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DISNEYLAND: A Happy Homecoming
By Michelle R. Mangio, owner of Magical Escapes Vacations and a Disney College of Knowledge Graduate


     As all Disney fans know well, 2005 marks the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the DisneylandÒ theme park. All Disney properties across the world, on land and sea, are participating in this Happiest Celebration, in honor of the beginning of it all.

     If you are like me, then this party is the perfect reason to revisit Walt Disney World, and participate in the celebration. For many of us, especially out here on the East Coast where I live, there really is no contest in our minds between which US Disney theme park to visit. If you’re going to make the trip to Disney, why go all the way out to California, to visit a smaller version of our beloved theme park, when you can head right on down to Florida and visit it all?

     I’ll tell you why. Because there is no place more magical to celebrate this most special of Disney occasions.

     I know what you might be thinking. Trust me, I thought it, too. Now, I hope none of you Disneyland fans will get mad at me. After all, I don’t need to convince you to visit your favorite place. But I am appealing to all of those who, like I was, aren’t entirely certain why they should make the trip out to California. My husband and I have visited WDW more times than we can count. And once, many years ago, we did stop and visit Disneyland for a few days, because we wanted to see the original theme park, and compare it to our Happiest Place down in Florida.

     We had a good time. We found Disneyland to be quaint and tiny, but magical. We loved the Pirates of the Caribbean so much better there, and all around were little touches that made Disneyland so unique and memorable in its own right.

     Still, whenever we think of visiting Disney, it’s always to Walt Disney World that we are drawn. To us, WDW is our Disney home.

     Till this year, that is. I knew when I first heard word of the upcoming “Happiest Homecoming on Earth” celebration that I wanted to visit Disneyland again. And it wasn’t until after I had gotten there that I knew for certain there was no better place to be.

     And luck was with me. A conference I was attending was held out in Long Beach, bringing right out to Disneyland’s backyard. And what kind of Disney travel agent, not to mention Disney fan, would I be, if I didn’t stop by for a peak? Two days wasn’t near long enough, but it was enough time to imprint a memory I’ll always treasure.

     The fact is, Disneyland is different than Walt Disney World. WDW grew from Disneyland, but it was here that the magic was first given life. You’ll see familiar sights and rides, yet it’s more intimate, cozy, like wandering back into your childhood days. But the emotion of the past 50 years will catch up with you from the moment you walk in.

     The city of Anaheim has done a great job cleaning up the city in the last eight years since my previous visit, making it all the more pleasant to visit Disneyland. The Disney Resorts are beautiful, and nothing can beat the Grand Californian’s private entrance right into the middle of the Californian Adventure – especially after a long day when you just want to get to your bed, or soak in a pool. But even many of the off-site resorts are right within walking distance (a few right across the street!), given you many options to choose from.

     I first walked into Disneyland after dark, when the entire park was lit up – what a grand way to feel as if you were walking into a childhood memory again. There was Sleeping Beauty’s Castle down the end of Main Street, all brilliant pink and shining gold crowns. Just the sight had me positively giddy.

     I wandered into the City Hall to look at all the memorabilia on display, including many of the original tickets issued for Disneyland. It truly was a walk down memory lane, and it had me nostalgic for all the things – theme parks and movies, tv shows and cartoons – that I grew up with and love so much about Disney.

     But what was most special about that first evening – and is the reason every Disney fan should want to make it out to Disneyland before the Happiest Homecoming ends – was the fireworks show, “Remember…Dreams Come True.” There are many reasons to visit Disneyland this year, but if you need only one reason – this is it.

     If you’ve been to Walt Disney World in the last year or so, then you are probably familiar with its new fireworks show, “Wishes.” It’s a fabulous new display that combines an astonishing array of fireworks with story, song, and the heartfelt wishes of children and Disney characters.

     “Remember…Dreams Come True” takes the best parts of “Wishes” and makes it even grander. I don’t want to give away the show, but think of “Remember” as blending the best things of “Wishes” and “Illuminations.” It goes beyond just fireworks and song to tug at your heartstrings with laser, lights, and more, engaging most of the Main Street area in its dazzling display. It will take you on journey down memory lane, to all the things of Disney with which you fell in love, from your favorite attractions to television shows and Disney classic movies.

     Before “Remember” was even halfway through, I quite literally had a tear in my eye and the warmest feeling in my heart. But what I remember most was all the people around me, the many Disney fans who were swept away in the show, laughing and remembering and, yes, crying. When the show ended, my eyes met the woman next to me, and we both shared a crazy grin as we realized that the other also had tears on their face.

     There is something truly magical about this new fireworks display at Disneyland… but it’s also the emotion of the moment, surrounded by thousands of other fans, here where the Disney theme park dreams began, in front of the glittering gold crowns of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I’ve said it already, but I’ll say it again: if there is one thing you shouldn’t miss during the Happiest Homecoming Celebration, it is the “Remember… Dreams Come True” fireworks display in Disneyland.

     Of course, there are many other reasons to visit Disneyland before the end of 2006. The new “Walk in Walt’s Footsteps” Tour is a great way to see Disneyland and learn more about this park. Walt Disney never lived to see the opening of Walt Disney World in Florida, so this is an experience you just won’t be able to find anywhere else.

     Throughout the park, you will find mosaics of Disney characters and classic scenes, all comprised of photos of families who have visited Disneyland over the years. Fifty hidden “Mickey 50 Ears” are hidden throughout the Park as well – can you spot them all?

     Sleeping Beauty’s Castle has been transformed into a “Golden Tribute” to its 50 years – from golden turrets and drapes, to the Crown Jewels on its main towers. It’s a beautiful and stunning transformation. The original rides which opened in 1955 are celebrating as well, as one vehicle in each ride is now golden. Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blaster has made its way from Florida, and Space Mountain has been revamped with all new special effects.

     During the day, don’t forget to see the new Parade of Dreams, displaying scenes from favorite Disney movies. It’s a touching and heart-warming journey through the moments of Disney movies we’ve all come to love.

     Then hop on over to California Adventure to check out the Block Party Bash – a high energy parade and show that will have you dancing in the streets. The performers are always full of energy, even in the sweltering heat, and their enthusiasm is infectious – it’s hard not to get swept up in the dancing. Then head to the animation building for a conversation with Crush (from Finding Nemo), in the new “Turtle Talk With Crush” show.

     As you can see, there is much excitement going on in Disneyland this year. This is Classic Disney at its best, mixed with the energy of all that’s new – and the dreams of all that’s to come. Any Disney fan will not be disappointed in a trip to the original Disney theme park – just don’t forget to bring your handkerchief when the inner child within you brings those tears of joy and nostalgia to your face.


(This article originally appeared in edited form in the Passporter December, 2005 Edition)






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