While Disneyland is celebrating its 55th Anniversary this year, when I arrive at the Happiest Place on Earth in two short weeks, I have my own milestone to celebrate.  This trip will mark 20 years of visiting Disneyland for me!  It may seem like a silly thing to keep track of, but it means the world to me.

35 Years of Magic

20 years ago, I remember sitting in my second grade desk, counting down the hours until Spring Break started and I would be setting off for my first trip to Disneyland.  While the trip got off to a rocky start… our flight was delayed hours due to snow in Colorado, and I found out on my first plane ride that I would get to enjoy air sickness for the rest of my life.  But, all the bad memories aside, I will never forget the feeling of walking up to those park gates for the very first time.  I was in awe.  In 1990, Disneyland was celebrating its 35th anniversary, so the park was decked out with all the appropriate regalia.  The giant Disney “shadowbox” that now resides in the Disneyland Hotel, was prominently placed in front of the turn-styles, and that alone was enough to keep me entertained for hours.  But, the Land was waiting on this early-entry morning, and, boy, was that a different experience from the Magic Mornings of today!

Guests with travel packages that included early-entry were funneled through the turn-styles and up to the Main Street Train Station.  Guests, then, boarded one of the Disneyland trains, which took us around the loop to the Tomorrowland Station.  From there, guests were invited to grab a “box breakfast” from the Tomorrowland Terrace, meet and greet with some favorite Disney characters, then ride select Tomorrowland attractions prior to park opening.  Now, this was not a gourmet breakfast- I figured that out even at the age of 8, but there was something particularly magical about this “VIP” experience.  I remember feeling like Disneyland royalty that chilly March morning, and, while that pesky air sickness stuck around for much of the morning, I will never forget the wind blowing through my hair as my mom and I took our first cruise on the Autopia cars.  Walt’s original park left a mark on my heart in that moment that remains today.

The 35th Anniversary was a remarkable celebration in Disney history.  The Party Gras Parade remains one of my favorite spectacles I’ve seen streaming down Main Street.  I suppose it is rivaled only by the wonder of experiencing the Parade of Dreams during the 50th Anniversary celebration… another of my all-time favorite Disneyland memories.

The Past 20 Years

Over the last 20 years I have had the pleasure of experiencing so many special times in the park that it is hard to pick and choose only a few favorites.  At the height of my infatuation with all things Disney Afternoon, we went to Disneyland during the Disney Afternoon spectacular event.  In fact, buried deep in the box of embarrassing childhood photos, is one of me “rocking out” to the music of the Disney Afternoon Parade… it is also a photo that I won’t be sharing here anytime soon. ;-)

Some of my favorite memories are of the wonderful Mother’s Day trips my mom, my grandma, and I would take annually for quite a few years.  The Disneyland Hotel spared no magical expense for celebrating moms, and it was such a special treat to walk into the Grand Ballroom, which was filled with a bountiful buffet – complete with some of the most amazing desserts I’ve ever sampled – and characters galore for plenty of photo opportunities.  I loved sharing those trips with the special women in my life.

The 50th Anniversary was truly unlike any other.  It was amazing and surreal… the whole park gleaming in golden splendor.  My mom was celebrating her 50th birthday that year as well and we were so blessed to spend nine days celebrating both special occasions at our Happiest Place on Earth.  I’ll never forget donning those golden ears and galavanting around the park, searching for those 50 Golden 50s and soaking up the magic of each moment.

I’ve seen the evolution of Disney California Adventure as well, from the first year on, and, while I actually like a lot of the old park, I’m excited to see the changes too.  I will, however, mourn the loss of the Sunshine Plaza, the giant CALIFORNIA letters, and the surfer feeling I get when I enter the park.  I dearly miss the Golden Dreams movie already, and, while I know I am in the minority, a part of my heart will always belong to the original California Adventure.

Coming Attractions

Two weeks from today I will have already spent my birthday in the Land and will be gearing up to attend the D23 Destination D event.  I think it is only appropriate to celebrate 20 years of magical memories at Disneyland by attending this conference that offers an in-depth look at the history of Disneyland… I can’t wait.

I am also excited, to get my old photos organized and the negatives scanned into my computer.  Once that lengthy process is completed, and I have returned from my latest Disney adventure, I will post some pictures from the last 20 years of my love affair with Disneyland.

So, here’s to the next 20 years of reflecting on those Rays of Disneyland that penetrate your heart and never let go.

© 2010, Rays of Disneyland. All rights reserved.

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