I’m a big fan of science fiction. As a boy, I watched the full-length versions of many of the movies seen inside Sci-Fi Dine-In at Disney's Hollywood Studios. When “Star Trek” premiered in 1966, I was glued to my TV set every Thursday (and later Friday) night. The show was “fascinating.” I was also a big fan of “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and to a lesser extent, “Lost in Space” (Danger Will Robinson!). Additionally, I spent a fair amount of time in darkened theaters watching movies such as “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Star Wars,” and “Planet of the Apes.” But through it all, one theme seemed to captivate me more than any other, time travel. Even today, the 1960 movie “The Time Machine” starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Yvette Mimieux holds a special place in my heart.
Perhaps it’s my love of history that makes me ponder the subject of time travel. I’ve often dreamed of being present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Or standing on the deck of the Titanic on that fateful night (as long as I was guaranteed a seat on a lifeboat). But recently, I’ve started to direct my time travel fascination toward Disney. What if I could go back in time and visit a Disney park? What park would I visit and what date would I select?
Of course, if I owned a time machine, I could pick many parks and many dates. But for this article, I’m only allowed to use my time machine once and I can only visit for one calendar day.
Of course, the first scenario that comes to my mind is July 17, 1955, opening day at Disneyland. What wonderful bragging rights that would give me. Imagine being at a party with all of my Disneyphile friends and casually saying, “Oh yes. Didn’t you know? I was there. If you look at the film clip of Walt dedicating Disneyland, I can be seen in the background, second from the left.” This statement would immediately make me the envy of all and the center of attention for the rest of the evening.
But in reality, I don’t think I would choose Disneyland’s opening day. In terms of “experiencing” the park to its fullest, July 17th was not the day to attend. First off, the park didn’t open until 2:30 that afternoon. Half the day was gone already. Then there is the matter of attendance. Roughly 14,000 people were invited to the opening day ceremonies. However, counterfeit tickets doubled this amount. Today, 28,000 guests visiting Disneyland is no big deal. In fact, it would be a rather pleasant day. However, in 1955, this many people would be comparable to sixty or seventy thousand guests crammed into the park today.
But there were other calamities besides counterfeit tickets on Black Sunday, as opening day became known as. There were no working drinking fountains due to a plumber’s strike. The park ran out of food. The Emporium was the only shop open on Main Street. There was a gas leak that caused the afternoon closing of Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Frontierland. Not all of the planned opening day rides were working, and those that were, broke down left and right. And the outside temperature reached 101 degrees and most rides were not air conditioned. In addition, the live television broadcast that began at 4:30pm included 21 camera scattered around the park, cordoning off areas to the general public.
No. Opening day would not be the time to visit Disneyland if you wanted to “experience” the park in its infancy. For me, I would wait several weeks for the festivities to die down and more attractions to come on line.
Here is a list of opening day attractions according to “The Story of Disneyland,” a 1955, 22-page soft-cover souvenir booklet:
• The Story of Disneyland
• 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Exhibit
• Canal Boats of the World (Later Storybook Land Canal Boats)
• Casey Jr. Circus Train
• Disneyland Street Railway
• Dumbo the Flying Elephant
• Explorer’s Boat Ride (Later Jungle Cruise)
• King Arthur Carrousel
• Mad Tea Party
• Main Street Cinema
• Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
• Penny Arcade and Shooting Gallery
• Peter Pan Flight
• Phantom Boats
• Rocket to the Moon
• Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad
• Snow White’s Adventures (Later Snow White’s Scary Adventures)
• Space Station X-1
• Stage Coach through the Painted Desert
Imagine how wonderful it would be to walk through the various lands of yesteryear and experience the original attractions. Picture seeing the Jungle Cruise before it was humorously reimagined by Marc Davis. Driving an Autopia vehicle when there was no track down the middle of the lane and you could bounce off the curbs on each side of the roadway. Or sitting atop a stage coach and riding along dusty trails that will someday become the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland attraction.
However, another time in Disneyland history also beckons me. It’s the time period I personally remember when reminiscing about The Happiest Place on Earth. It’s a time when ticket books still existed and you would scour through your junk drawer at home before your day began, looking for unused coupons from previous visits – only to discover there were only “A” and “B” tickets left.
The date is sometime in late 1969. All of the World’s Fair attractions (“it’s a small world,” Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Carousel of Progress, and Primeval World) had been added to the park. The 1966/67 makeover of Tomorrowland had been completed. And Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion were now open. To me, this was Disneyland’s turning point. The simple “carnival” rides that opened the park in 1955 had given way to cutting edge technology. Disneyland truly took its place as the leader of theme parks in this era.
It would be so pleasing to relive my memories of this fantastic time in Disney history. To be able to ride the Mine Train Through Nature's Wonderland one more time. To watch Wally Boag, Betty Taylor, Don Novis, and Fulton Burley perform in the Golden Horseshoe Review. To enjoy the original Carousel of Progress and see mother go from a housewife drudge to a yackety modern 1960’s woman.
On Main Street, Disney merchandise had not yet permeated every nook and cranny of every shop. Wurlitzer sold piano rolls. A candle shop offered a staggering array of wax wonders. The Upjohn Pharmacy provided guests with free samples of vitamin pills. And the Penny Arcade offered a stunning collection of antique games and mutascopes.
Even though I visited the Magic Kingdom in Florida three months after it opened, this park does not hold the history or memories for me that Disneyland does, so I would not use my time machine to visit this park. But I might select Epcot sometime in the mid to late 1980’s. It would be so wonderful to ride on Horizons and World of Motion one last time. And I would especially enjoy seeing Dreamfinder and Figment in the original Imagination attraction. However, I have many photographs and videos of this era of Epcot so it probably wouldn’t make my list.
Of course, any good time machine worth its money can travel forward in time as well as backwards. Maybe I should take a trip to the future. So what park and date would I select?
I probably would not pick Disneyland. For the most part, this park is complete. Yes, there will be new attractions and experiences in the years to come. And hopefully Tomorrowland will get the complete makeover it deserves. But I doubt that I would see significant changes twenty years from now. Sure, Pirates of the Caribbean will have had another makeover to correspond to the tenth sequel to the original movie, but do I really care?
The same logic holds true for the Magic Kingdom. For the most part, this park is complete.
Once again, I might choose Epcot. It’s possible that twenty years from now there will be more countries around World Showcase. But judging by the last twenty years, probably not.
Rumors abound that Disney's Hollywood Studios will be getting a major makeover sometime soon. But I’m still young enough to hopefully witness these additions in my lifetime.
So what park and date would I pick in the future?
Shanghai Disneyland, 2035. From the precious little information Disney has released on this park, it looks to be significantly different from the other five Magic Kingdom-type parks around the world. For example, the castle will be interactive and the largest of them all. The Shanghai version of Tomorrowland will be to the left of the Hub rather than to the right. And many new attractions are being designed to please a Chinese audience.
Although I do plan on visiting Shanghai Disneyland in 2016, I know from past experience with other Disney parks that it will be far from complete. So I will use my time machine to visit again in 2035, twenty years after the park’s opening. This will allow plenty of time for the park to grow and add additional attractions.
So here is the deal. I’m going to loan you my time machine. With it, you can only pick ONE Disney park and visit on ONE date from opening until closing. Send me your answers and tell me why you chose as you did. I’ll post them as fast as I can. Then come back to this blog often to see what others have written.
Remember, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. It is very subjective. Just because I wouldn’t pick the Magic Kingdom doesn’t mean that it’s not the perfect park for you. Also, it doesn’t have to be simply about experiencing Disney history or future. It can be reliving a park when your kids were at that perfect age to appreciate all that Disney has to offer. Or visiting with a loved one that is no longer with us.
As you know, I’m always telling you to slow down and smell the roses. Today I’m asking you to stop and remember (or look forward). Think about the good times you have had or will have or wish you could have had at a Disney park.
So now it’s time for me to choose. Which of the three dates that I presented would I select, Disneyland in late 1955, Disneyland in late 1969, or Shanghai Disneyland in 2035?
I don’t know.
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The previous post in this blog was Pirates of the Caribbean Guest Bedroom - Part Two.
The next post in this blog is Disney References in Non-Disney Theater, Music, Movies and TV Shows.