What Disney theme parks looked like the year you were born

Disney ParksMagic Kingdom has changed drastically since it first opened in 1971.
  • Disney theme parks are constantly being renovated and built upon.
  • As a result, the company’s worldwide locations probably look a lot different than they did the year you were born.
  • In the ’50s, for example, Walt Disney could be seen walking around Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
  • And in the ’90s visitors could experience a candy-pink castle at Florida’s Disney World.
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Chances are that Disney theme parks look a lot different today than they did the year you were born.

Not only are the parks constantly refurbished so that they look new, but new rides and attractions are installed almost every year. And while you can’t go back in time to experience what the locations were once like, you can look at photos from those times.

Here’s what Disney theme parks around the world have looked like over the years.

1955: During its opening year, Disneyland was filled with knights on horses and classic characters.

University of Southern California/Getty ImagesA view of Disneyland’s opening day on July 17, 1955.

Characters at the theme park in Anaheim, California, looked a lot different in 1955 than they do today. Employees dressed as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, for example, simply wore giant masks and form-fitting clothes rather than head-to-toe oversized costumes.

1956 – 1959: Walt Disney was a fixture of the theme park.

Bettmann/Getty ImagesChildren from around the world crowd Walt Disney for autographs on November 15, 1956.

He was often photographed on Disneyland rides, working on new attractions, and interacting with young fans.

In the photo above, for example, international students from the Burbank school system gathered around the theme-park founder to get his autograph.

1960 – 1966: It was common to see Disneyland employees, or cast members, scaling the Matterhorn Bobsleds.

Ralph Crane/Getty ImagesTwo employees scale the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride at Disneyland in 1960.

Thankfully for fans of the climbers, employees still occasionally scale the iconic ride. For example, they did so for a limited time in 2012, according to the Disney Parks Blog.

1967 – 1969: For the first time, parkgoers were able to ride Pirates of the Caribbean.

Ralph Crane/Getty ImagesThe ride looks almost exactly the same today.

According to the official Disneyland website, Walt Disney created Pirates of the Caribbean in the ’50s as a walk-through wax museum. Years later, however, he redesigned it as an animatronic-filled ride, and opened the attraction in Anaheim on March 18, 1967.

1970: At the start of the decade, Disneyland visitors could purchase fruit and flowers within the park.

Mirrorpix/Getty ImagesA view of the Main Street Flower Mart in June 1970.

According to Yesterland, a blog about retired Disney attractions, all plants sold at the Main Street Flower Mart were made of plastic. At the time, it was located in-between an ice-cream shop and a pharmacy.

1971: Julie Andrews helped open Disney World in Orlando, Florida, during a grand-opening celebration.

NBC/Getty ImagesJulie Andrews performs at Magic Kingdom in October 1971.

On October 1, 1971, Disney World opened with fanfare – there were musical performances, ride previews, giant marching bands, and a balloon release. Today, the ceremony is free to watch on YouTube.

1972 – 1979: It’s a Small World was extremely popular.

Jonathan Blair/Getty ImagesA crowd waits to ride It’s a Small World in 1972.

Disney Imagineers originally created It’s a Small World for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, though it was later transferred to Disney World before opening day, according to Best of Orlando.

1980 – 1984: Posing with balloons in front of Cinderella Castle was becoming a common practice.

Peter Bischoff/Stringer/Getty ImagesAustrian singer Hannelore Auer poses with Mickey-shaped balloons on March 4, 1980.

At the time, many of the colourful balloons were shaped like Mickey Mouse. Similar designs are still seen in the parks today, though they’re often sold inside clear round balloons.

1985 – 1988: A Disneyland park opened in Tokyo, Japan, by the mid ’80s.

The Asahi Shimbun/Getty ImagesChildren eat popcorn at Tokyo Disneyland in January 1985.

Tokyo Disney Resort first opened in 1983. The Tokyo location was Disney’s first attraction built outside the US, and currently includes two parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea.

1989 – 1990: Famous Disney characters were helping to construct Disneyland Paris.

William Stevens/Getty ImagesChip, Dale, and Donald Duck help build Disneyland Paris on September 13, 1989.

Characters like Chip, Dale, and Donald Duck were photographed riding in a construction vehicle on the site of Disneyland Paris in the late ’80s.

1991: By the early ’90s, the theme park had started to take form.

Georges DeKeerle/Getty ImagesThe construction site of Disneyland Paris on March 1, 1991.

For example, buildings had been constructed, a Mickey-shaped hot-air balloon graced the sky, and the opening year 1992 was written in giant numbers across the ground.

1992 – 1995: Disneyland Paris was the place to be in the early ’90s.

Pool APESTEGUY/REGLAIN/STEVENS/Getty ImagesParkgoers watch a parade at Disneyland Paris on April 12, 1992.

After the park opened for business on April 12, 1992, parkgoers filled Main Street U.S.A. for a confetti-filled parade.

1996 – 1998: Cinderella Castle was covered in pink paint, giant candles, and fake candy.

Chris O’meara/APA view of Cinderella Castle in 1996.

The birthday-cake overlay was placed over the Disney landmark in celebration of Magic Kingdom’s 25th anniversary. Though it was only meant to last one year, the decorations remained in place until January 31, 1998.

While some people loved the transformation, others weren’t as impressed. After all, people travel from across the world to have their photo taken in front of Cinderella’s home – not a larger-than-life cake.

1999 – 2000: Parkgoers celebrated the final year of the 20th century at Tokyo Disneyland.

Kurita KAKU/Getty ImagesA new-year celebration is held at Tokyo Disneyland on September 23, 1999.

In September 1999, Disney employees and characters celebrated with bold costumes and dance numbers in front of a special countdown clock.

2001 – 2004: You could visit Disneyland’s California Adventure for the first time in 2001.

David McNew/Getty ImagesThe Ferris wheel now features an image of Mickey Mouse’s face rather than a sun.

The theme park opened for business on February 8, 2001, and was home to rides including California Screamin’ and the Sun Wheel. Today, however, the land looks a bit different with the addition of Pixar Pier.

2005 – 2007: Hong Kong opened the gates to its first Disney theme park.

AFP/Stringer/Getty Images‘Toy Story’ characters march through Hong Kong Disneyland in September 2005.

Whereas most Disney theme parks are comprised of multiple smaller parks, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort stands alone. At the time, the location was home to a replica of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, which looked similar to the one found in California’s Disneyland Park.

Now, however, Hong Kong Disneyland Resort is renovating the attraction, and the castle will soon look completely different.

2008 – 2009: Disneyland Paris visitors were celebrating the park’s 15th anniversary.

Ian West – PA Images/Getty ImagesPeople walk through Disneyland Paris on April 4, 2008.

Celebrations lasted throughout all of 2008 and into 2009. Not only was Main Street U.S.A. decorated in blue banners, but the castle was also covered in special plaques and decorations.

2010 – 2011: Hong Kong Disneyland took parades to a new level around this time.

South China Morning Post/Getty ImagesPeople gather to watch the Flights of Fantasy Parade on January 21, 2011.

From the Disney On Parade spectacle that ended around 2010, to the Flights of Fantasy Parade that replaced it in 2011, there was always something exciting happening at the Hong Kong theme park.

2012 – 2013: Toy Story Land became one of the most popular areas of Hong Kong Disneyland.

AFP/Stringer/Getty ImagesPeople walk through Toy Story Land at Hong Kong Disneyland on November 17, 2011.

Opening at the end of 2011, Toy Story Land became especially popular within the theme park throughout 2012 and 2013. Today, rides like RC Racer and Slinky Dog Spin are still fan-favourites.

2014 – 2015: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train became one of the most popular rides at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

Handout/Getty Images‘Snow White’ characters celebrate the new ride at Disney World in May 2014.

The attraction first opened on May 28, 2014,with the help of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.Crowds still gather years later for a chance to ride, with wait times sometimes exceeding two hours.

2016 – 2018: You could add Shanghai Disneyland to your bucket list for the first time.

Marcio Machado/Getty ImagesShanghai Disneyland visitors on June 11, 2016, five days before opening to the public.

Though the Chinese theme park opened for the first time on June 16, 2016, some people – like those seen in the photo above – were lucky enough to get early access to the park a few days before.

2019: Galaxy’s Edge changed the game at Disney World and Disneyland.

Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort‘Star Wars’ fans visit the Galaxy’s Edge land in Orlando, Florida.

The “Star Wars”-inspired land opened in California on May 31, 2019, and in Florida on August 29, 2019.

2020: Disney theme parks temporarily closed for months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

David McNew/Getty ImagesPeople stand outside the closed Disneyland gates on March 14.

The company first shuttered Shanghai Disney Resort on January 25, and Hong Kong Disneyland followed suit the next day. Tokyo Disney Resort was next to close its doors, on February 29, with Disneyland Paris and Disneyland in California doing the same on March 14. Most recently, Disney World shut down on March 16.

Even while theme parks are closed, the pandemic has affected each Disney location dramatically, from newly-installed sanitizer stations to temperature checks at entrances. Now, Disney’s theme parks are slowly beginning to reopen with these measures still in place.

Disney World is set to begin reopening on July 11 and July 15, while Shanghai Disneyland is “currently open for visitation on an ‘Advanced Reservation’-only basis,” according to its website. Disneyland,Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, and Tokyo Disneyland have not yet revealed their reopening plans.

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