Disneyland at 63

On a family trip to southern California to celebrate our 50th anniversary, Rachel and I, with family, went to Disneyland, after an absence of 20 years or so.


I was eight, almost nine, went Disneyland opened. While there were amusement parks back then, there was nothing like Disneyland. Walt Disney envisioned something new—a multi-themed park that would equally appeal to all ages. There was considerable doubt that his vision would work. That doubt was quickly answered as thousands poured into Disneyland on July 17, 1955, and thousands have been pouring in every day since.


Because I was born and reared in southern California, I got to go there many times. Our relatives from all over the country began booking trips to visit us for one main reason: to visit Disneyland. In a sense I grew up with Disneyland. Multiple trips a year were common, always with relatives eager to visit “the happiest place on earth.” And no one was ever disappointed.


An unforgettable moment happened when I was 10 or 11. My aunt took my cousin and me for the day—no out of town relatives this time. We were sitting at an outdoor restaurant in Adventureland having lunch. One of the old topless cars that slowly cruised Main Street came around the bend, where it shouldn’t have been. In the raised back seat was Walt Disney himself, smiling and waving to everyone in sight. I smiled and waved back at Walt Disney. This happened to literally thousands of people, as Walt loved to walk and ride through Disneyland, enjoying it as much as any child ever did.


I think my lifelong fascination with Abe Lincoln began when “Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln,” the first audio-animatronic Disney creation, came permanently to Disneyland from the New York World’s Fair. I went to it again last week—and wasn’t disappointed. From Disney’s major contributions to that World’s Fair also came “It’s a Small World,” which has never enthralled me, perhaps putting me in a small minority. I didn’t go to it last week.


How has Disneyland aged? Very nicely, indeed. Many new rides and attractions have come in these 63 years, including the four thrilling “mountain” rides. We went on three of them; the Matterhorn bobsleds were closed for routine maintenance. The original borders been expanded as much as possible. Many of the restaurants and concessions have changed sponsorship. Yet the old park feels much the same and works exceedingly well. Adventureland feels much the same, but with new rides. New Orleans Square has been a fine addition. Frontierland is very much as I first experienced it, but with major additions. Fantasyland blends the original children’s story rides with many new touches. Tomorrowland has been most changed, because the envisioned tomorrow arrived earlier than expected. While I love Space Mountain, Tomorrowland is my least favorite land. My favorites are Adventureland, New Orleans Square, and Frontierland because they are so evocative and faithful to what they were designed to do.


Disneyland seems smaller now, even though it has grown. The trees and shrubs have matured, making some walkways narrower. The many additions and improvements have enhanced the experience. The original A-E ride tickets gave way to one admission pass to all rides. The original parking lot has become the California Adventure Park. I miss the tram rides in that original parking lot, but California Adventure is a great addition.


After we watched the fireworks show above Snow White’s Castle, we were walking behind a little girl in full Minnie Mouse outfit, head to toe. Next to her was her mother, in full Muslim garb, clothed head to toe in modesty, at the end of what was a very warm day and night in Anaheim. I saw more of the world at Disneyland than I remember as a child. I heard any number of languages being spoken. Yes, Disneyland is aging well.


When one is in Disneyland Park (now the official name), one is in the only Disney park anywhere that Walt Disney actually walked in and enjoyed. That is reason enough to visit it whenever the opportunity arises. You don’t need to go on the rides to enjoy the ride.

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