Travel and COVID: Disneyland

I still can’t believe that I was in Disneyland last month. I see the photos on my phone, and I’m still awestruck that we were able to make it happen. That being said, traveling right now due to COVID is no easy task.

Let’s back up a couple months. When mom passed away, she made it clear that she wanted her tradition of “kidnaping” two cousins and stealing them away for a week of fun at Disneyland to continue. So while she is no longer able to continue the tradition, she made it clear that she wanted an Auntie to accompany our Dad and the two cousins to Disneyland. Lucky for me, I was the Auntie that was selected to go on this trip, since the next two trips will include my sons.

As we monitored the situation abroad regarding traveling and COVID, we quickly realized that driving was not going to be an option. I am a high school teacher, so I was also restricted due to my work schedule. The heavens opened, the stars aligned, and everything managed to come together so that we could make this work.

Obstacle #1: Flights and Land Transportation to the Disneyland Area

Once we settled on flying, we looked for a reasonably priced, direct flight from Vancouver to Los Angeles. We did not want to mess around with connections, or multiple flights, since it increases complications. Thankfully, it is fairly easy to find a flight between the two cities. I did not want to take the chance on a smaller airline, and stuck with either WestJet or Air Canada. Air Canada had the best times and prices, so that’s what I went with. We also booked prior to June 30, which snuck us right under the deadline; allowing us to change flights for free, no matter what ticket we bought.

All four of us used a carry on instead of checking luggage which not only kept cost down, but also was a reassurance that we knew where our bags were and who was touching them. We did not select seats, because that would have cost extra. However, because we were traveling with minors, they assigned us seats so that an adult was with a kid.

The Vancouver airport was a ghost town in August. No one was around, and we sailed through security and customs. We were required to have a mask on at both airports, as well as on both flights.

Obstacle #2: COVID Testing

Once I booked the flights, I looked into the requirements for flying for both Canada and the USA. Both countries require different types of COVID tests. Do the research. Spend the time. It’s not worth missing your flight because you booked the wrong test. For a list of all the tests needed, and updated rules, Erica explains them in detail here.

COVID Testing Prior to Departure

The USA only required an antigen test three days prior to boarding. Since we were flying on Monday, we could have tested Friday, Saturday or Sunday. I did a lot of research, and found that the airport testing area in the International Terminal had the best price. We could have booked there and gone Friday to Sunday, but the airport is a bit of a drive, and I wanted to have recent test results. I booked the four of us in for testing almost as soon as they opened on Monday to ensure that we would get our results in a timely manner. The test only required them to stick the Q-tip in the opening of the nostril, and was a quick tickle.

I did mobile check-in for our flight 24 hours prior, but we also checked in with the airline at the airport prior to heading to the security line. I was glad that we did, because we were then informed that we needed to fill out an online form prior to landing in LA.

COVID Testing Prior to Arriving Home

We also needed a negative COVID test to return home, within three days of the flight back. We had a day off on the Thursday, with a flight home on Saturday. The timing was honestly so perfect. I had heard that Walgreens does free testing; however, I had read that testing times were longer than normal. The best way to ensure that we had our tests done before boarding was to pay for a test. I researched various locations near the Disneyland area and compared prices. The best price and time that I found was at Anaheim City Hall. They have a 24 hour PCR test with an airplane icon. I used the address of our hotel since I was unable to provide my real address.

I was able to pre-register for a time early on Thursday morning. When we arrived, I was relieved that the testing was done outdoors, as it occurred to me that it was very likely that we would be near people who were potentially positive. They were very organized, and had no problem with the information that we provided. We did not show any identification, but were given the chance to double and triple check our emails so that we could get our results the next day.

The two kids were administered their tests while standing. They were absolute champs. It was definitely uncomfortable. My dad and I had to administer our own tests under close supervision of the nurse. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, but it was certainly doable. It did give us a runny nose, so bring a Kleenex.

Getting the Results

Online it said that the test results would come in 24 hours, but in reality you receive the results between 3 PM and 9 PM the next day. Since our flight was 48 hours away, this was no problem. However, had we booked the test thinking it would be done within 24 hours, we would not have made it.

We received Addie’s results by 9 AM, which was a huge relief. The rest of us took a while longer. We received our results at 5 PM. Seeing those four negative tests was incredible!

Obstacle #3: Navigating the Disneyland Area


I was nervous about getting on a shuttle with strangers, or getting in a car with random Uber drivers. We wanted to reduce our exposure in small spaces with people we didn’t know. We were able to receive a ride from our cousin from the airport to the hotel. It was so nice to connect with them, and talk with them on our way to the hotel.

We were prepared to take an Uber on the Thursday to our COVID test, when my dad had the idea to ask some friends of his if they were available. They graciously agreed to not only drive us around on the Thursday, but to have us over for some pool time, and then to also return us to the airport on Saturday. The kids had an incredible time in their pool, while the adults relaxed and talked. It made for a memorable day!

Social Distancing and Disneyland

Once we were at the resort, we breathed a sigh of relief. We felt very safe, because most of the Disney resort is outside! We were able to walk everywhere, which is a big difference between WDW and Disneyland.

One thing I know about COVID is that everyone has different comfortability levels. I was hyper aware of the fact that I was without my family (husband and kids), and I was with my niece, nephew and father. I wanted to be sure that all of us could return to our families. The thought that one of us would catch COVID and we would all have to stay an additional two weeks in California was terrifying.

So in order to minimize our risk, we stuck to a couple of rules. When social distancing wasn’t possible, we wore masks. Disneyland felt normal… which felt scary sometimes. Prior to rope drop, we were in the middle of hundreds of people. We always had our mask close, and popped them on whenever things got tight. This included outdoor lines that switched back and forth.

We only ate outside and chose restaurants (both table and quick service) with patios. When we were inside anywhere, we wore masks. One evening we ordered online from the Cheesecake Factory and then sent an adult to pick up the food while the kids swim. Once my dad arrived, we ate poolside. We never ate inside, with the exception of the airport.

Finally, we created a barrier in line by putting a vaccinated adult at the front, and a vaccinated adult at the back. We sandwiched the kids between us in lines, and forced people to give the kids a little more room. 

Right before we left, Disney brought back mandatory masks while indoors. This was a big relief, because it meant that everyone else was following the same rules. Disney was very good about enforcing these rules.

Obstacle #4: Crossing Borders

If I’m being honest, this was probably the biggest barrier to us leaving. The Canadian / American land border has been closed for almost two years now. We used to travel back and forth weekly, so not being able to just drive across the border has been strange.

Over the summer, the rules changed for fully vaccinated adults regarding air travel. Vaccinated adults no longer have to quarantine upon arrival to your destination or home. However, in order to make this trip happen, we needed for the kids to be free from quarantine as well. A couple of weeks before our trip, it was announced that kids traveling with fully vaccinated adults no longer needed to quarantine.

Obstacle #5 Arriving Home

This did not mean that they were able to return home to normal. While they were exempt from quarantine, they did have to wear a mask while in public for the following two weeks. They also were instructed to stay away from school or daycare, as well as care homes and amusement parks or sporting events. They encouraged the kids to stay with the vaccinated adults as much as possible, and to wear a mask when in the presence of people outside the household. We also had to keep a list of who we had come in contact with as well as where we had gone in that two week period. 

If you are traveling to Canada, or returning home, make sure that you have the ArriveCan app. Three days before the trip, you are required to fill out the information about your trip, and your quarantine plan should you be instructed to quarantine by a border official. You may be randomly selected for testing upon arrival, which is free. Thankfully we were not. There was a long wait for customs when we arrived home due to our plane being a little late, as well as arriving at the same time as some large flights from overseas.

What’s Different?

We get asked a lot what has changed at Disneyland since reopening after the pandemic. The magic is still there, but there are some changes. The biggest differences are:

Characters: Instead of being able to go up to characters and have them sign autographs and get a hug, there are ropes and you can’t stand near them. We found a LOT of characters overall! I would even say that there are more than “usual.”

Parades: There aren’t any parades right now, but there are cavalcades! The times for these are now listed on the app, so if seeing them is important, you can schedule that into your day.

Fireworks: Mickey’s Mix Magic is on. It’s sort of a show and fireworks in one, and there are projections all the way down Main Street, as well as by the Castle. The one night we were going to watch them they were canceled, so next time for us!

What’s Next?

To hear more about our surprise trip, watch for one of our next blog posts! We will be covering new tech in the parks, as well as having a guest blogger (Spoiler Alert: It’s our dad) to report on the trip!

If you’d like to compare Disneyland and WDW, check out Erica’s post about visiting Walt Disney World this summer, here.

Have a magical day!

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