When Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California, on July 17, 1955, it wasn’t an immediate success. The park experienced numerous setbacks, including counterfeit tickets, concession shortages, and malfunctioning rides. But it also featured many rides and attractions that are considered classic parts of the Wonderful World of Disney today. Here are 11 attractions guests got to experience when they visited Disneyland on opening day.
1. The Mad Tea Party
The Mad Tea Party has been a Disneyland icon from the start. Inspired by the 1951 film Alice in Wonderland, the attraction allows guests to ride and spin giant teacups, which themselves are fixed to spinning turntables on the ground. It’s received a few updates over the years, including a colorful paint job and sturdy doors on the cups where there were once only ropes.
2. Peter Pan’s Flight
Peter Pan’s Flight set a new standard for dark rides when it opened at Disneyland. It's based on the 1953 film and features hanging riding vehicles shaped like pirate ships for guests to hop into. After passing a detailed mural recreating scenes from the movie, guests boarded the ride and glided over a miniature model of London at night. The attraction still operates today, and it’s been updated with new scenes and lighting effects.
3. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Based on Disney's animated adaptation of The Wind in the Willows, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was one of the most thrilling rides at Disneyland when it opened. Guests boarded Toad’s motorcar and sped through exciting scenes from the short film. This is also one of the rare Disney attractions without a happy ending: The grand finale sees riders rolling into hell, complete with cartoonish devils. It’s still operating at Disneyland today.
Autopia was one of Disneyland's most unique attractions back in 1955. This model freeway encouraged kids to get behind the wheel of 5/8-scale cars and zip freely around a track (despite them being too young for a driver's license in the real world). The vehicles were designed by Bob Gurr, who helped make the mid-1950s Lincoln Continental, and they were powered by 7.5-horsepower Mustang motorcycle engines. The max possible speed was capped at 11 mph, but that didn’t stop reckless drivers from getting into fender benders. It's been renovated several times since its debut.
5. King Arthur’s Carousel
This elaborate carousel has been a fixture of Disneyland since the park’s grand opening. After acquiring a vintage merry-go-round from the Sunnyside Amusement Park in Toronto, Walt Disney and his team updated it to consist solely of "galloping" horses. The ride is meant to make guests feel like the Knights of the Round Table charging on their steeds.
6. Jungle Cruise
Sixty-six years after the ride opened, guests can still ride the Jungle Cruise riverboats at Disneyland. The attraction is famous for its animatronic animals, immersive tropical environment, and live host. A movie based on the ride hits theaters on July 30, 2021.
7. Snow White and Her Adventures
Though it's been around since the beginning, Snow White's Disneyland attraction has gone through plenty of tweaks over the years. It originally debuted in July 1955 as Snow White and Her Adventures, but it was renamed Snow White’s Scary Adventures in 1983 to better reflect the ride’s terrifying encounters with the evil witch from 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The ride has since been toned down quite a bit, and it was recently reimagined as the more family-friendly Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.
8. Disneyland Railroad
Since opening day, the Disneyland Railroad has transported guests around the theme park. It originally had two steam engines named C.K. Holliday (after Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway founder Cyrus Kurtz Holliday) and E.P. Ripley (after the same railway’s first president, Edward Payson Ripley). The design was inspired by the ridable miniature railroad Walt Disney maintained in his backyard.
9. Canal Boats of the World
Canal Boats of the World was originally envisioned as a canal boat ride featuring miniature models of international landmarks. Due to budget limitations, the miniatures were nixed, and riders were instead taken around a swampy, poorly landscaped bank with nothing to look at. Mechanical malfunctions exacerbated the ride’s troubles, and it shut down just a couple of months after Disney opened. Not long after that, it was reimagined as Storybook Land Canal Boats, and today the ride features miniature scenes from classic Disney movies.
10. Mark Twain Steamboat
Mark Twain was a personal hero of Walt Disney’s, so Disney came up with this attraction as an homage to the writer’s early career as a riverboat pilot. Originally called Mark Twain Steamboat, it was the first functional riverboat built in the country in five decades when the park opened in 1955. Guests were eager to ride the attraction on opening day—so eager that they packed it past maximum capacity and caused it to sink. Fortunately, that didn’t spell the end of the ride. It continues to take guests around Frontierland today under the name Mark Twain Riverboat.
11. Main Street Cinema
One of Disney’s simplest original attractions was an homage to the industry that launched the company. Originally, the movie theater showed non-Disney cartoons and silent films, like the 1915 William S. Hart Western Dealing for Daisy and the 1914 animated short Gertie the Dinosaur. Today the cinema is a place to catch old-school Disney cartoons like 1928's Steamboat Willie.