The Return to Disneyland

The Difference between a Trip in July 2020 and July 2021

The empty gates of Disneyland in July of 2020, four months into the park’s unprecedented closure. (Image provided by Matthew Wurm)

The music seemed faint in my ears as I walked past a group of people, who seemed nervous to be within the same space as me. I struggled to breathe through my thick mask on a hot July day, but could not determine whether the sweat accumulating on my lip was from the heat or the anxiety I felt being around so many people. Everything seemed to be the way I remembered it, but with a sinister twist that reflected the world around me. The day was July 22, 2020; my first return to the Disneyland Resort in nearly five months.

As I returned to the Disneyland Resort for the first time in many months, I was somewhat overwhelmed and saddened at how drastically this place I loved had changed. Simply parking somewhere other than the Mickey and Friends or Pixar Pals parking structures ensured that this would not be a standard trip. We arrived to the parking lot, and though I was excited to be back at the Disneyland Resort; I was apprehensive about what this experience would be. Stepping out of the car and looking out over the parking lot, what surprised me the most was how quiet it was. Without the sound of Incredicoaster and the other rides functioning in California Adventure, everything just seemed so quiet. We walked forward toward the temperature check where there was a very brief, socially distanced queue. It felt good to be back on Disney property, but there was an air of uncertainty that hung thick in the air.

The air stung with a slight feeling of hope and happiness mixed with an overwhelming sense of dread and sorrow. It was truly unlike anything I have experienced in recent memory at the Disneyland Resort. Everything seemed normal in essence, yet it was anything but normal. The parks were closed, we could not simply waltz into Disneyland as we were so used to doing. The music seemed far less pronounced, as if the happy melodies of the songs were an ironic mockery of our present situation. I am used to hearing loud conversation and laughter all around me, but on this day I experienced none of that. People spoke in hushed tones around their parties, there was a faint sound of laughter that hinted at a brief reprisal from the darkness of what was ensuing in our society; but was squashed by the weight of the world.

A cup of Chocolate Gooey Brownie Ice Cream from Salt and Straw in Downtown Disney. (Image provided by Matthew Wurm)

We had to join a number of virtual queues in order to shop at all of the various retail stores throughout Downtown Disney. We passed the time by going to a favorite spot of ours, UVA Bar at the heart of Downtown Disney. Under normal circumstances, I would have ordered the burger of the month; which I had done nearly every month for well over a year. Unfortunately, the menu was severely limited and lacked many of my favorite items; nevertheless, we enjoyed finally having a meal out somewhere; especially since UVA is entirely outdoors. Shopping was surprisingly a rather peaceful affair, due to the restrictions on the capacity of retail locations, shopping was easier than ever. That brought a flicker of joy to our day as we explored every aisle and found a variety of items we had wanted to buy months prior. To end this trip, it seemed proper to end it with something that would give joy to anyone; ice cream. Yet, not any standard ice cream would do; only something extraordinary was warranted; that left the inevitable, Salt and Straw. At this wondrous ice cream shop which has a plethora of fantastic flavors, I ordered a classic, chocolate gooey brownie. With large chunks of soft, chewy brownies scattered throughout the ice cream, this was a glorious way to end a day at Disney. Although the world was in tatters, chocolate gooey brownie inevitable made my day far happier.

Aboard the Resurgent Class Star Destroyer Finalizer in Star Wars Rise of Resistance at Disneyland. (Image provided by Matthew Wurm)

My first trip back to Downtown Disney was a stark contrast to my first trip back to Disneyland in July of 2021. At that point in time, the Delta Variant of Covid-19 had not yet begun spreading at a rapid pace, so the trip was the first time my friends and I felt comfortable going to the park; we were all fully vaccinated and therefore had little reservations about going back to Disneyland for our first trip in over a year. The night prior to our trip, I wondered what my reaction would be to walking past those gates and seeing Main Street for the first time in nearly seventeen months. I expected to get choked up and take an abundance of photos with my friends; as well as a trip to Starbucks to celebrate being back in Disneyland. When that fateful day came, we were all so excited for the day that lay in front of us, our joy was simply immeasurable. Well, it was until we received a notification that our boarding group had been called for the most popular ride at the Resort, Rise of the Resistance (which none of us had been able to ride prior to the closure of the parks), and we had a mere hour to board. This would have been more than adequate had we been inside the parks, but we were still on the freeway. Panic ensued as we hoped we would make it in time. When we finally got into the parking structure there was a line, and we had a mere twenty-six minutes to reach the attraction. When we parked, we had nineteen minutes. We then had to rush to get through security and find a short line for the trams; well if the trams were operational. We had to walk the entire distance of the tram route, well, it was more of a power run with intermittent jogging. At the front gates of Disneyland there was a line and we had seven minutes; once inside we had four minutes to weave through the thrall of people and reach the back of the park where Rise of the Resistance resided. Therefore, there were no tears or multitude of pictures taken upon seeing Main Street after so many months away, the mission did not have time for such luxuries, the only thing I noticed was clear paths to move more efficiently through the crowds. We made it to the ride with mere SECONDS remaining. We quickly were ushered into the queue and experienced one of the greatest experiences that we had ever experienced at ANY theme park! When we disembarked from the thrilling journey we shared, we were radiating joyful expressions! We excitedly talked about our favorite moments from the attraction as we walked out into Black Spire Outpost and took a reprieve from what had been a very busy hour. At this moment, we realized we were all exhausted and our feet were killing us from our marathon of a morning. The rest of the day was a tiring, but joyful escapade throughout the park and the wide variety of attractions that we loved so dearly.

Although each of these experiences were vastly different and represented vastly different periods in the tumultuous journey of life during COVID, they have taught me a wonderful lesson. A year passed between these two stories, and the differences between them are quite substantial. Even in the darkest of times, when hope seems like a distant star that will always be out of reach, there is hope for a better tomorrow. It may take time, but it is always possible. We must simply look towards it and make every effort we can to move forward.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at the heart of Disneyland in July of 2021 (Image provided by Matthew Wurm)



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