Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme park reservations are now available with no virtual queue or website woes. Now that the dust has settled, we thought it’d be worth offering some analysis and Summer 2021 crowd predictions for Disneyland and DCA.
We’ll preface this with the standard disclaimer that this is highly speculative, dependent upon how the next few months play out. There are still a ton of unsettled variables that will influence attendance between the April 30 opening date and around Labor Day 2021, and a lot of unknowns. All of which we hope to touch upon here so you can assess the factors yourself and draw your own semi-informed conclusions about crowds at Disneyland.
While we’re comfortable discussing generalized trends and possibilities, it would be incredibly premature to offer numerical crowd levels or an update to our 2021 Crowd Calendars for Disneyland. We’ll try to have one of those as soon as possible–but it’s entirely possible that Disneyland & DCA crowd calendars will be worthless for the rest of the year.
Before reservations went live, we commented that there were some eerie parallels between Disneyland’s reopening and the first summer season of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Although that now might feel like an eternity ago, it was only two years ago.
For those needing a quick refresher, Disney also opted for use a reservation system for that, and they were difficult to score, with reports that over a million fans were all vying for reservations when they dropped. The process had its own hiccups, but was relatively smooth as compared to the reopening reservations. The operative difference was that Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge entry reservations were quickly fully booked.
The expectation was that those reservations would be necessary to prevent over-crowding and multi-hour lines just to enter the park. Disneyland undertook Project Stardust to minimize points of congestion, instituted more Annual Passholder and Cast Member blockout dates, increased prices to a greater degree than normal, expanded bag check, and had maximum staffing levels.
All of that proved to be unnecessary.
It was the least-crowded summer we’ve ever experienced at Disneyland, rivaling even winter off-seasons. With the benefit of hindsight, the problem was obvious–Disney, the media, and fans (and we are just as guilty of this as anyone) hyped up the “crowdpocalypse” to such an extreme degree that locals and tourists alike avoided Disneyland all summer.
Offering further proof that history rhymes, the situation could easily be likened to Los Angeles during the 1984 Olympics or the 405 “carmageddon,” both of which were less crowded than normal due to fears of overcrowding.
Enter Disneyland’s reopening reservations, which are currently available through June 28, 2021.
Above is current availability for Park Hopper ticket reservations in May 2021, below is June 2021. There is also still availability at DCA for the April 30, 2021 reopening day. (You can check the calendar of currently available dates without having tickets.)
I’ve been adamant in my belief it was wise for Disneyland to cancel (or at least restrict) Annual Passes in the short-term due to capacity limitations, but that they’re absolutely necessary in the long-term and will likely be back sooner rather than later.
Even I thought there was much more pent-up demand than this. The fact that Disneyland wasn’t able to quickly sell out at least a couple of weeks at 25% (or lower) capacity after the parks have been closed for over a year is surprising, and is bad news for Disney, but good news for fans.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves–let’s turn to some crowd predictions…
The simplest and best proxy for Summer 2021 crowd levels at Disneyland will be the public-facing availability calendars. These will be most accurate the closer to your visit, so if you’re a local with flexibility, taking a last-minute wait and see approach is savvy.
Beyond that, what we’re already seeing is that weekends in May and early June 2021 were first to book up, which makes sense given visitors demographics. It’s worth noting that this is also how things played out at Walt Disney World last summer. Normally, we hesitate to draw parallels between the Florida and California parks since the guest dynamics are so different. However, as we pointed out repeatedly last summer, Walt Disney World operated very similarly to Disneyland last summer since it was disproportionately locals visiting.
Last summer at Walt Disney World probably also holds more insight into what might happen at Disneyland. In Florida, the least busy days in the parks were all in the weeks immediately after reopening. Part of this was likely because Walt Disney World had a lower attendance cap at first, gradually increasing it as the parks began operating smoothly.
We wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to learn that Disneyland is doing the same, perhaps limiting the first couple of weeks below the 25% threshold set by the state. (That’s almost certainly the case given Park Hopping from day one.)
It quickly became clear that attendance was going to be lower than forecast. Within a week of Walt Disney World’s opening, hotel discounts were released for southern states and a Florida resident ticket deal was rolled out. Neither made a significant impact on numbers.
This is where things could differ for Disneyland. The SoCal resident ticket deals are normally huge drivers of attendance, helping buoy crowds during the winter off-season and the weeks leading up to their expiration seeing spikes on the crowd calendars. At this point, it seems like a matter of when–not if–Disneyland rolls out the SoCal resident deals for the summer. Those who get in before that will pay more, but likely enjoy significantly smaller crowds.
At Walt Disney World, pent-up demand was not an issue in any way whatsoever after maybe the first couple days each park was open. Following that, July and August were veritable ghost towns, to the point that Walt Disney World dramatically cut back fall park hours.
If anything, the “reverse” (or something along those lines) occurred in Florida. Crowds were slow low in the first couple of months that they induced more demand, resulting in higher crowd levels just as Walt Disney World started cutting hours. This is another scenario we could envision happening in California.
In fact, it would seem that to some degree, the stage has been set for exactly that. Following Disneyland’s reopening reservation rollout, there were widespread reports on the local news of long waits. We watched coverage on CBS Los Angeles, which made it sound like there was more demand than supply, with diehard fans waiting 12 hours just for a chance to score the elusive tickets. There was no follow-up coverage about wide open availability in the days that followed.
While Disneyland is a Southern California institution, most locals are more casual than they are diehard, and waiting 12 hours is a nonstarter. Moreover, after seeing reports like that on the news–or simply trying themselves for an hour or so and failing–many likely gave up on scoring tickets and reservations entirely. The abandonment rate was undoubtedly high. Beyond that, most normal people aren’t going to try for tickets after hearing those news reports, fearing the crowds and/or headaches it’ll entail.
Fast-forward a month from now, and there will likely be reports on those same stations about “surprisingly” low crowds at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. The same people who were previously discouraged from trying for tickets and reservations will then be encouraged to try for them.
Accordingly, we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see a pronounced increase in attendance about a month into the reopening, potentially coinciding with the opening of Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure.
With that in mind, the lack of Annual Passes is still a significant limiting factor for locals. Californians who are ex-APs are used to visiting Disneyland a certain way, and paying a certain price. Many of them paid less for an entire year of access than they would for a few days of Park Hopper tickets.
Which is to say that many locals will be “one and done” visitors until the new AP or membership program rolls out. Paying over $100 for single-day access is going to be a tough sell for many locals, especially with so much missing. In the near-term, it’s an easier sell for tourists, who are used to paying more for admission.
However, out of state tourists are not allowed to visit initially; barring unforeseen circumstances, this will occur on June 15, 2021. There is every reason to believe the resident restriction will fall away on that day, because the only reason it exists right now is the California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, which for some reason added a residency requirement layer to the guidance for theme parks and sporting events (which differ because they were released later than guidance for other industries). That plan is being retired on June 15, 2021.
There are no independent travel restrictions beyond the reopening blueprint–California already relaxed its travel advisory to out of state visitors at the beginning of this month. In fact, I could book an April or May stay at the Grand Californian, eat every meal indoors at Downtown Disney, shop til I dropped, and not in any way violate California’s rules. I just couldn’t enter the parks or go see the Dodgers or Angels play.
UPDATE: Literally minutes after publishing this, I received a tip that California quietly removed the in-state restriction for theme parks. This is still a developing story, but we’ll hopefully have official confirmation from Disneyland within the next week as to their interpretation of the change.
Here are full details: Vaccinated Out-of-State Visitors May Be Allowed to Visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure!
Many or most people don’t realize all of this, and will wait until there’s official confirmation that out of state visitors are allowed before booking a trip. There’s a lag between when tourists book vacations and actually travel, meaning the deluge of guests from Utah, Nevada, and other nearby states probably won’t hit until late summer–perhaps not until Halloween Time starts in early September.
Bringing this full circle, that’s exactly what happened following the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Even though Disneyland quickly brought back the OG Soarin’ Over California and Main Street Electrical Parade while also lifting Cast Member blockouts, it wasn’t enough to reverse the attendance woes. There was the summer slump, followed by a wild fall as it took some time to change public perceptions about the “crowdpocalypse” and for tourists to take trips.
Ultimately, this sets forth a lot of variables and factors that will influence crowds without making any definitive predictions. Frankly, I’m a bit reluctant to do that because there are so many factors at play–and even more that I’m not fully taking into consideration (e.g. unemployment, stimulus money, lingering safety fears, etc).
With that in mind, if I were a California resident I would aim to visit on weekdays in early to mid-May 2021. My rationale for this would be missing the first few days, which could have some operational “hiccups.” I’d still want to go during the first couple of weeks, as I suspect capacity will be capped then to a greater degree than later in May or early June. If those dates weren’t viable, I’d still be comfortable anytime before Memorial Day or the opening of Avengers Campus (in large part because I could not care less about that new land, but think it will drive attendance).
As out of state visitors, our tentative plan is to visit immediately after June 15, 2021. My suspicion is that overall attendance will have increased by this point, but I’m also cautiously optimistic that ride/restaurant/retail/etc. capacity and efficiency will be significantly higher thanks to the retirement of the reopening rules. That alone could more than offset the attendance gains. I’d expect crowds to slowly grow over the course of the summer, roughly following the same trajectory as Walt Disney World. I think that pretty much any date through late August will be comfortable, but I’d still avoid weekends if at all possible. All bets are off once Halloween Time arrives (that should be around September 10, 2021) or Annual Passes return, whichever happens first.
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!
What are your predictions for Summer 2021 crowds and attendance at Disneyland and DCA? Think our expectations are accurate or off? Think there are other variables we’ve missed? Have you made theme park reservations for the opening months? Do you have plans to visit California this summer or fall, or will you hold off until 2022? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? 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!