Disneyland News: Restaurants & Resort Reopening, AP Program Returning This Year

We’re back with a round-up of the latest post-reopening news from Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, with a range of interesting stories including the return of resorts, restaurants, and Annual Passes.

Let’s start with the latest news. Disneyland Resort just announced that Paradise Pier Hotel will reopen and welcome back guests starting June 15, 2021, with limited capacity. Guests can book room reservations starting May 6, 2021 to “make Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel their perfect summer destination!” (Disney’s words, not mine.) Paradise Pier Hotel ranks #39 in my Anaheim Hotel Reviews. Perfect is not a word I’d use to describe it.

What’s most interesting to me about this announcement is that Paradise Pier Hotel is reopening “with limited capacity.” To my knowledge, this is the first time Disney has used such verbiage for hotels at Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort. There’s no reason to believe occupancy elsewhere has been dictated by anything other than demand.

The same could be true here, and the reduced capacity could be a reflection of the expectation that the hotel isn’t going to come close to selling out, so why not pitch it as a perk? (Disneyland could certainly surmise as much from Grand Californian occupancy numbers.) It’s also possible that bookings will be limited.

Disneyland has further announced that as part of the phased reopening, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel will not have restaurants initially. However, hotel guests may visit any of the nearby dining outlets at the Grand Californian, such as GCH Craftsman Bar & Grill, Hearthstone Lounge, Storytellers Café, and Napa Rose. Plus, everything at Downtown Disney.

We’ve said this many times, but avoid Paradise Pier Hotel. If you’re booking a trip to Disneyland and want to stay on-site, upgrade to the Grand Californian. If that’s out of your price range, “downgrade” and stay in a significantly cheaper and nicer off-site option. Seriously, there are hundreds if not thousands of better ways to use your vacation budget at Disneyland Resort.

Speaking of which, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is reopening popular dining locations Napa Rose and Storytellers Cafe for guests to enjoy while staying at the Disneyland Resort. Additionally, the hotel’s private entrance into Disney California Adventure will return on May 28, 2021.

Beginning that same date, guests will be able to enjoy Napa Rose for in-person dinner. Known for its award-winning wine list, exemplary service and delectable dining, Napa Rose will feature both the prix fixe Vintner Menu and a la carte selections, where guests can savor wine country cuisine featuring dishes that honor California’s rich culinary bounty, artisan farmers, and world-famous wine makers. Napa Rose is absolutely amazing–a highly recommended restaurant. If you’re looking for ways to splurge, it’s a far better option than…oh I don’t know…a night at Paradise Pier Hotel.

In the near future, Disneyland Resort guests will also be able to enjoy hearty home-style favorites while dining at Storytellers Café, offering three-course meals for breakfast and dinner. Whether you’re hungry for an American Wagyu Burger or craving a classic Mickey Waffle, there’s something for everyone’s taste buds!

Dining reservations are recommended and will be available for booking at a later date. Mickey’s Tales of Adventure Breakfast Buffet (the restaurant’s character breakfast) will not be featured at this time. We also think Storytellers is an underrated restaurant at Disneyland Resort. We dined there shortly before the parks closed and didn’t get around to reviewing it, but our experience was solid. A few meals here would also be a better way to blow your budget than Paradise Pier Hotel.

Disney concludes this announcement with a bunch of boilerplate reminders about needing both a valid ticket and theme park reservation for the same day and same park to enter the park they want to visit, health safety protocol, and everything being limited and subject to availability.

They also state that only California residents may visit the parks at this time. This is stated elsewhere on Disneyland.com, usually with “per state guidelines.” That’s now inaccurate, and has been for a couple of weeks. Per current state guidelines, “fully vaccinated persons from out of state may visit or attend activities or events that are restricted to in-state visitors.” California has confirmed this applies to theme parks.

While Disney can choose to restrict attendance to residents if they so desire, that would be better accomplished by not mentioning the state’s guidance at this point. In fact, one might construe the “per state guidelines” note on Disneyland.com as incorporating by reference the vaccinated exception of the actual state guidelines. That’s my interpretation, but we won’t be acting on that because “no one else thinks like that” (or so I’m told).

The “per state guidelines” part also simply might be outdated info. Or it could be deliberately ambiguous. Or Disney could still be working out how to comply with California’s new guidance. Universal Studios Hollywood began allowing vaccinated out of state visitors last week. Knott’s Berry Farm is also still limited to in-state visitors.

In other dining news, the Disneyland Legacy Passholders social media accounts revealed that starting May 20, 2021, Alfresco Tasting Terrace reopens just for ex-APs. This was previously a passholder lounge, and it literally became more popular once it was “exclusive.” (Seriously, it was often empty when open to everyone!) Smart move on Disney’s part once again turning it into a special perk.

Additionally, Blue Bayou Restaurant will reopen in the very near future with alcohol. No more specific timeline than that, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t happen until Orange County makes the yellow tier (that’s still at least 2 weeks away) or California fully reopens on June 15, 2021. While I think Blue Bayou Restaurant is slightly overrated, it’s a “rite of passage” restaurant, and unequivocally a better use of vacation funds than Paradise Pier Hotel.

Finally, Disneyland President Ken Potrock recently joined the official D23 Inside Disney podcast to discuss a range of topics related to the reopening of Disneyland. He spoke about how Disneyland’s Annual Passholder program was ended out of concern that demand by a million-plus APs could overwhelm the parks once they reopen following the yearlong closure. (This podcast is free…but still better than Paradise Pier Hotel.)

This is unsurprising. Even prior to the cancellation of Annual Passes, we discussed the logistical nightmare California’s local fanbase would present in a capacity constrained environment. Tokyo Disney Resort offered a sneak peek of this, as those two parks did not end their AP program before reopening. Instead, Tokyo Disney did an AP lottery process first that regularly crashed their website and shut out the vast majority of Annual Passholders we know there. That was an unmitigated disaster, so OLC moved to across-the-board cancellations.

As such, Disneyland cancelling the AP program was a necessary temporary measure, but unsustainable in the long-term simply by virtue of Disneyland Resort’s visitor demographics and local expectations. While Disneyland has increasingly appealed to West Coast and international tourists, it’s still not a bona fide ‘destination resort’ like its Florida counterpart.

This is now borne out by park reservation availability–very few dates are totally sold out, and that’s with Disneyland operating at less than 25% of full capacity. (Under California rules, the parks are capped at that number. We’ve heard credible rumors that Disney has further limited that to 10-15% for the initial reopening period.)

Disneyland not totally selling out less than 25% of full capacity after a year-long closure doesn’t exactly paint a picture of strong pent-up demand. At least, not among Californians for regular tickets at regular price points. This alone suggests some version of Annual Passes, or at least multi-day Southern California resident ticket deals, are not too far away.

“We thought this was a great opportunity for us to reimagine the annual pass program that wasn’t just built on the last couple of decades, but was built on how our guests and our fans want to use the parks,” Potrock said on the D23 podcast.
“We’re working on that right now and we will clearly be launching something before the end of the year.”

Given all of the above, this is also unsurprising, but it’s still good to have official confirmation. Disneyland has repeatedly called what’s on the horizon a “membership program” rather than an Annual Passholder program. Our expectation is that this is largely semantics, or possibly a result of it continuing indefinitely until cancelled. (A certain subscription service has treated the Walt Disney Company well in the last year!) While surveys have suggested Disney has a lot of big, elaborate ideas for the membership program, that’s common of Disney surveys.

The most logical approach for the membership program is an extension of the Disney Flex Pass, which offered both open admission and reservation-only days. That’s a great system for managing attendance, and each higher tier could simply have more open admission and fewer reservation-only days and/or more perks like parking. No reason to unnecessarily complicate things when the blueprint to Disneyland’s AP problem was already developed a couple of years ago. Don’t overthink things–just expand that.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of this Disneyland and DCA news? Think our take on Paradise Pier Hotel is too harsh, or totally fair? Excited for the return of more dining in the Grand Californian? Thoughts on Disneyland’s AP or membership program? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

32 Responses to “Disneyland News: Restaurants & Resort Reopening, AP Program Returning This Year”
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