On July 17, 1955 Disneyland opened its gates to the public for the first time. It's not hyperbole to say that the world was never quite the same again. While the amusement park as a concept certainly existed, nobody had ever seen anything like what Disneyland was. The park would see many imitators, and of course, Disney itself would reuse the concept itself around the world. But for many, there's no place quite like the original Disneyland, the happiest place on earth.
Walt Disney famously said Disneyland would never be completed, and over the years we've seen the park expand and change. A large part of what exists at Disneyland today wasn't there when the park first opened. Many of Disneyland's original rides and shows have gone away. But there's a surprising number of attractions which, while they may not be exactly the same as they were on opening day, are still there to be experienced now, or will be when the park reopens. So rather than focus on what has been lost, let's take this anniversary to celebrate what is still around.
When Disneyland opened, the concept of "highways" didn't really exist yet, and so the idea of high-speed travel by car really was a futuristic concept, thus the inclusion of Autopia in Disneyland's Tomorrowland. While the vehicles have gone through many changes over the years (the attraction is currently running Mark VIII vehicles, noting the eighth design of the cars), for the most part, Autopia is still the same ride it was when it first opened. For the younger guest, for whom driving is not a yet a chore, it's fun and exciting. For the rest of us, we can let the kid drive us around for once.
Many of the attractions in the original version of Disneyland were born of Walt's personal passions, and none more so than trains. Walt actually owned the Disneyland Railroad personally, and leased it to his company for the theme park. Walt would reportedly take over engineering the train himself for unsuspecting guests now and then in the early days. Only two stations existed originally, the Main Street Station and the Frontierland Station, which would eventually become the New Orleans Square station. The Mickey's Toontown/Fantasyland station and Tomorrowland station would come later. It's not the fastest way to get around the park, to be sure, but it's no less fun today than it was in 1955.
The Jungle Cruise is still an incredibly popular attraction today, though it was quite possibly the biggest attraction at all of Disneyland on opening day. While not every animatronic animal on display today was on the ride on opening day, and the attraction's trademark humor had not yet replaced a more straight-faced jungle safari concept, more in line with Disney's popular True Life Adventure documentary films, the ride still wowed visitors. 65 years later, Jungle Cruise is still drawing in guests and so well-loved it's getting its own movie next year.
King Arthur Carousel
Really, how can you run any sort of amusement entity and not have that classic of all classics, the carousel? Walt watching his daughters on a carousel was said to be the thing that got him thinking about opening a park of his own in the first place. The reason every horse on King Arthur's Carousel is white is so that kids don't need to fight over what color horse they get, as it seems most always want the white one. If all of these other opening day attractions somehow got replaced, it seems likely this would be the last one to go if only because it's the most classic.
Mad Tea Party
Mad Tea Party is an interesting example of an opening day Disneyland attraction because while it is largely the same ride it has always been, there is one significant change the ride has undergone. It's in a totally different place than it once was. Originally, the Mad Tea Party was more in the middle of Fantasyland, near the King Arthur Carousel, but after a major Fantasyland renovation in the 1980s, the attraction was moved closer to the Matterhorn and, of course, the Alice in Wonderland dark ride.
Mark Twain Riverboat
The Mark Twain Riverboat is one of my favorite attractions at Disneyland, it's great because even if you're not on it you can still see it float by on the Rivers of America and it just feels good to see it. The route of the Riverboat and what you see on the shore has gone through some changes over the years, especially following the construction of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, but the boat itself is still there, and unless the decision is made to tear out the entire section of the park, it will likely continue to be there forever.
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
The Wind in the Willows, which Disney released in theaters alongside The Legend of Sleepy Hollow as The Adventures of Icabod and Mr. Toad is far from the most popular Disney version of a well-known story, but you wouldn't know it considering how popular Mr. Toad's Wild Ride is. It's one of Disneyland's most popular dark rides. Probably because it moves a little faster and has tighter turns than the other Fantasyland attractions, making it, as the name implies, a bit more "wild" than the other Fantasyland rides. The ride itself got a drastic overhaul in 1983 alongside the rest of Fantasyland, but it's largely the same ride. And considering the way people reacted negatively when the Walt Disney World version was replaced, this one likely isn't going anywhere any time soon.
Peter Pan's Flight
For the most part, Fantasyland dark rides, while always popular, don't bring the same sorts of crowds we see on the big thrill rides, but Peter Pan's Flight is one major exception. On a normal day, or what used to be normal, the wait times for this one could get quite extensive. The attraction inverts the standard dark ride, allowing guests to fly above London and Neverland, and any theme park attraction, no matter the size, that makes you feel like you can fly is popular.
Snow White's Scary Adventure
Technically, Snow White's Scary Adventure probably won't be available to ride when Disneyland returns to operation, as it was down for the second major renovation in its life before the closure. However, a Snow White dark ride has existed in some capacity since opening day, and it will again. Originally, Snow White herself wasn't part of the ride. As with all the Fantasyland dark rides, the idea was that the guest was supposed to see themselves in the place of the main character, but this idea largely went misunderstood by guests, leading to Snow White joining the ride in the '80s. The new version of the ride promises to bring classic attraction up to snuff with modern dark rides, and may be the first of many similar updates throughout Fantasyland.
Storybook Land Canal Boats
Along with trains, another of Walt Disney's personal passions was miniature design, a pastime he himself was involved in, and it was from this that the Storybook Land Canal Boats were born. Originally, Canal Boats of the World was the ride that opened with Disneyland. It included miniatures of several world landmarks on display, though not nearly as many as were originally planned as the ride, while operational, was largely unfinished. About a year later the ride reopened under its current name, with miniature buildings from various Disney animated films and shorts on display. While different miniatures have been added and subtracted over the years, the ride's concept has remained otherwise unchanged.
The new additions at Disneyland are always the things that get the most attention, and so often it seems like Disneyland has changed so much that it's not the same park that it once was. But the truth is there's a lot about Disneyland that hasn't changed in 65 years. While we don't know when at some point, we'll have the chance to experience these truly classic attractions once again. Hopefully, that day will come very soon.
CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian. Armchair Imagineer. Epcot Stan. Future Club 33 Member.
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