Disneyland's Opening Day Mishaps, And Disney World's Triumph

Culture | December 9, 2018

Vice President Richard Nixon at Disneyland at Anaheim, California, August 11, 1955. (Photo by USC Libraries/Corbis via Getty Images); a Disneyland ticket book.

In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, changing family amusement forever. The kid-friendly site, divided into various "lands" (Adventureland, Frontierland, etc.), dotted with rides and populated by characters Walt Disney had created set a new standard. Celebrities and civilians alike attended the opening, mingling with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and other walking, talking animals, even though much of it didn't go as planned. The park in California was so successful that a second venue, on a lot more land in Florida, was opened a decade later.

Plan Of The Park

Disneyland Grand Opening, 1955

Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, on what had previously been 160 acres of orange groves in Anaheim, California. Six thousand special invitations were sent out to people involved in the $17 million project as well as to the press. ABC broadcasted a live special that was hosted by Art Linkletter, Ronald Reagan, and Billy Cummings.

The original park was divided into five sections: Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Main Street, USA. Some of the attractions included Jungle Cruise, Peter Pan’s Flight, Mad Tea Party, and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The iconic Dumbo ride would open the following month., while the classic “It’s a Small World” would not make its debut for more than a decade. 

Things Didn't Go As Planned

Crowd arriving for the grand opening of Disneyland

Despite the planning that went into the grand opening, the event did not go as expected. For starters, the asphalt on Main Street was still wet, causing women’s high-heeled shoes to get stuck. Many of the special invitations had been counterfeited. Rather than the expected 11,000 attendees, there were 28,000 people heading to Disneyland that day, causing traffic to back up. There was a record heat wave in southern California and many of the water fountains were dry due to a plumbers’ strike. And to further complicate matters, the restaurants were unprepared for the oversized crowd and ran out of food and drink. Several rides broke down and the Mark Twain steamboat nearly capsized from being overloaded. And, finally, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Adventureland were forced to close for the afternoon due to a gas leak.

Disneyland Today

Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, California

Despite its rocky beginnings, the park was a huge success, surpassing one million visitors in only seven weeks. Many consider it to be the original “theme” park, with the ones that came before it being considered amusement parks, and it became the blueprint for all the theme parks which came after it.

Today, Disneyland Resort has added a second park, California Adventure, as well as several resort hotels. In 2015, it was ranked second in most popular theme parks by attendance with 18.29 million visitors. It was beaten only by the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, which had 20.49 million visitors and just happens to be the second Disney theme park to open during the groovy era.

Walt Goes To Florida

Walt Disney and his brother Roy with Florida governor Burns announcing plan for Disney World

On November 15, 1965, Walt Disney announced his plan to build a second theme park in Orlando, Florida which would be called Disney World. The Florida location offered 28,000 acres of land, as opposed to the 160 acres on which Disneyland had been built. This would allow room to build a theme park like Disneyland which would be called the Magic Kingdom while leaving plenty of space for resort hotels, campgrounds, golf courses, and a shopping district. Sadly, Walt died in 1966 before construction of the park could begin.

The Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World as explained by Walt, and as pictured on the cover of 'Life.' Sources: YouTube, Pinterest

After Walt’s death, his brother Roy took over the project. In the interests of avoiding the chaos that had plagued the opening of Disneyland, the park opened to the public on October 1, 1971, but the official dedication was a three-day event beginning on October 23. Like Disneyland, the Magic Kingdom park was divided into lands; however, Disney World had six lands – the five from the original park with the addition of Liberty Square to make up the sixth. It opened with many of the attractions still there today, including Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion. Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort opened at that time, as well. 

Additions And Expansion

Statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse at Disney World

The dedication ceremony included a performance by the World Symphony Orchestra, a television special with Bob Hope, the debut of the Electric Water Parade, and a 1,076-piece marching band. On October 25, 1971, Roy Disney dedicated Disney World as “a tribute to the philosophy and life of Walter Elias Disney.” In 1982, EPCOT center, a theme park version of Walt’s vision of a progressive community, became the second park at Walt Disney World.

Today, there are four theme parks and two water parks, though Magic Kingdom remains the most popular. Several resort hotels have been added over the years and are now categorized into different price ranges in an effort to make affordable options for everyone. While Walt did not live to see his vision for the park become a reality, his statue stands near the entrance, welcoming guests as they enter the park.

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Disney | Disneyland | Family Fun | Theme Parks | Walt Disney

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Penny Chavers


Penny, besides writing, loves to spend her time with family and friends. In her spare time, she also enjoys playing the piano, board games, and taking online classes on topics that interest her.