Why I Love Disneyland

FeaturedWhy I Love Disneyland

Why do I love Disneyland so much?

This is a question that i’ve been asked many times during my tenure as a Disney blogger, both in the context of mocking and legitimate inquiry, and It’s something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time.

So, why do I love ‘The Happiest Place on Earth’? It seems like a simple question on the surface, but any Disneyland fan will tell you that it really isn’t. It’s so hard to put into words why a single place makes you feel so happy and how memories made in that place could bring you so much joy years after the fact. But I thought about it long and hard, and I can finally narrow it down to one core idea.

It feels like coming home.

Whenever I walk through those gates, no matter how many times I’ve been there before, I always feel a deep sense of longing and belonging. It’s a similar feeling to seeing your hometown for the first time in 15 years, or that inexplicable warmth that washes over you during Christmastime. Some people chock it up to mere nostalgia, and while that’s partially true, I feel like that limits the full breadth of emotions present in the experience.

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My Brother, Sister, and I in 2007

Yes, I have nostalgia for Disneyland. After all, I had my first visit there before I was even a year old, and I’ve been going with my family ever since. But that’s not the only thing that stirs up this feeling of home in me. It can’t be. How could it explain the hundreds of people who have never been to Disneyland before, that weep at their first time going as an adult? No, there’s something far more… dare I say…magical about the happiest place on earth.

I never get tired of Disneyland either, and as anyone knows nostalgia can only go so far…can only last so long. If the age of reboots and sequels hasn’t proven that, I don’t know what will. No, my joy in Disneyland goes deeper than that!

As a child, I adored Disneyland, and while my childhood visits were comparatively few and far between, every single one of them was an event to remember. It was a real treat, and an extremely special occasion, for me to go to Disneyland. My love for Disneyland only grew with each consecutive visit.

So naturally, when I became an adult, I would want to save my own money to keep going to the the place which had brought so much joy to my childhood years. I saved every nickel, and eventually was blessed with the chance to buy an annual pass. This allowed me to go to Disneyland more often than I had ever been before. Everyone warned me that I would get tired of Disneyland if I went too much. They said that it would stop being special to me and that I would get bored with it eventually.

They were all wrong.

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Me Circa 2010

Now I adore Disneyland more than I ever have before! Sometimes, I don’t even ride any rides, and simply go in the park to window shop or sit down on a bench to eat. It’s no longer a trip every few years, but a place I visit on the regular. In light of this fact, nostalgia seems like an underwhelming explanation for my love of Disneyland. Due to this continuing enjoyment, I often struggle to find and adequate explanation for the experience.

So, I keep on coming back to this concept of coming home. They say home is where the heart is, and that is indeed true for the happiest place on earth! I may call the place where I live home, but Disneyland definitely feels like a second one. Every time I walk down Main Street U.S.A, sit down in the view of the castle, or ride the Disneyland Railroad, I’m hit with an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. No matter how rough the outside world might be, no matter how stressed I might feel, as soon as I walk through those turnstiles, it’s very hard to remember those things. Instead, all of my senses are flooded with creativity and imagination.

Suddenly, I smell the popcorn, I feel the brickwork underneath my feet, I see beautiful works of immersive art in every direction, and I even hear the music and sounds of a fantasy world come to life. It’s by no means perfect, but it does give you a sense of safety and freedom. It may all just be pretend, but sometimes it’s fun to let go and pretend. Too many people expect perfection from Disneyland, or are too eager to fulfill their plans like a checklist, that they miss the magic that happens right under their very noses. You don’t happen to Disneyland, Disneyland has to happen to you! And once you get into that frame of mind, if you let yourself be immersed in the world that Disneyland tries to create for you, and resist the temptation to act like an adult, you might just find yourself having that same feeling of home.

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Disney trip 2012

It’s that feeling of being a kid again and playing in a world of your own imagination. It’s that sense of escapism that comes with visiting a place from your favorite book. It’s the feeling of adventure that comes with fantasizing about the past or dreaming about the future. It’s the feeling of your dreams coming true. Like a warm fire on a cold winter night, Disneyland is a comfort for those that let their inner child reign.

If you let it, Disneyland can be like coming home to the innocence of youth.

That is why I love Disneyland. Why do you?

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DCA/Disneyland Esplanade 2010

Swinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

FeaturedSwinging Wake: The History of The Haunted Mansion Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE!

The year is 1966. A thrilling adventure on the high seas has just been added to Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. But there is something else that grabs the attention of guests in the area. Something new and mysterious. Wide-eyed children look through a pair wrought-iron gates at a strange building…an opulent mansion. No one knows what will be inside, and the only hint of what’s to come is a sign that reads:

“Notice! All ghosts and restless spirits. Post lifetime leases are now available in this Haunted Mansion”

It’s followed by a description of the mansion’s offerings for retired haunts and ends with the phrase:

“For reservations send resume of past experience to: Ghost Relations Dept., Disneyland. Please! Do not apply in person.”

This sign is all guests would get about the Haunted Mansion for several years. However, instead of disappointing them, it only raises their expectations to a whole new level.

Fast-forward to early 1969…All who visited Disneyland were eagerly awaiting the future attraction; none of them even realizing the development nightmare that had been going on behind the scenes for nearly half a decade.

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They could have never known that in 1964 work on the mansion (which had already been in development for 10 years) came to a screeching halt when Walt Disney diverted all of his attention to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. Everyone who was anyone at Disneyland was sent to work on the extensive lineup of attractions that would debut at the fair, and no one was left over for work on any of the ongoing home-projects at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion would have to wait for a while.

However, fate was on the Haunted Mansion’s side, because the World’s Fair actually provided several technological breakthroughs that effectively solved any future storytelling problems that the Mansion’s had! You see, the story that the Imagineers could tell In the haunted mansion was limited by the technology of the times. The World’s Fair provided an unprecedented stroke of luck that greatly broadened these borders to previously unimagined horizons. The first of these lucky breakthroughs, and arguably the most famous, was the “perfection” of Disney’s Audio Animatronic technology; which had first debuted in the Enchanted Tiki Room in 1963. With the technological innovation of the photo-realistic Mr. Lincoln at the World’s Fair, it was finally possible to populate the Mansion with a believable cast of characters in movement, rather than in static scenes, allowing the story to be told in a much more efficient manner.

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Abraham Lincoln Figure Made for the World’s Fair

The second breakthrough, and probably the most important for the future of the Mansion, was the advent of the Omnimover Ride System. This ingenious vehicle design was an evolution of the PeopleMover system developed for the Ford’s Magic Skyway attraction at the World’s Fair. In essence, this system was a chain of individual swiveling vehicles that ran on a hidden track underneath the ground moving at a constant speed, so that passengers could be unloaded and loaded in an efficient manner and at consistent rate.

The reason why this second innovation proved such a game-changer was the fact that, up until that point, the Haunted Mansion was supposed to be walkthrough exhibit. The Omnimover system allowed the attraction to become a continuous ride-through experience; raising its hourly capacity tremendously. It also allowed Imagineers to control what riders would see, by preplanning the track layout and the programming of the individual cars to swivel or turn; effectively controlling the audience’s view of the story and special effects just like a camera lens does in a feature film.

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Omnimover System Patent

Now with the technology to tell an effective story, Disney simply needed storytellers that could execute these tools correctly. Luckily, after the World’s Fair ended, two of Walt’s greatest storytellers were now available for the mansion. Marc Davis, known for his brilliant animation of Cinderella, Maleficent, Cruella De Vil, Tinker Bell, and more, was brought onto the project for design, especially in regards to the characters. After his concepts for Pirates of the Caribbean proved so crucial to its success, Walt wanted him to help guide this new masterpiece. At the same time, Claude Coats, a Disney background painter who was known for designing many of Fantasyland’s famous storybook rides and providing the layout for Pirates of the Caribbean, was brought in for his familiarity with the spookier aspects of fairy tales.

However, there was one problem with this dynamic duo; both had completely different ideas for what the Haunted Mansion’s tone should be. Marc wanted the mansion to be funny and lighthearted, believing that a real haunted house would be too scary for a family establishment like Disneyland. On the other hand, Claude Coats believed that you shouldn’t even make a “haunted house” attraction in the first place without making it scary. The two conflicting ideologies became a temporary problem, so much so that Walt was forced to bring in a third party to reconcile the two of them.

Walt knew exactly who to call; good ol’ X!

Xavier ‘X’ Atencio was an animator at the studio in whom Walt saw something very special. Even though Atencio had never written a script before, Walt thought he would be good at it, and had him assigned as the lead writer on Pirates of the Caribbean. Walt’s insight would prove prophetic as that ride became what many consider to be the greatest ride in theme park history, and Atencio’s lyrics for “Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me” would be sung around the world; remembered by thousands to this day! Walt thought Atencio might be able to pull it off again with the Haunted Mansion.

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X Atencio at work on a Winnie the Pooh feature

Again, Walt Disney was right! Atencio managed to somehow juggle Claude Coats dark tones with Marc Davis’s silly characters and create a script that balanced the macabre with the satirical. After a few drafts, a final story focusing on that “retirement home for happy haunts” was approved. This final draft would tie together separate side-stories based on Marc Davis’s unforgettable characters under one sinister-looking roof of Claude Coat’s design. Finally, the Haunted Mansion had the story it deserved, and although Walt never got to see the finished product due to his untimely passing in late 1966, the ride would have made him proud. The Haunted Mansion opened to critical acclaim in 1969 and has been entertaining guests for 50 years!

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It may have taken over 15 years to create, but it was worth it! And with 999 happy haunts to visit, you’ll want to hurry back again and again! After all, there’s room for a thousand… Any volunteers?

WANT MORE DISNEY HISTORY?:

Peter Pan

EPCOT

Splash Mountain

It’s A Small World

Alice in Wonderland

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

Welcome, Foolish Mortals: The History of the Haunted Mansion

It had been sitting, seemingly abandoned, for years…

The mysterious building in the far corner of New Orleans Square towered above the land in opulent style, causing all guests to wonder at what could be taking place inside it. But they would not wonder for long. Finally, the mansion’s gates were opening, and its secrets were available to the public. Even though its visionary founder, Walt Disney, had been gone for 3 years, the Imagineers were still able to finish the dream. The long-awaited happy haunts were assembling for a swinging wake.

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But how did the Haunted Mansion get its start? What made it become one of the most famous attractions in theme park history? The answer to that question is found in the mansion’s origin, way back in time; at the beginning. The very beginning…

In 1951 Walt Disney began brainstorming what would become one of his most important achievements: a Disney theme park. Walt had been frustrated with local parks where kids and adults had so little that they could do together, so he made up his mind to create a theme park where families could do everything together. At the time, this concept was referred to as Mickey Mouse Park and would be located across the street from the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, California.

This was where the idea for the Haunted Mansion was born.

Legendary artist Harper Goff was called upon to conceptualize ideas for concepts that might be found in the park. One of these concepts, was a drawing of a graveyard path, leading to a crumbling Victorian mansion off on a distant hill. This would be the first ever mention of a haunted house attraction for a Disney park.

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Harper Goff Concept

Eventually, the concept for Mickey Mouse Park grew into something much more than a small diversion, and it became abundantly clear that the 11-acre lot across from Disney’s Burbank studio would not be enough space to contain the rapidly growing plans for Walt’s theme park idea. So, a new location was found in Anaheim, and the park was renamed Disneyland.

However, during this time, there were so many concepts for the new park, that they could not all make the final cut. Many ideas were inevitably put on hold, and when the park opened in 1955, many of the attractions that had been created for Disneyland were set aside for future expansions. Harper Goff’s haunting concepts happened to be one of these delayed ideas. Luckily, Disneyland became a smash hit, and many of the delayed concepts were resurrected to accommodate the public’s seemingly never-ending appetite for themed Disney entertainment.

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Disneyland Opening Day

In 1957, Walt brought out the haunted house concept as a possible element of an upcoming expansion to Disneyland. He was planning on opening a brand-new land on the far corner of Frontierland, and he needed new attractions for the area. It would be called New Orleans Square, and would also be home to plundering pirates…but that’s a story we’ll cover later. Walt went live on BBC stating that he planned on building a “retirement home” for happy haunts who no longer had a place to live because their original homes had been destroyed over time.

“The nature of being a ghost is that they have to perform, and therefore they need an audience.”-Walt Disney

The haunted house would be a premier New Orleans Square attraction, and Disney had something extra special in mind for its debut. Being the master storytellers that they were, Disneyland’s “Imagineers” wanted to craft an immersive experience. None of them were content with throwing together a bunch of haphazard spooky carnival ideas and calling it a day. Walt especially wanted a real story, something to provide consistency and quality; elevating his haunted house above the generic ones you’d find at the town fair. To this end, he tasked Imagineer Ken Anderson with brainstorming a story and a possible layout for the haunted attraction.

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New Orleans Square Concept

Ken Anderson had been a Disney animator for many classic films,  and he had also previously worked on Fantasyland’s famous “dark-rides”, (like Snow White’s Scary Adventures). And although the Fantasyland rides weren’t meant to be too scary, he knew a thing or two about playful spookiness…and he also knew how to tell a good story. Walt was famous for family entertainment, and it was almost certain that he wanted the haunted house to be much more lighthearted than other haunted attractions found across the country; making Ken Anderson a logical choice for lead designer.

Still, early concepts for the ride tended towards the scarier side of things, and although some ideas stuck, the story would go through several unused iterations before Walt Disney would even begin considering construction. We’ll cover these unused concepts in a future article, but it’s important to know that they ranged anywhere from a concept based on an evil sea captain and his unsuspecting bride, to an idea revolving around an entire family dying mysterious and sudden deaths. There was even a concept based on a never-ending ghostly wedding feast! You can see why Disney didn’t want to use some of these creepier concepts for his family park!

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Ken Anderson

But since he had announced it already, Walt couldn’t delay the project for too long. He had to come up with something concrete to show the public. At the same time, he strove for quality and never wanted to rush anything. So he came up with a clever compromise.

They would begin construction on the facade that guests would see when they visited the park, but take more time to perfect the attraction behind the scenes. So, even though the inside of the mansion was facing major story delays and roadblocks, the outside would soon come along rather nicely. In 1958, Ken Anderson had drafted a pencil sketch inspired by a Victorian-era antebellum mansion. The drawing had a decaying, run-down, and creepy look, which artist Sam McKim made into an official display painting. Walt liked the look of the house, but not the state of repair that it was in. He didn’t want a ramshackle, rotting house to be a visual blight in his pristine and clean Disneyland. So, he told his Imagineers to make the outside look nicer, saying:

“We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside.”

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At around the same time, Walt brought on Imagineers Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump to design the special effects that would be placed into the ride. Both Gracey and Crump had made a name for themselves at Disney for their technical wizardry and mastery of imaginative special effects. Walt had them spend a huge amount of time perfecting the tricks that would sell the story of a ghostly retirement home. They tinkered away, day and night, crafting the greatest illusions and special effects of their entire careers. In fact, the special effects created by Gracey and Crump for the Haunted Mansion deserve their own article, but suffice it to say that they were so numerous and well-made, that they earned the pair a prestigious new title: “Illusioneers”! This is a nickname which is still used today for Disney special effects artists!

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Yale Gracey

Despite these breakthroughs, the development of the story was not going well. To the untrained eye, it would have seemed like everything was coming together nicely, but in actuality the project was dangerously behind schedule, and the attempts to come up with a satisfying story had so far met with disaster. The Haunted Mansion was slowly dying, and it would take more than a nice façade or state-of-the-art special effects to save it…

Read Part 2 HERE!

Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World

Childhood Innocence: The History of It’s A Small World

The Year was 1966, and Walt Disney smiled cheerfully as a crowd gathered in the far corner of his magical kingdom known as Disneyland. It was a beautiful day for a Grand Opening, and Walt was pulling out all the stops to make sure this would be one to remember. There were celebrities, balloons, fanfare, family, friends, and a whole crew of cameramen gathered around a little “canal” leading into a charming looking building; a façade that would put a smile on anyone’s face. The crowd cheered and clapped as little children representing countries from around the world each poured a bottle of water shipped from their country into the man-made river. The balloons were released into the air. Walt Disney smiled even wider as his boat drifted down the river into the building and disappeared as he waved to the crowd.

WALT'S SMALL WORLD

It was a celebration the little ride deserved, because it was one of Walt’s favorites. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Or you at least have the tune stuck in your head! It’s a Small World, after all!

It seems impossible, but Small World has only grown more popular since that day in 1966. It seems daunting that, more than 50 years after its debut in Disneyland, it’s still entertaining the young, and the young at heart, who ride it. But what’s even more astounding is the origin of the happy singing dolls; which goes back even further than that special day at Disneyland.

In 1963, Walt Disney was called up by Hollywood friend Joan Crawford with a very interesting proposition. Crawford was the widow of Pepsi’s former president Alfred Steele, and she was desperately looking for an attraction for Pepsi to sponsor at the already famous upcoming World’s Fair in New York. Pepsi was on a deadline and time was running short. Joan Crawford believed Walt Disney, who was already working on four other attractions for the fair, was the only one who could create a worthy attraction for the Pepsi brand on such short notice. It would be a tribute to UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), but other than that, Pepsi had no idea what it would look like.

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Walt, who already happened to have an idea lined up, jumped at the chance to get funding for another of his wild ideas. With only 11 months to prepare the attraction, far less time than any other thing he had contributed to the fair so far, Walt immediate jumped at the task. He wanted to make something truly special; something that would touch the hearts of millions and bring a smile to their faces. It would be a little boat ride with children from around the world in adorable doll form called “Children of the World”.

Truth be told, Walt wanted a change of face from what he saw in the rest of the world. It was the time of the Cold War. Tensions were high, and a possible nuclear war loomed on the horizon. Culture was changing, and unrest was breaking out all over the country. Walt was sick and tired of the fear which clouded the atmosphere and aimed to make this new attraction a ray of sunshine to the anxious public; a symbol for the World’s Fair and its idealistic look at the future.

IT'S A SMALL WORLD AT THE 1964 WORLD'S FAIR 50TH ANNIVERSARY

So, Walt brought on board the happiest crew of “Imagineers” that had ever set sail on a Disney voyage. Walt put his favorite artist, a Disney color stylist and children’s illustrator named Mary Blair, in charge of most of the project. With Mary’s unique style helming the design of the attraction, other talented artists had clear direction on where to go. The husband and wife team of Marc and Alice Davis were immediately set to work on designing the iconic look of the dancing dolls and breathing personality into them; Marc imagined the characters, while Alice lovingly clothed them in fashion of her own design. A younger Imagineer named Rolly Crump, who had repeatedly impressed Walt with his very unique creative style, was given the task of designing the Doll’s toys and accessories, as well as the kinetic “Tower of the Four Winds” which would anchor the outside of the ride and draw attention to it. Lastly, master modeler Blaine Gibson sculpted out the physical dolls under Walt’s direct supervision. Strangely enough, every single one of these Imagineers, save for Mary Blair, would eventually work together again on Disneyland’s great masterpiece Pirates of the Caribbean; and most of them would contribute to the Haunted Mansion too!

The result of this all-star team of Imagineers was nothing short of magical, as the ride exceeded all of Walt’s expectations. But it was the music of the ride that would elevate it from a great ride, to one of Walt’s favorites. The Sherman Brothers of Mary Poppins fame were inspired by the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 to write a song of hope to go with the ride. They specifically made it as catchy and simple as they possibly could, so that it could be translated easily and sung in multiple languages. At first, they wrote it as a slow Ballad, but on prompting from Walt for something more upbeat and cheerful, they sped up the tempo. The resulting song “It’s a Small World” moved Walt so much that he decided to change the name of the entire ride in honor of it, and it was subsequently moved to the World’s Fair in 1964.

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the Sherman Brothers and Walt Disney

Despite its extremely short production time, the now renamed It’s a Small World was a huge hit, becoming one of the most popular attractions at the fair. But it wasn’t only children who were flocking to it. There was something deeply innocent about the ride which spoke to the hearts of downtrodden adults everywhere. Whether they were 9 or 99, Small World made them think of a simpler time when the threat of nuclear missiles wasn’t at their doorstep. It gave them hope that maybe the world would one day be at peace again. It’s a Small World seemed to reach out and speak to the child in everyone.

Even today, the original Small World continues to entertain and delight children of all ages with its message of hope and unity. And with versions at Disney parks all around the world, it’s continuing to bring smiles to faces everywhere…Just like it did to Walt over 50 years ago.

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The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

The Wild History of Splash Mountain!

Legends of the Magic Series:

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The year was 1983. The Disney Parks seemed to be changing every day, and the designers of these shifting magical environments were faced with some rather daunting tasks at about the same rate. In fact, up-and-coming Imagineer Tony Baxter had a major problem on his hands. Tony had been launched into a career that he could have never imagined; thrust into the spotlight with the massive success of designing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in 1979. Now others were looking at him to lead them into this new era of Disney Parks. If you would have told Tony Baxter that he would become one of the most successful Disney artists of all time when he was first hired as an ice cream scooper in 1965, he would have thought you were crazy.

But nevertheless, here he was, with dozens of people looking at him to fix all the park’s problems. Unfortunately, during 1983, there happened to be a very specific large problem at Disneyland. Actually, Disneyland had a few issues that eventually played into each other. The first was that The Disney Company was about to have a change in leadership, and that change seemed to be going in a very specific direction. The Disney Company was looking to widen its audience beyond just children and animation. As a result, Disneyland executives were getting more and more interested in thrill rides, something that Disneyland was sorely lacking, compared to other theme parks. It was a tall order, and after the success of Big Thunder (which just so happened to be the type of thrill ride they were looking for) they had immediately turned to Tony Baxter for another similar experience.

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The second problem facing Disneyland was that all the original Imagineers (Disneyland designers/builders/engineers etc.) were retiring, and a second generation was in the process of discovering their place in the parks. These new Imagineers were attempting to honor tradition, while simultaneously trying to forge a new path. A very fine line to walk, especially when the leadership of the company was set on the goal of thrill. As a result, some of the attractions that were seen by the new management as more outdated, (all of which were rides that were overseen by the original Imagineers, the new artist’s mentors and idols) would have to close, or at least be refurbished, which caused distress from those new Imagineers that wanted to honor the work of their predecessors.

The third problem, while comparatively trivial to the aforementioned issues, would prove absolutely crucial in the future. The problem was a section of Disneyland known as Bear Country…Rather it was the attendance of this section. Unfortunately, there was no Galaxy’s Edge at the time, and the land was cut off from the rest of the park. The land’s location at the far corner of the park, tucked away behind New Orleans Square, with no other path leading in or out, caused dwindling interest and low attendance. Few guests wandered past the haunted mansion into Bear Country’s single entrance. The area was often virtually deserted. Disneyland was desperately looking for a way to boost the area’s draw to guests.

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These problems mulled around in Tony Baxter’s mind for a quite some time, but he couldn’t think of any way to solve them effectively. There were just too many variables and he was being drained creatively by all of the projects management seemed to throw at him. He was at a loss for what to do. That was, until one fateful day when Tony happened to be daydreaming in California’s rush hour traffic. Tony suddenly received an unexpected and brilliant epiphany; he could solve all three problems at the same time! His brain bursting with imagination, Tony Baxter rushed straight to his boss, unable to keep the idea to himself. In a legendary pitch, Tony Baxter explained his idea to Disney executives in almost exact detail what he had conjured up.

His idea, called Zip-A-Dee River Run (later changed to Splash Mountain when the ride’s production was green-lit in 1984), would be an old-school log flume type thrill ride, fulfilling the desire of Disney executives to draw in older audiences. But this log flume wouldn’t be just any thrill ride! It would be a highly-themed and immersive ride that would take the amusement park staple of a log flume to the next level. But How would they do that, you ask?

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To understand that, we must first go back in time to 1946 and the release of a live-action/animated hybrid film called Song of the South. Disney may have had the best intentions in mind when they made Song of the South, and had never meant to offend anyone, but due to several crucial mistakes and sheer ignorance, they created what soon became a very controversial film. Ashamed of their mistake, Disney would never release the film to a home audience (for more information on the troubled history of Song of the South, we recommend reading the excellent book “Who’s Afraid of the Song of the South” by Jim Korkis.) However, when he was younger, Tony Baxter happened see Song of the South in theaters, and he chose this obscure film as the property to base the ride on.

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Tony Baxter was convinced that most of the animated sequences featured memorable and cute characters that could be extrapolated from the more controversial aspects of the feature and planted into a new story. If they removed the controversial aspects of Song of the South, and focused on the cute animated characters, building a new story grown out of the cartoon “cat and mouse” chase segments of the film, that it would be a perfect theme for a ride to fit into Bear Country (later changed to Critter Country for Splash Mountain’s debut). At the time, executives were convinced that a majority of Disneyland guests would not be familiar with Song of the South or would not have seen the movie. They reasoned that guests would assume that it was an original property and that they could retool the characters as Disneyland mascots instead of references to Song of the South. Still the characters continued to gain controversy over the years, and the connection to the film, however small, would eventually effect the future of the ride in a big way… more on that later.

Back in the design phase: the Imagineers were back in their element solving difficult problems. By pure luck, Song of the South’s animated critters happened to be designed by legendary first-generation Imagineer Marc Davis who also just so happened to have been the designer for the soon to be extinct attraction America Sings, an outdated stage show featuring a huge cast of Audio-Animatronic animals. Because of this amazing twist of fate, the imagineers could simply reuse most of America Sing’s cast as characters in Splash Mountain because they looked like they belonged in the same world! So, besides a reskinning of two Animatronics into Brer Fox and Brer Bear, the rest of the America Sings animals were simply reprogrammed to synchronize with the new show and moved over to Splash Mountain!

But even after all these creative solutions, there were still some rather large obstacles that the Imagineering team needed to overcome. After all, building a Disney attraction is no easy task. After 4 years in production, Splash Mountain had risen well over its budget at a cost of over $75 Million and would continue to rise in cost to an estimated $85 million by the time it finally opened; which is more than the entire Disneyland park cost in 1955, even adjusted for inflation!

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As a result, during the year of 1988, Imagineers were looking for a way to save some money on the tail end of this construction behemoth. Tony Baxter suddenly realized that his earlier decision to recycle many of the audio-animatronics from America Sings had saved the company millions. If it wasn’t for that foresight, it would have never been green-lit, or would have been cancelled halfway through construction.

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Finally, after five years in development, including 80 hours of reprogramming for every single Animatronic, and an additional three months to rewire them, Splash Mountain opened to the Imagineer’s great relief on July 17th, 1989; the 34th anniversary of Disneyland! The ride was an instant success and soon spawned beautifully redesigned versions at Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disneyland.

And although it’s a fan favorite around the world, it’s controversial film roots have finally caught up with it. After careful consideration, the Imagineers were faced with a brand new problem: retooling Splash Mountain with a brand new theme not connected to Song of the South. And with Disneyland’s Splash Mountain situated right on the edge of both New Orleans Square and Critter Country, it would make sense that the new property that it’s based on would have some footing in both worlds. Hence the decision to utilize the Princess and the Frog…a film that has deep roots in New Orleans, and a wonderful connection to the lovable animals found in Critter Country! It just goes to show that any problem, no matter how big, can be solved if we’re willing to put our imagination to work! Who knows, maybe your next big idea will come during rush-hour traffic!

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Which version of Splash Mountain is your favorite?

5 Obscure Disney Park Characters that Fans Can’t Get Enough Of

5 Obscure Disney Park Characters that Fans Can’t Get Enough Of

We all love Disney characters, but did you know that there are some obscure ones that Disney Park fans go particularly crazy for? Ever wondered who that Michael Jackson character is? Or that man with the purple suit at EPCOT? This is the place to be!

If you’re interested in more details about these characters’ history, beyond why they’re so popular among fans of the parks, we will be making separate posts for them in the future! However, today we are simply giving a quick background for each so that you get a basis of why fans love them!

So, without further ado…

Orange Bird:

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This cute little guy was created in a sponsorship deal with the Florida Citrus Commission (FCC). The FCC required that Disney, a company known for its recognizable cartoon characters, would create a mascot to use in the marketing of Florida’s citrus products in return for funding WDW’s version of the Tiki Room (Tropical Serenade). Not wanting to lose a sponsorship from a large and wealthy coalition of Florida citrus growers, Disney jumped on the task. Thus, the Orange Bird was born.

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The character was featured heavily in not only the marketing for the 1971 attraction, but also in several ad campaigns for the FCC up until the late 70’s. The Orange Bird continued to be featured in educational films made for the FCC and in the parks until 1987, when Disney finally stopped working with the FCC. As a result, the character virtually vanished from the parks. However, something about the character resonated in Japan when it showed up in Tokyo Disneyland. In fact, the Japanese were absolutely obsessed with the Orange Bird aesthetic and he experienced a bit of a revival in popularity as a result, which quickly spread to the United States. In 2012, the Orange Bird finally returned to the Magic Kingdom with force and the character became an icon for ‘in-the-know’ nostalgia fans.

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Captain EO:

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In the 80’s Disney commissioned some of Hollywood’s biggest names to make attractions; in hopes of widening Disney’s audience. To this end, they commissioned George Lucas, at the height of his popularity after Star Wars, to make several attractions for Disney. One of these attractions, and the most expensive film ever produced at the time would be directed by the legendary Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather) and star the one and only Michael Jackson in the title role! This ‘masterpiece’ became the wild musical space-opera known as Captain EO.

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Sadly, reviews for the show were mixed, and the attraction was eventually removed after ten years due to the dwindling crowds. However, 80’s kids never forgot the wild musical space opera that was Captain EO, and when the King of Pop passed away in 2009, the film saw a massive resurgence in popularity; causing Disney to revisit the film as a tribute to Michael. Ever since then, Captain EO has become a Michael Jackson icon…even outside the parks!

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Hatbox Ghost:

The Hatbox Ghost was another resident created for the Haunted Mansion in 1969, but unlike other tenants of the mansion, the Hatbox Ghost had a gimmick that made him special; his ghostly head disappeared from his shoulders and reappeared in the Hatbox that he was holding! The gimmick was a big deal at the time, and so the Hatbox Ghost was featured prominently all over promotional materials for the ride. When the ride opened, fans clambered to see the Hatbox Ghost and others like him. But after just a few short weeks, the Hatbox Ghost mysteriously disappeared! Rumors spread like wildfire about why it was removed, with some people even reporting that he had never been there in the first place!

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But, the character (who really was there for a few weeks, despite what some would say) was simply removed early on because his gimmick did not work as intended. However, the myths and speculation about ‘Hatty’ became so popular and outrageous, that Disney could not pass up such a good PR opportunity. With much fanfare, the Hatbox Ghost was updated with new technology and inserted back into the Disneyland mansion, where he has been resting to this day.

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Oswald:

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Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is a very special character to Disney fans. In fact, his importance in Disney is unparalleled by any other Disney character besides Mickey Mouse himself…and most people don’t even know it!

Believe it or not, Oswald predates Mickey Mouse as Walt Disney’s first fully-fleshed cartoon character! So why haven’t more people heard of him? Well, unfortunately, Walt Disney was swindled out of the rights to the character by his distributor in 1928; along with almost all his staff! Broke, and with no character to his name, Walt desperately searched for a new character that would save him; the result of this despair-ridden brainstorming was none other than Mickey Mouse himself! So, you could say that Oswald was directly responsible for the creation of Mickey Mouse. The lessons Walt learned from that betrayal helped shape the entire company from that day forward.

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In 2006, nearly 80 years later, the rights to Oswald were finally bought back by Disney; proudly placing ‘Mickey’s Older Brother’ back in the family where he belonged, much to the joy of longtime Disney fans everywhere!

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Figment And Dreamfinder:

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Arguably the most popular characters on this list, Dreamfinder and Figment may be two separate characters, but true fans know that you cannot really have one without the other! As evidenced by the lackluster response to Figment’s recent solo career, the lovable dragon from our imaginations just isn’t the same without his red-bearded best friend. These guys are the unofficial mascots of EPCOT and are beloved by fans worldwide.

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They were originally introduced as EPCOT’s first walkaround characters, appearing to promote their upcoming ride; Journey into Imagination. When the ride opened in 1983, it was a massive hit, and the imaginative duo became the most popular feature at EPCOT. However, in 1999, Disney made what some fans consider to be the company’s biggest mistake ever. Announcing that Journey into Imagination would close for a simple refurbishment, fans were shocked and appalled to find that Disney would reopen the ride as the completely different, vastly inferior, Journey into Your Imagination instead! They even removed the iconic Dreamfinder and figment from the entire attraction!

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Due to the huge outcry from fans, Disney soon closed the attraction and once again changed it to the now current Journey Into Imagination with Figment; bringing back Figment, but not Dreamfinder. It lessened the outcry a bit, but diehard fans still yearn for the original attraction to return!

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What’s Your Favorite Obscure Character at the Parks?

 

Disneyland Almost Failed!

Disneyland Almost Failed!

Disneyland Almost Failed!

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On July 17th, 1955, one of Walt Disney’s greatest dreams became a reality. Disneyland opened its gate for the first time, and the world would never be the same! But what if we told you that this dream was very close to dying before it even got off the ground? What if I told you that, without Walt Disney’s seemingly endless perseverance and dedication, Disneyland might have failed?

Some Disney fans are already aware of the fascinating and disastrous day that happened almost 65 years ago, but for those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, we hope that you leave today with greater appreciation for The Happiest Place on Earth and the extreme effort that it took to make it come to life!

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The story begins in the early days of the Disney Studios, when Walt was inspired by visits to amusement parks with his daughters in the 30’s and 40’s; reportedly, he came up with the concept while watching his daughters riding a carousel from a nearby bench. He was frustrated that there weren’t enough experiences at the park that he and his daughters could enjoy together and he made up his mind to one day build a park where kids and grown-ups could play together. Thus, Disneyland was born!

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The development for Disneyland was long and tedious, yet undeniably fascinating. We don’t have the time to cover all that history today; that’s a subject for another time. But the long and short of the ordeal was that Walt Disney’s plans continued to grow…and grow…and grow, until his ambitious dream began to worry the money-men. However, Walt was determined to see the culmination of his dream project no matter what happened. So, Walt continued to fund-raise, promote, invest his own money, and even borrow against his own life insurance to get the project up and running!

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Naysayers surrounded the project. The Disney Board argued that Amusement Parks weren’t their type of business, Roy Disney (Walt’s brother and business partner) warned Walt against the financial ruin it would cause if it failed, and even Amusement Park experts told him that nobody would be interested in a ‘family park’ that (at the time) wouldn’t sell alcohol! Most critics even went so far as to call Disneyland Walt’s worst decision ever, and a foolish idea that was doomed to fail. It seemed that most people thought that Disneyland would never work. In hindsight, we know this to be false, as Disneyland was not only a huge success, but it also reshaped the Theme Park Industry as we know it. However, during its construction it was a legitimate fear that Disneyland would not succeed. Many people were very worried.

Then came Black Sunday.

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Black Sunday was the name that Disney Executives gave Disneyland’s opening day of July 17th, 1955 due to the perceived disaster of the theme park’s debut. The park opened to the public and press with what was, at the time, considered a disaster of epic proportions. First, the opening day was meant to only be open to the media and special invited guests; instead, twice as many people as expected showed up! This was due to a vast number of counterfeit tickets sold to the public, and even a few people climbing the fence and sneaking through gates. In fact, about half of the 28,000 people in attendance that day had entered Disneyland illegally.

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The opening day festivities were broadcast worldwide on ABC, hosted by Art Linkletter, Bob Cummings, and future President Ronald Reagan! although this seems like an amazing idea, unforeseen broadcasting problems quickly mounted with so many unexpected guests. People tripped over television cables left and right, problems sprang up around technical issues and mistakes, cues were missed, responsibilities were mismanaged, and there was even an improvised ‘skit’ involving Linkletter looking for his lost microphone (he really had misplaced it but tried to hide the fact by making the search an ‘impromptu adventure through Disneyland’).

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In addition, a regional Plumbing Strike forced Disney to chose between water fountains and toilets. Of course, Walt chose the latter for sanitary purposes. However, since Pepsi sponsored the park’s opening, guests mistook the lack of working water fountains as a greedy way to force them into buying soda! Soda and food ran out very quickly due to the demand of so many guests. Parents threw their kids over the shoulders of the crowds to get them on rides faster, and people cut in line (not that the last one has changed all that much). The Mark Twain Riverboat even began to sink when guests continued to force their way on, even after Cast Members told them that the boat had reached peak capacity! There were even the problems resulting from unexpected weather, as the unusually high temperature of 101° Fahrenheit caused the newly poured asphalt to become soft. This led to things like high heels sinking into the sticky substance.

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By the time the park closed for the day, it seemed as if Disneyland had been the failure that everyone had been expecting it to be. If we were there on that day, without the benefit of hindsight, we would have probably said the same thing. To all who heard about it, the day seemed like a nightmarish disaster.

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Today, historians recognize that most of the perceived disaster was due to bad luck, and the park being unprepared for so many people. They now can objectively see that the park was a success with fans from its very first day, despite what it had looked like in the moment, and the second day attendance proved this. the park managed very well on its second try and the insanity of Black Sunday became a legendary false alarm as Disneyland quickly became one of the greatest tourist destinations in the world. Walt Disney’s vision finally became a reality, but not without a few scares along the way!

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If Walt hadn’t stuck with his dream and persevered against all odds, Disneyland might have never existed!

What do you think was the craziest thing to happen on Black Sunday?

 

Disney Parks Holiday Season 2017

Disney Parks Holiday Season 2017

Disney Park Holiday Season 2017

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Next week is an extremely special time for any Disney fan. We know that most of you are already aware of this fact, but for those of you who aren’t, the reason is very simple; The Disney Parks are about to start the 2017 Holiday Season!

To celebrate, we wanted to quickly break down what to expect from both Resorts this year; the beloved returning Disney traditions, as well as the exciting new experiences! We also hope to help you figure out which of the resorts is best for your family this year! However, we at the Disney Magic Fanatic believe that you must try to experience both Disneyland and Walt Disney World (WDW) during the holidays at least once in your life, if you can! They are both worth seeing and we cannot pick a favorite! We also recommend the overseas Disney Parks for the Holidays if you can afford it, but that’s a post for another day.

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The Disney Parks will undergo their transformations into magical winter wonderlands starting Nov. 9th-December 31st for WDW, and Nov. 10th– January 7th for Disneyland. The transformations will happen (literally) overnight and, in an instant, guests will be transported into enchanted worlds of gingerbread, toy soldiers, carols, Christmas Trees, ornaments, simulated snow, and thousands of twinkling lights. Indeed, both resorts are famous for their breathtaking decorations and immersion into the season! Disney fans seem to agree that there is something truly special about the Disney Parks during the Holidays; the Disney Magic seems to increase tenfold, and spirits rise with joy and laughter.

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Walt Disney World Resort starts the season first, but the festivities also end earlier. There is so much to do here during the Holidays that it is impossible to experience everything in one day. If you can only visit WDW once, we do recommend that it is during the Holiday Season, as there is something extremely special about that time of year at the resort; but it’s all up to you. If that’s what you decide to do, then you won’t have to worry about all your favorite rides changing temporarily like they do at Disneyland! A few do, but not as much as at Walt’s original park!

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WDW figures that most of its guests will only be able to experience the resort once in their lives, so most of your favorite attractions will be the same as if you went there in mid-summer! WDW is also the most immersive of the two parks; miles away from any of the ‘real world’ and cut off from any outside distractions. If you want to escape for a week, and pretend like you’re in another universe for a while, then WDW is your best bet. Just be aware, unless you live close to the East Coast, WDW will probably be more expensive as well!

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Disneyland, on the other hand, is visited mostly by locals. As a result, they have no qualms with temporarily overlaying their famous attractions with seasonal fun. We think that the temporary changes to the attractions are adorable and full of Holiday Cheer, but if you’re the type that wants to experience the normal version of the Haunted Mansion or It’s a Small World, then it may not be for you.

However, we do want to emphasize that Disneyland’s smaller size, and nostalgic roots as Walt Disney’s first Theme Park, give it a cozy and intimate feeling during the Holidays; like a quaint Christmas Village from our childhood storybooks. Also, if you live smack-dab in the middle of the two parks, like we have, the price will also be cheaper for Disneyland. Another bonus of Disneyland’s smaller size is the ability to experience everything in one or two days!

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Both Disney Parks will feature seasonal dishes and treats fit for Ol’ Saint Nick! Disneyland is particularly famous for its handmade candy canes and gingerbread (made right in front of your very eyes) along the Main Street Stretch. WDW has an especially delicious eggnog. Regardless of which you visit, try a combination of the Peppermint Mocha and warm Gingerbread; it feels like home!

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WDW has the more original Holiday shows, but comparatively lacks on the festive ride overlays. ‘Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party’, and all the parades and shows that are included in it, are the highlight of the season, although ‘Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!’ and EPCOT’s ‘International Festival of the Holidays’ are awesome too. We also hear that this year’s new Disney Hollywood Studio’s ‘Sunset Seasons Greetings’ is supposed to be unlike anything Disney Parks fans have ever seen before; with a brand-new show highlighting the breathtaking projection capabilities of the Hollywood Tower Hotel.

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Disneyland, on the other hand, transforms their Haunted Mansion into the ‘Haunted Mansion Holiday’; a Nightmare Before Christmas themed attraction. Multiple attractions in Cars Land get snowy makeovers, World of Color at DCA becomes ‘Season of Light’ (highly recommended), and It’s a Small World has the most breathtaking transformation with lights and colors that are truly magical to behold! The fireworks, parades, and shows, like DCA’s ‘¡Viva Navidad!’, are also spectacular!

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Overall, in terms of attractions, Disneyland goes the extra mile for Christmas; overlaying all their most famous rides and shows in Christmas joy. Disneyland’s festivities also last longer and saturate the entire park; providing guests with a longer and more flexible window to plan their vacations. However, Walt Disney World is by far the most diverse with its offerings; providing entirely new shows and parades for its festivities. Whichever park you chose, we hope that your Holidays are filled with Disney Magic; in the words of Bing Crosby “May your days be merry and bright…and may all your Christmases be white!”

 We want to know; what’s your favorite Disney Holiday Tradition? Have you ever had a true “White Christmas”?

Top 10 Disneyland Attractions Part 2

Top 10 Disneyland Attractions Part 2

Top 10 Disneyland Attractions Part 2

To honor Walt Disney’s original ‘Magic Kingdom’, we’ve compiled a list of the Top 10 Disneyland Attractions in HISTORICAL ORDER. You can find Part 1 HERE! With so many attractions, some favorites are bound to be left out, but please be aware that EVERY EFFORT was made to be as inclusive as possible!

[Note: Keep in mind that this is Part 2 of 2! The Top 10 Disney California Adventure attractions have their own lists (HERE and HERE ) Be sure to check out our lists of the most UNDERRATED attractions at the Disney Resort (HEREHERE, and HERE)]

 

So, without further ado…

 

Star Tours (1987)

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An advertising  blast from the past!

Even though it has since been upgraded to the ‘Adventure Continues’, Star Tours still strikes a nostalgic chord in the hearts of millions. A breathtaking journey through the Star Wars universe via a 3D motion simulator, Star Tours takes guests on a journey they will never forget! Get ready to punch the hyperdrive with R2-D2 and feel The Force as you, and your protesting pilot C-3PO, are unwittingly caught up in a Rebel Spy’s attempt to escape the Empire! Who knows, maybe the Rebel Spy will be you! The ride is truly an ‘E-Ticket’ thrill; with a fully realized Audio-Animatronics C-3PO, gorgeous ride design, immersive queues, and the rousing John Williams score! It really does feel like you’re in the Star Wars Universe. Plus, a new randomized ride system makes the ride different every time; with over 50 possible ride experiences! As Rex the old pilot used to say; ‘Artoo…LIGHTSPEED TO ENDOR!

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The updated ride!

Splash Mountain (1989)

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What a Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da poster!

Splash Mountain is a nostalgic trip into the happy world of make-believe. Providing a mish-mash of cute characters, catchy tunes, and surprising thrills, Splash Mountain is always listed as a Disneyland favorite. The brainchild of legendary Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter (Big Thunder, Star Tours, Indiana Jones, etc.) Splash Mountain will melt your heart with its adorable and lovable atmosphere. We guarantee that one ride on this attraction will have you humming Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Da all day; whether you like it or not! This is a great ‘thrill ride’ for younger children to start with. By the end of your descent into the infamous Briar Patch, your family will be in hysterics over the faces of surprise in the photos you see at the exit; the hilarious pictures will certainly bring you to your laughing place. Just remember, you will get wet!

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Take a plunge into the Ol’ Briar Patch!

 

Fantasmic! (1992)

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Disneyland’s original masterpiece was such a success that it was quickly duplicated at WDW!

There is no other word but ‘Fantasmic!’ to describe this spectacle of nighttime wonder! ‘Fantasmic!’ (the exclamation point is part of the title) truly is one of the most phenomenal shows that you will ever see. There are simply no words to describe it. With quality and show standards that surpass most Broadway musicals, ‘Fantasmic!’ Lights up the night with a pageant of lights, water, projections, fireworks, and performers of the highest caliber. Take a dive into Mickey’s unlimited imagination and watch as he faces the fears lurking within his own mind! With the recent 2017 updates, ‘Fantasmic!’ Is more magical than ever before. Dance to ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’, sing along with the Genie and Aladdin, cheer on Jack Sparrow, and marvel at Maleficent’s forty-foot tall fully-articulated dragon form! SOME IMAGINATION, HUH!

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You think you’re so powerful Maleficent? Well, this is Mickey’s dream!

Indiana Jones Adventure (1995)

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LIVE the adventure!

The Indiana Jones Adventure is, in the words of Sallah ‘unlike anything you have experienced before; we can assure you!’ As you enter the Temple of the Forbidden Eye, seeking unimaginable treasures, everything goes horribly wrong and it’s up to the legendary Indiana Jones to get you out alive! The attraction really makes you feel as if you have stepped into the films and are following Dr. Jones on one of his amazing adventures! A true Disneyland story experience, this attraction is largely considered to be one of the greatest Disney Parks experiences ever. An ‘E-Ticket’ Disneyland exclusive in the USA, the Indiana Jones Adventure ride has not yet been built in Disney World, but we hope it will be one day! SNAKES! WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE SNAKES?

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Whatever you do, don’t look at the eyes of Mara!

Mickey and the Magical Map (2013)

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There’s only one Mickey Mouse!

Even though it’s the newest attraction on this list, Mickey and the Magical Map deserves acknowledgement. Many Disneyland fans have mentioned this show to be one of their favorite new attractions in the park, and it’s not very hard to see why! While less familiar to guests than other attractions, Mickey and the Magical Map is still worthy to be listed among the best. In this show, Mickey Mouse is back as the sorcerer’s apprentice from Fantasia; telling an adorable story about creativity and imagination. It’s a show full familiar movie moments and classic Disney songs; all done to the caliber of Broadway musicals. You’ll love the talented cast; including dancers, singers, puppeteers, acrobats, and even a TALKING Mickey Mouse! The Disney Princess medley is our favorite part! WHAT’S YOURS?

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A blast!

Enjoy This list? Like and share! Also, stay tuned for more Disney Magic every week!