The Happiest Place on Earth

Like many people of my generation (the baby boomers) I grew up with Walt Disney (Uncle Walt) and Disneyland. Disneyland opened in 1955. My first memory of going there was at Christmas time when I was only three.  I remember my dad putting me on top of a mailbox on Main Street so I could watch a Disney Parade go by. Somewhere in my house is an old cardboard box with a photo of me in front of the tall Christmas Tree on Main Street.

Every Sunday night, I would watch the Wonderful World of Disney with Walt Disney in which he would showcase Disneyland, new attractions and movies based upon things he had there.  To us kids in the early 1960’s, Disneyland was absolute paradise and a rare treat. Even though it was more affordable back then, we only got to go once a year on average.  It took my family an hour to drive from our home to Anaheim and back then all you saw was 45 minutes of Orange Groves until the snowy peaks of the Matterhorn peaked out over the tops of the greenery. I always used to wonder how the Matterhorn always managed to have snow on it all year round.  Spotting the Matterhorn first became a generational game of me and my peers.

Back then we had ticket books and the E-tickets were always for THE BEST rides (that is where the term came from). In its infancy, the best rides were the Matterhorn, the Submarine ride and the Jungle Boat Cruise.  We used to wait in line for HOURS for the Jungle Boat Cruise. It was the ultimate goal of every teenage boy to earn the status of being Jungle Boat captain (and my brother in law, Steve, earned that distinction). When I turned ten, Disney changed from ticket books to a flat rate ($3.50 for the whole day back then).  I wanted to LIVE at Disneyland or at least live across the street so I could go every day. I actually still have some old ticket books and a 1962 guidebook still in pristine condition.  It took me until age 9 to get up the nerve to go on The Matterhorn.  It went a lot faster back then. Disneyland was the one place your parents could (and still can) drop you off for the entire day and know you will be safe. One of the things I ALWAYS had to have as a souvenir was the black Mickey Mouse ears with my name on it in gold thread. I always had to have them custom stitched because my name is so unusual.

It was also the dream of most children of my generation in America to stay at the Disneyland Hotel . I’m now 53 and I have yet to stay there but I did have a nice dinner at the Napa Rose this past Saturday at the Grand California. One of these days I will have to make good on that dream.

Like many other children I also felt a very special bond to Uncle Walt and actually cried quite a bit when he died.  It really was like losing a member of my family.

I have grown up with Disneyland my entire life and seen attractions come and go. One of my favorite memories is one of the first times I went to Disneyland with my husband when we were still dating.  We were riding in the Haunted Mansion and he was telling me how there used to be a guy in a suite of armor that would stand in one particular place and scare people.  I turned to him and said: “Look, I’ve been on this ride a hundred times and I've never seen a guy in a suit of armor!” No sooner were the words out of my mouth then our car swiveled sharply around and a guy in a suit of armor lunged at me. I screamed bloody murder! It was so perfect it was almost like a set up. I’m sure he had heard me and was probably laughing himself sick behind his metal visor at me.

When I was in my early 20’s I worked with a girl whose husband was in a band that played at the Tomorrow Land Terrace and one night we had the thrill of getting to go underneath the stage and see what it looked like before it rose up for their performance.

But my all time favorite thing is the fireworks and Tinkerbell. I still get chills of delight up my spine whenever I see her fly across the sky. I was there the Sunday right after 9-11 in 2001 and like many others, worried about a terrorist attack there. The fireworks that night were a tribute to America and there wasn't a dry eye around us.

For my birthday this past Saturday we went back for the first time in over five years. Losing my job, the economy and obscene price for a day (and Annual) pass had made Disneyland a very low priority and my husband and I discovered that we had really missed it.

We went to a newly redone California Adventure which now featured an entire CARS land which was really cool. We spent the entire day talking about what we had done with our daughter there when she was young. That night I got to see the Wonderful World of Color Show on the lake for the first time and my jaw literally dropped open in awe and stayed that way throughout the performance. I felt like a five year old child again; experiencing anew all the wonder and delight of being at Disneyland like it was the first time.

Do you have a favorite Disney memory? I would love to hear all about it! Post it in the comments section below.


  1. Marlayne, for me it wasn't Disneyland but Disney World in Florida. We had moved to Florida two years after it opened. I remember my cousins coming down to visit after our first year here. We went on Space Mountain. I remember riding through part of the GE exhibit and passing an exhibit that showed people ordering items from their TV and thinking how cool that would be. I too loved the jungle ride. Down here the Swiss Family Treehouse was one of my favorites along with the Pirates of the Carribbean. However, to this day my favorite is still It's a Small World. I remember the "E" tickets and how you could save whatever tickets you had left for your next trip. I was in awe of Cinderella's Castle. It is my dream to eat at the restaurant there one day. For me it wasn't the Mickey Mouse ears but the giant lollipop we got at the end that made it so special. It is funny that I am reading this post right now. It is 7 AM and I am in a hotel in Orlando, just 10 minutes away from Disney World. I am at a conference and wish I had taken my students' advice and skipped the conference and gone to Disney World. Maybe next time. Thanks for the memories.

  2. That pounds like o much fun. It has been about 20 years since I have been to Disneyland. I miss that a lot. I am sure this will be a birthday to remember

  3. When our children were small, my husband Dan and I would bring them to Florida to visit my father, who had retired there. Prior to retiring, my father was part of the construction crew that helped build Disneyworld. He was quite proud of that and fondly remembered meeting Walt Disney at the site. As far as the kids were concerned, at least one trip to Disneyworld was “mandatory” during our visits.
    We all have many wonderful memories of those days. Brimming with anticipation, we would enter the gate and walk down Main Street. The fun continued with rides such as “It’s a Small World” and “The Pirates of the Caribbean.” And who can forget the evening parades, complete with floats and Disney characters? A magnificent fireworks display would cap off each day before the park closed.
    But for Dan, one memory stands out. He’d taken our four-year-old son, David, on the Space Mountain ride. Prior to that, we had never ridden on it, and had no idea that it involved a lot of twists, turns, flashing lights and darkness. At the time, David had a terrible fear of the dark.
    Soon after the ride began, Dan realized David was too still and quiet. David was seated in front of his father, so Dan leaned forward as far as he could with the harness, to wrap his arm around David. His hand was on David’s chest and Dan could feel his little heart racing.
    The ride seemed quite long, and after a while, David cried out, “Papa, can you make it stop?”
    “Yes,” Dan said, trying to comfort our son. “It will stop soon.”
    No sooner did those words leave his mouth, than the ride pulled into the station.
    This surprised Dan, but to little David, his dad seemed to make it happen. It seemed like magic. And why not? This was the Magic Kingdom.

    Flora Reigada, journalist novelist

  4. Sandy, Cathy and Flora - I just loved reading about your own Disney memories! Thank you so much for leaving your comments.