ANAHEIM, Calif. — Jordie Poblete initially didn't realize it, but he was getting emotional.
When the 29-year-old from Irvine walked under Disneyland's railroad tunnel and saw the cast members waving hello and welcoming him and others back along Main Street U.S.A., he began to tear up.
"I didn't think I'd cry," Poblete said. "It's a theme park. It's a privilege to go. But the moment I walked onto Main Street and seeing the cast members waving and the loud cheering, it was a collective happy moment, and I just cried happy tears."
After more than a year of being closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure finally reopened on Friday.
Tens of thousands of people, many with their kids in tow, flocked to the Anaheim theme park wearing Mickey Mouse ear hats, Star Wars T-shirts and Disney backpacks.
The moment comes as California is preparing to fully reopen its economy. With more people being vaccinated, coronavirus going down, there's a high level of optimism of that things will come back to pre-pandemic "normal" or at least a new normal.
Last month, the state gave Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood and others the green light and re-updated their Blueprint for a Safer Economy Plan, allowing theme parks to reopen at a limited capacity.
Under the updated rule, theme parks can operate with 15%, 25%, or 35% capacity depending on their home county tier level. Orange County, the home of Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, is currently in the Orange tier, meaning Disneyland can only operate with 25% attendance. Only California residents can visit.
For the city of Anaheim, which was battered by the coronavirus-catalyzed downturn and sudden drop in tourism, Disneyland's reopening is a sign of an economic rebound. This was evident along Harbor Boulevard, the once mostly vacant street during the pandemic, which was now filled with people coming out of the hotels and walking towards Disneyland's entrance.
"The pandemic was devastating — not just the loss of lives but economically," Anaheim city spokesman Mike Lyster said, adding that at one point, more than 30,000 Anaheim residents were unemployed. "Roughly 14 months later, [COVID-19] cases are down, vaccinations are up, the reopening of Disneyland represents joy and hope for everyone, so it couldn't have come at a better time."
Since opening in 1955, Disneyland has closed less than a handful of times. The theme park attracts more than 18 million people a year. According to the Themed Entertainment Association, Disney California Adventure brings in more than nine million a year.
The theme park reportedly has more than one million annual passholders. Disney terminated the annual pass during the pandemic and will introduce a new one later this year.
With such a strong fan base and emotional connection, many visitors were emotional and excited to visit the theme park finally. Visitors began lining at the Harbor side entrance at 5 a.m., and by 8 a.m., the line had swelled with thousands of people waiting halfway towards the block.
Laura Shadle came from San Diego to visit "The Happiest Place on Earth."
"I'm nothing but happy to be here," Shadle, 45, said. "It's just nice to return to normal. This is our normal."
As she walked toward Disneyland's entrance, Shadle said she's not thinking about what ride to hop on first.
"All I want to do is take a moment," she said. "I want to go on Main Street, enjoy the atmosphere and take pictures."
Christina Sarno, a 41-year-old from Los Angeles, was wearing a Mickey Mouse ear hat and pushed around a double stroller carrying her children, six-year-old son Dominic and two-year-old Sophia. Both were wearing Disney outfits.
"It's been so long that we just need it," Sarno said. "We need the magic. We just wanted to be back."
Shelley Sanchez drove down from Santa Barbara this morning with her son, Elijah. Like many others, they were not thinking about what rides or attractions to jump on.
"We just want to go in," Sanchez said. "We want to go inside, see the characters and walk the street."
As she held her son and waited in line, she was already bracing herself to get emotional when she finally walks in.
"I get emotional every time I visit," she said. "This is our happy place, and we're very excited to be back. Disneyland is really the happiest place on Earth."