Disneyland had its grand opening on July 17, 1955, and a lot has changed since then. There are not many rides, shows, or events from that day almost 70 years ago that can still be enjoyed currently.
In this article:
Disneyland Rides Have Evolved, But Some Stood the Test of Time
As new technology has become available and more Disney movies have premiered, many attractions have been replaced with rides that are flashier or more well-known.
However, there are some rides that have stood the test of time as Disneyland classics. They were there on opening day in 1955, and although they’ve been through a few changes or updates, they’re still being enjoyed by guests today. Keep reading to learn more about Disneyland’s opening day attractions you can still ride!
Walt Disney had a fascination for trains long before he created Disneyland, so it makes sense that he would include one in his theme park from the beginning. The Disneyland Railroad was originally named the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad and was inspired by the train track Walt had built in his backyard.
The trains on the Disneyland Railroad travel around the outskirts of the park and stop at a few different stations throughout the park. On opening day, there were only two stations: one on Main Street USA, and one in Frontierland. As the park has changed throughout the years, new stations have added and moved around to accommodate the expansions. The current route includes stops at Main Street USA, New Orleans Square, Mickey’s Toontown, and Tomorrowland.
Other changes to the Disneyland Railroad in the past few decades have included the addition of more scenery and set pieces, updating the passenger cars to be more accessible and comfortable, and switching from using diesel oil in the engine to biodiesel, a biodegradable fuel that is better for the environment. Because the track has been changed and lengthened, the attraction can now have two to four trains operating at the same time on any given day, which helps on busy days with large crowds.
Mark Twain Riverboat
The Mark Twain Riverboat was originally named the Mark Twain Steamboat and had been a huge undertaking to create for Disneyland’s opening day. It was the first fully functional riverboat to be built in the United States for at least 50 years, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding its maiden voyage. Unfortunately, it experienced several issues right off the bat.
The maximum number of people that could be on the boat at any given time had not been decided when the theme park first opened, causing some major safety issues. On the first day the boat was operating, all the guests onboard moved to one side to look at the scenery, and the boat tilted, allowing water to flood onto the deck. Then only a few days later, too many people were loaded on and the boat almost capsized.
Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, and the boat was not damaged, so it was able to continue running at a safer capacity. During the first few years it was operational, you could purchase non-alcoholic beverages onboard and enjoy listening to recorded reenactments of conversations suitable for the era. The Mark Twain Riverboat was temporarily closed between 2016 and 2017 to make way for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and has remained open and functional since.
King Arthur Carrousel
By far the oldest Disneyland opening day attraction you can still ride is the King Arthur Carrousel. This ride was built in 1922, long before Walt Disney was considering creating a theme park. The carrousel originally operated at Sunnyside Beach Park in Toronto, Ontario for many years. When the park closed, the entire machine was purchased by Disney and installed in Disneyland.
The King Arthur Carrousel has held up very well over its 100 years in operation with help from several refurbishments. When it was first brought to Disneyland, the carrousel itself was slightly altered and widened to increase the number of guests it could hold. Additional horses to add to the ride were found from different carrousels throughout North America.
The next big update happened in 1983 when Fantasyland as a whole went through a major refurbishment. The King Arthur Carrousel was moved slightly backward away from Sleeping Beauty Castle to make room for new attractions. It was also given a new roof and paint job during that closure. The most recent change came in 2003 when more technology was available to modernize the ride. A computerized operating console and new turntable platform with additional capabilities made the attraction much easier to run and more accessible for guests.
Casey Jr Circus Train
Inspired by the train of the same name from the movie Dumbo, the Casey Jr. Circus Train was built as a smaller version of the Disneyland Railroad that catered specifically to younger children. Although the train did premiere to the public at the park’s opening, it was closed the very next day for additional safety testing. By the end of the month, it was ready for guests to enjoy again and was opened for good.
The Casey Jr. Circus Train takes passengers past a variety of miniature versions of famous Disney movie scenes, including classics like Three Little Pigs and Pinocchio and more recent movies like Frozen. It also features several train cars that were removed from the King Arthur Carrousel when it was brought into the theme park.
Jungle Cruise has been one of the most beloved attractions at Disney parks across the world since it opened in 1955. Walt loved animals, and his original vision for this ride included live animals instead of animatronics. However, they ran into some complications with this idea. There was not an easy way to keep the animals in one designated area and visible to the passengers, and they would most likely end up sleeping through most of the warm daylight hours. Due to these factors, they decided to use animatronics throughout the attraction for a consistent experience.
Several changes have been made since opening day, including enhancing the visual and audio effects, changing and reworking the storyline, and adding in four completely new scenes. They also had to reroute the waterway when the new Indiana Jones Adventure attraction was built, and they even repainted the original pristine boats to appear more rugged and fit the look of the area. With the additions and expansions, there can be up to eight boats operating at one time depending on the crowd levels.
Back in 1955 when Disneyland opened, the roads that ran through the United States looked very different compared to present day. The Autopia attraction provided a glimpse into what America’s multilane highways would look like in the future. It also gave children the rare opportunity to drive a car before they had their driver’s license.
When the Autopia cars were first being tested, they didn’t have bumpers on them and ended up being badly damaged by the drivers. Even after the addition of bumpers, there were still issues with guests colliding as they raced around the track. The design of the cars was updated several more times to limit these problems without much luck, so 10 years after opening day, the center guard rail was installed to keep the cars in place.
Another major update for Autopia took place in 2000. The original track from opening day was replaced with a fresh, much larger roadway, allowing more cars to operate at one time. This is still one of the most popular Disneyland attractions to this day, so they made the right decision expanding the track to include more space!
Peter Pan’s Flight
When Peter Pan’s Flight opened for the first time, the attraction left many guests slightly puzzled because Peter was nowhere to be found in the ride. In fact, there were hardly any characters from the movie that made an appearance in the attraction. This is because the original idea for the ride was that the guests were flying through the ride as Peter himself and seeing everything from his point of view.
While it was an innovative idea, most guests didn’t grasp the concept and were disappointed that the Darling children, the Lost Boys, and several other featured characters from the movie were not included. When Fantasyland went through its major refurbishment in 1983, Peter Pan’s Flight was updated as well. The changes included adding in Peter Pan animatronics and incorporating several scenes from the Disney World version of the attraction.
The most recent updates came in 2015, with new animatronics added to the nursery scene and special audio and visual effects throughout. Even though it took them almost 30 years to do so, it was a smart decision to bring in Peter Pan animatronics. Otherwise, it might not have lasted long and wouldn’t be around to ride today!
Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
Another attraction that guests misunderstood at first was Snow White and her Adventures. In a similar fashion to Peter Pan’s Flight, the first iteration of the attraction saw guests traveling through the ride as Snow White and seeing everything from her point of view. During the same 1983 Fantasyland refurbishment, Snow White was added in, and the ride was renamed to Snow White’s Scary Adventures.
Another change that occurred during that redesign was with the poisoned apple the witch offers to Snow White in one scene. Originally, the witch was holding a physical apple out to the guests as they passed by, but there were lots of attempts to grab it and a few people succeeded in taking it home with them as a souvenir. This recurring problem prompted Imagineers to replace the three-dimensional apple with a projected image of an apple.
At the beginning of 2020, shortly before the parks closed, Snow White’s Scary Adventures was updated once again to add in new scenes and more up to date audio and visual effects. The ride was renamed one final time to Snow White’s Enchanted Wish in an attempt to make it more appealing to young children who might have been frightened by its previous name.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
While the initial concept for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was a rollercoaster, Walt decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for young children and the elderly to ride, so it was made into a dark ride. This attraction is slightly different than many of the other attractions that premiered on opening day because of the way the scenery is built.
Most of the other Disneyland attractions were created using three-dimensional figures and set pieces to tell the story of the ride. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride took a simpler approach with two-dimensional flats making up the majority of the scenery, and it has largely remained the same throughout the years.
One update did take place in 1961 with new scene details and improved technological aspects, followed by another refurbishment in 1983 with the rest of Fantasyland. Other than that, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is just as crazy and exciting as it was on Disneyland’s opening day! Interested in learning more about Disneyland’s other “wild rides?” Check out our top 10 list of Disneyland rides you cannot miss.
Storybook Land Canal Boats
Before Disneyland came to fruition, Walt wanted to build a “magical little park” across from his Studios in California. He wanted to include a boat ride that traveled around miniature figures, inspired by a miniature city in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, at the time, the proper technology needed to make animated figures did not exist, so Walt settled on miniature versions of famous landmarks from around the world.
When it opened in 1955, the ride was called Canal Boats of the World, and the first year was a rough one. Because there was not much landscaping on the banks around the waterway, the boats would get stuck on the sides and the attraction was dubbed “The Mud Bank Ride” by some of the park executives. After only two months of operation, the boats were closed so Storybook Land could be built.
When the ride reopened a year later, it had been renamed to Storybook Land Canal Boats, and it had many improvements. The landscaping had been cleaned up, which prevented the vessels from getting stuck in the mud. It also featured miniature models of buildings and scenes from Disney’s classic animated films. Since then, several movie scenes have been added and removed to keep the attraction relevant.
Mad Tea Party
The final opening day attraction you can still ride in Disneyland is the Mad Tea Party. When the theme park opened, it sat behind Sleeping Beauty Castle and King Arthur Carrousel, where it remained until it was moved to its current location near the Matterhorn Bobsleds in 1983.
The ride also needed several modifications throughout the years to make it a safer experience. During the first two years it was open, the teacups didn’t have brakes or clutches built into the system. This meant that there was no restraint to keep them at a steady pace, and there was nothing to limit how fast they could spin.
It needed to be changed again in 2004 after an accident occurred, and these new updates made it even more difficult to spin the cups too quickly. Even though it was disappointing, these safety modifications were for the best, and they allowed the ride to remain open from 1955 until today.
Although these attractions have stood the test of time, there are many that have shut down permanently through the decades. To learn more about these closed attractions, check out our list of forgotten Disneyland attractions you’ll never get to ride.
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