly familiar to pre-pandemic days…
New Orleans Square becomes a giant queue for Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion queue ends up along the river.
Throughout the day, the queue for Rise of the Resistance can expand all the way to Winnie the Pooh in Critter Country and then drop down to just a few parties in line. The attraction has maximized ride capacity, but frequent ride breakdowns place more and more stress on the queue later in the day as boarding groups stack up.
New Virtual Queuing
And then there’s the issue of Indiana Jones. And this is a problem that requires a bit of explanation and some extra thought.
Indy has always been a popular attraction. It’s also one of the few Disneyland attractions with a huge INDOOR queue. Unfortunately, indoor queues won’t be allowed again until at least June 15th. That means Indy has had to queue up guests (6′ apart) in the Jungle Cruise queue. That’s not a huge problem since Jungle Cruise is closed for some story adjustments (Jungle Cruise New Storyline Info HERE). But Jungle Cruise is expected to reopen later this summer and will need its queue more than ever as folks flock to see all the new stuff.
As a result, the park has started testing a virtual queue for Indy. The results so far aren’t doing much to help. While setting boarding groups has the potential to control line length, that’s not what we experienced. The queue for Indy, even hours into its operations with a Virtual queue, still resulted in the entire upstairs, downstairs, and outdoor Indy temple area being fully utilized. That’s not going to solve the issue.
Once we got our virtual spot in line, the app estimated a return time.
You’ll get a notification when it’s your turn to ride, but you can also check up on what groups they are calling in your app.
But that doesn’t mean you won’t wait in line still. After all that waiting in the virtual queue, you’ll wait through an epic physical line as well. That’s not how Virtual Queues are supposed to work. You are supposed to wait virtually so you WON’T have to then wait in a long physical line.
And then you finally head to the temple garden area.
The other problem is that the way the queuing system is being handled requires far too many cast members and seems to be confusing for everyone.
We witnessed guests showing up who had no idea that the ride required a virtual queue, and to make matters more confusing it sometimes does allow for standby. So guests don’t quite know what to expect or what to do. Sometimes the cast would catch them and try to explain, often resulting in some hostility from guests. Other times, guests would show up with their virtual queue pass and just linger around waiting for someone to tell them what to do. It was messy to say the least and very poorly implemented. But, as they claimed from the beginning, this was just a test.
We hope they’ll take a few days to rethink how the system works and simplify a bit. Even making it more like FastPass (but without an optional standby line) would make things much easier. It’s a similar idea, but would give the guest more of a firm ride time commitment. And Disney could start with a smaller amount of availability and increase/decrease it depending on how the attraction is performing. Guests could be notified in their app if their Fastpass gets canceled for delayed due to ride operation issues.
Universal Studios uses virtual queues on various rides in their parks, but doesn’t require a dozen cast to frantically confuse guests at entry. You simply show that your time has arrived and they let you in queue. A single point of entry and no fuss. We aren’t sure why Disney insists on making this so difficult at both Indy and Rise of the Resistance (have you ever noticed how many cast are used at the entry to Rise of the Resistance?). They may be overthinking something which should be MUCH simpler.
Meanwhile, there’s another attraction which desperately needs a queue rethink. Pirates of the Caribbean is giving New Orleans Square a heart attack… and not from eating too many Monte Cristo’s and Beignets. For much of the day, Pirates can contain guests within it’s regular queue, sometimes spilling out a bit. But then it will suddenly balloon into ALL of the pathways of New Orleans Square, requiring cast to rope off all but one narrow pathway to get to the rest of the park. It’s an absolute mess and totally unnecessary.
Once the Pirates line spills out too far into park pathways, guests should simply be given a return time to ride Pirates with no option for a standby line. A one hour line for Pirates right now means that all of New Orleans Square becomes a horrible mess. More than Indy, THIS ATTRACTION needs the most help as it has the worst impact on the park and other guests.
Expanded Hours Help
With the expansion of hours, there has been one very appreciated change in guest patterns. Since April 30th, most guests would wait until 7pm to leave the park. So, even when daytime conditions were comfortable, suddenly an entire park load of people were all headed to Main Street at the same time, and lines for that last hour of shopping on the street would swell to an hour in length just to get a cookie from the Candy Palace or a souvenir from the Emporium. But now that park operations have been extended to 9pm, more guests are leaving between 7pm and 9pm, stretching out the departure mess. Long lines still form in the last hour, but not as bad as before.
And, with Downtown Disney now staying open until 10pm, lots of guests now flood into the shopping district, which has been a huge boon for the independent restaurants and shops there. Though, we still feel that the park should add at least one more hour to its operating day to help with Main Street overcrowding at night and encourage some guests to arrive later in the morning as well. And Downtown Disney could easily stay open until 11pm.
Of course, virtual queues (or Fastpass) can’t resolve every issue. Every guest in a virtual queue, is still out there walking around or riding other attractions, putting more guests into other spaces. As an example, New Orleans Square was operating normally mid-week. Waits were reasonable for Mansion and Pirates. Everything was fine and you could walk anywhere you wanted in the land without ropes and crazy queues. Then Rise of the Resistance, Indy, and Splash Mountain all went down around the same time. All those guests who would have been in line for those rides were suddenly all in line at Pirates and Mansion, which caused New Orleans Square to clog up and stay that way for much of the rest of the afternoon.
Haunted Mansion has problems of its own. Because they can only have a small number of guests at a time in the Stretching Room elevators, the line backs up quickly even though the ride has lots of capacity. Omnimovers are magical people-eating machines . . . as long as you can load the people as fast as the ride moves.
To help with the issue, some guests are being offered the opportunity to take a side entry directly to the loading zone, bypassing the queue in front of the mansion.
If you don’t mind missing the pet cemetery in front of the Mansion, you can save 15 minutes or more of your wait by taking the bypass. A cast member near the Haunted Mansion fastpass machines may ask if you are ok with stairs. If you say yes, they’ll send you into the secret crypt you see in this video below (THANK YOU to MiceChat reader Kari Coulter for this updated video – she shared a partial view of the bypass with us last week):
We wouldn’t want this to become standard operating procedure, but it’s a great alternative for the time being.
Of course, Disney’s ability to increase guest capacity isn’t pending solely on state mandates. A big piece of the puzzle is cast member staffing and availability, and that’s not going well. Bob Chapek commented in a recent call with investors that there was no problem with staffing and that 80% of the cast offered positions had returned to the parks. But that’s not the whole story.
The 20% (or more) of cast who have said “no” has made it very difficult for HR to get folks back to the parks for lengthy training. And, many staff simply aren’t showing up either for training or for their scheduled shifts. At the end of the day, the low pay isn’t worth the hassle of dealing with difficult guests and an ongoing pandemic for many cast. Especially when it seems that every hotel, restaurant, and shop in Orange County is in a similar need for employees and many have raised their wages and benefits to lure talented young employees. So, 20% attrition in a tight labor market is a rough situation for Disney at a time when they need to be able to ramp up quickly.
The well of available cast to call upon is also reaching the bottom in some departments. And complications are already popping up. California Adventure is hurting for custodial staff, restaurants need bartenders, and various other departments have also called through all of their full time furloughed staff and are now calling laid off part timers. Although Disney had been following a strict seniority system, they are down to folks with less than a year of seniority in Custodial. And because DCA doesn’t have enough folks to help keep the park clean, they are literally begging Disneyland custodial staff to switch parks and move to DCA. Unfortunately, that’s a trap. If they switch parks, the union contract says they’ll lose their seniority. Of course, they are being promised that they’ll eventually be able to move back to Disneyland and get their seniority back, but most are leery of the offer, a situation which may force Disney to soon start hiring brand new Custodial employees. And this is just one department, similar issues are cropping up all over the resort.
As you can imagine, a year away from a entry level position has resulted in a lot of folks moving away, accepting other jobs, going back to school, or any of a number of other reasons to not return to Disney. So, as the park ramps up for 35% capacity in the coming weeks, and then upward and onward from there after June 15th, understand that there will be all sorts of strange issues that will result from staffing problems and the long time it takes a company like Disney to bring new people on board (or get old ones to agree to come back).
Alice in Wonderland
Time to take a little break. We had some heavy stuff to cover above, but the fact is that this is STILL a great time to visit Disneyland. Yes, there are some issues for the park to work through, but there’s so much that’s wonderful about the experience. One of those things is my favorite Fantasyland dark ride, Alice in Wonderland.
Several of our staff rode the attraction this past week and I actually filmed it. I thought you’d enjoy this unique look at what I still consider to be one of Disney’s best dark rides ever.
Have you ever spotted the rarely photographed hidden mickey in the paint splotches on the hedges near the card soldiers? We’ve circled it for you below:
I really wanted to get a video of the attraction which pulled out as much light as possible, so I shot this at just 30 frames per second instead of the usual 60 FPS. So the image is brighter and more colorful, but it might seem a tad jumpy to you. Still, a great way to experience the attraction if you can’t see it in person:
This and That
With all that’s going on right now, there’s even more on the way. Refurbishments are currently underway on Matterhorn and Buzz Lightyear, with a more extensive retheme happening at the Jungle Cruise. Buzz will return on June 26th, but no firm date is known for the Matterhorn. The Jungle Cruise is simply expected sometime this summer.
Jungle Cruise is getting a number of scenic and story updates, including the replacement of Trader Sam. His spot at the end of the ride now features a “Gift shop” in which he is the proprietor. You can see from the concept art below that this was the Lost and Found for the Jungle and Sam is now selling your stuff. Lots of cute little monkeys are wrecking havoc. It appears that there will be a lot going on here.
A new poster on the construction wall in front of the attraction promises that river service will return this summer.
Remember all those outdoor screens that Disneyland had placed around the park for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge? These were the screens which were supposed to direct guests and let them know when they could visit the land. Only the screens were never really needed since after the first few hours of operation, the land never needed to control entry again. Well, they now have new life as on-ride photo displays. Add the number under your photo to the Photopass section in the Disneyland App and you can see/buy your photo there. They aren’t quite integrated into the look of their surroundings, but works in a pinch.
Rise of the Plexiglass Divider
This isn’t exactly new, but we finally have good photos to share. Rise of the Resistance was updated with plexiglass dividers between rows, allowing Disney to load parties into both rows. While they can still only load one party per row, that’s a lot closer to normal than just one party per vehicle which would be the case without the divider. Unfortunately, sitting in the back row is a bit of a bummer as you are looking through a window for the whole ride. There’s a bit of glare as well. Not terrible, but after a long wait, it’s not your Star Wars dream come true.
Catching Up With Coke
Those specially themed Coke bottles for Galaxy’s Edge, the ones with a unique round shape and writing in an alien font, seem to be gone. They’ve been replaced by standard Coke bottles for now at least. When you ask cast about it, they say they don’t know if or when the special bottles will return. During the shutdown, the Galaxy’s Edge bottles were spotted at various stores nationwide. We assume that either Disney or the bottler didn’t want the product to go bad while waiting for the parks to reopen.
There’s good news at Casey Junior, where two trains are on the track again. That will double the capacity of the attraction. A welcome addition considering the lines developing in Fantasyland this past week.
In the waterways below Casey, the Storybook boats remain down indefinitely for social distancing reasons. However, we can see that some work was done on the attraction. The rose arches were replaced and replanted. So, you don’t see much vegetation growing on them yet, but it shouldn’t take too long for them to be covered again.
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Let’s Hear From You
Well folks, that’s half the story from the parks this past week. We have a whole lot more left to share with you tomorrow, so please be sure to check back with us for more from DCA, Downtown Disney, the hotels, and some more operations updates from Disneyland. Have you had a chance to visit the parks yet since they reopened? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Does Wait Disney World’s change in mask policy make you more or less likely to visit right now? Are you ready for a similar change here? And what maximum guest capacity would be the limit for you to still consider visiting the resort right now (25%, 35%, 50%, more)?
Don’t miss Part 2 of our Disneyland Update with even more from DCA, Tier Advancement from Orange to Yellow, more restaurant offerings, and a look inside Avenger’s Campus:
My sincere thanks to all of our amazing helpers this week, including Brian Pinsky, David Yeh, Matthew Bumgardner, Mike Kindrich, Kari Coulter, and Nathan Villamor.