Why the original Disneyland is still the best, even after 62 years...

The original Disneyland in Anaheim, Los Angeles, was the cherished dream of Walt Disney himself – who designed, opened and ran it. From that July day in 1955 till now, it’s still a place where children and adults excitedly stream through the turnstiles for a cracking day out. Even if you don’t do theme parks, don’t have kids, or become nervous around large costumed mice, this is the most authentic of theme parks, and largely because of that I'd say it is the best too.

Walt and his mouse greet visitors to Disneyland; a statue unveiled in 1993. Photo Disneyland

When Walt Disney bought the 160-acre orange grove in Anaheim, the Santa Ana Freeway aside, it was a semi rural area. The park has though long since been enveloped by sprawling LA. It was very much his brainchild, and he was closely involved in all aspects of the project, from the five distinct 'lands' right down to how far away to place the bins from food outlets.

It’s smaller than the global offshoots in Orlando, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris and Shanghai, but aside from the holiday weekend squeezes, when it does get extremely busy, it feels more intimate than the other parks.

Over 500 million visitors have strolled down its iconic Main Street since it opened, and spread out across the 34 hectare park you’ll find the original Sleeping Beauty Castle, which is loosely based on the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and looks taller than its 23m thanks to forced perspective where features at the top are deliberately made smaller, and a suite of terrific rides like the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain and Jungle Cruise.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, based on Bavaria's Neuschwanstein original. Photo Disneyland

Many of the historic old rides here are perfect for younger children and aren’t replicated in any of the newer parks, like the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (actually remodelled from the original 1959 ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’ ride, which featured a certain Captain Nemo), and Mr Toad’s Wild Ride (which isn’t wild to anyone over nine years old, but is utterly charming however), and Tarzan’s Tree house (former faux forest perch of the Swiss Family Robinson).

Walt loved mechanical toys and kept a robotic bird caged in his office. His extraordinary imagination gave this concept flight in the Enchanted Tiki Room. It’s an amusing feel-good take on the Tiki craze that swept the USA in the 50’s and 60’s, where Polynesian styles and culture were all the rage. People wore Hawaiian shirts, drank at thatch hotel bars, and surrounded themselves with seafaring bric-a-brac. The 225 Audio-Animatronics creatures of the Tiki Room have been restored, but the master of ceremony Macaws squawk in their original 60’s voices.

Just a blurred few of the half a billion people to have strolled down Disneyland's Main Street. Photo Disneyland

The original Pirates of the Caribbean ride is unbeatable. It starts peacefully in a night-time bayou, before the boat you ride in passes under a skull warning that ‘dead men tell no tales’ and descends a modest flume to a subterranean world of broadsides, Jolly Rogers and pillaging. It’s astonishing to think that the spectacularly successful film franchise was based on the original Disneyland ride, and not the other way round, and if anything the original ride’s theme tune is even catchier than the film’s.

Yo Ho Yo Ho, a spin-off-movie-franchise-life-for-me. Photo Disneyland

A visit to Disneyland isn’t all about nostalgia either – The Disney California Adventure opened in 2001, themed on the history and culture of the state. And within it, Cars Land and Buena Vista Street opened in 2012; the former homage to the Disney-Pixar film, and the latter a representation of 1920’s LA. The next big opening is a dedicated Star Wars Land, but no date has been confirmed for that yet.

Any trip to LA’s Disneyland is to experience the wonderful world of Walt Disney’s imagination, but to discover this in more detail the park runs excellent ‘Walk in Walt’s Footsteps’ tours that lasts 3½ hours and include a private lunch or dinner on the terrace of the Disney Gallery.



Reasons to be cheerful: the original Disneyland is more intimate than the other parks, and that Walt Disney himself was so heavily involved in the design only adds to the sense of history. If you stay at a hotel inside the park you are walking distance from the attractions. 


You can't always get what you want: the park is less spread out than the newer ones, and with narrower paths it heaves on holiday weekend, and especially at Thanksgiving. Also traffic around the park can be very heavy in the LA rush hours, as day-to-day commuters use the freeways and roads skirting the park.


Fitting Disneyland into a holiday: the park has four hotels - great for hassle free access to the park, but a tad pricey. Disneyland is a 65-kilometres from Santa Monica and 50 kilometres from Long Beach - when the freeways are behaving, that’s fair enough, but be sure to avoid the rush hours. I'd say Santa Monica, Venice and Hollywood make good bases for a stay in the city.


Getting there: the closest airport to the park is John Wayne Orange County Airport - see My Bathroom Wall for other airports named after famous people, including George Best, Indira Gandhi and Cristiano Ronaldo. John Wayne Airport is a 20 minute drive from the park, and has mainly domestic flights - airlines include Southwest, Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta. Most international passengers arrive at the busy Los Angeles International Airport, which is just under an hour by car.


When to visit: LA is a year round destination, which doesn't really see extremes in temperatures. The best time to visit is from March to May and September and November, when temperatures are in the 60-70 range. Summer sees temperatures in the 80s and heavy smog levels, while winter is a little chilly and rainy.


More info: https://disneyland.disney.go.com/, and Visit Aneheim 


Visa and safety: always check your government's travel advice before booking, and ensure that your travel insurance is valid in this part of the country. See the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice.