Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Destination D

I never thought I’d be one of those people, but here I am: the older I get, the more and more nostalgic I’ve become about my childhood. Growing up next-door to our grandparents and favorite aunt, my sister Vicki and I led an exceedingly charmed childhood. Many of our fondest memories involve Disneyland, which opened just a handful of days after Vicki was born in 1955. We didn’t visit Disneyland every year, but we did go often enough to have a fairly complete mental record of almost every attraction ever featured at the park. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, photos of Monsanto’s “House of the Future” and the long-gone submarine and flying saucer rides can easily launch me into fits of tears over the “good ol’ days” of yesteryear.

Of course, I’m not the only baby-boomer who harbors great affection for Disneyland. Last year, the Disney company finally realized there’s a gold-mine full of people my age, who still love all things Disney, and so they created D23, the only official Disney fanclub. This past weekend, D23 held the first-ever “Destination D” conference, celebrating the 55-year history of the “Happiest Place on Earth.” I bought my ticket as soon as the event was announced.

Friday morning, I donned my best Mickey Mouse tank-top and packed my fabulous Dooney & Bourke Disney handbag with the necessary conference essentials (Destination D confirmation, D23 membership card, and snacks) before heading to Anaheim. First up was Steven Clark, head of the fanclub, who welcomed all 1300 participants from 39 states and 7 countries (!). We then listened to historians talk about the early days of Disneyland, while watching rare color filmclips and old black-and-white photos.

One of the most fascinating presentations was about the 1964 NYC World’s Fair, where Disney created pavilions for four exhibitors, including Ford, Pepsi and General Electric. It was here that Walt’s “imagineering” crew premiered the audio-animatronic technology that later made possible the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland. To accommodate the 500,000 people visiting the World’s Fair every day, Disney also invented what I call “line technology,” i.e., providing guests with lots to look at (for example, skeletons and hieroglyphics on the Indiana Jones ride) while they wait on line. Audio-animatronics and long but entertaining lines have become Disney staples since the mid-1960s.

Friday’s real highlight, though, was the reunion of many of the surviving Mouseketeers, including Sharon, Doreen, Bobby (who looks exactly the same!), Karen, Sherry, Tommy, Cubby, and Mary. They talked about auditioning for the Mickey Mouse Club and what it was like working for Walt Disney. They also spoke most affectionately about Annette, who is now bedridden with multiple sclerosis. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

More history on Saturday. Some interesting tidbits:

Walt originally planned to build Disneyland across from his studios in Burbank (my hometown!), but the city council rejected his proposal because they thought a theme park would bring in too much traffic.

In early Disneyland drawings, the Haunted Mansion is located on the end of Main St. instead north of New Orleans Square.

The Dumbo ride originally featured pink elephants (!).

Although Walt had a clear vision for Main St., Fantasyland and Adventureland, he had a hard time conceptualizing Tomorrowland and so, at one point, considered including a uranium mine ride (yikes!!). (This was, after all, the mid-1950s during the height of the nuclear age.)

Disney didn’t own any character costumes in 1955, so they had to borrow frighteningly hideous Mickey and Minnie costumes from the local Ice Capades for the park’s grand opening.

There wasn’t enough money to pay for water fountains and bathrooms, so Disneyland (thankfully!) opened without water fountains.

We also got a sneak preview of some coming attractions, including the new Cars Land (scheduled to open in Disney’s California Adventure [DCA] in 2012), the Little Mermaid ride (due to open in DCA in spring 2011) and a revamped Star Tours (also opening next spring). The president of Disneyland, George Kalogridis, addressed rumors of a third park being built in Anaheim. He carefully stated that there are currently no plans for a third park, but land has been purchased if Disney decides to expand. Not surprisingly, the crowd went wild.

Overall, it was a wonderful two days filled with interesting images and information. I was most impressed by the speakers, who all work for Disney and were entertaining as well as knowledgeable. I swear the company must audition all its employees before hiring them. Many of the people on stage had started working for Disney as teenagers and were now managers and corporate heads. I was also fascinated to learn that Disney calls its attractions “shows” instead of “rides.” Everything is a performance at Disneyland.

The festivities ended on Sunday with a 5-hour scavenger hunt throughout the entire Disney resort (hotels, Downtown Disney, Disneyland and DCA). Although tickets were restricted to D23 members only, each member could invite up to three people, and so Tim and our Disney-loving friends Carla and Megan (Go Team 0422!) joined me for the final leg of the conference. With more than 2000 people participating in the hunt, we had no chance of winning the $3000 grand prize. Nevertheless, we had fun searching for clues despite unseasonably hot weather. Among the easiest questions we had to answer:

“In the Paradise Pier Hotel lobby, what color are Goofy’s swim shorts?”

“How many characters are above the entrance doors of the World of Disney store?”

“Whose banner hangs next to (left of) Paul McCready’s in the entrance of Soaring Over California?”

We all agreed that we would never look at Disneyland the same again!


Back home on Sunday, I took a long nap and dreamed of the black-and-white Disneyland of my childhood. Here are Vicki (age 3) and me (age 4), waiting for the Disneyland train with our Mom and Uncle Louie. It was our first of many happy trips to what I loved to call "Dizzyland!"


Ginny said...

Love the family photo.

Cyn said...

Thanks! My mom looks like she's wearing Mouse ears, but it's really just her hair. This photo makes me happy every time I see it. cm