Balloons beside Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure
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Credit: Christian Thompson/Disneyland Resort

Theme Park News: Guests (finally) return to Disney California Adventure; Jungle Cruise sees big updates

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Mar 23, 2021, 9:50 PM EDT

Hello and welcome to this week’s theme park news update! Things are, at long last, happening in Southern California, where its three biggest regional theme parks are now open to seasonal dining events. 

With so much change on the way amid lowering COVID-19 cases and increased vaccinations, we’re working toward answering all the big questions of what comes next. From ride updates to park walk-throughs, here's this week's news:

DISNEYLAND IS (SORT OF) OPEN AGAIN

Last week marked the first time a Disneyland Resort theme park had opened its doors to guests in a significant way. At Disney California Adventure’s limited-time, limited-capacity dining event, guests enjoyed favorite items like churros, Mickey pretzels, and Dole Whips — but more importantly, a dose of normalcy after a year of these parks sitting closed.

Disney parks' previous closures are so often tied to the wider status of the nation. Having previously only temporarily shuttered for presidential assassinations, extreme weather, and national tragedies such as 9/11, even re-opening for an al fresco dining event is nothing short of significant.

An outsider may view $75 admission for A Taste of Disney's churros and distanced Chip & Dale greetings  — the priciest of SoCal’s three theme park events, even with the included $25 gift card — with sticker shock. But for the many fans who nabbed sold-out tickets, it meant the return of a routine: from parking at the Mickey & Friends garage, to hearing the chime of the gates while tickets are checked, to walking past coaster tracks. For many, it's a reminder that these spaces will indeed return. And, amidst the expensive $11 half-Monte Cristos and Mickey waffles, the event served a bit of optimistic hope that better days are to come, particularly due to California’s updated tier system. Tied to the state’s COVID-19 caseload and vaccine rollout, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will open on April 30 with at least 15% capacity. And if Orange County can hit Orange Tier by the end of next month, it can open at 25% capacity.

Specifics have yet to be determined, as California guidelines have restrictions in place against the amount of time spent within indoor rides, indoor dining, and out-of-state guests, but for so many locals, it's all about the small things. (Todd Martens of the Los Angeles Times rightfully called the event “a long overdue exhale”.) Guests posed for PhotoPass pictures in front of Cars Land’s colorful jumbo postcard and enjoyed their first Cozy Cone bread cone of the season, while inquisitive visitors took a few eagle-eyed peeks at Avengers Campus, where details including billboards, roof work, and an elevated QuinJet are viewable in the distance. (The land will not open on April 30 with Disney California Adventure despite previous signaling, but should welcome guests later in 2021.)

The outdoor event lends itself well to DCA’s layout — a vast and somewhat disjointed park whose coastal theme feels complete without attractions running, particularly where character interactions are concerned. Whether it’s Goofy and Max fishing above Pacific Wharf’s vastly underutilized warehouse exteriors, or Chip & Dale wandering the previously ignored woodsy expanse between Grizzly Peak’s pathways and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, for those who have missed these spaces the past 12 months, the event, albeit expensive, delivered — and it'll be only a few weeks before even more is available.

Credit: Loomis Dean/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

CHANGES COMING TO JUNGLE CRUISE

More details of the transformation coming to Disney’s Jungle Cruise attraction were revealed last week — and the story is shaping up nicely. Following the announcement in January that updates would arrive to Disney’s Jungle Cruise attraction at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts later this year, Disney Parks have now shared story updates, modernizing the ride’s narrative and centering it around Alberta Falls, owner and proprietor of Jungle Cruise Navigation company.

Falls, the granddaughter of Dr. Albert Falls, only deepens the attraction’s ties to the larger world of S.E.A., or the Society of Explorers and Adventurers, an under-the-radar system of characters that connect to attractions and experiences at Disney Parks worldwide. (Case in point: Jungle Cruise Navigation Company was most recently name-checked when its eponymous Skipper Canteen restaurant opened at Magic Kingdom in 2015.)

Brooke McDonald’s article for Attractions Magazine dives deeper into updates in store for the Adventureland classic, revealing a bevy of new characters from around the world that will join the cohesive new storyline, shared between both coasts. The change comes as Disney continues to work towards removing outdated cultural depictions within its theme park rides, with Splash Mountain seeing a new Princess and the Frog theme on both coasts in coming years. 

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- Ooh, this new D23 exclusive pin is good.

- A Disney World union is pushing for its employees to receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

- Disney World's new MagicMobile system is already undergoing testing.

- If you've ever wanted to buy a theme park, now's your chance.

I concur!!

- LEGOLAND is moving forward on another park.

- Wondering when you'll make it to Super Nintendo World Stateside? So are we.