What to Expect as Buena Vista Street Reopensby Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer
Downtown Disney will be a lot bigger when it opens Thursday morning, as the Disneyland Resort expands its shopping and dining district right into Disney California Adventure. With select shops and restaurants on Buena Vista Street reopening for business, Disney fans will get their first look inside an Anaheim theme park in nearly nine months.
On Wednesday, Disney offered a preview of Buena Vista Street to cast members and a few members of the media—giving us at MousePlanet an opportunity to see how shops and restaurants will operate. While the following will give you an idea of what to expect when you visit Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street, our number one tip is this: learn to love the virtual queue. You're going to be seeing a lot of it.
Parking and Screening
All customer parking for Downtown Disney (including Buena Vista Street) is in the Simba parking lot. The lot entrance is off of Disneyland Drive, between West Katella Avenue and Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel. Disney may close the entrance to that lot at times to slow the rate of customers entering Downtown Disney at one time.
The parking area officially open at 9:45 a.m., and Downtown Disney opens 15 minutes later, at 10:00 a.m. each morning. A new $10-per-car parking fee is now in effect, and Disney currently offers no free or reduced parking with purchase. [Update: We previously stated that shoppers would use newly-installed kiosks to pay for parking. Disney is instead collecting the $10 fee at toll booths at the entrance to the parking lot, and the self-pay kiosks are still closed]
After parking in the Downtown Disney lot, signs guide visitors to the first of three screening tents. These are the same health and safety procedures already in place at Downtown Disney, but first-time visitors should be prepared. All visitors age 2 and up must wear a mask or face covering that complies with Disney policy: face masks with vents are not permitted, nor are gaiters or bandanna-style masks.
Disney has partnered with Hoag Health to conduct the temperature screenings, which are done with a hand-held, no-contact temperature scanner. Visitors are then asked to take any bags or backpacks off their shoulders before passing through the next checkpoint, staffed by Disney security and specially trained "vapor wake" dogs.
Finally, visitors go to the now-familiar bag check tents and pass their bags underneath a plexiglass barrier to a waiting cast member, who examines the bag and passes it back. After a walk through the metal detector, it's on to Downtown Disney. Throughout the process, groups are asked to maintain social distance of six feet between parties.
Before reaching Disney California Adventure and Buena Vista Street, visitors will walk through the Downtown Disney district. Most shops and restaurants in Downtown Disney have reopened, though some have reduced operating hours or may only open on weekends.
Employees at each location help limit capacity, so shoppers may be allowed to walk right into a location or may be asked to wait in a line outside the store. On especially busy days, managers deploy a virtual queue system to control the lines. Visitors provide their mobile phone number, and receive a text message when it is their time to enter the store. This keeps the lines outside any given store to a manageable level, and prevents congested walkways.
The Downtown Disney restaurants and eateries have adapted to ever-changing state guidelines in their own fashion, with an emphasis on physically distanced seating and contactless transactions. With Orange County now back in the state's most restrictive tier, all table-service dining is outdoors only, and reservations are strongly recommended. Even when the Downtown Disney parking lot is temporarily closed due to crowds, visitors will dining reservations are allowed to park.
Buena Vista Street
Entry to Buena Vista Street is separately controlled, with a queue for the area set up in the main entrance esplanade. Once the capacity of the physical queue is reached, managers will deploy the virtual queue system for new arrivals.
Buena Vista Street is decorated for Christmas, though not to the level of years past and there is no giant Christmas tree in the land. Still, it was great to see the inside of the park again, hear the holiday music and enjoy the festive windows.
Each store and restaurant has a marked entrance and exit, with cast members at both doors to help monitor occupancy. We expect the virtual queue system to be used here too to help reduce lines at the shops. Each store has been rearranged to create wider aisles, improve traffic flow and reduce congestion in the aisles. Shoppers will find Plexiglas and hand sanitizer at each cashier, and Disney is encouraging the use of contact-less payment.
Elias & Co. is the largest of the stores, and offers a similar selection of items found at the World of Disney store, with rooms dedicated to men, women, kids, toys, and fashion accessories. This location offers embroidery on Mickey Mouse ear hats and other items, a service that the World of Disney store discontinued when it reopened earlier this year.
Trolley Treats offers fresh-made treats, packaged snacks, and gifts, and we expect this shop to be as popular as Marcelline's Bakery in Downtown Disney. We saw signs that indicate that Disney is fully prepared to use a virtual queue for this location.
The two remaining stores, Julius Katz & Sons and Kingswell Camera Shop, offer gifts, home decor and collectibles. These two connected stores are fairly tiny, and we expect they will operate as one unit. With Disney's PhotoPass service not currently available, the Kingswell Camera Shop has a small assortment of print art available for sale, and is also the location to purchase limited release Annual Passholder merchandise.
There are three quick-service locations open on Buena Vista Street, with large new outdoor seating areas adjacent to each. Disney is strongly encouraging the use of mobile ordering at Award Wieners and Smokejumpers Grill, but the website notes, " placing a mobile order on the Disneyland App will not grant you access to Buena Vista Street when the location and/or queue are at capacity and a mobile wait list system for entry is in effect. Guests should place their mobile order once they are already on Buena Vista Street."
Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Cafe, which serves Starbucks coffee and prepared sandwiches, will not offer mobile ordering—but the location does offer an online menu. If you're only in it for the coffee, we recommend using the Starbucks app to place a mobile order for the Downtown Disney location, and avoid the line at the in-park location entirely. The adjacent Clarabelle's Ice Cream shop is not open at this time.
There are also several outdoor vending carts on Buena Vista Street offering popcorn, churros, and more. You'll even be able to purchase the famous smoked turkey legs from one. Again, Disney has set up a large outdoor seating area, with additional tables around the Buena Vista Street fountain.
The most anticipated dining option in the expanded Downtown Disney is the Carthay Circle Lounge, which now boasts an expanded outdoor seating area that takes up much of the Disney Theater queue. This location serves all-new menu of appetizers, entrées and cocktails, and does not take reservations. Again, expect to be put into a virtual queue upon arrival.
As wonderful as it was to be inside a Disney theme park again, and especially to see so many cast members who are overjoyed to be back at work, the fact remains that Buena Vista Street is basically a well-themed mall in its current incarnation. It's like visiting The Grove or The Americana at Brand, but with wall-to-wall Disney stores. Without the famous Disney characters and entertainment, there's not much to compel a long stay.
Still, we know this offering will be incredibly popular, if only because it's the closest thing to a Disney trip local fans can take without a flight to Orlando. The variety of Disney merchandise alone will lure collectors from all over the area, keen to snap up merchandise not available anywhere else. Travel agents have even told us that they have clients coming to Anaheim just to visit Buena Vista street.
We saw several indications that this is just the first phase of operations, and we expect more stores to open on Buena Vista Street in the coming weeks. Specifically, we noticed that both the Gone Hollywood and Off the Page shops were not only fully decorated for the holidays, but were also stocked with Christmas merchandise and apparel. Though neither location opens this Thursday, we think we'll see them open after Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, some of the things we'd hoped for with this opening will not come to pass. Disney confirmed earlier this week that the famous fresh-made candy canes will not be offered this year at all—a blow to those of us who cherish the annual tradition. While Disney may slowly release some of the collectible popcorn buckets and souvenir cups usually offered during the holidays, these releases will not be advertised so as not to draw unmanageable crowds to the Resort.
But if you're not the Disney fan who must be there opening day, our advice is to let the first crush settle down, and wait to two weeks to visit. We've always considered the week after Thanksgiving to be the most wonderful week of the year to visit the Disneyland Resort, with the lowest crowds of the holiday season. We expect the same to hold true even during this pandemic year, so maybe take a weekday to call out sick from your home office and make your holiday pilgrimage to Downtown Disney.