Disneyland Turns the Big 5-0
• 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.
• 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.