It's remarkable how many of Disneyland's original rides are still bringing joy to visitors today. The majority of the attractions that greeted guests on the park's opening day continue to operate. While Disneyland has evolved, and many new features have been added (including an entire second park, Disney California Adventure), the core rides that Walt Disney and his team developed have stood the test of time. They help give the park a delightful aura of nostalgia, but still remain wholly relevant and timeless. (None of them would be considered thrill rides. They came later.)
Let's identify the original attractions that opened in 1955 and remain open:
King Arthur Carousel
The lovely spinning ride beckons guests to cross the drawbridge through Sleeping Beauty Castle and into Fantasyland. While it was one of Disneyland's original rides, the carousel's lineage goes back much farther than 1955. It was built in 1875 and was located at a Toronto amusement park for many years. Because Walt Disney wanted all horses for the ride, he supplemented it with additional animals from a second Coney Island carousel that he purchased.
The railroad was perhaps Walt Disney's favorite ride at the park. He was fascinated by trains and loved to tool around in the locomotive. The chugging steam trains still greet guests at the entrance of the park and take them on a grand circle tour. Before returning to the Main Street, U.S.A. station, passengers pass through dioramas of the Grand Canyon and Primeval World. The latter is populated with animatronic dinosaurs that first appeared in Ford’s Magic Skyway, one of the four attractions that Disney developed for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Peter Pan's Flight
While it was a "C-Ticket" ride when the park first opened, Peter Pan's Flight has remained enormously popular. The unique galleon vehicles, which are suspended from an overhead rail, give riders the sensation of flying along with Peter over Never Land and London. In 2015, the attraction was updated to include new animatronic characters of John, Michael, and Wendy flying in the nursery scene along with some new special effects.
Mad Tea Party
The spinning ride, which is themed to Alice in Wonderland and sits just outside the Alice dark ride in Fantasyland, has been making guests dizzy (but not all that mad) since Disneyland's opening day.
Snow White's Scary Adventures
The dark ride was originally known simply as "Snow White's Adventures," but it was scary from day one. It's really more about the evil Queen/Witch than the lovable Snow White or the Seven Dwarfs. In 2020, the ride is slated to receive an update including a new scene depicting Snow White waking up from her slumber, along with new music, laser projections, and black light effects.
How cool is it for kids to drive their own automobiles, especially in car-crazy California? Very cool. That's one of the reasons why the ride has lasted 60 years.
Main Street Vehicles
Traveling along Main Street U.S.A., which represents small-town America circa the early 1900s (about 50 years before Disneyland first opened), the Main Street Vehicles bring an energy and a charm to the area–as well as a means of transportation. The original vehicles included horse-drawn streetcars and a fire wagon. Today, a jitney and a two-story omnibus also make their way up and down the street.
Main Street Cinema
The old-fashioned movie house has been showing Steamboat Willie, the first Mickey Mouse cartoon and the first animated short to include synchronized sound, for years (along with other vintage cartoons shows on six screens). In fact, I believe the cartoon has been playing since the theater since Disneyland first opened, which is probably some kind of a record.
It's one of the most well-known and beloved Disneyland rides. The pun-filled patter of the Jungle Cruise skippers is a big part of its charm. The animated figures are fairly primitive compared to Disney's more sophisticated animatronic figures, but they also help make the attraction endearing.
There are more opening-day rides to discover!
Mark Twain Riverboat
The stately paddle wheeler has been traveling Frontierland's Rivers of America since the park's opening day. Fun fact: The 150-ton riverboat can accommodate 300 passengers. Fun fact 2: No pilot is required to steer the boat; it glides along a track embedded in the riverbed.
Storybook Land Canal Boats
When it first opened in 1955, the ride was known as Canal Boats of the World. A few months later, the park added the Storybook Land scenes, and the attraction became more popular. For one of its highlights, passengers cruise through the mouth of Monstro the Whale. After Frozen became a monstrous hit, Imagineers added miniature scenes from the movie.
Casey Jr. Circus Train
You could get another view of Storybook Land by boarding the Casey Jr. Circus Train. Strictly speaking, this is not an opening-day attraction since its debut was delayed until a few weeks after the park opened.
Dumbo the Flying Elephant
A simple spinning ride, Dumbo is nonetheless a timeless and classic attraction. In a park filled with iconography, Dumbo is among the most iconic and beloved sights. Like Casey Jr., the ride is a bit of a cheat for this list. Dumbo didn't take flight until August, 1955, a month after Disneyland first opened.
The Golden Horseshoe
The Frontierland saloon is still open, but the Golden Horseshoe Revue that ran from opening day until 1986 (which earned it the distinction as the longest running show), is sadly dark. Walt Disney loved the show and had a private box.
Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
Another one of the trio of Disneyland's original dark rides, it is based on The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. The attraction takes guests on a madcap drive through England and (spoiler alert) straight to hell!
More Vintage Disneyland Attractions
There are a number of other attractions that debuted in the years following Disneyland’s opening that have also remained a vital part of the park to this very day. Among the more notable ones are:
- Alice in Wonderland– Another Fantasyland dark ride that continues to delight visitors, Alice opened in 1958. Things get curiouser and curiouser for passengers. Beware the Queen of Hearts who barks, “Off with their heads!”
- Disneyland Monorail– It’s regarded more as a means of transportation today, but the Monorail was quite novel when it opened in 1959 at Disneyland. It was heralded as a breakthrough that urban planners would embrace, but the concept never really took hold beyond Disneyland (and Disney World). The route that the monorail takes has changed through the years. It now passes through Disney California Adventure and the Grand Californian Hotel.
- Matterhorn Bobsleds– Disneyland’s first roller coaster also debuted in 1959. As the world’s first tubular steel track thrill machine, Matterhorn Bobsleds is an important milestone in the amusement industry. While wooden versions are still built, the preponderance of coasters now use steel tracks.
- Walt Disney's Enchanted Tiki Room– Another historically significant attraction, the Tiki Room marked the first Disneyland attraction to feature audio-animatronics. Introduced in 1963, the art form has evolved considerably through the years (witness the Hondo Ohnaka figure in Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, part of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge). But the birds and flowers in Tiki Room remain charming (if nostalgic) today.
If you are interested in the history of the park, you can take a look back at Disneyland with some great vintage photos.