What Disneyland Means to Me (And Why I Miss It)

By Alexandria Austin

Disneyland has closed only three times since it first opened its gates July 17, 1955. The first was on November 24, 1963, the day after the assassination of JFK. The second was on September 11, 2001, when tragedy struck NYC. On both occasions the park was closed for one day. Currently, Disneyland has now been closed for just over eleven months. 

In my world, Disneyland is not an amusement park with too long lines and inflated ticket prices. It is a place woven into the very story of my life.

It has been a part of my life story from the time I can remember,

From the time I was just little, Disneyland was an event! It was birthdays with my big brother and family, ticketbook in hand, anticipating what E ticket attraction to ride first. My childhood is filled with the memories of trips with my big brother, riding Dumbo, visiting the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Swiss Family Treehouse, Tom Sawyer’s Island and yes, It’s a Small World! 

There have been many changes over the years, but so many more constants that keep me comforted. There are irreplaceable memories of my brother and I experiencing a ride for the first time and anticipating the next time we’d get to go. Disneyland was being a teenager with Mickey Ears on – with the hand stitched name of course! It was $20 – just enough for admission with $5 to spare for Twinkies and Space Punch at the base of the rockets in Tomorrowland. It was celebrating birthdays and even my bachelorette weekend. It was seeing the parking lot leveled and the original sign removed. It was going every summer and waiting with ice cream cone in hand on Main Street to watch the Main Street Electrical Parade.  It was being there for the parade’s last running in 1996 and being there again when it finally returned in 2017. 

It my Happy Place. It’s ice cream, popcorn in that season’s collectable bucket and Dole Whip. It’s remembering the first rides and cherishing the classics. It’s watching the changes and embracing the constants.  It’s walking into a world of wonder, nostalgia and continuity. Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. 

 It is the joy, the magic, the promise one man, Walt Disney, made and kept:”it is my wish to delight all members of the family, young and old, parent and child.” It is not about going on a quiet afternoon after work like some with an annual pass, it is about arriving before gates open and riding that last ride of the evening. It’s closing the park at midnight, strolling up Main Street with hot cocoa, picking sweets from Carnation, some hot cocoa and snacks for the drive home and that visit’s souvenirs. 

I have never taken the magic for granted, but I never expected to lose the opportunity to visit when my spirits were low. Disneyland has been there, a part of my story these many years, and since March 14, 2020, the gates have been closed, the magic shuttered, the laughter stilled. When it was announced that Disneyland closed its gates for only the 3rd time in 65 years, that brought this pandemic home to me. In the scheme of things, this overinflated, overcrowded theme park may seem trivial and inconsequential. After all there are families that have lost loved ones, brought new life into the world quietly and alone, celebrated minimally and perhaps uniquely via social media. But we all have that constant in our world, a place, an event, a tradition that makes us whole. We are doing our best to stay safe by accepting the loss of these inconsequential parts of our lives, but the question is how long? Because that which made Covid real for you is what makes the difference between living and existing.  

To all who come to this happy place:

Welcome.

Disneyland is your land.

Here age relives fond memories of the past-and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.

 Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America-with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration for all the world.

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