“To all who come to this happy place – welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past and here youth may savour the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, dreams and the hard facts that have created America with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
— Walter E. Disney, July 17, 1955
As a kid who has yet to experience the magic of Disneyland, it’s almost torture as those around you make the trip. I remember feeling an intense amount of jealousy when a classmate would announce an upcoming family trip. Being the oldest of many, many siblings, a family trip was an almost certain impossibility. My mother knew of this longing first hand. Being from a large family herself, she would often tell us kids that during one family road trip to Southern California, each of the kids knew they were but miles away from the park but the hope of stepping inside was merely a dream.
My first trip to the Magic Kingdom was the summer after I graduated high school. I made the trip down the west coast of the United States with my dear friend Laura and her parents. Walking through the front gates, I was in complete awe. There is an indescribable magic to every cog in the Disney theme park wheel. Everything runs like clockwork, sparing no expense at the delight and whimsy of guests. It is an experience I won’t ever forget, the magic only eclipsed by our visit to Disney World last September.
Opening a theme park was an idea Walt had been promoting at the studio for years. Like many projects that would later come to life in the 1950s, plans for Disneyland were shelved when the Second World War broke out. Post-war, and with the company once again enjoying the successes of its animation department, plans for the park were expanded from an eight-acre lot next to the studio for employees and their families to enjoy, to 160 acres in rural Anaheim. Like many of his previous ideas, costs for the new theme park quickly ballooned out of the grasp of Disney financiers. With the growing popularity of television, Walt and his brother Roy (whose support for the park remained loose during this time) launched a show that would chronicle the progress at Disneyland in order to drum up financial support and general interest in the project. On July 17, 1955, just one year after construction began, Disneyland welcomed more than 20,000 guests on its first day in business.
The park, which cost $17.5-million, opened with 18 attractions, many of which still exist today, including The Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, King Arthur’s Carousel, Autopia and Walt’s beloved steam engine railroad. It had five “lands” that are still a part of the park today: Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland and Main Street U.S.A. The Matterhorn, the first tubular steel track roller coaster in the world, was added in 1959, along with the monorail. Throughout the 1960s, some of the park’s more famous attractions were added like the Haunted Mansion, the Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s A Small World. Space Mountain was added the following decade. Today, the theme park division has grown to include six parks around the world, cruise lines, a spa resort, a vacation club and international adventures all with millions of guests each year. The parks are constantly being upgraded and improved in order to ensure the best experience possible for guests.
Walt’s vision was to create a place that children and adults could enjoy together. And he did that in spades. In my opinion, the creation of Disneyland solidified the Disney brand that we all know today. James B. Stewart, author of DisneyWar (a chronicle of the company under former CEO Michael Eisner), sums up this achievement pretty aptly while talking about Disneyland’s Florida counterpart in the first few pages of his book:
“Just about everything inside Disney World is illusion: prettier, cleaner, safer, better, more fun than the real world. It was Walt’s genius to recognize that it is not only children who want an escape from reality. Like any good magician, you have to believe in the illusion, or it falls apart. It is a secular faith that has been embraced so passionately by so many Americans that the name Disney has become all but synonymous with an idealized American culture in which dreams come true.”
That magic, or illusion, is immediately evident to visitors of the park. Will and I have our own stories of the Disney magic we experienced in Florida. On our first day, we were casually strolling down Main Street, taking everything in, when a small child in front of us dropped his ice cream cone on the sidewalk. Before the child had a chance to cry, two Disney cast members (as they are known) flocked to him, one scooped up any evidence a spill had occurred on the sidewalk, while the other asked his mother what flavour the cone was and set off to replace it. Within moments, the little boy had his ice cream, and a big smile, again.
Our trip was bookended with another moment of Disney magic, this time for us. We didn’t shell out the extra money for park-hopper tickets, which meant the park we entered in the morning was the one we had to stay in all day. Day two brought us to Disney’s Hollywood Studios where we were eagerly anticipating that park’s nightly show: Fantasmic! As we waited in the outdoor amphitheatre that evening, the skies grew more and more menacing. Rain began to fall, while thunder clapped in the distance. Announcements of the show’s delay came over the loud speakers before we were finally forced to face the inevitable truth: The show was cancelled that evening because of poor weather. We made our way back to our resort with disappointment in the front of our minds. A couple of days later, we inquired with our hotel concierge about the cost of upgrading one of our remaining park tickets to park-hopper so we could go back for Fantasmic. After listening to our story and us humming and hawing that the price of the upgrade might be more than we could afford, she disappeared for a few minutes without much of a word. Ten minutes later, she returned with two complimentary park tickets that had to be used before we checked out of the resort. She smiled and said we shouldn’t have to miss the show because of some bad weather, it was one of her favourites, too.
These stories represent the scope of what the Disney brand has achieved. There is no room for sadness, worry, disappointment, or failure. There is only room for dreams and those who will help make them come true. It’s this high level of loyalty to customers that keeps guests returning to the parks and products time after time.
Tell us: How many times have you visited a Disney theme park or resort? And what stories of magic can you share? Feel free to let us know in the comments below!