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Editorial: Why I'm Done With Disneyland

The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are mine alone, and are in no way representative of those of Theme Park Tourist or its entire staff. As a frequent contributor here, I know you've been part of the Lost Legends series and the Designing Disaster series that I'm writing. In each entry, we look back at the in-depth stories behind famous (and infamous) attractions. We dissect them to discover what makes an attraction a classic, what role Imagineers play in shaping the parks, and what tough decisions go into keeping a ride relevant. I hope you've come to respect my stories, efforts, and opinions through those features, and I hope today we can use the expertise we've gained together. Do me a favor: give me the benefit now of listening to what I have to say. 

I think I'm done with Disneyland.

Before you go telling me “Good! Shorter lines for me!,” give me a chance to explain.

And before you begin thinking this is a gut reaction that I’ll regret, let me be clear: I’m not acting emotionally.

I'm not blindsided. I don’t feel irrational. I’m not in grief, shocked by the announcement Disney just made.

I’m not just reeling from yet another blow; I'm not directed by the preception that out-of-touch executives have yet again chosen the 'wrong' path in my enthusiast-centric mind.

Every time Disney closes a ride, makes an out-of-touch decision, ruins a classic, or raises prices, fans leap to their feets with vitriol and rage, followed closely by fuming promises that Disney will never get another penny of their money, and that they'll never visit Disneyland again! I've criticized my peers for blind, angry, passionate assertions like that – righteous (but weightless) anger that quickly cools. And this isn't that.

While all of the above emotions would be justified, they’re not the case. I’m not angry. I’m just… defeated.

Let me be clear: it has always occurred to me that the Disneyland I love – the park I grew up with and celebrated and adored – is detested by some. As hard as it has been for me to imagine, I realize that this version of Disneyland – my Disneyland – is an affront to those who grew up there in the 1970s. Many of them were shocked and dismayed at the inclusion of Star Wars or Indiana Jones, and they no doubt weep for the lost classics of that era – rides that I never knew (Adventure Thru Inner Space, Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland, and more) and thus never missed. I know that for some of those fans, the changes simply overtook the Disneyland they knew – their Disneyland.

Image: Disney

But what those 1970s fans didn't realize is that an entire generation of Disney Parks fans had already moved on. There were no doubt those who cherished Disneyland in its earliest days – the '50s and '60s – and politely moved on when the elements of the early years (the things that made their Disneyland different) gave way to the Big Thunder Mountains and Space Mountains of the '70s. 

Put simply: everyone adores the Disneyland they grew up with – their Disneyland – and cements it carefully, detail-by-detail, ride-by-ride, in their minds. It’s natural. We imagine that the way we experienced things is the right way to experience them. But Disneyland doesn’t stay the same. It was never supposed to! It changes, and at each and every stage of Disneyland’s growth, fans have dropped away; personally hurt by the way the park has progressed. Any two snapshots a decade apart will show that Disneyland changes drastically, and as quickly as people grow, so does the park. Before long, Disneyland isn’t their park anymore.

And in my back of my mind remained the creeping thought: someday, the things I love and cherish in Disneyland will be gone, too. I’ll have to watch as my favorite attractions age and fall to the whims of time and progress and finances and synergy and leadership changes and tastes and technologies. I consciously and regrettably realized that eventually, there would come a day that Disneyland wouldn’t look the way I knew and loved it… a day when Disneyland wouldn’t be my park anymore.

Today, the reality of that becomes real.

And yes, the permanent closure of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure is the reason. But don't roll your eyes quite yet.

My Disneyland 

It didn’t start today. I mean, I grew up in the 1990s, so the Disneyland I see today isn’t too far off from what I grew up with (with respect to those who cherished the park in earlier eras, for whom it must look absolutely unrecognizable today). While my time with Disneyland is short, I’ve seen some of the creeping, crawling changes here and there. I saw the Country Bears evicted for Pooh and the Submarine Voyage drained for Nemo. I watched as New Tomorrowland swept in, decimating Walt’s Tomorrowland and the beloved Peoplemover. I saw the devastating opening of the creatively starved Disney’s California Adventure and the does-it-matter-or-doesn’t-it out-of-touch changes to New Orleans Square that lit fans ablaze. 

Image: Disney / Lucasfilm

Just this January, I was forced to reschedule a trip from across the country when it was announced that this would be my last chance to see the Rivers of America, the Disneyland Railroad, Tom Sawyer Island, Fantasmic!, and more before a sweeping 14-acre expansion created a Star Wars land, inexplicably set against the otherwise literary themed lands of Walt Disney’s park. And I admit that a Star Wars land inside Disneyland Park rubs me the wrong way despite my logical understanding that most guests simply don't mind. But c'mon. Save it for a third park, right?

But see, that's not all!

The same trip would also have to serve as a final farewell to the beloved fan-favorite Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, closing a decade-long run at Disney California Adventure for (you guessed it) Frozen, despite tremendous outcry. Didn’t matter. Didn’t make a difference that overwhelmingly, the Disney Parks Blog was overrun with comments repulsed at the change. What would Walt do? What would Walt do? No matter. Business is business. And one thing I’ve never ever faulted the Walt Disney Company for is being a business. I haven’t let my personal appreciation for the founder or the company's would-be image of a mom-and-pop-shop enterprise mislead me. I get it.

Sometimes when you care deeply about something, impersonal things can hit personally. But this is the last straw... Read on... 

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There are 23 comments.

Fully agree that change is hard. But, how can we complain about change when that very change brought us the rides and attractions that we so dearly cherish.

We are quick to point out the 100 people that agreed with us on a blog, but fail to admit Frozen fills the theatre more than a 10+ year Aladdin production.

We fail to admit, the Submarine Voyage never had a line prior to Nemo. Or that the People Mover was considered BORING in our hip teen years.

Bring on something new and exciting, you know... that e-ticket rush Indy and Star Tours gave us as Hollywood films joined Walt's classic lands.

Turns out, they didn't destroy Walt's original lands. They're following Walt's example, for he too, continually changed and expanded them.

Iv never commented on any of the posts on here but after reading this one i just felt i had to. Everything you said hit home with me, everyone indeed has their own Disney that they have grown up with, myself included and to read your thoughts on the matter was like a punch to the stomach, making me realize i too feel the same way but hadn't fully processed it through properly. I feel your pain and your post is one that moved me and made me get frustrated at myself equally once i realized my own feelings on the matter and on other similar Disney decisions of the past.

I agree with you Brian. Disney today seems to be increasingly out of touch with their own fanbase. The last 10 years of decisions have been questionable at best and they are becoming increasingly frustrating. First they pick an unestablished ip to bring into a park instead of their planned original expansion. While odd and risky they have poured a lot of resources and thought into this expansion and are going to make it worthy addition to Animal Kingdom. Then they inject characters that only marginally have anything to do with the Norway. But at least the outside structure still very much fits in with the flow and theme of the area. Now this decision with tower of terror will be an absolute blight on the entire park. What happened to the Disney that so carefully plans out sight lines and themes to the point that they build a building with the careful thought of how it will look even from another park?

But one area I have to disagree with is that while Hollywood Studios is limping by with 5 Eticket attractions (not three like you suggest) there is no way that California Adventures has a dozen.

you hit the nail on the head! my sentiments exactly except that i am refering to Disney World because i have never been to Disneyland. Disney World is my happy place. i've been there many many times. but with the removal of so many things like the sorcerers hat, and now the ears tower, and several rides, i'm upset. the addition of Star Wars is horrid!! not to mention Avatarland. good grief the kids will be scared to death before they even see mickey!! start a whole new theme park somewhere else for this stuff. leave my happy place alone. i suppose next i'll see tinkerbell being shot by a deathstar super laser. ENOUGH already!

Beautifully said and right on point. I grew up a child of Disney World. We would go every other year when I was young. But the last 3 times I've flown down to Florida, I've thought, "This just isn't what it used to be." I didn't feel the magic anymore in Disney World. I hadn't been to Disneyland since I was 6, but last year (after a 23 year hiatus), I returned to Disneyland in October for the 60th anniversary celebration. I fell in love. I felt the magic that I used to feel at Disney World. I decided I'd much rather fly to Disneyland from the east coast than make the much shorter trip to Disney World...And then Star Wars land was announced, and I found out they'd be closing so much at Disneyland for an extended period of time. But it was ok, I'd deal. I flew back to Disneyland last month to experience the 60th anniversary celebration again. I stayed in the Grand Californian and started every day staring out my window at Grizzly Peak and Tower of Terror. At night, I walked onto the balcony and watched the Tower Hotel glowing eerily in the distance. To me, it was the best view imaginable from a hotel room. And now it's going to be gone? Replaced by some superheroes that I don't know (and probably never will because I'm so over superhero movies). I'm just sad. Sad that Disney doesn't listen. Sad that they think they know what's best for us even if it's not what anyone wants. And for me at least, it goes way back. Remember when Winnie the Pooh replaced Mr. Toad in Disney World? Awful. Or when they said they were closing 20,000 Leagues for refurbishment and put in a Pooh playground in Disney World? The worst. Or how in Disney World, they're still shoving Avatar down our throats even though no one cares about it? Or how they tore out Maelstrom and gave us Frozen, which has nothing to do with Norway?
And now Disneyland. This beautiful place that I've just rediscovered. The place where the magic still lives. They want to destroy that too. (Sigh.) I was kind of hoping if they put anything in California Adventure, it would be a Big Hero 6 ride. At least that would actually fit the Californian theme (kind of...since it's San Fransokya, and not San Francisco). But this. Guardians of the Galaxy makes no sense. It doesn't fit. It's going to ruin the landscape. And even when I return to Disneyland, I know I won't ride it...just like when I was there in June, I didn't see the new Frozen stage show. I can't support these decisions that they're making. I do understand it's a business, but they've gotten so far away from Walt's vision that it hurts my heart.

My only concern with this retheme is in terms of how the building will fit into dca as a whole. I even emailed Disney about that. Otherwise, I am ok with a new ride experience. Our family travels to both coasts and it will be nice to further differentiate the feel of each coast and get the most for our travel dollars. I don't, however, want to sacrifice the feeling off being transported to another time and place for a flavor of the year ride experience that doesn't fit overall.

My only concern with this retheme is in terms of how the building will fit into dca as a whole. I even emailed Disney about that. Otherwise, I am ok with a new ride experience. Our family travels to both coasts and it will be nice to further differentiate the feel of each coast and get the most for our travel dollars. I don't, however, want to sacrifice the feeling off being transported to another time and place for a flavor of the year ride experience that doesn't fit overall.

I am all in favor on capitalizing on the acquisition of Marvel, but not at the expense of other attractions. Tower of Terror really connects Disneyland to its neighboring city of Hollywood and I believe historically this is important. Tower of Terror is a great stand alone story telling attraction that should not be destroyed. I am a Marvel fan, always have been, but I found Galaxy of Guardians to be boring. If anything focus it in an original stand alone attraction in a new Marvel Land. Ok, Disneyland may be limited for space but Disney World is not limited. I hate that Disney made this decision about Tower.

I totally agree Brian. The WDC (I never call it the Walt Disney Company, because Walt has nothing to do with the company as it is today) is in totally for the bottom line. Has nothing to do with innovation, creativity of imagineering.

Ver ooked at the park that way. I'm a child of the 70s. So yes, I miss things such as Adventures thru Innerspace and the Main Street Electric Paradebut m always excited to see the new things. What I appreciate is the little things. A Dole whip on a hot day with birds serenading me. Enjoying a meal I. New Orleans without the airfare. Walking through the maientre and seeing the Mickey-head flower bed in DL and the homage to Pan Pacific auditorium in DCA. Each park has things I love and sure things will change but I think since I grew up with change size always been willing to adapt and accept. It is a shame you feel like it is no longer yours, the thing is it wasn't meant to be yours...it is ours and our children's. The parks are now a part of my son's new memories but I always discuss with him the changes that have already happened and the changes still yet to be. If anything I want him to be flexible and adaptable since the world is constantly changing and to be unable to adapt is to be unable to survive.

You mention that no one will be comforted by the thought that there is still a Hollywood Tower of Terror in Florida. You're right, but that seems to be their answer to the closing of many attractions people love. Unhappy that Mr Toad is gone? He's still in CA. Unhappy that the Country Bears are gone? Go to FL. You still want the old Snow White ride? Back to CA with you! I'm sensing a pattern, here.
I was a Disneyland child of the '60s. The last time I was there was '74, and I was surprised then how much it had changed in just 6 years. I have told my family that I'd like to go back, and as long as the Matterhorn is still there it'll be ok. Maybe I'll just keep my memories of growing up there, and spend my time now at WDW, where I'm not so attached.

While I understand your frustration, I find it interesting that you say the attraction will quickly feel "dated". Twilight Zone isn't dated? It's a TV show from the 50's. A majority of young people today probably have no idea what Twilight Zone even is. The ride is already dated. Great ride, but most definitely dated. Plus, if the planned Marvel expansion ends up being where the rumors suggest(behind the Hollywood Tower), the GOTG ride wont be a big eyesore out of place in Hollywood Land. It will be a new icon at the entrance to Marvel Land. It all makes sense. The bottom line here is that Disney cannot win here no matter what they do, and since they cannot use Marvel characters in the Florida parks, it's coming to California. Just breathe man, it's gonna be alright. =)

I think you're getting the term dated confused with the word classic. As much as I absolutely loved the Guardians of the Galaxy, reskinning the ToT is equivalent to having the Rock n Roller Coaster staring Smash Mouth. That's why Disney chose Aerosmith as the band the headline for the Rock n Roller Coaster. Aerosmith didn't have a single song in the top 100 the year the ride opened.

Actually, Disney can use Marvel characters in its parks. Doctor Strange is already in Hollywood Studios. The contract states that the Marvel characters in Universal Studios can't show up in Disney and characters in Disney can't show up in Universal. Basically Spider-Man and his characters, Doctor Doom and his characters, Storm and Her characters, and the Incredible Hulk can't show up at Disney. Disney can use the Avengers, but the Hulk isn't allowed.

When this rumor first circulated it did occur to me that they were throwing away the beautiful billion dollar fix they had done of DCA, but I have to admit that as a fellow east coaster I was more concerned with beating back the same thing happening to the beloved Tower attraction in Florida. Now they're pushing GotG into Epcot and I'm not sure we won that one.

Thankfully I got my Disneyland trip in over last summer and I don't need to go back to something that isn't as good anymore. I will continue to go to Florida's parks for a while and keep my fingers crossed that 'my Disney' doesn't fully disappear there. The fix of DCA and the pretty darn good New Fantasyland had raised my confidence in the company's understanding of their parks - - but this really makes me wonder.

Personally, I'm a fan of change. I may not like every single one, but I like change in general. I trust Disney enough to believe that if they really were "out of touch with the fan base" that a drop in attendance would quickly become evident. Rather, perhaps, they have a constantly evolving fan base.

I am not personally attached to any given iteration of Disney. I have been going to Disneyland since the 60s. I've been going to Disney World only since 1997, but that was long enough ago that Animal Kingdom wasn't open, yet, River Country was skill open, and all the parks have significantly changed. I always enjoy what they have. I might miss what's no longer there, but that leads me to cherish my memories all the more and to truly savor every experience because one never knows when it might no longer be there.

I call it "different kinds of awesome." One year in particular, we had been to Disneyland and California Adventure so many times that we'd done the highlights again and again. So on one trip, we changed the theme of the weekend to "things we haven't done" and actively sought out attractions and experiences we normally skipped. On another trip (just adults), we made it a photo-safari of looking for interesting shots of architectures, flowers, decor, and more. There's always SO much to enjoy.

The last Orlando trip, we quipped "how do we get to everything we want to do in a two-week Orlando vacation? Simple:Add a third week."

I can talk fondly of Rocket Rods, of Alien Encounter, of Mission to Mars, of Journey to Inner Space, to the days of actual tickets when a ride was an E-ticket ride because I actually had an E-ticket to hand over when I got on.

I love the Disney of my youth. I love the Disney of my adult years. I love the Disney of today. I'm sure I'll love the Disney of tomorrow. Why? Because I love Disney - and I recognize that as times change, Disney will change with them, and if times change back, Disney will change back with them.

On the other hand, I would love to see a whole new park of Disney Classic with the old rides installed over there and many of the vintage things to be experienced by generations to come.

Brian, I empathize with you and whole heatedly agree. Being from Ohio my Disney is in Florida so Disneyland never was my Disney, but I did visit Disneyland and California Adventure with my wife and children in 2007 and very much enjoyed it. It was exciting to see the differences between attractions from the Florida park that even bear the same name, and the chance to visit an entirely new park with a new theme really made us love the Disney ingenuity even more. With this in mind I began to immediately question the rumors that California's Tower of Terror would be no more in favor of Guardians of the Galaxy. "Had Disney abandoned reasoned for madness." Like you stated Guardians belongs in Tomorrowland, not Hollywoodland, but it would seem the Disney execs would disagree. When it comes to Disney I think that we all become disappointed when we lose something that we have cherished. You lament over what once was and is now no longer. I lament over what has never been and will likely never be. When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 it was to be a celebration of life, all life. Animal Kingdom was going to effortlessly incorporate the prehistoric with the modern and the modern with the mythical. The marquee above the entrance even reflects this with images of dinosaurs, giraffes, elephants, griffins, and unicorns. Alas, the long circulating rumors that Disney's Beastly Kingdom expansion to the existing Animal Kingdom have been all but quelled by the announced Avatar expansion. Instead of dragons we will now be graced with blue cat people from an intellectual property that currently exists as a singular film with long standing plans of sequels that have yet to happen. The mythical earth creatures have given way to mythical alien creatures. Why did it happen this way? I am not completely sure. Does Disney want to capitalize on the IP that they have purchased, or does the success of Harry Potter in Universal Studios just down the road, which already incorporates mythical creatures, make Disney want to go in an entirely different direction? Again, I just don't know. Either way, like your concession that Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout will be a fun and exciting attraction I, too, concede, that Pandora in Disney's hands will come alive with its floating islands and beautiful forests. It just won't be my Beastly Kingdom.

Wait a minute. You are telling me that Disney is a for-profit company that can do whatever they want with their park and ensure a continued profit?!?!? *shock* *dismay* Get over yourself. I love Disney - we are proud DVC members and go multiple times a year. Embrace the changes. Love the new rides. Realize Disney is far bigger than you.

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I appreciate the eulogy to Disneyland 90's, and you should take a moment to mourn the loss of your park. I think we all have those moments. In fact, I didn't like the addition of a second gate AT ALL when DCA came online. I felt like it was a slap in the face to all things that made Disneyland great. Why would anyone want to walk off the streets of California and into California? Why build a park that felt like the Santa Monica Pier when that very pier was just up the road? Who's dumb idea was this anyway? But, as will all things Disney, you give it time to breath, time to find legs, AND time to correct mistakes.... and look what you get! So... please take your moment and grieve, but take months, not years as you state. The next Disneyland is yours too.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for saying so eloquently what I have been feeling ever since they announced the change.

Great article. I have been reading articles on Theme Park Tourist since I was a lot younger, and this is my very comment since I created my account on this site a few seconds ago. Great to hear your opinions on this.

Just adding to the lose of "my" Disney; I think the sadness we feel at the news that one of the classic Disney attractions from our childhood is closing forever is so much deeper and intense because it reminds us of our own mortality. It's not just the closing of a ride but the closing of our childhood, a time in our life we can never go back to, experiences we will never have again. The building of new attractions symbolizes that life goes on and with every year that passes there's a new generation and parts of the world that we are less and less connected to.

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