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5 Major Ways Disneyland Has Changed Since It First Opened

The Happiest Place on Earth just keeps getting happier.

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Sleeping Beauty’s castle captures our attention

Before the 1955 opening of the Happiest Place on Earth, Sleeping Beauty’s lavish castle was no more than scaffolding, supplies, and schemes. Designed by Herb Ryman, the castle was intended to be visible from every part of the park, a constant symbol of the magic, joy, and imagination that exists in Disneyland.

When the park first opened, Walt Disney had not yet decided which lucky character would hold the keys to the most prominent kingdom in Disneyland. However, in 1959—four years before the opening of the animated Sleeping Beauty film—Disney conferred the castle to Princess Aurora. Today, the fortress climbs proudly into the sky—welcoming visitors to Fantasyland and standing boldly beneath the spectacular sparks of each night’s fireworks display. Wondering what it’s like to live in Sleeping Beauty’s palace? Take a look behind the scenes at what it’s really like to play a Disney Princess at one of the parks.

Disneyland, Anaheim, USADisneyland, Anaheim, USA

The Abominable Snowman enters the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction first came to Disneyland in 1959, when the film, Third Man on the Mountain was released. Originally, the ride was used to cover a large mound of dirt that was created during the construction of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. However, as the first tubular steel roller coaster in the world, Disneyland’s thrilling Matterhorn ride did not need any frills to attract visitors.

In 1978, the Matterhorn was moved to a more prominent location in Fantasyland and granted an unbelievable upgrade. The mountain was covered with a blanket of lifelike snow, and the hollow interior was transformed into a series of tunnels that traverse through snowy scenes. Beneath the crystalline icicles that line the ceilings, Disney also added an Abominable Snowman to the mountain—a monster guaranteed to make you shiver. If you’re looking to ride the Matterhorn Bobsleds, you need to know the only way to really skip the lines at Disney (disclosure: it’s not a fast pass).

Disneyland Resort AttractionsJim Smeal/Shutterstock

Disney goers realize “it’s a small world after all”

This renowned ride takes you through detailed displays of your favorite Disney movies, set in various countries around the world. As you sail across the globe, visiting famous faces like Peter Pan in England and Aladdin in the Middle East, 300 high-tech dolls sing the lyrics to “It’s a Small World.” The dolls represent children from every corner of the Earth, united by their common love for Disney. The brilliant idea behind the ride? To show visitors that the world is not as wide as we may think—that distance doesn’t necessarily make us different.

Originally, the attraction was assembled to support the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) at New York’s World Fair. However, the ride was transported to Disneyland in 1966, where it quickly became a hot spot for visitors of all ages. Today, the ride is occasionally updated to include newly created characters and incorporate modern technology. While it’s essential to stop by “It’s a Small World” when they visit Disneyland, you won’t want to miss these secret spots in Disney parks either.

The World Premiere of Disney's 'Pirates of the CaribbeanEric Charbonneau/Shutterstock

Captain Jack Sparrow sails to Disneyland

While this attraction dates back to 1967, it radically changed once the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise hit the big screen. The attraction first became popular for its interactive boat ride, technological feats in audio-animatronics, which made visitors feel as though they were cruising by real pirates, and catchy “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life for Me)” theme song. Amazingly, this ride actually sparked the creation of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, with the first one debuting in 2003.

In 2006, the Pirates of the Caribbean ride transformed its once generic narrative of mischievous, unnamed pirates to incorporate characters from the popular films. Enter Captain Jack Sparrow—also known as Johnny Depp. Today, Sparrow can be spotted in three different scenes along the ride, along with other props from the films that help make the attraction a fan favorite in Disneyland.

Star Wars: Galaxy'sChris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

A galaxy not so far away…

On May 31, 2019, Disneyland cut the ribbons to its largest transformation in years: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. This highly anticipated addition is more than just a new park attraction—it’s the extraordinary intersection of a starship simulator, build-your-own lightsaber workshop, “droid depot,” and out-of-this-world dining and shopping options. Not to mention the interactive Rise of the Resistance ride that will take Disney goers on a life-like journey through the war-torn galaxy. Upon entering this galaxy, guests will find Stormtroopers, involved storylines, and special souvenirs. It’s safe to say you’re going to want to fire up your spaceship and speed to the California park—stat.

Despite sadly needing to close some attractions, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge will transport visitors into new worlds of imagination and possibility. Here’s what else is coming to Disney parks in 2019.

Carley Lerner
Carley Lerner is a freelance writer and former editorial intern for Reader's Digest. She is a member of the Class of 2021 at Duke University, where she writes for the school newspaper, The Chronicle.