I got to end my summer on a dazzling note this year with a visit to Disneyland.
When I was growing up in the Bay Area of California I was lucky enough to visit the Happiest Place on Earth nearly every year with my family. My family of five would drive down, usually in off-peak months like October or January for a day or two of fun with Mickey Mouse.
In more recent years, as displaced Californians, we’ve squeezed in visits during summer months on trips back to our home state to visit my grandma and other relatives.
As the years have passed, summer has become synonymous with Disneyland for me. While researching for this post I stumbled on the perfect quote that sums up my feelings about summer and Disneyland, stated by Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys in an interview with the New York Times.
“Summer means happy times and good sunshine. It means going to the beach, going to Disneyland, having fun,” he said.
I couldn’t have said it better myself, Brian! My visit to Disneyland with my family really made my summer complete. Our trip was packed with extra enchantment as Disneyland is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary.
Legend has it that Walt Disney first came up with the idea for Disneyland during frequent weekend trips with his daughters to ride the merry-go-round in Griffith Park.
“I felt that there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together,” Walt once stated. “So that’s how Disneyland started.
Walt originally planned to build the park on an eight-acre lot near his studio in Burbank. Thankfully, a new space, a 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim was identified. A mere 12-months after construction began, Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955.
Walt said in his Opening Day Speech, “To all who come to this happy place: welcome. Disneyland is your land… Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts which have created America… with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
Yet despite these uplifting words, Opening Day for the theme park proved to be a disaster. A heat wave caused temperatures to soar to 110 degrees, there weren’t enough water fountains and asphalt was still wet leading some visitors to lose their shoes.
Lucky for us, Disneyland survived its horrendous first day and has gone on to have 60 years worth of opening days bringing magic, happiness, and tired feet to millions of visitors from around the world.
When Disneyland first opened, it was a single park with 20 attractions. Today Disneyland Resort is home to the original theme park as well as Disney’s California Adventure which opened in 2001, Downtown Disney and three hotels.
To commemorate 60 dazzling years, Disneyland has a special Diamond Celebration that includes special décor, entertainment and other offerings. Here’s the top must-sees during your visit the 60th Anniversary Celebration!
The most noticeable aspect of the Diamond Celebration is the dazzling décor that is found throughout Disneyland Resort. Sleeping Beauty Castle has been frosted with glimmers and banners as has the Carthay Circle Theater in DCA.
Banners, balloons and other signage celebrating the milestone are found along Main Street U.S.A., Buena Vista Street and elsewhere throughout property.
Attraction Photo Ops
In addition to the fantastic decorations, there are also a few new photo op locations scattered throughout the park that present a fun, new way for guests to make memories. My favorite was the Matterhorn cutout which makes it appear as if you are scaling Disneyland’s tallest mountain! Similar cutouts are found near Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Grizzly River Rapids.
Refurbished Fantasyland Attractions
To prepare for the special milestone, Imagineers brushed up some of the classic dark rides in Fantasyland to give them a more up-to-date feel. As a Disney purist, I am happy to report that the changes are subtle and don’t really effect the overall feel or storylines. Peter Pan’s Flight, an opening day attraction, has new neon paint affects and projection scenes, my favorite being the addition of Peter, Wendy and gang on the clock tower in the London scene. The Alice in Wonderland dark ride also has new projections as well as new figures of Alice. Matterhorn Bobsleds have amped up the encounters with the abdominal snowman. I was genuinely surprised (and even a little scared) during my ride!
Outside of Fantasyland, The Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square also received some updates including the return of the infamous Hatbox Ghost, a character who was originally found in the attraction when it opened in 1969 but removed shortly after.
Special Character Costumes
Mickey Mouse and friends are all dressed up to celebrate in sparkling Diamond Celebration costumes. I stumbled across Mickey Mouse almost immediately upon entering Main Street, U.S.A. where he was awaiting guests for a photo op. Mickey looks so handsome in his red pants, blue sparkly vest, dark blue overcoat. His red sparkling bow-tie even matched the bow on my Minnie Mouse headband! Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy also have special costumes and can be found on Main Street U.SA. and Buena Vista Street at Disney’s California Adventure.
Meet Anna and Elsa
While this entertainment offering isn’t exclusive to the Diamond Celebration, it is exciting to note that Anna and Elsa from Frozen are now available to meet guests at the Disney Animation Building in Hollywood Land at DCA. The Character Spot location has been re-themed to look like the royal palace in Arendelle. The meet and greet does have a fast pass, but during my visit the line was so short that the Cast Member let my family in. The wait to meet these two princesses was just around 10 minutes. I couldn’t believe this as the wait has been reported to be two hours or more to meet the princesses at Walt Disney World in Orlando. We had great luck and managed to get one of the coolest sister pictures ever!
Paint the Night Electrical Parade
A new nighttime parade is on show when the lights go down in Disneyland. Set to a musical medley that includes themes from the original Mainstreet Electrical Parade as well as the song “When Can I See You Again?” from the film Wreck-It Ralph.
An array of Disney characters and more than 1.5 million brilliant LED lights that flash and flow as Mickey Mouse uses his vivid imagination to “Paint the Night.” The music is catchy, the floats are brilliant and energy is high!
“Disneyland Forever” Fireworks Spectacular
Disneyland also has a new fireworks show. The show includes projections of classic Disney characters and movie scenes onto Sleeping Beauty Castle and It’s a Small World. Projections, music and fireworks take guests far and a way to lands including the Pride Lands of The Lion King, under the sea with The Little Mermaid and straight into the honey pot with Winnie the Pooh. I watched the show in Fantasyland near It’s a Small World. The entire crowd sang along to the “Let it Go” portion of the show and it was so powerful to hear all those voices filled with pain and hope singing in unison that I was moved to tears. Nemo also makes a debut in the show, swimming through the air as he is launched from the Matterhorn when it is transformed into a volcano.
World of Color – Celebrate! The Wonderful World of Walt Disney
World of Color, the nighttime show at DCA, has also received a makeover. In the new version, Neil Patrick Harris narrates as the story of Walt and The Happiest Place on Earth is brought to life with animated imagery, live-action film, fountains, lasers, special effects and music. Unfortunately as I only had one day to experience the Diamond Celebration I did not get to see World of Color. I guess I will just have to visit again soon!
It wouldn’t be Disneyland without stellar souvenirs! More than 500 special merchandise items have been created for the Diamond Celebration including apparel, accessories, art, collectibles, headwear, home décor, jewelry, pins, toys and more. Merchandise can be found throughout the theme parks, with most prominent displays at the Main Street Emporium in Disneyland, Elias & Co. in DCA and World of Disney in the Downtown Disney District.
And there you have it – all the must-see’s at Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration? Which must-see was most magical for you? Let me know in the comments below!