I visited Downtown Disney a week before Disneyland's reopening and It felt like the safest place I've been since the start of the pandemic

  • On April 22, I visited Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California, a week before Disneyland’s reopening on April 30.
  • Downtown Disney had a long list of health protocols that made it feel fortified against COVID-19.
  • The level of safety precautions has me convinced Disneyland will be able to reopen safely. 
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Disneyland Anaheim, California's doors have been closed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, while Disney World in Florida has been open since summer 2020.

But in March, California announced stadiums and theme parks could open by April 1.

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Shortly after, Disneyland said it would be welcoming a limited number of California residents back on April 30.

"This is also good news for the Anaheim community, which depends on Disneyland for jobs and business generated by visitors,"Bob Chapek, the Walt Disney Company's CEO, said in the annual shareholders meeting on March 9.

I grew up in Orange County, California, just a 20 to 25 minute drive from the theme park.

My fondness for Disneyland is comparable to that of my affection for In-N-Out: I love them both because they remind me of home and my childhood.

But following Disneyland's reopening announcement in March, I was concerned.

How could a theme park, known for attracting hordes of people, be safe to visit during the coronavirus pandemic?

I decided to go to Downtown Disney on April 22 — an early Thursday afternoon eight days before the theme park's reopening — to see if the shopping area would give some insight into how safe Disneyland will be once it welcomes guests back.

Visitors have been allowed to stroll around Downtown Disney while the neighboring theme parks have been closed. I hoped if Downtown Disney has strict health protocols, Disneyland's reopening could as well.

I decided to hop into my car on the overcast Thursday afternoon and drove up to Downtown Disney. And upon arriving at the parking lot, I was swiftly reminded of COVID-19 via a large health warning sign.

From there, everywhere I looked, I saw another sign or poster reminding visitors of the ongoing health crisis.

After parking my car, I trekked down the path towards Downtown Disney and hit the first two checkpoints: a screening area for temperature checks, and a quick sniff from the security dogs.

The temperature check was quick — I was on my way to the next checkpoint within a few seconds.

A few feet later, I hit the bag check area.

The typical health protocols were pretty obvious here: plexiglass shields and masked employees.

And after a quick check through my fanny pack and a stroll through the metal detectors, I finally stepped foot in the magically empty Downtown Disney.

On April 22, Downtown Disney looked like it had lost the spark I remembered from my childhood, solely because it was empty. There were a few families here and there, but no hoards of people on this slightly chilly Thursday afternoon.

As a small child, I remember battling tall adults and crowds just to walk through Downtown Disney with my family. Now, I was free to roam around without fear of colliding with other people.

Downtown Disney just doesn't feel the same without the high energy that comes with massive crowds of people, but I wasn't upset. An empty Downtown Disney made me feel safe amid COVID-19 concerns.

And everywhere I looked, I saw a sign or poster reminding visitors of the ongoing health crisis.

There were reminders of social distancing and face mask-wearing everywhere my eyes darted …

… from markers on the floor, to posters on poles, to little signs on the food stands.

Some social distancing markers denoting the lines for restaurants and retail stores, such as the World of Disney store shown below, stretched down the length of the storefronts.

I decided to take a peek around the World of Disney, and of course, there was a section dedicated to face masks. The store was quietly humming with people, but once again, I didn't see the large crowds I was so used to.

However, the long line of social distancing markers outside the store made me wonder just how crowded Downtown Disney can be on the weekend or more popular times.

But luckily for me, I barely had to worry about the social distancing markers because it was so calm during my visit: only one store had a line in front of it.

And notably, every guest I saw was wearing a face mask. Visitors are allowed to remove their face masks for food or drinks, but it seemed like eagle-eyed workers were on the hunt for any mask-less patrons.

During my stroll through Downtown, I noticed a child who was masked but didn't have their nose covered.

Within seconds of me noticing, a Disney worker walked up to the child and kindly asked them to pull their face mask up over their nose.

I was shocked by the interaction. I didn't expect the workers to be so adamant about the mask-wearing protocol, but I was happily surprised by this diligence and vigilance.

I noticed several other safety measures besides watchful workers and the sea of signs.

Most surprisingly was several outdoor public sinks that could be seen throughout the premise …

… all equipped with a faucet, soap, and paper towels.

I've never seen pop-up hand-washing stations before, and while I didn't get the opportunity to use them, I was appreciative of the add-on.

However, I only saw one person using the sinks during my stroll around Downtown Disney.

Like every other public location I've visited during COVID-19, there were plenty of readily available hand sanitizer stations.

And similar to any eatery these days, most of Downtown Disney's restaurants had plexiglass bearings, distanced tables, and masked workers.

As I continued my walk through Downtown Disney, I spotted the gates of Disneyland and California Adventure. But as expected, everything was closed off to the public, and I could only catch glimpses of the theme parks inside.

After a few laps around the Disney shopping area, I decided it was time to head back home.

Overall, the slew of visual reminders for mask-wearing and social distancing, lack of crowds, and vigilant workers made me feel extremely comfortable and safe.

It might have been the safest I’ve felt while out in public during COVID-19.

Of course, this might have been different if I had visited on a Saturday. I did, after all, visit on an early Thursday afternoon just a little over a week before Disneyland's reopening.

But if the workers are as vigilant on crowded days as they were when I visited, I'm convinced Disneyland might have the chance to reopen safely.

As long as the guests adhere to the theme park's health protocols as well.

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