SHANGHAI >> The Little Mermaid was singing what everyone felt.
“I want to be where the people are!” she cried, sweeping an arm through the air as jets of water shot up, shimmering in front of a pink pastel castle.
“I want to see, want to see them dancing,” Ariel sang as an entranced crowd leaned forward, faces masked, Mickey Mouse ears swaying in rhythm.
It was the second week since the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park to resume the fun amid the COVID-19 pandemic. After months of isolation, visitors took to the fantasy land with abandon, exchanging, for a time anyway, a world of disease, recession and political turmoil for a socially distanced delirium of bubbles, churros, Snow White, Jack Sparrow and varying octaves of childhood songs.
“I don’t know why, but I feel so happy just standing here,” said Chen Jie, 25, who was on her second visit to the park since it reopened.
Before the pandemic, Chen, a tech worker in Shanghai, would escape to Disneyland once or twice a week. Now she was back at last, bobbing up and down in Mickey Mouse knee socks, a Donald Duck hairpin, an Aristocats backpack and a surgical mask. She usually dressed up even more, she said.
Chen clapped as a brass band played “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” so excited that she accidentally stepped out of a yellow square taped on the ground.
A worker — a sentinel of reality in a land of make-believe — quickly approached. “Excuse me, please stay within the box for the safety of all our guests.” Chen apologized, hopping back in the square.
Dozens of workers hovered around every line, concession stand and performance venue, shepherding families to stand in yellow boxes taped more than 3 feet apart, keeping people in line at arm’s length, and holding signs that read: “Please maintain a respectful distance from other guests.”
It was one of the many new rules for reopening. Only after months of strict social distancing, contact tracing, testing and quarantines did China’s infection and death numbers dwindle to the point where authorities deemed it safe to loosen restrictions.
The park was allowing in only 30% of its 80,000-visitor capacity per day. Reservations had to be made a week in advance online, and only visitors with a green QR code, which used phone data to prove they hadn’t been near any suspected cases, could enter. Everyone had to wear masks in what has become a small, changed world, after all.
“Shanghai hasn’t been too affected,” said Tommy Hong, 38, a dad wearing a Los Angeles Lakers jersey on a bench near the flying Dumbos, waiting for his wife and 3-year-old daughter to finish the ride. This was their first visit since the outbreak, but they weren’t worried, he said.
Many of the visitors over the weekend were not families with children, but young Shanghainese couples dressed up to take photos for social media. One man stood still in front of the Disney castle, holding a phone in the air like a human tripod as his girlfriend walked away and looked back, flipping her hair in time with the selfie timer.
A worrisome spot in the park was also one of the most popular: an enclosed theater in Fantasyland, where roughly 200 people were being allowed in each hour for a 20-minute, live-action “Frozen” singalong.
Every other row was blocked off, an entire seating section was empty, and families automatically left empty seats between one another. Fake snow showered down on the audience as Princess Elsa belted from the stage, “LET IT GO! LET IT GO!”
Little girls in the audience jumped off their seats, hollering the lyrics. Their parents checked that their masks were still on.
A line for “Pirates of the Caribbean” stretched 75 minutes long, with kids in Spiderman shirts and Snow White dresses listening patiently to a recorded Jack Sparrow voice that repeated, “Yo ho,” in both English and Chinese.
Park workers disinfected the boat handrails between every ride, and filled each boat only half-full.
There was no parade or fireworks at the end of the day. But there was an outdoor performance at 4:30 p.m., Aladdin and Jasmine singing on a raised platform in front of the castle as small clusters of people spaced out by handrails watched from a distance.
“No one to tell us, ‘No,’ or where to go,” the pair crooned from their magic carpet. “Or say we’re only dreaming …”