The First 50 Years (1955-2005)
The Happiest Place on Earth
– Construction starts in Anaheim, which often continues 24 hours a day
to get the park ready in time. Hollywood studios and amusement park
owners couldn’t understand Walt’s concept of a “theme park,” and
figured it would fail within months of opening. Burbank was the desired
location, but the city rejected the project fearing the “carnie”
type atmosphere and increased crime that was associated with amusement
parks of the day. Disneyland, in fact, was based much less on the
traditional amusement park and much more on the world’s fair, Denmark’s
Tivoli Gardens, Greenfield Village and the “garden city" concept, which also became the model
for most of America’s suburbs developed during the 1950s, 1960s and
1970s (most of Disneyland's patrons came from those suburbs, and it's a
small wonder they found it so appealing). ABC, the smallest of the three networks, begins airing Disneyland
television show, which eventually becomes the Wonderful World of
Disney. The show is the first time a major Hollywood movie studio
has partnered with television, and puts ABC at the top of the rankings.
The hour-long show’s programming is divided into four guiding themes,
Fantasyland (Disney animated shorts), Frontierland (the amazingly
successful Davy Crocket), Adventureland (True-Life Adventures
series – the first such films to capture animals in the wild) and
Tomorrowland (original programming such as Man In Space). Not
only was the show a great way to remind audiences of Disney favorites of
the past, but it also was the first time future movies were promoted
using television, a practice that is now commonplace. In addition, Walt
used the show to show the public plans for his theme park concept. Walt
Disney becomes the first publicly recognizable studio head in Hollywood
history by insisting that his face be shown on every episode of Disneyland.
– Disneyland opens July 17th with 18 attractions, at a cost of $17.5
million. The five original lands are Adventureland, Frontierland,
Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA (the only entrance/exit
for the park). Opening day ceremonies are overseen by Ronald Reagan, Art
Linkletter and Robert Cummings. All three will return for
Disneyland’s 35 in 1990, and Art Linkletter will be present for
Disneyland’s 50th in 2005. Park crowds swell to 30,000 as
more than double the invited number of guests enter as people climb
fences and walls around the park to get in. Most attractions break down
within the first few hours and many women lose the heels of their shoes
(yes people dressed up for Disneyland back then) as the asphalt paving
on Main Street USA had just been poured and was still soft. Disneyland
is deemed a disaster in Anaheim, although the televised grand opening
attracted the largest TV audience in history to that date – over 90
million viewers, which in 1955, was almost everyone that had the ability
to view television. By September, Disneyland welcomes its 1,000,000th
guest. Disneyland not only charged admission for attractions (which
would later change to tickets), but there was also a general admission
at the front gate, which kept out certain “undesirables.” Disneyland
was also located off a major freeway, far from public transportation and
the center of Los Angeles, again, limiting access to those able to
afford automobiles. It clearly represented a shift in American
entertainment from the city center to the surrounding suburbs.
– By October, 5 million people have visited Disneyland. The "D"
ticket is introduced this year. The Skyway
opens and is the first aerial tramway of its kind in the US. Tom
Sawyer Island opens.
– By December, 10 million people have visited Disneyland. Sleeping
Beauty Castle’s interior walkways open. Construction starts on the
first park to attempt the Disney “theme” concept. Financial backers
get scared, and Magic Mountain in Denver (no association with
Magic Mountain outside of Los Angeles), was never completed, although
the site of the old park is now Heritage Square in Denver.
– The first poster-sized, large souvenir map of Disneyland is
released to the public. Alice in Wonderland opens in Fantasyland.
Pacific Ocean Park (POP) in Santa Monica was converted from a
small traditional amusement park into a lavish theme park by new owners
CBS and the Hollywood Turf Club. Hoping to cash in on the success Disney
seemed to have, $16 million was put into the park. While very popular,
POP opted for one low cover charge of $2.50 (the POP also stood for Pay
One Price). The crowds poured in, but the low entrance fee didn’t
allow for proper maintenance of the facility (it was next to the ocean),
and allowed “undesirables” to afford entry into the park. The park
ultimately failed and closed in 1968.
– The "E" ticket is introduced this year. The experimental Swiss-made Alweg
Disneyland Monorail makes its US debut this
year. Soviet Premier, Nikita Krushchev, is denied entry into Disneyland.
Disneyland introduces the world to the tubular steel roller coaster with
the opening of the Matterhorn Bobsleds to go along with the
studio’s new movie, Third Man on the Mountain. The Matterhorn
is a 1/100 version of the 14,700ft high Swiss Alps peak, and tops out at
147ft. It is the park’s highest point. Besides being the first tubular
steel roller coater (Walt originally wanted actual bobsleds, but was
convinced that those would prove unsafe with unskilled riders), the
Matterhorn was also the first roller coaster to allow the multiple
dispatch of trains. Matterhorn contains breaking blocks, and at any
time, all of the trains can be stopped without running into each other.
This combination of fantasy and technology suits the location of the
Matterhorn at the border of Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The
Tomorrowland side of the ride (there are two bobsled runs inside the
Matterhorn), is actually the faster, but in order to keep the two lines
more equal in length, this knowledge is withheld from guests by the late
1970s. Arrow Development Company of the USA (later Arrow Dynamics
and now owned by S&S Power), created many of the track systems for
Disneyland’s early Fantasyland rides. They turned it up a notch with
the experimental tubular track for Matterhorn and revolutionized the
coaster industry, going on to create run-a-way mine trains for parks
around the country, the Corkscrews at Knott’s Berry Farm and Cedar
Point, The Loch Ness Monster at Busch Gardens, Viper at Magic Mountain,
Vortex at Kings Island, Demon at both Great America parks and numerous
other coasters. The company also created the first modern log flume (El
Aserradero at Six Flags Over Texas), which has been built in several
theme and amusement parks around the world. A third attempt to duplicate
the success of Disneyland, Pleasure Island, opens outside of
Boston at a cost of $4 million. The park fails to impress audiences who
continue to patronize the traditional amusement parks in the Boston area
that provide standard thrill rides instead of themed areas. The park
struggles for ten years and closes in 1969 without ever turning a
profit. Busch Gardens opens in Tampa on land surrounding the
Busch brewery. At this stage it is literally just a garden with plants
– Freedomland USA, opens in the Bronx New York. Freedomland was
ambitious ($33 million), but unfortunately underfunded. It played
heavily on US history, and the park was shaped like a giant map of the
United States, with sections themed to Old New York, Old Chicago, The
Great Plains, San Francisco, The Old Southwest, New Orleans and
Satellite City (the Florida "Space Coast"). Although 60,000 people jammed the half-finished park on
opening day, the park was an enormous financial failure, leading many to
speculate that Disney’s cleanliness and emphasis on family
entertainment over thrill rides was a fluke that only worked in Anaheim.
In 1964 Freedomland closed.
First Grad Nite party. The Flying Saucers are added to Tomorrowland. In this
space-age version of bumper cars, riders actually float on air that is
shot up through the floor by giant fan jets. The technology, while
exciting, was difficult to execute consistently, and the attraction
closed in 1966. The monorail is extended to the Disneyland Hotel,
making it the first monorail in the United States to operate over
surface streets (Seattle's Alweg Monorail will open in 1962). The
Disneyland Hotel expands and becomes Orange County's first high-rise
building. Six Flags Over Texas is opened between Dallas and Fort
Worth by oil tycoon and real estate developer, Angus Wynne, Jr. (son of
Angus Wynne, Sr.). Wynne liked Disney’s family entertainment concept,
but was smart enough to realize that Disney’s national-level success
was the result of the park’s promotion on television and the synergy
created between the park’s attractions and the company’s movies and
Wynne, not having movies or a television show made his park for the
local residents of the Dallas metropolitan area and the state of Texas,
and thus the “regional theme park” was born. The designer was
Randall Duell, an architect and set designer for MGM who would go
on to design most of the regional theme parks in the United States. The
park had six themed areas, each relating to a “flag” that had flown
over the state of Texas (Spain, France, Mexico, the Confederacy, The
Republic of Texas
and USA). The opening cost was modest, only $3 million, but that small
sum could be supported by local visitation. The theming was also not as
detailed (and not as expensive) as Disney or the other failed theme
parks. The park was an instant success, and is still the most visited
theme park in Texas. Nearly all of the US’s theme parks follow this
regional theme park concept rather than the Disney “destination
– Swiss Family Treehouse opens.
– Disneyland introduces the world to audio-animatronic characters with
the opening of the Enchanted Tiki Room. The Haunted Mansion
is built in Frontierland, although the desired show isn't
technologically available at the time. The first log flume, El
Aserradero, opens at Six Flags Over Texas. The Arrow
Development designed log flume will become the most popular family
ride at US theme parks.
– Disney creates the Carousel of Progress (moved to Disneyland
in 1967), It’s A Small
World (1966) and Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln (1965) for the World’s
Fair in New York. After their run at the fair, they become Disneyland
attractions. The Carousel of Progress is later moved to the Magic
Kingdom in Florida and replaced with America Sings at Disneyland in
1974. Disneyland’s first death is recorded as a 15 year old stands up
on the Matterhorn and falls out. Not a pleasant sight for those standing
near the bottom of the waterfall. Universal Studios (later
Universal Studios Hollywood) revives its tour of the 1920s and begins
charging the public admission. The first of the four SeaWorld
parks opens in San Diego. SeaWorld will later be bought by Busch
Entertainment, the family branch of the beer company.
– For the 10th Anniversary, a Disneyland Ambassador to the
World begins making trips to Japan, Australia, Europe and other parts of
the US to meet with leaders and make press appearances. Disney ends
discussions with St. Louis to build an indoor theme park near the
riverfront between the new Busch Stadium and the planned Gateway Arch
(designed by Eero Saarinen). St. Louis is hoping to save its downtown
(one of the first urban-redevelopment plans in the country) by
incorporating the theme park concept, which is projected to cost between
$30 and $50 million. Disney demands that the city pay for the entire
project and once the construction costs are cleared, Disney wants 100%
of the profits. The city backs out of the deal. Busch Gardens
opens the “Serengeti
Plain,” the first zoo to have animals roaming freely. By 1968 it is
Florida’s most popular tourist attraction. It will become a full theme
park in 1975, calling itself The Dark Continent Busch Gardens (then
Busch Gardens The Dark Continent, then Busch Gardens, then Busch Gardens
Tampa Bay and finally, Busch
– New Orleans Square, the first new “land,” opens at a cost
of $18 million at the bend of the Rivers of America in what used to be
part of Frontierland. A young man is crushed to death on by the monorail as he
tries to sneak into the park by climbing its track during Grad Night.
Not a pleasant sight for the high school graduates. Walt Disney dies in
December, his older brother and business partner, Roy Disney
becomes CEO. Space Mountain first appears on the large,
poster-sized, souvenir map of Disneyland. Space Mountain will not open
however until 1977. Public is first made aware of plans for “Disneyland East,”
for which Walt Disney Productions has been secretly buying land in
Central Florida under various names to avoid a sudden increase in the
price per acre. Disneyland East’s name is later changed to Disney
World. Disney formally announces plans to build a ski resort at Mineral
King, adjacent to Sequoia National Park. The site was selected after
looking at other now famous ski areas such as Aspen and Mammoth.
However, plans never materialized due to a ten year legal battle over
the size of Disney’s project. Protesters marched on Disneyland, and in
1978, the Mineral King Valley was added to Sequoia, making it
unavailable for development. Busch Gardens opens in Van Nuys
surrounding the Busch Brewery. The park closes in 1986.
– Pirates of the Caribbean makes its debut in New Orleans
Square, and immediately becomes Disneyland’s most popular attraction,
and is the most popular dark ride in the world, with an abbreviated
version in Florida, a full-length version in Tokyo, a reverse-story line
version in Paris, and soon to
be modified, higher-thrill version in Hong Kong. One of the attraction's
most popular effects, the two chute hills, actually served a very
practical purpose. The actual ride building for Pirates is located
beyond the park's berm. In order to transport guests to the ride
building, they would have to be lowered underneath the railroad tracks.
The mundane task was made exciting by incorporating two downward hills
near the beginning of the ride (this is the same reason the Haunted
Mansion uses its elevators - imagineers just took the opportunity to
make it part of the attraction even though its primary purpose is a
practical one). In the mid-1980s, the
attraction comes under attack by women’s rights groups that complain
of the theme song’s rowdy rape, pillage, hijack and plunder lyrics and
several scenes of the attraction that depict men chasing women. Some of
the scenes are altered to make the attraction more politically correct. Club
33, a secret club located above Pirates also opens this year. Tomorrowland
is revamped at a cost of $23 million. A teenage boy is crushed to death
by the PeopleMover as he tries to jump between cars and falls between
them. He is torn to pieces by the ride’s cog system. Not a pleasant
thing for employees to have to clean up. Six Flags Over Texas and
Arrow Development team up again to create the Run-A-Way Mine
Train family roller coaster, based on the Matterhorn technology,
which will become a standard in theme parks across the country. Six
Flags Over Georgia opens outside of Atlanta, becoming the first time
a theme park “chain” is established. Theme parks as suburban (or
exurban) ventures is firmly established as the idea of an urban park is
not attempted again.
– Knott’s Berry Farm begins charging admission to the
“Ghost Town” that had joined the chicken dinner restaurant that
Cordelia Knott operated since 1934 next to her husband Walter Knott’s
boysenberry farm. Ghost Town had opened in 1940 as something Walter
built to entertain guests waiting for a table in the restaurant. The
chicken dinner restaurant is currently the largest restaurant serving
chicken as its main course.
– The Haunted Mansion finally opens in what is now New Orleans
the most technologically advanced attraction of the time. Originally
conceived as a walk-through attraction, Disney held out until a
continuously moving transportation system (named the "omnicar"
could be developed for the ride that never had to stop - even when
loading. These "doom buggies" would help control the number of guests per hour, keeping
the rate high. At last
report, there are still only 999 ghosts within the mansion, and they are
still looking for number 1000. Any takers?
– By June, 100 million people have visited Disneyland. Yippies (Youth
International Party members) invaded Disneyland and cause for early park
closure. Police were called in to round up the trouble-makers that took
over Tom Sawyer Island and declared it theirs by raising a Viet Cong
flag, filled the now-closed Adventure Through Inner-Space attraction
with Marijuana smoke, lit trash cans on fire, and tried to
“liberate” Minnie Mouse, whom they saw as oppressed because of her
female gender and subordinate role to Mickey. A second SeaWorld
park opens in Ohio. In 2001, this SeaWorld will be sold to Six Flags.
– Walt Disney World in Florida opens as the first full-scale
vacation resort, and the largest privately funded project on earth. It
opens with one theme park (the Disneyland inspired Magic Kingdom),
two resort hotels and 43 square miles of recreational land and water
space (equal to twice the size of Manhattan or equal to the size of
the entire city of San Francisco). Walt Disney World now attracts nearly 40
million people annually, and ranks as the fourth most visited
“nation” in the world, falling between the United States and Italy.
The “Walt” was added to the name of the “Vacation Kingdom of the
World” in honor of Roy Disney’s younger brother, Walt. Walt’s
older brother and the Disney financial genius (to match Walt’s
creative genius), Roy Disney, dies in December. Don Tatum takes
over as CEO. Magic Mountain
(originally owned in part by SeaWorld, later purchased by Six
Flags and renamed Six Flags Magic Mountain) opens in the northern
suburbs on Los Angeles. The park struggles for several years due to bad
design and underfunding. Although it began as a family park, by the late
1970s, it relies mainly on thrill rides to attract an audience. The
third and final of the three original Angus Wynne Six Flags parks (Six
Flags Over Mid-America, now Six Flags St. Louis) opens in St. Louis.
It comes with the now signature Six Flags rides, a log flume and a
run-a-way mine train. All other Six Flags parks are parks the company
purchased after being opened (and proven unsuccessful) by someone else.
– Bear Country (later re-named Critter Country) becomes
Disneyland’s seventh themed land, anchored by the Country Bear
Jamboree, a huge hit in Florida that never manages to totally take off
in California. The highly successful Main Street Electrical Parade
debuts this year. Kings Island opens outside of Cincinnati by
Taft Broadcasting Company (Hanna Barbera cartoons). Up to this point,
theme parks had, like Disney, focused on family rides and small roller
coasters like run-a-way mine trains (that used the tubular steel track
pioneered on the Matterhorn). Kings Island premiered with its opening,
The Racer, a large wooden racing roller coaster designed by coaster
veteran, John Allen. The ride was an instant hit, appearing on both the
Brady Bunch and the Partridge Family, and is credited with beginning the
“second golden age of the roller coaster.” After Kings Island,
regional theme parks begin to differ substantially from Disneyland by
incorporating more thrill rides.
– Disney considered Florida too close to the Caribbean to include its
most famous attraction, but after many complaints from Magic Kingdom
guests, (a shortened version of) Pirates of the Caribbean opens
in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in an extension of Adventureland
called Caribbean Plaza (originally, Thunder Mesa, a huge
three-attraction anchor to Frontierland was to be the Florida answer to
Pirates, with a mine train, a mule ride and a river-boat ride called the
Western River Expedition). Caribbean Plaza so successfully uses the
attraction as a guest pull to that section of the park (which translates
to dollars spent in nearby shops and restaurants), it wins an
architectural design award. A teenager drowns in the Rivers of America
surrounding Tom Sawyer Island at Disneyland as he tries to swim across
carrying his little brother. Not a nice thing to see from the decks of
the Mark Twain. SeaWorld follows Disney to Florida, and opens its
third park in Orlando.
This will become the most successful sea-life park in the world.
This will become the most successful sea-life park in the world.
– Disneyland’s first cast member (employee) fatality occurs on
America Sings (formerly Carousel of Progress) as a young woman is
crushed to death between the walls of the rotating carousel.
– Three teenagers are shot in Tomorrowland in the park’s first
reported large-scale gang fight. Space Mountain debuts in the
Magic Kingdom in Florida. It has two tracks (Alpha and Omega) and is
based closely on Disneyland’s Matterhorn Bobsleds. The attraction is
such a huge hit, that a jealous Disneyland immediately begins talks with
WED Enterprises (home of Disney’s “imagineers” – the creative
people behind all of the attractions) for their own version of the ride.
On the success of the Tampa park and Los Angeles park (which would later
close), Busch tries its luck in a non-Disney part of the country. The
Old Country Busch Gardens (later Busch Gardens The Old Country, then
Busch Gardens, then Busch Gardens Williamsburg and
finally Busch Gardens Europe) opens in 1975 on land surrounding the
Williamsburg brewery. Also in Virginia, Kings Dominion opens in
Richmond following the success of Kings Island. The parks will later be
purchased by Paramount. Knott’s Berry Farm opens the Corkscrew
designed by Arrow Development, as the first successful
upside-down roller coaster.
– 150 million people have visited Disneyland. The Jungle Cruise,
one of the park's original attractions, is given seven new scenes. The two Marriott’s
Great America parks open outside of Chicago and San Jose for the
American Bicentennial. Unlike other chain parks, which vary slightly
from location to location, the two Marriott parks are identical to the
last detail, with a third Washington, DC park planned that is never
realized. The two theme parks, designed by Randall Duell and
Associates, represent the current state-of-the-art in the industry
and are immediately successful. However, Marriott underestimates the
reinvestment and maintenance expenditures and opts out of the theme park
business by the early 1980s, selling the Chicago park to Six Flags and
the San Jose park to the City of Santa Clara (eventually bought by
Paramount). Magic Mountain opens the Schwarzkopt/INTAMIN (INTernational
AMusement INstallations) designed Great American Revolution
(later renamed Revolucìon and then Revolution) as the world’s first
vertical looping roller coaster (the loops on the Corkscrew are barrel
rolls and not vertical loops). Disney will not employ upside-down
elements in one of its coasters until 1995 when Space Mountain – De la
Terre à la Lune opens in Disneyland Paris. Card Walker becomes
– Space Mountain opens in a new Tomorrowland, and
astronauts John Glenn and Alan Shepard are among the first riders. The
$20 million Space Mountain becomes the parks’ most popular attraction
and is the second time Disneyland has copied an attraction that debuted
in Florida, although it is significantly different due to the Florida
version’s similarity to Matterhorn and the limited space within
Disneyland (Disneyland’s version is only 118ft high while the Magic
Kingdom version is 164ft high). The Disneyland version also has only one
– Disneyland celebrates Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday.
91,000+ guests cram the park’s 80 acres to be part of the mouse’s
birthday. Matterhorn is given an extensive overhaul. A new
computer system, new tandem bobsleds and the inside is made to look like
snow (instead of showing the steal beams that held up the mountain).
Most significantly, the abominable snowman makes his debut.
Matterhorn is given an extensive overhaul. A new computer system, new tandem bobsleds and the inside is made to look like snow (instead of showing the steal beams that held up the mountain). Most significantly, the abominable snowman makes his debut.
– Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opens in Frontierland at a cost
of $40 million, replacing the Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland.
Some of the Mine Train’s buildings are kept as the set for the mining
town in the Big Thunder Mountain attraction. The 104ft high California
version is based on the “hoodoo” rock formations of Bryce Canyon,
Utah. There are six trains that run on Big Thunder (although not all at
once), and they have some pretty clever names. The names are: U.R.
Courageous, I.M. Brave, I.M. Bold, U.R. Fearless, I.B. Hearty and U.R.
The ride is seen as a "changing of the guard" at Disneyland.
Old, original imagineer, Marc Davis (Pirates, Small World, Haunted
Mansion, Carousel of Progress, Mr. Lincoln, Tiki Room, etc.) lost out on
his greatest attraction concept, Thunder Mesa, to young, up-and-coming
imgineer, Tony Baxter. Baxter's hipper, more exciting mine train pushed
him to the front of Disney imagineering, and while the ride was being
built, Davis retired from Disney in 1978 (various scenes and characters
from the Western River Expedition would later pop up in Epcot Center
pavilions, World of Motion and The Land - seamlessly woven into the
storylines of those rides). Teresa Salcedo is the first baby born at Disneyland.
The ride is seen as a "changing of the guard" at Disneyland. Old, original imagineer, Marc Davis (Pirates, Small World, Haunted Mansion, Carousel of Progress, Mr. Lincoln, Tiki Room, etc.) lost out on his greatest attraction concept, Thunder Mesa, to young, up-and-coming imgineer, Tony Baxter. Baxter's hipper, more exciting mine train pushed him to the front of Disney imagineering, and while the ride was being built, Davis retired from Disney in 1978 (various scenes and characters from the Western River Expedition would later pop up in Epcot Center pavilions, World of Motion and The Land - seamlessly woven into the storylines of those rides). Teresa Salcedo is the first baby born at Disneyland.
– Disneyland turns 25. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad opens in
the Magic Kingdom, and is similar to Disneyland’s version, although
the rock formations are based on those of Monument Valley, Utah, giving
the attraction an entirely different appearance. This is the only
surviving piece of the never-built Thunder Mesa. The western-themed,
Pirate's-like Western River Expedition never materialized, the pack mule
ride was not created in Florida, and the mine train portion of Thunder
Mesa was given a high-speed upgrade and turned into Big Thunder Mountain
Railroad. Disney imagineers love to throw in references to things that
never happened (but should have), and not only does Thunder Mountain
sounds a lot like Thunder Mesa, but in the Paris park, the boat docks in
Frontierland are called Thunder Mesa landing (even though there is no
Thunder Mesa in the park). The PeopleMover strikes
again, as another teen is killed in the cog system while trying to jump
between cars. Again, messy clean-up for employees.
– 200 million people have visited Disneyland.
– The all-inclusive Disneyland Passport ($12 for a one-day passport)
is introduced, and the A-E tickets are discontinued. The Experimental
Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT – later changed to
Epcot) opens in Walt Disney World a few miles from the Magic Kingdom,
making it the first time a vacation destination has contained two
separately gated theme parks. A new monorail is built connecting the
Magic Kingdom resort area to Epcot, giving Walt Disney World more
monorail miles than any other location on earth. This “adult” theme
park has no Mickey Mouse (that is later changed) and serves alcohol –
another first for Disney. EPCOT cost over $1 billion, making it the
largest privately funded project in the world.
– The new Fantasyland opens at Disneyland, changing the
appearance from the fantasy faire type look to that reminiscent of a
European village. Pinocchio's Daring Journey is new with this
renovation. Tokyo Disneyland opens and
within a year becomes the world’s most visited theme park, routinely
out pulling the Magic Kingdom in Florida, which had passed the original
Disneyland in annual attendance by 1972. Japanese tourism to the
original Disneyland actually increases rather than decreases. Another
teen is killed by drowning in the Rivers of America.
Walt Disney's son-in-law, Ron Miller, becomes Disney CEO.
Walt Disney's son-in-law, Ron Miller, becomes Disney CEO.
– Michael Eisner comes on board as CEO, and begins an aggressive increasing of
park admission prices, attempting to put them on scale with Broadway
tickets, which commonly went for $50. One-day passports to Disneyland
are now $56, having met and surpassed Michael Eisner’s goal. A teen
unbuckles her seatbelt for an extra thrill on the Matterhorn, and is
thrown from the bobsled. She lands on a lower track, still alive, but is
killed by a bobsled that hits her. Rude jolt for those riding that were
smart enough to keep their seatbelts on.
1985 - Until now, Disneyland has been closed certain days of the week during spring, fall and winter (always on Monday and sometimes also on Tuesday). This year marks the introduction of year-round, 365 day operation. The Magic Kingdom in Florida (and Epcot Center) have always had year-round operation.
– Captain Eo, the 3-D, musical adventure starring Michael
Jackson and Angelica Houston, opens in the specially created Magic Eye
Theatre in Tomorrowland. The attraction had opened just six days earlier
in the Journey Into Imagination pavilion at EPCOT Center in Florida. At
over $1 million a minute, the film is the most expensive film per minute
made at the time. Captain Eo closes in 1997.
–Star Tours opens for the 10th anniversary of Star
Wars, and is the first time a major Disneyland movie-based attraction is
based on a non-Disney movie. Regardless, it becomes a major hit with
park guests. A gang member is shot to death by a rival gang member in
Tomorrowland and becomes the park’s first gang-related death.
– The Walt Disney Company (formerly Walt Disney Productions) purchases
the neighboring Disneyland Hotel, which much of the public
already thought Disney owned. This is the first hotel property Disney
owns in California. Space Mountain opens at Tokyo Disneyland and is a
duplicate of the Disneyland version, not the Magic Kingdom version. The
last and largest of the four SeaWorld parks opens in San Antonio.
– 300 million people have visited Disneyland. Splash Mountain
opens in Critter Country as the fourth and smallest (87ft high) peak in
Disneyland’s mountain range (east to west, Space Mountain, Matterhorn
Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain). Many of the
characters from the recently removed America Sings in
Tomorrowland end up as “extras” in Splash Mountain. The cameras at
the top of Splash Mountain’s drop routinely capture women pulling up
their shirts, and in the late 1990s, a website called Flash Mountain,
created by former Disneyland cast members, pops up and displays several
of the photos. Disney-MGM
Studios opens at Walt Disney World, becoming its third gated theme
park. It is a strategic move by Eisner designed to prevent visitors from
leaving Walt Disney World to go to Universal Studios Florida, set
to open in 1990. It works, and Disney-MGM Studios outdraws Universal
Studios each year.
– Disney is anxious to expand it presence in Southern California and
capture more days of visitation by tourists. Plans are announced for Port
Disney in Long Beach, which will include five resort hotels and the DisneySea
theme park. The idea is eventually scrapped, but remnants of DisneySea
and Port Disney appear later in Tokyo. Universal Studios Florida
opens in Orlando and becomes Florida’s second most popular tourist
– Plans are announced for a new “Disneyland Resort” that will
include a new theme park, Westcot Center (the West coast version
of Epcot Center). Westcot is eventually dropped, but Disney’s
California Adventure theme park now stands on the proposed Westcot site.
– Fantasmic! debuts on the Rivers of America in Frontierland at a cost
of $30 millioin. Euro-Disney (later re-named Disneyland Paris),
opens in Marne-la-Valle. While Tokyo Disneyland is essentially based on
copies of Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom attractions (even though the
Japanese were lead to believe that they were copies of Disneyland
attractions), the French park was almost entirely re-designed from
scratch, making it much more expensive. Unlike Tokyo, which was a
run-a-way success, Euro-Disney struggles for years to turn a profit.
Major cultural issues surround the park as Europeans react negatively to
many of the Disney-ized versions of what are traditional European
stories folk tales (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, etc.).
Profit estimates for restaurants were based on American dining patterns
(an average of only 45 minutes), so tables turned over several times per
day. French dining habits of two to three hours greatly reduced the
money typically made on food. Similarly, American souvenir buying
patters mean a push for anything Disney (Americans spend on average $250
per day at Walt Disney World), where-as the French were almost entirely
uninterested in shirts with a Mickey Mouse on them. Splash Mountain
opens in the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom with re-design “logs”
so that riders sit side-by-side, rather than toboggan-style as at
– Mickey’s Toontown opens as an extension of Fantasyland.
– Evil Tower U R Doomed! The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror opens in Disney-MGM
Studios. The haunted hotel's elevator drops riders thirteen stories (of course) and
features a drop sequence that is programmable and altered over the
years. The town of Celebration is founded at Walt Disney World as
an example of New Urbanism/Neo-Traditionalism, and marks the first time
people can actually live full-time on Disney property. Originally Walt
wanted EPCOT to be an actual city, but after his death, the Disney board
opted to build a Disneyland like theme park on the Florida property,
which they figured would be more financially sound. The EPCOT Center
that opened in 1982 kept the original name, but was entirely different
on concept to what Walt imagined. Two other cities have been founded on
Walt Disney World property (Lake Buena Vista – where the Hotel Plaza
is located off of I-4, and Reedy Creek – located more north on the
property now, but originally located where Celebration stands), but the
general public is not allowed residential access to either of these
towns. Disney officially announces its plans to cancel the construction
of Disney’s America in Virginia, outside of Washington. This
theme park, based on America’s history, met with fierce opposition of
area residents that worried of Disney’s effect on historic
battlegrounds in the area.
– Beware the eyes of Mara! The Indiana Jones Adventure opens in
Adventureland as the most technologically advanced dark ride in a theme
park. The queue of this attraction is also very well themed, with
interactive elements that respond if guests pull ropes or push certain
stones, much like in the Indiana Jones movies. There are actually three
separate ride paths in the attraction, and the ride vehicles are capable
of over 160,000 individual movements, making each trip unique. Disney
buys ABC, the network that years ago first aired the Disneyland
television show. Space Mountain – De la Terre à la Lune, opens
at Disneyland Paris, and is the first Space Mountain to turn riders
upside-down. It is also the first roller coaster to have a soundtrack.
The ride is designed by Vekoma of the Netherlands.
– Space Mountain is given a soundtrack to approximate the
technology in Paris. The wireless-type technology wasn’t great in
1996, and it never quite works and not all rockets are consistently able
to receive sound.
– The last original cast member (Disney employee) from 1955 retires.
– Tomorrowland is once again remade. Space Mountain is
re-painted in rusts, and browns to match the new color scheme. Animal
Kingdom opens at Walt Disney World, becoming the fourth gated theme
park in an attempt to block visitors from going to Busch Gardens
in Tampa, which has an animal/safari theme. Initially water mammals such
as killer whales are to be included to compete directly with Sea
World, but animal rights activists protest, and the plans are
dropped. The Animal Kingdom Lodge becomes the first resort hotel to be
located inside a Disney theme park. The Sailing Ship Columbia on
the Rivers of America is responsible for the first death in the park
that is determined to be the fault of Disneyland, not the patron. A
metal cleat is torn from the ship and strikes three guests in the head,
killing one of them. Disneyland’s policy of restricting the entry of
outside medical help (to avoid frightening guests) is considered part of
the reason the young man died (he was still alive after being struck by
the cleat). DisneyQuest, interactive indoor theme park, opens at
Downtown Disney Westside in Florida. Although this is the first of 20 to
30 planned locations, the only other location to open is in Chicago in
1999. The Chicago location closes in 2001.
– Fastpass premiers at Disneyland in an effort to deal with the
park’s number one guest complaint – long lines. In taking a cue from
the movie industry, the free Fastpass service assigns guests specific
times to return to an attraction and ride without waiting in line.
Fastpass is designed to prevent people from standing in line since while
they are in line, they are not walking around the park spending money on
souvenirs and food. As it is introduced on Pirates of the Caribbean and
the Indiana Jones Adventure, it proves to work almost too well and
restaurants in Adventureland and New Orleans Square are swamped with
guests, just as Disneyland expected. Frontierland is called in to help
with the problem, and a new two-story dining area is built to take the
overflow from Adventureland and New Orleans Square. Radio Disney
opens in Tomorrowland. Universal Studios
Florida opens a second theme park, Islands of Adventure, to
compete directly with Disney. The two are re-named Universal Studios
Escape, which confuses guests. The name is changed back to Universal
Studios Florida (with the movie studio theme park simply called,
– Disney’s California Adventure opens in what used to be the
Disneyland parking lot, to become the second gated theme park at the
newly re-named Disneyland Resort (Disneyland is now often referred to as
Disneyland Park "Where the Magic Began" to avoid confusion).
The Disneyland sign is changed. Fastpass is set up on all major
attractions, and proves almost too successful, allowing guests to finish
the park by mid-afternoon. Instead of enjoying not having to wait in
lines, guests now complain that the new park does not have a day’s worth
of entertainment. Attendance is less than expected, although it still
manages to beat out every other park in California except Disneyland.
California Adventure serves its purpose and keeps many guests from
leaving Disney property to visit Universal Studios Hollywood or
Knott’s Berry Farm. Downtown Disney entertainment area opens to
compete with Universal Studio’s CityWalk. The Grand Californian
resort hotel is located within California Adventure. The entire creation
of the Disneyland Resort costs $1.5 billion, partly paid for by the City
of Anaheim, making it the largest public-private venture in US history. Tokyo
DisneySea opens at the newly re-named Tokyo Disneyland Resort,
becoming its second gated theme park. Tokyo DisneySea breaks several
industry records, being the park to hit the 1,000,000 guests mark the
quickest (less than a month), being the park to hit the 10,000,000
guests mark the quickest (in less than nine months) and being the park
to have the highest first year attendance ever (13 million guests). In
an effort to help attendance at Disney’s California Adventure and keep
people in the park later in the day (mainly for dinner, the most
expensive meal of the day), the Main Street Electrical Parade,
which had been operating in Tokyo Disneyland, returns to California
Adventure. Universal Studios Japan opens in Osaka and becomes the
most successful of the Universal movie theme parks.
– The Walt Disney Studios theme park opens at the Disneyland
Paris Resort and quickly becomes the company's least attended theme
park, attracting fewer than three million guests its first year.
Disneyland Paris continues to have financial trouble, having spent
hundreds of millions on the new park.
– Disneyland is found responsible for another death (the second time
in the park’s history) as a young man is killed during the derailment
of a train on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Pirates of the
Caribbean becomes a successful movie, with many scenes taken
directly from the Disneyland attraction. It marks the first time a theme
park attraction has generated a successful film (rather than the
other way around) and critics and audiences applaud. The success of the
film will lead to sequels in 2006, 2007 and 2011 (with more planned).
– 500 million people have visited Disneyland. Tower of Terror
debuts in California Adventure, in a somewhat altered version from the
original (it contains one less scene and lacks the horizontal movement
of the Florida version). While the ride proves successful, it isn't the
attendance windfall expected, and in one of those oddities of west vs.
east, it never becomes as popular as it did in Florida (perhaps because
of the skimping on certain scenes and effects mentioned above). Rumors of Universal’s
Shanghai theme park being shelved crop up and the company finally
admits in 2005 that it failed to receive government approval for the
Shanghai park. Industry experts expect that Shanghai wants a top-notch
theme park and is holding out for Disney.
2005 – Disney blogger and unofficial tour-giver, Jim Hill, is finally escorted out of Disneyland and asked not to return. Hill had been conducting his unofficial tours of the park for years, but in early 2005, three women who had signed up for an official Disney tour ended up in Hill’s group by mistake. They complained to Disneyland officials, and Disneyland promptly put an end to Hill’s work (he charged $25 per person). Disneyland begins its year-long 50th Anniversary Celebration. Space Mountain is completely re-tracked, re-painted white, and re-opens with a new soundtrack (that works) and new special effects. Hong Kong Disneyland is set to open in September, with a press day occurring in July. Much of Hong Kong Disneyland ($3.6 billion) is based on the original Disneyland, which will visually make it different from its sister in Tokyo, although many of the Hong Kong attractions are completely unique in their design. Each of the Disney theme parks around the world prepare to honor the original with new attractions, special festivities and extended operating hours. Some of the most anticipated new attractions are Raging Spirits, a new roller coaster at Tokyo DisneySea and Space Mountain: Mission II at Disneyland Paris. Virtual Magic Kingdom, interactive online game, debuts. Disney officially announces its plans for the long rumored park in Shanghai. The park is set to open in 2012 and the Shanghai property will be approximately three times the size of Hong Kong Disneyland. Six Flags, Inc., operators of more theme parks than any other company, put themselves up for sale and announce that they are over $2 billion in debt. Behind the Magic: 50 Years of Disneyland opens at the Henry Ford in September. The exhibit is planned to tour the US after its debut in Michigan. Robert Iger takes over as Disney CEO.
2006 - Rumors of new parks surface in India and Brazil, and continue for Shanghai. Chinese New Year celebrations force the closing of the gates at Hong Kong Disneyland (the park is filled to capacity). Angry visitors storm the gates and many force their way in, even past top security. Pirates of the Caribbean is taken offline in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom as the characters for Captain Jack Sparrow and Captain Barbossa are added to the attractions' storylines. Pirates will re-open in both parks in time for the release of the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie (if you want to ride the ride in the original form, you can still do so in Tokyo and Paris - Hong Kong has planned a very different version of the attraction to open later). The storyline is changed slightly from the original, and now Barbossa is in a race with Jack to find the treasure. Without a great deal of controversy from Disney "purists," Pirates re-opens with a star-studded event at Disneyland that is combined with the premier screening of the new movie (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) on a giant screen set up in the park. It appears the new version of the attraction is a hit, with the movie breaking all box-office records. It has the largest three day opening in history ($132 million, passing Spiderman's $114 million), it's the first movie to hit $100 million in only two days, it also sells more tickets than any other movie has in a three day period. By the end of ten days, it's over the quarter billion mark at approximately $268 million, another record. By the fourth week, Pirates has already become the biggest grossing Disney film in history, pulling in $358 million, passing the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo's $340 million, which had been Disney's best. While fans know that Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (the speculated title, but not yet confirmed by Disney) is already in filming (Rolling Stone Keith Richards will have an appearance) for a Memorial Day 2007 release, rumors begin of talks between Disney and Johnny Depp for a Pirates 4. References to the famous attraction were far fewer in the second film (most notably in the swamp scene - which is completely absent in the Florida version of the ride, so east coast fans probably didn't pick that up at all). The third film will coincide with the 40th anniversary of the ride - expect the waterfall drops to make an appearance in this film as the "end of the world." At Animal Kingdom, the much-anticipated Expedition Everest opens, adding to Disney's mountain range of roller coasters. This is the single most-expensive attraction ever built at Walt Disney World, and it contains a reverse switch-back section and features a scary run-in with the Yeti (to go along with the ride, Yeti Vision is launched on the Disney website). The stand out attraction at Disney's California Adventure has always been Soarin' Over California, and this year a clone of the ride makes its debut at Epcot Center as Soarin' (while the ride is the same, it is decide to drop the "Over California" for the east coast version of the ride). Speaking of "over," Six Flags continues to restructure and sell properties. It also announces that it will focus more on family and characters (Warner Bros.) to create an atmosphere at the parks less centered on teens and thrill rides.
2007 - Disneyland prepares for the debut of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End with a make-over of Tom Sawyer Island. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opens with the largest Memorial Day weekend take of any film in history ($152 million) with the largest launch of any film in history (4,362 theatres). Still, the film falls a bit short of the actual three-day weekend numbers. The film had early openings on Thursday (officially before the weekend), which consequently may have hurt the film in setting an official record the way Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest did last year. All said and done, the three-day tally was $115 million, making it the fourth largest film opening in history behind Spider-Man 3 ($151 million), Pirates 2 ($136 million) and Shrek 3 ($122 million). The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage opens at Disneyland, marrying the long-closed, classic Submarine Voyage with one of Disney's most popular films. This is the third and most elaborate Nemo attraction, following the Nemo lay over of The Living Seas at Epcot (to become The Seas with Nemo and Friends in October 2006) and Finding Nemo - The Musical at Animal Kingdom, which opened in January. DisneyToon Studios is merged into Disney Animation with the removal of its president. This follows the Disney purchase of Pixar (for about $7.5 billion) in stock to make Pixar head, Steve Jobs of Apple, a board member and Disney's largest stock holder. Jobs ends DisneyToon's straight-to-DVD sequels (Lion King 1 ½, Bambi II) saying that the sequels are "embarrassing." Walt Disney World sets a new theme park record by raising the gate prices at all four of its theme parks to $71. Universal Florida, SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa are expected to follow suit.