"Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy," is the message millions of families have been greeted with as they entered Disneyland and passed into a representation of Walt Disney's hometown of Marceline, Mo., at the turn of the 1900s. Ride down Main Street, U.S.A. in a horse-drawn streetcar and check out the windows above the stores to see if your kids can spot the one in honor of Walt Disney's dad, Elias. Or hop on the Disneyland Railroad for a "grand circle tour" of the Magic Kingdom. At the end of the night, look above the fire house. The lamp in Walt's apartment, which years ago was lit to let cast members know when he was in the park, remains burning today as a symbol that Disneyland was the only park Walt walked.
There's nothing more magical than the first time you see Sleeping Beauty Castle, based on Bavaria's Neuschwanstein Castle. The drawbridge in front has been lowered only twice: once in 1955 on the park's opening day (when it was in the name of the children of the world), and once in 1983 after Fantasyland received a huge makeover. Walk through the archway, turn around and look up: The shield with the three lions is the Disney Family coat of arms (tell your kids that and they'll think you're really smart). Then enjoy the enchanting Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, recently renovated to its original "pop-up" storybook feel, where you can read the beloved tale, based on the 1959 film. But watch out for Maleficent.
In 1956, the Astro-Jets opened in Tomorrowland, which was built to show what what the world would be like in 1986. In 1967 they occupied a place above the former Peoplemover (where you can now see the Observatron). While the attraction has gone through several name and location changes over the year, these days the Astro Orbitor, which now resides at the entrance to Tomorrowland, remains a favorite among young astronauts. Kids can control their jet with an easy-to-use handle and zoom high or fly low for a minute and a half. Meanwhile, mom and dad can hug them and enjoy the bird's-eye view of the park at the same time.
In 1955, the lucky guys and gals who were at Disneyland on opening day would have spotted Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra behind the wheel on Autopia — and the cars weren't on tracks back then. These days the cars have bumpers and are on a guide rail, but young drivers of all ages, some with the help of mom and dad, still have a great time on the "Tomorrowland highway." In 2000, the Tomorrowland Autopia merged with the Fantasyland Autopia, making one nice long ride, that includes off-roading through bumpy terrain and a trip through the Car Park where eagle-eyed drivers can spot vehicles from Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and the original Autopia.
You can see it as soon as you walk in, and hear the growls of the Abominable Snowman inside it from three different lands. The popular steel-tubed Matterhorn Bobsleds was the first thrill ride at the park when it opened in Fantasyland in 1959 (the snowman was added in 1978). While this version might be 1/100 of the size of the real one in Switzerland, some Imagineering botanical magic makes it look larger than it actually is. Those who visited the park years ago might remember when the Skyway went through the mountain.
The Mad Tea Party made its debut on July 17, 1955, based on the "Unbirthday" party in 1951's "Alice in Wonderland," complete with the repeated playing of the popular song from the film. Kids and adults can get themselves as dizzy as they want to while sitting in oversized tea cups (just don't ride after a large meal). The party moved in 1983 from behind the castle to its current location next to the Alice in Wonderland attraction. While waiting in the queue, check out the ride operator's station: It's a replica of the White Rabbit's home from the film.
The Sherman Brothers, songwriters behind "Mary Poppins" were asked to write a simple song for "it's a small world" that could be easily translated: "There's so much that we share, that's it's time we're aware... ." Touted as "The Happiest Cruise That Ever Sailed," the message behind the catchy song is one that has been embraced since it opened at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and at Disneyland in 1966. A recent makeover added some classic Disney characters to their respective countries (Mulan in China, Cinderella in France) and turned the Polynesia room into a North America room. Beginning in 1997, guests were able to enjoy the Christmas overlay, complete with the added singing of "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells."
You can spot King Arthur Carrousel through the archway of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Walt Disney frequently took his daughters to Griffith Park to ride the carrousel, but on his version, he wanted all the horses (72) to have their legs arranged so that every child could have a leaping one. Every horse is painted white and no two are decorated the same. Look up to see the hand-painted scenes from "Sleeping Beauty" that surround the interior. In 2005, lead horse Jingles (noted for the golden balls it wears) was dedicated in honor of Julie Andrews, who was godmother for the park's 50th anniversary. You can show your kids the horse's saddle, which bears Andrews' initials, a silhouette of Mary Poppins, Mary's famous boots with a bird perched on it and the number "50."
The Rivers of America is exactly what it claims to be — the waterway that stretches from Frontierland past New Orleans Square to Critter Country has water in it from every river in the United States. When Disneyland opened, guests were able to board the Mark Twain Riverboat for a trip around Tom Sawyer's Island (now home to Pirates Lair), to see the burning cabin and the Indian village. The Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes (1971), is a favorite among kids and adults during the hot summer months, because you will get wet, and the canoes aren't on a track. But the Rivers might be best loved as the setting of "Fantasmic!" which has been showcasing the battle between good and evil since 1992.
The most elaborate use of Audio-Animatronics was created when Disneyland decided it was time to put something in the open space at the bend of the Rivers of America. Though Pirates of the Caribbean was originally intended to be a walkthrough, Walt Disney decided that a boat ride would be a better experience for guests. The attraction, which opened in March 1967 (three months after Disney passed away) had an elaborate inauguration that started with real live pirates who pillaged and plundered the Columbia. The family favorite has had a few tweaks over the years, most recently with the addition of the Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow from the blockbuster film trilogy. Yo ho!
In 1955, Walt Disney barely had enough money for the theme park to open, let alone gives his visitors a place to stay. So he asked his friend, Jack Wrather (husband of actress Bonita Granville) to build a hotel next door. The Disneyland Hotel had pools and restaurants, and was one of the first hotels in the area to have rooms large enough for four. The Disney Company purchased the hotel in 1988 and changed the three towers from the Sierra, Bonita and Marina to the Dreams, Wonder and Magic, respectively. Another perk for guests (and for parents with tired little ones) is that the Monorail goes right from Tomorrowland to Downtown Disney, just a short walk from the Disneyland Hotel. Look for the Sorcerer Hat and you're home!