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10 Big Ways That Disney Theme Parks Have Changed Since 1955

Walt Disney

Walt Disney threw open the gates to Disneyland back in July 1955, almost six decades ago. It was a completely different era: the world had only recently been through a grueling war, the Cold War was underway, the space race had barely commenced and the battle over civil rights in America was raging. Disneyland offered a chance to escape to a fantasy world - and it proved to be immensely popular. There are many aspects of Disneyland that have remained almost unchanged over the last 59 years. The basic "hub-and-spoke" layout is still in place, and has been adopted at Disney's other theme parks across the globe. Many of the original rides are still in place, and have also been cloned in Florida, Tokyo, Paris and Hong Kong. And Mickey Mouse still wanders the streets of the park, just as he did on the opening day. However, while the core experience remains similar, Disney theme parks have changed in some pretty major ways since the 1950s. Here are 10 big differences between today's Disney parks and Walt's original Disneyland.

10. A-E tickets are no more

E Ticket

When Disneyland first opened, the entry fee was just $1. However, guests had to pay separately to ride most of its attractions, which were ranked from A-D (the most expensive "E" ticket was introduced in 1959). This was typical of amusement parks at the time. In 1982, with Epcot due to open at Walt Disney World, Disney decided to scrap the ticket system in favor of "Passports" that allowed access to every attraction for a single price. Now, of course, this is the system adopted by pretty much every theme park on the planet.

9. They're more expensive

Walt Disney had a policy of allowing guests to leave Disneyland "with money in their pockets", believing that this would encourage long-term loyalty to the company. When Michael Eisner arrived as CEO in 1984, though, he had different ideas. Desperate to improve the company's financial situation and stave off a potential hostile takeover and break-up, he began to raise prices. For Disney, the policy was a huge financial success - guests continued to pour through the gates of its theme parks, and for a while the extra income was used to fund a construction boom (until the disastrous opening of Euro Disney in 1992). But for guests, tickets, food and merchandise all became much more expensive.

8. There are rides based on non-Disney properties

Star Tours

Image © Disney

When Disneyland opened, it featured a mixture of attractions based on classic Disney animated movies, as well as a host of attractions with original storylines or backstories. When Eisner arrived, Disney's studios were churning out a series of duds. While they were revitalized, he decided to license in third-party properties to form the basis for new attractions. For example, Disney's Imagineers had dreamed up a simulator ride to be based on The Black Hole, the company's own Star Wars rip-off. Eisner threw out these plans and brought in George Lucas, basing the ride on the real Star Warsinstead. The result, Star Tours, proved to be enduringly popular, as did other collaborations such as Captain EO (with Michael Jackson) and Indiana Jones Adventure (again with Lucas).

7. Queue-jumping has been "legalized"

FastPass
Image © Disney

It used to be the case that there was only one queue for every Disney ride, and guests simply had to wait their turn. In 1999, Disney introduced FastPass, a system that allowed guests to return to a popular ride during a specified time window and ride without joining the normal, "standby" queue. Now, of course, Walt Disney World has introduced FastPass+, a revised version of the system that enables timeslots to be booked in advance of a guest's visit. There are huge benefits for those who plan ahead - but those who don't are likely to face even longer standby queues.

6. There are two tiers of guests

Extra Magic Hours

Image: Disney

With the exception of a few VIPs and celebrities, Disneyland visitors were all on the same "level" in its early days. Now that Disney has its own on-site hotels, it has effectively created two tiers of guests. The top tier, those staying on-site, receive perks such as early entry and the ability to book FastPass+ timeslots further in advance than off-site guests. The bottom tier can still experience the same rides and attractions, but probably with longer wait times.

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There are 5 comments.

As for 2 tiers of Disney guest, as a DVC member I paid about a $35,000 entry fee and pay about $2,00 a year dues. Any benefit I get from that is well paid for. Loyalty programs are everywhere from airlines to credit cards. We go to WDW at least twice a year, we spend thousands of dollars there. Any frequent Disney flyer miles we accumulate we pay for.

Things had change over the years. For instances, the new "Carsland" and walking down Radiator Springs is new. I like the newer rides like "Ariel's Under The Sea Adventure", "Radiator Racers", etc. Hope you're doing well.

Most are not good. The huge price hikes (even in the last 10 years) do NOT match the plummeting economy. Disney parks are more and more becoming a place for the elite rich, and not your average middle class family. I know this would have disappointed Walt to say the least. It makes me sad too.

You stated Mickey still wanders the park. I wish this was true. When I was a kid all the characters could be seen walking around. Now you need a fast pass to see them. I don't know if they can't do this any more because the maximum number of guests have been raised over the years and that the parks are just too crowded or if disney just thinks it easier to provide a more uniform experience for every guest the way they do it now. The best way to see characters today is go to a character meal. Maybe limiting guest exposure sells more character meals.

I was planning on purchasing an annual pass since I only live a short 6 hours away, but with all the bad things I have been reading up on with the Fast Pass Plus, I have changed my mind. What is the point of taking at whim trips to the parks when you cannot ride all the rides.

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