Guests in front of Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle
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Credit: Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort   

Theme Park News: Disneyland reopens and Disney Cruise Line appeals to our Jedi sensibilities

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May 4, 2021, 5:00 PM EDT

Welcome to Theme Park News! There's one very, very big piece of theme park news this week, so let's get right to it.

AT LONG LAST, DISNEYLAND HAS REOPENED

The single biggest story of the week, of course, is that after 412 consecutive days of closure, Disneyland Resort is finally open.

While the optics of a theme park happily welcoming guests through their gates during a pandemic has the potential to be dystopian, it absolutely felt like the right time for Disneyland — as it's put it — to bring the magic back. Caseloads in the region have dropped so much that, for the first time since the pandemic began, Los Angeles County reported zero COVID-19 deaths.

Why does that matter when these parks are in Anaheim? Because L.A. County is America's most populous county and home to 10 million residents, many of whom are Disneyland's core audience. It's open season on vaccines in California, which are proven to be effective, and state restrictions on theme park operations make for an even safer situation. All queueing and dining occurs outdoors (bring sunscreen!) and time spent indoors while on rides is also strictly limited, with rides like Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! skipping pre-show elements to meet 15-minute restrictions.

That's all, of course, on top of the standard-order COVID-19-era protocol of social distancing, ample hand sanitizer on offer, and a requirement that masks be worn at all times except eating or drinking. With the parks limited to California residents who are decidedly not new at needing to wear a mask in public spaces — there's been a statewide mask mandate for almost a year now — compliance was unbelievably high during my visit, and that made for an even better experience. Perhaps that's why, remarkably, there isn't much news. Save for some mobile ordering hiccups and social distancing challenges in a couple of tight areas (Disneyland, though ever-expanding, is still working with a '50s footprint), the opening went rather flawlessly, a testament to the thought and effort put towards planning during its 13-month closure.

Disneyland, a park that's often burdened by jam-packed crowds, really sings in its temporary format, even without the entertainment it is known for. Capacity restrictions remove the need for FastPass in order to breeze through the queues, turning the parks into their own kind of Fantasyland where waits are minimal, facades pristine, and rides run swimmingly, free of wear and tear. It was a picture-perfect return — one which word of spread quickly, now making it tricky to find available reservations for Disneyland Park through the entirety of this month and most of next.

Credit: Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

I visited the resort twice last week and was absolutely bowled over by it. Not only was the otherworldly experience of being on a ride enough to jolt one's self out of the horrors of the past year, but the entire visit was eerily dreamy, like a real-life improvement upon the way Disneyland lives in our memories. For so many, finding the light in the darkest moments of the past 13 months was spent channeling that in-park joy.

This included creating Mickey-shaped foods at home, building rides at home, listening to soundtracks, and watching ride-through videos on VR headsets. Now, at long last, it had actually opened — not a restrictive suggestion that one day the way we were living could end, but a true signal to Southern Californians who endured the brunt of the virus this past winter that things really are improving. We're on the path towards recovery, and it's OK to take a little time to enjoy one's self again, whether that's waving at Goofy perched atop Disneyland's Railroad station or tossing your hands in the air while on Radiator Springs Racers (positioned well beyond 6 feet away from other participants, of course).

The optimism of the future and mystical pleasures of a theme park's well-executed return are complimentary. It's not just the joy we've been seeking inside these themed spaces — attending them is reflective of the joy we've so desperately hoped to once again feel outside them, too. And now, that light at the end of the tunnel glimmers with just a hint of pixie dust.

*Disneyland is currently restricted to California residents; stay tuned for updates on when the park will open wide.*

SAILING THE HIGH SEAS... WITH STARK TECH?!

We wouldn't typically talk about recreational watercraft in this sacred theme park space, but Disney Cruise Line's newest ship, debuting in 2022, is packed with details that so perfectly dovetail into our favorite franchises of choice that we just couldn't skip it.

The forthcoming Disney Wish, the fifth cruise liner in Disney's arsenal, isn't just another floating Disney vacation at sea. Yes, there will be a Toy Story splash zone and Frozen experiences and Broadway-style stage shows with a new spin on Aladdin, but all you need to know is they're not just bringing a Mickey Mouse-themed water coaster on board. (But yes, they are. It's incredible.) They're fully launching an entirely interactive Marvel character dining meal.

Credit: Disney Cruise Line

Now, before you start assuming this is just going to be a lame spaghetti dinner soundtracked by Thor reminding you of how much he hates snakes, this first-ever superhero dinner at sea is quite possibly worth boarding this ship for on its own.

Worlds of Marvel is billed as a "cinematic dining adventure," where guests will "play an interactive role in an action-packed Avengers mission that unfolds around them," according to Marvel.com. This one-of-a-kind restaurant, which all guests on board will have the opportunity to dine at, promises plenty of surprises as well as an "infamous foe," which leaves us hoping Loki is somehow at the bottom of this.

As this is for vacation, Worlds of Marvel is likely to leave behind the high-stakes challenges of saving an entire country, planet, or galaxy for a more rousing challenge, but never fear! It will pay homage to the war-torn territory of Sokovia within its menu. No word yet on how the creators plan to honor the fictional country (please tell me this Bahamian cruise will serve borscht), but as offerings tip one's Cap (heh, heh) to the cuisine of New York and African flavors by way of Wakanda, there will be plenty to indulge in.

Still, that's not all! Each Disney Cruise Line ship features an adults-only area at night, and Disney Wish's will debut with cruise line's first-ever Star Wars-themed bar. Unlike Oga's Cantina at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, this watering hole spans the entirety of the franchise, meaning every plotline, character, and battle is available for inclusion in its libations and experiences.

Credit: Disney Cruise Line

Star Wars: Hyperspace Lounge will mix Empire-era Star Destroyers with vessels from The Mandalorian on its window-like screens and out-of-this-galaxy cocktails, taking inspiration from the films themselves. Keep an eye out for a little bit of an on-screen First Order skirmish — that is, if you're not too invested in taking in the Easter eggs that are said to be planted throughout the space.

Disney Wish will set sail in summer 2022, with bookings opening on May 27.

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- Kennywood kicks off its 123rd year on Saturday, May 8.

- Annual Passholders previewed Universal's new VelociCoaster — and it sounds absolutely wild.

- Legoland New York will be opening in phases starting this summer.

- Disney College Program will return in June.

- This is a great rundown of everything coming to Walt Disney World this month.

- Knott's Berry Farm reopens to passholders this week.

- Jungle Cruise will reopen at Disneyland this summer — and we'll have news on annual passes before the end of the year.