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Keeping the magic alive at Disneyland

Keeping the magic alive at Disneyland

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Photo by Chris Geraci

The 50th anniversary of Disneyland brought up some feelings of nostalgia in me. That nostalgia, together with a passion for Disney and a strong curiosity about how they would celebrate this momentous occasion, drove me to break my vow to never visit in the spring, summer or any other busy time of the year.

I was at Disneyland for the "40 years of Adventure," the opening of the "Indiana Jones Adventure," the 45th Anniversary as well as the opening of "Tower of Terror." So I know that -- when Disney does any type of celebrating -- they do it big. They do it in a way only Disney can do.

I wasn't alive when Disneyland first opened. But it was a major part of my childhood. I dreamt about what it would be like to go there. I watched every special and cartoon on television during my childhood. My favorite was the rerun of the Disneyland television show that explored the "Pirates of the Caribbean." If only I could be part of that world.

Since I wasn't there in 1955 when Disneyland opened I spoke with someone who was to get an idea of how things have really changed over the last 50 years. According to Larry Crowell of Kennewick, WA., the year prior to the park's opening was filled with days of curiosity and mounting excitement for the opening of Disneyland. Up to that point, Disneyland was unique and unlike anything created before it or even after it for that matter.

These weren't your average amusement park rides. It is well known Walt Disney had a certain disdain for amusement parks and a carnival rides. His ideas were deemed attractions, not rides. And we are guests not customers.

At the time of Disneyland's opening, the park was surrounded by orange groves, not the bustling city we see now. At the time admission was a mere $1 and the A-C ticket books were another $2.50. It wasn't until 1959 that the famous "E-Tickets" were introduced for the Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage and the Monorail.

On opening day, many arrived and only four ticket offices were open to handle the gigantic crowd that no one was prepared for. It was hot (After all, it was July in Southern California) and the lack of water fountains was inconvenient. But -- overall -- the buzz was positive. People were excited and knew that once the kinks were worked out, this place would be amazing.

Some fond memories of the youth of that era are Friday and Saturday nights spent dancing to big band music in the Plaza Gardens. Plus interacting with the characters, cartoons that came to life. Which is unique now, but that much more amazing back then.

Over the past 50 years, Disneyland has gone through many changes and expansions. Some have worked, while others have fallen short. But one thing held true: Disneyland provides an experience that can be enjoyed by kids and adults together. I never get tired of seeing my son make goofy faces for the Splash Mountain picture or the smile that appears most of time he is in the park. We are both fascinated with the history of Disneyland and all the accomplishments Walt and Roy made in their lifetimes. The fireworks over the castle bring both of us happy childhood memories and the magic transfixes us whenever we are there.

I arrived last week in Disneyland, curious and melancholy. Remembering the first time I went to Disneyland twelve years ago as well as the first time my son went nine years ago. As I looked at my baby, now 13 years old, I remember his fascination with the Disneyland Railroad as a young child and how kind the engineers were to him for years.

Then there was the time that Mychal helped up Chip after a naughty child pushed him down. At the ripe old age of four, he proceeded to bawl out the kid, much older than him, for pushing down a character. I can remember holding onto Mychal's tiny little four-year-old legs because he refused to ride "Big Thunder" unless he could keep his hands up. Also holding his ears in the elevator of the Haunted Mansion in preparation for the scream prior to the doors opening. Disneyland has filled our lives with many happy memories that we will always cherish while adding more every year with each & every trip.

We live in a world that is filled with change and progress. Although I wasn't at Disneyland 50 years ago, I am familiar with some of the changes that have occured at the park over the past ten years. Some changes have been for the better, while others were not.

I remember the 100-acre parking lot; I walked across it more than once. Early entry for Disneyland resort guests only, that was awesome!

Some years ago I stood on a bench in front of the castle and watched the last "Main Street Electrical Parade." For the life of me, I couldn't understand why they would want to get rid of it. "Light Magic" as a replacement? I don't think so! I saw five minutes of "Light Magic" and left the park disgusted. I am happy that the "Electrical Parade" is back, up & running over at DCA. But something is missing by not having the MSEP travel down Main Street U.S.A.

This past visit, I was sad to see the lagoon from the "Submarine Voyage" drained. Surely some of you remember how it felt to be submerged in your sub and then travel through the ocean a la "20,000 Leagues under the Sea." But how about "Rocket Rods"? Do any of you remember those? I didn't think so.

Speaking of being high above Tomorrowland, I miss the "Skyway." Always looking for a short cut, I loved getting on at the "Skyway" station in Tomorrowland and being able to pass over Fantasyland while still avoiding the crowds.

Those were the days. And I know that they'll never come again. And I can accept that. But -- that said -- there were several things I noticed last week that made me a little sad.

Like what? Well, there was a time when you rarely saw any kind of trash in the streets at Disneyland. Now I don't know if there are fewer custodians in the park nowadays or if we've all become bigger slobs over the past few years. But there seemed to be trash everywhere I looked. Floating water bottles, used baby wipes, crumpled napkins, wads of gum everywhere!

What does one achieve by sticking their gum on the walls of Splash Mountain? Is nothing sacred anymore? To make matters worse, I actually saw a live rat in the bushes of the "Big Thunder" queue. Eeew!

On the other hand, despite the crowds at the park, we still had a fun time and added more cherished memories to our Disneyland collection. The fireworks above the castle were so amazing, unlike anything we'd ever seen before. We had many laughs on the new "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters" as well as all the other Disney attractions.

One of my regrets was that I did not photograph all the photo collages that were scattered around the theme park. Because they are simple amazing to look at. I also wish I had been able to find all the "50s" that are hidden in plain sight at Disneyland. I'm told that there are 50 of these symbols to be found in the Anaheim theme park. During my trip, I was only able to spot 4.

I also didn't get the chance to explore Sleeping Beauty Castle as much as I would have liked. Since I've gotten back home, I've learned so much more about the special 50th anniversary version of this structure. Which is why I wish I'd paid closer attention to the castle while I was in the theme park.

One thing most will say about opening day 50 years ago is that people were happy and upbeat. Excited to be in this magical place. Yet last week, that happiness was mysteriously missing. I think the crowds bring the worse out in most people. Every morning, there is the jostling for position at the Main Gates. Then that mad stampede down Main Street U.S.A. so that they can then be first to their favorite attraction. People pushing and shoving, running into innocent bystanders with their gigantic stroller wheels.

This determination to see every corner of the park at all costs results in the loss of something important that Walt was trying to create: Happiness.

Disneyland exists so that families can spend time together, having fun and creating lifelong memories. When your day is filled with frustration and anger, you're missing the point of being in Disneyland and that attitude rubs off on others. The magic it is meant to produce, the journey back to your childhood, is lost.

If each of us can find that little bit of the magic that Walt tried to create inside of us and then embrace it, we will appreciate what it was that he wanted to accomplish. As you look around, you'll realize Disneyland is really a magical place.

Just 50 years ago, only orange trees stood tall here. But one man saw past that and envisioned a place like no other.

It was this dream, sheer determination and many creative minds, which made Disneyland become what it is today. That is what we are celebrating.

So before you push the person in front of you for a better view of the parade, remember we are all there to celebrate the magic created by one man and a mouse!

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