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Disneyland®: Then and Now

Three generations visit Disneyland® and reminisce about 60 years of magic during the park’s Diamond Anniversary celebration.

Disneyland Memories of familyIn 1956, less than a year after Walt Disney’s fantastical theme park opened among the citrus ranches of Southern California’s Orange County, my mother’s family loaded into their Oldsmobile convertible and drove 1,100 miles from Seattle to Disneyland®. Mom remembers hearing “Blue Suede Shoes” playing on the radio on the drive to the park. She even recalls the outfit she wore: blue pedal pushers and leather squaw boots.

She also remembers that admission into the park was only $1.

In the midst of the park’s 60th anniversary celebration, I visited Disneyland® Park with my mother and my three children. The idea was to see the park through my mother’s eyes and for her to share her memories while the kids lured her onto their favorite attractions. “Do you think Grandma will go on ‘Indiana Jones’?” The kids were dying to know!

As Mom reminisced before our trip, she shared memories of entering through the Victorian railroad station with her parents and older brother and strolling down Main Street, U.S.A., a recreation of the typical American town at the turn of the 20th Century, before exploring the park’s then-60 acres, which are divided up into magical lands. She remembers the Jungle Cruise in Adventureland® and Rocket to the Moon in Tomorrowland®. She spun herself dizzy on the Mad Tea Party cups in Fantasyland® and floated on a wooden raft to Frontierland®’s Tom Sawyer Island.

“I watched The Wonderful World of Disney religiously every week,” Mom told me. “I watched the park being built on television. And then actually going into the park was a huge deal.”

I was nervous about bringing my mom to Disneyland®. I’d tried to get her to visit the park with my family numerous times, and she’d always scoff at my invitation. She’d say things like, “I would never go to Disneyland® today. It just wouldn’t be the same.” I think her grumpiness was due to the fear that her childhood memory would be marred by a visit to the modern-day Disneyland®. Would the magic still be there?

Disneyland memories with GoofyWhen she finally agreed to join us, I wanted do everything I could to make sure my mom would make wonderful new memories in Disneyland®.

As a seasoned Disney-goer, I know the best way to make the most of your visit is to book one of the Disney resort properties and take advantage of the Magic Morning early admission package available only to hotel guests. We stayed at the Disneyland® Hotel on Saturday night, and on Sunday morning we were in line at 6:45 a.m. to get into Disney California Adventure® Park, the newer Disney theme park adjoining the original Disneyland®.

Our first stop was Soarin’ Over California at Disney California Adventure® Park. This ride lifts you into the air over a giant domed movie screen and gives you the thrill of hang-gliding over the park’s most spectacular sites. Mom was exhilarated by the views. “Wow!” I heard her screaming over and over.

Next, we whipped around steep curves at 45 mph as we raced on the Radiator Springs Racers. “That’s faster than I thought it would be,” Mom said, fixing her disheveled hair. And then we went got in line to ride it again.

At 8 a.m., when both parks opened to all visitors, we made a run for Disneyland®—and that’s when the memories started pouring out. As we strolled Main Street, U.S.A., Mom was determined to find the UpJohn Pharmacy. When she visited in 1956, she said shops weren’t on every corner like they are today. She remembers looking all over the park for a souvenir to take home, finally deciding on the perfect trinket at the UpJohn.

Disneyland memories with CinderellaThe building that was once home to the pharmacy has since become the Fortuosity Shop. But overall, Mom was surprised by how little had actually changed. The row of gingerbread house-like storefronts are just as charming as they once were, she said. A brass band passed by playing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” Mom started singing along.

The rest of our day was jam-packed with attractions: Pirates of the Caribbean®; the Haunted Mansion®; the Jungle Cruise; the Enchanted Tiki Room; and a visit to Tom Sawyer Island. As we walked across a suspension bridge, the Mark Twain Riverboat rolled by.

“Even in 1956 that was a sleepy ride,” Mom recalled.

We used Disney’s FASTPASS®, a service that allows you to receive a ticket for a ride time to so you can visit other areas of the park while you wait to ride on Big Thunder Mountain and other attractions. “What a brilliant idea,” Mom said.

My kids convinced their grandmother to ride “Indiana Jones” Adventure©—and she enjoyed it so much she wanted to go again. My kids were absolutely thrilled by their grandmother’s enthusiasm as she threw her hands into the air and screamed loudly at every turn. “Let’s sit in the front this time, Grandma!” they said. “It’s so scary!”

About a week after our visit to Disneyland®, Mom called to tell me that my brother and his fiancee had finally picked a wedding date and venue in Southern California.

“Oh, it’ll be beautiful down there and warm,” I told her. “Maybe we could go back to Disneyland® after the wedding?”

Planning your own trip? Check out these top travel tips for tackling Disney.

Inset photos: Amy Graff

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Janice Yip-Hudson, AAA Travel Counselor, Daly City, Calif.

Today, people's lives are so busy. We're thinking three days ahead just to get through our to-do lists. I love helping my clients plan vacations where they have nothing to do but relax; where time stands still, and you're just on vacation.

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