1956: Disneyland’s Popularity Grows
In 1956, Disneyland welcomed 5 million visitors, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. The park added new attractions to accommodate the growing number of guests, including the Omnibus on Main Street USA, the Junior Autopia in Fantasyland, and the Astro-Jets in Tomorrowland. Frontierland also debuted the Rainbow Caverns Mine Train and the Indian War Canoes, while Storybook Land Canal Boats replaced the Canal Boats of the World. In addition, Disneyland added Skyway to provide guests with a unique bird’s eye view of the park.
1957: The Park Expansion Continues
In 1957, Disneyland got its first new land, Holidayland. This addition was a massive expansion at the time and was meant to serve as a space where visitors could spread out and relax away from the park’s hectic areas.
The Sleeping Beauty Castle was also opened up to visitors for the first time this year. Additionally, the Monsanto House of the Future was unveiled, providing visitors with an interactive experience to learn about futuristic technology. Lastly, Frontierland Shooting Gallery opened in 1957 as a popular attraction for guests to test their shooting skills.
Disneyland surpassed 10 million visitors in 1957.
1958 – 1959: The Decade Comes to an End
In 1958, the Columbia Sailing Ship made its maiden voyage at the park.
By 1959, Guests could also ride on the Disneyland-Alweg Monorail, see the Grand Canyon Diorama from the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad in Tomorrowland, or brave the Matterhorn Bobsled ride, the first tubular steel coaster ever built.
Also in 1959, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev unsuccessfully tried to visit Disneyland while he was in the United States for thirteen days. Because of Cold War tension and security concerns, he was not allowed into the park.
These events helped put Disneyland on the map as a place of excitement and importance.
The 1960s: A Decade of Firsts
The 1960s were a decade of firsts for Disneyland. During the early 1960s, Walt Disney invited the Shah of Iran and Empress Farah to Disneyland.
In 1963, the Enchanted Tiki Room became the first attraction to use Audio-Animatronics technology. This new technology allowed three-dimensional flowers, birds, and Tiki gods to perform live on stage.
It’s a Small World, a water ride featuring 500 Audio-Animatronics dolls representing cultures around the world, opened in 1966 after a successful run at the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction made a splash in its debut year in 1967. This ride remains one of the most popular today, inspiring the hit movie franchise of the same name.
The Haunted Mansion made its debut in 1969. Today, the 999 happy haunts still frighten visitors, always with “room for one more.”
These are just a few of the highlights from Disneyland during the 1960s.
The 1970s: A Decade of Change
The 1970s were a decade of change and growth for Disneyland. However, the park also became the site of a political protest. In August 1970, more than 300 anti-war protesters from the group known as the Yippies entered Disneyland and staged a demonstration against the Vietnam War. While the protest was peaceful, it caused some disruption for park guests.
In 1972, the Main Street Electrical Parade made its debut, illuminating the park with more than 500,000 twinkling lights. Bear Country opened the same year.
In 1974, Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress was replaced with America Sings, an audio-animatronic theater show featuring the history of American music.
America on Parade debuted in 1975 and ran through 1976 in celebration of the bicentennial. By 1976, 150 million people had visited Disneyland, and the park continued to grow in popularity throughout the decade.
Some of the park’s earliest attractions underwent significant changes during the mid-to-late 1970s. In March 1975, the Flight to the Moon attraction was re-themed as Mission to Mars. The landing of Apollo 11 on the moon occurred five years earlier.
The construction of Space Mountain adjacent to the new Mission to Mars began that same year. El Nino-related weather complications delayed construction. It finally opened in 1977 to much acclaim, with lines often stretching to Main Street.
The last significant change of the decade came in 1977 when the slow-paced Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland was closed and replaced by the similarly-themed Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster in 1979. These changes helped to update Disneyland and make it more reflective of the times.
The 1980s: A Quiet Decade at Disneyland
The 1980s were a reasonably quiet decade in Disneyland history.
Fantasyland was closed in 1982 for refurbishment. In 1983, Disneyland reopened as “New Fantasyland.”
During the Skyfest Celebration on December 5, 1985, Disneyland launched one million balloons along the streets surrounding the park to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
Splash Mountain was opened in 1989 and is still one of the park’s most popular – and wettest – rides, thanks to its five-story waterfall drop. Disney has announced that Splash Mountain is being to Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, but its ride system is expected to remain the same.
All in all, the 1980s was a relatively calm period for the Happiest Place on Earth.
The 1990s: Planning for a Larger Resort
The 1990s were a decade of change in Disneyland history.
In 1993, the park debuted Mickey’s Toontown, a new “land” inspired by the long-running animated television series “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.”
The year 1995 saw the debut of the Indiana Jones Adventure thrill ride. Based on George Lucas’ popular films, the ride allowed guests to be part of the action as they navigated their way through a treacherous archaeological excavation site.
Work began In the late 1990s to expand the one-park, one-hotel property into something more significant. Disneyland Park, the Disneyland Hotel, the original parking lot, and surrounding properties were earmarked for the area collectively known as Disneyland Resort. Construction on a second theme park had begun, and when it opened in 2001, it marked a new era for the Disneyland Resort.
The 2000s: A New Era Begins — New Hotels and a New Theme Park
In 2001, Disneyland underwent its most significant expansion since its opening in 1955. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa opened on January 2, 2001, and Downtown Disney – the shopping, dining, and entertainment district – opened on January 12, 2001. The openings occurred just before the new theme park debuted.
California Adventure opened to the public on February 8, 2001. Disney spent roughly $1.1 billion to build the 72-acre park. With the new addition, the Disneyland Resort nearly doubled its size. Opening day featured 15 new restaurants and 21 new attractions based on California’s culture and history. Disneyland Park welcomed 12.3 million visitors in 2001, while California Adventure welcomed 5 million.
Disneyland Resort celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2005 with the “Happiest Homecoming on Earth,” an 18-month-long celebration. This was Disneyland’s largest promotion ever, coinciding with major renovations at the park.
Many of the original attractions underwent massive restoration projects leading up to the celebration, including Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, and Pirates of the Caribbean. During the celebration, fifty Golden Mickey Ears were placed throughout the park, and one ride vehicle from each attraction was painted gold.
The “Happiest Homecoming on Earth” celebration began on May 5, 2005, and ended on September 30, 2006. It was followed by the “Year of a Million Dreams” celebration, which lasted 27 months and ended on December 31, 2008.
The 2010s: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge Opens
During the 2010s, Disneyland continued to be a beloved destination for children and adults. In 2015, the park celebrated its 60th anniversary with a Diamond Celebration featuring new attractions such as the Disneyland Forever fireworks show and the Paint the Night Parade.
In 2019, Disneyland introduced its newest attraction, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which transports visitors to “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” The addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge made Disneyland an even more popular destination for tourists worldwide.
In 2019, Disneyland Park welcomed 18.67 million visitors, while California Adventure welcomed 9.86 million, the most visitors in its history.
The 2020s: Coronavirus Shutdowns and a Triumphant Return
There have only been a few closures in Disneyland’s history. Disneyland closed after the President Kennedy assassination, during the September 11 attacks, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and Disneyland hotels closed indefinitely starting March 14, 2020.
Almost four months after closing, Downtown Disney reopened on July 9, 2020. However, due to a rise in cases in California, the theme parks’ reopening was postponed for many more months. From March 18 through April 19, 2021, Disneyland hosted a limited-capacity event called “A Touch of Disney” that offers guests the opportunity to shop and dine around the park. It wasn’t until April 30, 2021, that Disneyland and Disney California Adventure officially reopened with limited capacity and social distancing/mask guidelines. Guests were required to make a reservation before arrival as part of the park’s safety measures.
The Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted on June 15, 2021, allowing Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and other California theme parks to return to full capacity. Disneyland crowds have returned, and Disney fans anticipate more amazing Disneyland history to be made in the rest of the decade.