WHAT: "The Happiest Homecoming on Earth," the 50th anniversary celebration of the opening of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif. Anaheim is 27 miles south of Los Angeles and 100 miles north of San Diego.
WHEN: The 18-month fete begins May 5 and runs through October 2006, which means there's no rush to get there -- especially since Disney sources concede that, just like 50 years ago, not everything will be up and running perfectly on Day One.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., has been evolving for half a century now. The Mad Tea Party, pictured above in its original location, was moved near the Matterhorn in 1983.
(Above Photo And Rendering On Page P1 ) 2005 Disney)
THE WAY IT WAS: Carved out of 160 acres of orange groves in little more than a year, Disneyland was the first of animator-magnate Walt Disney's amusement parks. Its opening on July 17, 1955, was anything but glitchless. Among the problems experienced by the 28,000 attendees on that sweltering Sunday were traffic jams, power outages, food shortages and -- thanks to a plumber's strike -- no drinking fountains. So complete was the panning by the press that Disney himself referred to the debacle as "Black Sunday."
Still, the paying public (general admission was $1, rides 10 to 35 cents) ate up the new attraction. By the end of the eighth week, more than 1 million people had visited the park, and Walt Disney's $17 million gamble was on its way to becoming the $50 billion-plus entertainment empire it is today.
THE WAY IT WILL BE: Disneyland has grown over the past five decades (today there are 60 shows and attractions in eight "lands"), and there isn't much more that could be added without jeopardizing the original Disney magic.
The solution has been to make some of Disneyland's signature attractions even grander than before. Space Mountain, which debuted in 1977, will reopen in July after two years with a "re-Imagineered" Space Port, redesigned rockets and a new soundtrack and special effects. "Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams" replaces the "Parade of Stars" with a larger cast of Disney characters. Park guests will be treated to an even bigger -- and better, naturally -- fireworks display, "Remember . . . Dreams Come True."
The only completely new ride will be Tomorrowland's Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters (based on the Disney World attraction), in which riders pilot Star Cruisers while racking up points via hand-held laser cannons.
During the commemoration, "Disneyland -- The First 50 Years" will replace"Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln" in the Main Street Opera House and showcase the park's history. Included among the exhibits will be the original conceptual plan for the park, previously lost film footage and, perhaps most intriguing, a look at some of the rides and attractions that never made it off the drawing board.
And what would a golden anniversary be without a golden showpiece? Sleeping Beauty Castle, Disneyland's most conspicuous icon, will be decked out in jewels, golden accents and royal banners, and its five turrets will be topped by crowns.
ELSEWHERE IN WALT'S WORLD: All 10 of the worldwide Disney properties will be featuring new, refurbished or improved attractions and shows.
Disney'sCalifornia Adventure, a Golden State-themed complex next to the original Disneyland, will mark the golden anniversary with "spontaneous" interactive block parties featuring the new generation of Disney/Pixar characters. For those willing to go the extra miles (and days), the Florida-based cruise ship Disney Magic will initiate West Coast departures by sailing out of Long Beach, Calif., on seven-day excursions to the Mexican Riviera beginning May 28.
PARK PRICES: One-day Disneyland passes cost $53 for adults, $43 for children ages 3 to 9. Special Homecoming Celebration Packages (three-day minimum) include lodging on the property -- the Disneyland Hotel, Grand Californian or Paradise Pier -- and a park-hopper ticket (also good at California Adventure); packages begin at $1,300-plus for a family of four. For reservations: 714-520-5060, www.disneylandresort.com.
WHERE TO STAY: Other than the Disney properties, about 50 other hotels are in the area, including chains such as Sheraton, Radisson, Marriott and Embassy Suites. Most offer complimentary shuttle service to the parks. Rates are highest during the summer months, with prices dropping off -- often significantly -- after Labor Day. For info on lodging and activities: Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau, 714-765-8888, www.anaheimoc.org.
INFO: Disneyland, 714-781-4565, www.disneyland.com/50th.
-- Marshall S. Berdan