Up The Road: The Happiest Place On Earth
We’ve been exploring Orange County, till now, to show there’s more here than just Disneyland. But now we’ve arrived, at the heart of the O.C. family experience.
Walt Disney wanted to take his daughters to a non-sleazy amusement park—something that didn’t yet exist in the 1940s. He built a better mousetrap, so to speak, on the genius of his animated cartoons.
Disneyland’s opening day in 1955 was nationally televised, broadcast live from coast to coast. More than a million people visited Disney’s Magic Kingdom in the next ten weeks alone. The first and original Mickey Mouse house is still California’s number one tourist destination.
Anyone who has either been a child or had a child since Disneyland opened already knows the key facts: Even the saddest stories have happy endings, when you wish upon a star.
“Happy” is official policy, so expect every cast member on the Disney stage—from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to the latest audio-animatronic adorable—to smile, wave, and then smile some more. And in Disneyland, if the hero doesn’t save the day, then whiz-bang technology will.
In other words, Disneyland isn’t real.
Real or not, Disneyland is as good as it gets if you’re looking for a clean, well-lighted place showcasing Mom, Pop, and apple pie. A deep desire to recapture, reimagine, and re-create lost American innocence—both an individual and national need when shell-shocked veterans came home from World War II.
Walt Disney had the talent to “Imagineer” this new American innocence. He was smart enough to build walls around it, with ticket booths.
In another sense, too, Walt Disney was a visionary. From its inception, this perfect world foreshadowed modern culture, with shops and restaurants on every street, near spendy Disney-brand hotels. Only abject poverty lets you escape product tie-ins and merch.
But, highfalutin philosophy aside, Disneyland just is. It’s its own world, a whole new world. And a fun one, especially with kids, because Walt Disney’s idea of the world is as safe, playful, and well done as it is commercially cunning. Each of the eight distinct “lands”—from Main Street, USA to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland—has one theme but many attractions.
That’s not counting what we could call “Californialand”—Disney California Adventure, a separate 55-acre park next door, showcasing Hollywood, the California beach scene, and outdoor California.
You won’t see any churches at a Disney park—no houses of worship, period—because Walt Disney considered religion divisive. But weddings are big, if you tie the knot here officially and allow Disney to do the event setup and catering. You pay for the privilege of wedding photos in front of Cinderella’s Castle.
If you, like me, wonder why people would want to marry—or honeymoon—at Disneyland, maybe, like Queen Elsa in Frozen, we just need to Let it Go.
Until next time, when we visit America’s first theme park—not Disneyland, but not far away—this is Kim Weir for Up the Road.
Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel
Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:
- Up the Road: Why Travel?
- Up the Road: Why Travel in Northern California
- Up the Road: How to Travel
- Up the Road: Why Local Travel Matters
- Up the Road: Travel That’s Not About You
- Up the Road: Heading Up the Road Again—Responsibly
- Up the Road: 2020 Travel Strategy
- Up the Road: More on Responsible Travel 2020