This year Disneyland turns 60 years old, but it’s so intertwined in our understanding of the world that it kind of feels like it has been around forever. Mention the phrase “happiest place on earth” anywhere on the globe and people will immediately know what you’re talking about. And that’s pretty cool.
But wait, are you one of those people who thinks that animated films are just for kids? Maybe you’re caught up in the whole ‘I practice coolness, even in private’ thing? OK, I get it. You may be surprised to know that going to Disneyland as an adult is just as, if not more, enjoyable than if you were a little tacker. The reason that Walt Disney actually conjured the idea for Disneyland was that he dreamed of a theme park that both he and his daughters could enjoy.
Here are some reasons why a trip to Disneyland isn’t just for kids.
It’s a pretty cool piece of history
Disneyland isn’t just an elaborate merchandising opportunity; it’s a historical icon. Did you know that in 1959, Khrushchev requested to visit Disneyland during his 13-day visit to the US (he request was denied – things were a little dicey with the Soviets at that point). Or that 14 of the original 18 attractions conceived in 1955 are still in use today? Or that the first day of the park’s operation was televised, which turned out to be so disastrous – the concrete paths hadn’t even set properly – it was referred to as ‘Black Sunday’ by Disney executives? Obviously, it’s come a long way since then.
Apart from being a symbol of ’50s American optimism and the explosion of the animation industry, Disneyland is an important prototype for every theme park since. Amazingly, it only took a year to construct, including the forging of new highways to accommodate the influx of traffic to the park. Disneyland was and is an engineering marvel, hosting the first ever monorail in the Western Hemisphere, playing with forced perspective in Main Street (each row of buildings declines in size) and the Matterhorn was the first tubular steel rollercoaster in the world. Walt Disney World Resort is now roughly the size of San Francisco.
In its 60 year history the park has only been spontaneously closed on three unscheduled days: when JFK was shot, the Northridge earthquake of ‘94 and on 9/11.
It’s not just one park
People tend to think of Disneyland as one amorphous wonderland, or they think it’s just one big castle and a bunch of small rides around it. But it’s neither of those things! Disneyland actually consists of eight ‘lands’: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Critter Country and Mickey’s Toontown. Each land has its own rides and restaurants and even different climates: Frontierland is characterised by rock and dust and Adventureland actually has a living, breathing ecosystem thriving around its Jungle Cruise. Fantasyland is built like an old time-y European village, Tomorrowland is a very ‘60s style ‘retro-future’ and New Orleans Square transports you back to 19th century Louisiana. As an adult, it’s cool to explore recreations of these historical places and, even more meta, old imaginings of the future. You think kids can truly appreciate The Jetsons-style inventions in Tomorrowland?
It’s a case of what rides you want to go on really: Indiana Jones Adventure or the Mark Twain Riverboat? Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin or Star Wars: The Adventure Continues? The answer: you want to go on all of the rides!
It’s such an important piece of pop culture
This may seem like the most obvious statement since, ‘pancakes taste delicious!’ but we take for granted how ingrained Disneyland is in modern popular culture. Disneyland is referenced in TV and film constantly because it is such a recognisable entity loaded with connotations. Think about The Simpsons going to Duff Gardens and going on the animatronic river cruise (before Lisa turns into the Lizard Queen. But that’s a story for another time). In part that scene was so funny because we know that it refers to Disney’s It’s A Small World and Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln animatronic rides.
For people who love pop culture – even if that pop culture isn’t necessarily Disney films – Disneyland is like a mecca. Everyone knows about Walt Disney’s mysterious time capsule buried beneath Sleeping Beauty’s Chamber, to be opened on Disneyland’s 80th anniversary. People flock to see the exhibition of the real props used in films like Indiana Jones. There aren’t many theme parks that have delivered such a complete world that they managed to base a whole film franchise on a ride that was built in 1967. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was actually the last that Walt Disney personally oversaw its construction. Rumour has it that some of the skeletons embedded in the walls are actually real. Yikes!
Ah, it’s fun
C’mon! It is totally fun! The minute that you decide that you are too cool to spend a full day screaming your head off on rollercoasters, posing for photos with Buzz Lightyear and eating your weight in fairy floss, is the moment that you stop finding pleasure in the sillier aspects of life. This is a place that’s whole existence is dedicated to joy, and it’s embarrassingly earnest about that. Ragtime bands play in the street, pirates run around singing sea shanties and young children are chosen to take part in Jedi training sessions. It’s rare that you get to take part in something so sincere.
Also it must be said: the food is also great. From traditional BBQ, ’50s style burgers and shakes, traditional Creole fare and of course, a restaurant dedicated to turkey legs, you will definitely get a good feed at Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth, OK?
(Lead Image: Tom Bricker/Flickr)