Disneyland turns 65 today. The park is currently closed due to the coronavirus—a sad but responsible and necessary turn of events—but if life was running normally this would’ve been a huge day for Disney’s original theme park. Not only would it have been even busier than usual, but there probably would’ve been a special parade or two, if the last few years are any indication.
Disneyland’s grand opening on July 17, 1955, was notoriously beleaguered. Far more people attended than expected, so food and drink quickly ran out. (Yes, overcrowding has been a Disneyland problem from day one.) Tomorrowland was mostly unfinished, and Fantasyland was hit with a gas leak. There were spots in the park where the asphalt wasn’t entirely dry yet. Despite a rough start, Disneyland quickly became a cherished, beloved part of American culture, and spawned 10 other theme parks throughout the world.
Change is a constant at Disneyland, but a number of attractions that opened alongside the park 65 years ago today are still in operation. Let’s take a look at all the opening day attractions still running at Disneyland.
First, though, for clarity’s sake, let’s mention a few rides that almost qualify. The Storybook Land Canal Boats were running on opening day under a different name, the Canal Boats of the World; it was quickly closed and rethemed with the Storybook concept and reopened in 1956. It kind of counts, but not really. Meanwhile Dumbo the Flying Elephant started operations a month after the opening, on August 16, 1955.
Disneyland’s race track ride has undergone a lot of changes over the decades, but it’s been open since the first day. At the time it was slightly futuristic: it gave guests glimpse at the nationwide interstate system that was still being built at the time. There are more cutting edge car rides these days, but kids will always love driving their own car, keeping Autopia as relevant as ever.
Walt Disney loved trains. He actually had a working train line in his backyard. Clearly he wasn’t going to build a massive fun park without his favorite mode of transportation involved. Originally known as the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, this narrow-gauge train circles the park, opening with stations in Main Street U.S.A. and Frontierland. Later stations were added in Tomorrowland and Mickey’s Toontown, while the Frontierland depot was moved to New Orleans Square. A small-scale recreation of the Grand Canyon was added in 1958, and the Primeval World diorama installed dinosaur Audio-Animatronics alongside the tracks. The track was rerouted in 2016 during construction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Although much has changed in 65 years, the Disneyland Railroad still fulfills its original goal: offering guests a peaceful train ride that can also get them from one part of the park to another.
Walt Disney really loved trains. Here’s a smaller-scale train ride based on Dumbo; compared to the Disneyland Railroad, it’s simply a ride, with only one station and a short track. It’s one of the kid-friendly rides found in Fantasyland, and its inclusion on this list might be controversial—although it was running on the park’s first day, it went out of operation either that day or the next for two weeks. Since the official opening day wasn’t technically open to the public, some Disneyland historians argue that the Circus Train’s reopening date on July 31, 1955, should be its official start, since that was the first day the public was able to ride it.
The Jungle Cruise was a serious ride when it opened in 1955. None of the corny jokes and schtick that it’s known for today were present. Those were added in the early ‘60s, and until then the ride tried to present a fairly serious recreation of a tropical jungle. Most of its famous audioanimatronics were added throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, with Marc Davis, one of Disney’s most famous Imagineers, adding much of the humor in an 1962 update. Still, the boats have the same African Queen-style theming they had in 1955, and the current ride is more a process of evolution than sudden upheaval.
Disney is often criticized whenever it introduces a new ride bought “off the shelf”—basically a carnival-style ride that you could find at any fair or theme park, but with some Disney characters incorporated into the design. There’s always been an element of that in the Disney parks, though—King Arthur Carrousel has been there from day one. (Yes, they choose to spell “carousel” with two R’s. No, I’m not sure why.) If this old-school carousel is unique, it’s because, until the ‘00s, every horse was what they call a “jumper”—they all went up and down, with none of the stationary vehicles that can be found on most carousels. That changed in 2003, when four of them were removed to install a chariot for accessibility issues. Despite its simplicity, King Arthur Carrousel remains a gorgeous ride, and has been pleasing families for 65 years.
Of all the lands at Disneyland, Fantasyland was the most ready for opening day. Even now, most of the rides you’ll find there today were up and running in 1955. The Mad Tea Party, a.k.a. the spinning tea cups, has been making guests dizzy since opening day. A store was added next to it the next year, and in 1958 the Alice in Wonderland dark ride opened up, establishing a small little mini-land devoted to the movie that still exists today.
Cars, trains, riverboats: Disneyland loves transportation. The more symbolically American it is, the better. The Mark Twain Riverboat has been ferrying guests around the Rivers of America for 65 years, giving them a glimpse of what a fancy trip on the Mississippi might’ve felt like in the 19th century. Like the Disneyland Railroad, the Mark Twain Riverboat provides a great overview of the park, while also featuring a few scenes and moments that can’t be seen otherwise. Despite its mundane nature, it’s a must-ride for those who want the full Disneyland experience.
Here’s another Fantasyland ride, and for my money one of the best things in the entire park. With its quick turns, tight corners, and near-misses, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is the most whimsical and energetic ride in Fantasyland. And again, you can’t beat that ending, where your car runs headfirst into a train and you all go to Hell. There was an even better version at the Magic Kingdom that was ripped out in 1998; if Disneyland ever threatens to do the same, I’ll be first in line for the protests.
This charming dark ride whisks you through the story to Peter Pan inside a magical flying pirate ship. That ride system sets it apart from the other Fantasyland rides based on classic Disney features; the Snow White, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland and Mr. Toad rides are all set in vehicles that follow a track on the ground, whereas the track for Peter Pan’s Flight is above the vehicle. The result is that it does feel like you’re flying. With bright, colorful subject material to recreate, and a gorgeous scene where you soar over the lit-up city of London and night, Peter Pan’s Flight is a charming delight, and perpetually one of the park’s most popular rides.
Here’s another classic Fantasyland dark ride that was eventually closed at Disney World but is still in operation in Disneyland. This ride long scared and confused some of its younger riders; the concept was you played the role of Snow White, so you never actually saw her in the ride. That means you mostly just saw the Evil Queen in both of her guises, turning it into probably the most frightening ride in the park for children. They eventually added the “Scary Adventures” tag to the name to better inform parents what they were in store for, and added a figure of Snow White and various woodland creatures to soften the tone. Not gonna lie: i’s still pretty creepy.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He shares stories and photos from his Disney journeys on Instagram at @garrett_goes_to_disney. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.