My first visit to Disneyland at 4 years old set the stage for my love of The Happiest Place on Earth, but it was really our family vacations in the 1990s that firmly imprinted the park on my memory and made it a place filled with familiarity and magic that would last into my adulthood. My most vivid memories of experiencing Disneyland as a youngster were made then, and I’ve carried them with me as I’ve grown to love the resort through an adult and parent’s eyes.
We vacationed at Disneyland at least every other summer during my pre-teen and early teen years. My sister was 7 years younger than me, so as a family we hit just about every attraction and show there was, donning such 90s theme park essentials as wide-brimmed sunhats, fanny packs, and custom puff-painted t-shirts.
I think we forced my poor dad to take point-of-view video footage of every attraction we rode, and much of our family archives from that time consist of videos rather than still photos. One of my favorite clips is of the four of us taking a break from the summer heat in Tomorrowland and sipping frozen lemonades, and not just because of my dad’s rad aviator glasses or my sister’s epic Daisy hat. It epitomizes what Disneyland is to me–a place to take a break from everyday life and enjoy time with the people who matter most.
In the summer of 1994, we took our first ride on Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, which had opened that January in Mickey’s Toontown. The queue winds through dark, narrow alleys, and guests can hear the weasels, Jessica Rabbit and Baby Herman talking. The queue features license plates with various Disney references. Some of my favorites are 1DRLND (Wonderland), CAP 10 HK (Captain Hook), L MERM8 (The Little Mermaid), RS2CAT (Aristocat) and ZPD2DA (Zip-a-dee-doo-dah).The Toontown Cab Company serves as the boarding area where guests enter their yellow toon taxicab. At the beginning of the attraction, guests spin out in a puddle of “The Dip” spilled by the weasels and the steering wheel of the cab becomes active so it can spin around, similar to Fantasyland’s Mad Tea Party. The attraction’s storyline focuses on the weasels’ plot to kidnap Jessica and “dip” Roger Rabbit.
In November that year, an iconic Disneyland attraction closed. I admittedly have never been able to totally get over the loss of the Skyway to Tomorrowland (or Skyway to Fantasyland, depending on the route you took), and it’s at the top of my list of attractions I’d love to see return. As most long-time Disneyland-goers will remember, the Skyway was a gondola lift attraction at Disneyland that carried riders back and forth between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. The Skyway at Disneyland opened in June of 1956 and was the first aerial ropeway of its kind in the country. In 1959, a major renovation added the Submarine Voyage, the Disneyland Monorail, the Matterhorn and the Motor Boat Cruise. Without closing the Skyway, the Matterhorn was built around it. I was not exactly a thrill-seeking child, so I liked being able to pass through the Matterhorn via the Skyway without actually stepping foot in a bobsled and braving an encounter with the Abominable Snowman!
It’s been said that the Disneyland Skyway was removed after 38 years of operation due to stress cracks in the Matterhorn roller battery supports and lack of ADA compliance. The shell of the Skyway station remains in Fantasyland as an homage to the past, but it is not accessible by guests and is now largely hidden by trees. The Tomorrowland Skyway station no longer stands.
My family members were Disneyland “foodies” before the term even existed, and one of our must-do dining spots back in 1994 was the original incarnation of Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue, which was then called simply Big Thunder Barbecue. It was located in the same spot as it is today and also featured outdoor seating in a rustic ranch setting. While the format of the restaurant today is all-you-care-to-enjoy family style, the theme park guide at that time referred to it as a locale offering “Buffeteria Service” BBQ specialties. I remember pushing my tray up to what looked like a parked wagon to order my entrée of choice, which was often barbecue chicken cooking right in front of guests on large outdoor grills. Just like today, the meals were hearty, delicious and a definite departure from your typical theme park food.
I have to say the Disneyland photography souvenir options have vastly improved in the last 21 years, evidenced by these green screen creations that were, I’m sure, quite cutting edge at the time. Although much has changed since then, much has stayed the same, as well. You can still get a hand-painted parasol made or your caricature drawn in New Orleans Square, and having silhouettes cut by the talented artists on Main Street, U.S.A. has become a tradition I’ve continued with my son. As we celebrate Disneyland’s Diamond Anniversary this year, it’s my hope that a couple decades from now my kids will have a childhood of Disneyland memories to draw upon like I do and are busy making new ones with their own families in that magical place that has proven itself truly timeless.
This post is part of a special Disney community countdown to Disneyland’s 60th anniversary called 60 Days to 60 Years.