Vintage images of Disney parks from times gone by

Once upon a time… From Florida to Paris, Disney’s larger-than-life theme parks attract millions…


From Florida to Paris, Disney’s larger-than-life theme parks attract millions of visitors each year. And, with the oldest park dating back to the 1950s, these whimsical worlds have changed considerably over the decades. Through 37 nostalgic photos, we take a look at the Disney of yesteryear.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


By the early 1950s, Walt Disney had already achieved immense success as an animator – but he wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. Inspired by his own visits to amusement spots around the world, he conceived of the grandaddy of all theme parks – a magical place that would enchant both adults and kids alike. In this Fifties shot, he’s seen explaining sketches of what would become Disneyland California.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The park’s crowning jewel would be the now iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, a soaring pile, all towers and turrets, that could be plucked straight from a Disney fairy tale. Walt Disney himself is seen here in 1954 in Los Angeles, California, talking through a model of the castle with a team of “imagineers”, the band of visionaries that helped Disney realize his dream.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Soon, Walt Disney’s dream was manifest. Disneyland (now Disneyland Park) in Anaheim, Orange County threw open its gates to select guests on Sunday 17 July 1955, and scores of Americans gathered around their TV sets to watch Disney give his dedication speech (pictured). The words Disney spoke that day have remained famous: “To all who come to this happy place – welcome. Disney is your land.”



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Such was the buzz around Disney’s glittering new theme park that thousands more guests than the 6,000 invited turned up (reportedly some 28,000). This photo shows eager visitors lining up at Disneyland’s main entrance on 17 July 1955. The huge influx of people meant the opening day didn’t run quite as smoothly as planned, but luckily the public’s fascination with this magical place was not marred.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


In renowned Disney fashion, the California park’s opening was marked with loud, proud parades, music and appearances from familiar characters. Here Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck march out hand in hand before Sleeping Beauty Castle, as they’re serenaded by fanfares from costumed folk on horseback.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


On the opening day, Walt Disney could hardly contain his joy as he showed California dignitaries around the park. He’s snapped here riding the beloved Disney steam locomotive E. P. Ripley, as he gleefully points out the sights to then-state governor Goodwin Knight (pictured middle).



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The park’s youngest visitors could hardly wait to experience Disney’s delights either. Here we see hundreds of excited children rush into the Fantasyland area of the park – the photo was taken immediately after the drawbridge entry was lowered on the opening day. The youngsters are headed straight for Sleeping Beauty Castle.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


California’s Disneyland opened with five enchanting “lands”, and versions of each are still present today. These were Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Main Street, U.S.A and Frontierland, the entrance to which is pictured here in 1955. Frontierland was designed to evoke America’s Old West with early attractions including a horse-drawn Conestoga wagon and stagecoach and the Golden Horseshoe Saloon.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


This sign, erected in 1958, would become synonymous with California’s Disneyland, proudly greeting guests as they entered the park. After more than three decades on display, the classic sign was finally replaced with an electronic version in 1989. Today it remains a nostalgic symbol of the park’s early days.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Disneyland was a family affair from the very beginning – and that included Walt Disney’s own clan too. This heartwarming photo was snapped circa 1955, not long after the park’s opening, and shows Disney with his little grandson on a grassy lawn before Sleeping Beauty Castle. You can spot other families in the background enjoying the majestic attraction too.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Another vintage Disney family snap, this one shows the park creator with his grandson and his daughter too. They’re whizzing around on Autopia, a miniature speedway that still exists today. It was one of the park’s opening attractions, debuting in futuristic Tomorrowland, where it remains.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Even when he wasn’t entertaining his family, Walt Disney himself was still regularly seen in the California park through the 1950s and early 1960s (Disney passed away in 1966). Rumored to be Disney’s favorite attraction, the Disneyland Railroad (once the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad) sliced through the park, bypassing scenic attractions like the Rivers of America and the Grand Canyon Diorama. Guests can still usually ride the railroad’s nostalgic steam trains today.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Another incredible innovation at Disneyland was the Monorail, an uber-modern transport system initially used for sightseeing in the Tomorrowland area. It began operation in 1959, and is billed as the first daily operating monorail system in the entire Western Hemisphere. In the beginning, the Monorail supported two trains – the red “Mark I” train, now retired, is pictured here in 1959.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


By 1961, the Monorail system was expanded and a new fleet of trains was introduced. It became a key means of transport in the California park, providing a link from Tomorrowland to the Disneyland Hotel, which was opened in 1955. At this point in time, it was also the only monorail system in America to cross a public street. A modern version still whizzes guests around Disneyland Resort today.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Beyond its novel transport systems, Tomorrowland, designed to offer a glimpse into the future, had other unique attractions. Pictured here is the “House of the Future”, which was displayed in the land from 1957 to 1967. The sleek house amazed visitors with its new-fangled gadgets and appliances (like a state-of-the-art intercom system) and its futuristic furniture, all of which were well ahead of their time.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Eventually closed in 1996, another early Disneyland attraction was the Skyway, a kind of gondola-lift ride that whisked guests between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. From these lofty heights, visitors had incredible views of the lands down below and of Matterhorn, a model of the imposing Alpine mountain at the Swiss-Italian border.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The Californian extravaganza wasn’t Disney’s only park for too long, though. In a moment that revolutionized Florida’s tourism industry, the gates to Walt Disney World were finally opened on 1 October 1971, bringing in 10,000 eager fans. Initially, the resort comprised six individually-themed lands: Main Street, U.S.A, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Tomorrowland.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Today Walt Disney World Resort is Disney’s flagship site, and is much larger than its California counterpart. Magic Kingdom was the first of four mammoth Floridian theme parks. The Admiral Joe Fowler Riverboat (pictured), named for the retired admiral who oversaw construction for the Disney parks, was an early amusement here.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Just five years after Florida’s Magic Kingdom opened, America celebrated its bicentennial – and, in true Disney style, the theme park marked the special occasion with parties and parades. Here children and adults look on in awe as a float carrying the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf glides through the streets.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


While Sleeping Beauty Castle takes center stage at California’s Disneyland Park, in Florida it was (and still is) all about Cinderella Castle. Here we can spot the Magic Kingdom attraction peeking out from behind more crowds and floats during Disney’s celebrations for the US bicentennial.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The Skyway was another amusement that appeared in both parks. Just like its sister in California, the gondola lift-style ride in Florida, captured here in 1976, soared over Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Today’s Disney Skyliner (opened in 2019) is a nod to this vintage attraction.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Remaining one of Disney’s most popular rides, Space Mountain debuted in 1975, around four years after Magic Kingdom’s opening. An indoor, space-themed roller coaster, it was extremely hi-tech for its day, with guests riding in the dark and enjoying stunning projections of stars and planets. Now the cosmic attraction has a place in Disney parks around the globe.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


By the 1980s, Florida’s Disney site had begun to expand into the magical juggernaut it is today. Curious, futuristic Epcot, which Disney had originally conceived to be a kind of utopian city and community, opened as a park in 1982. Its mammoth centerpiece – a geodesic sphere called Spaceship Earth – is pictured here at the center of the construction site in the early Eighties.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Disney’s Hollywood Studios came later in 1989. The Great Movie Ride (pictured), located in a model of Hollywood’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, was a major attraction of the latter, and only closed down in 2017.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Many don’t know that Tokyo Disneyland was actually the first Disney theme park to open outside the USA. Debuting in 1983, the park (externally owned, but licensed by Disney) carefully mirrored its American sisters in many respects. Early attractions included “it’s a small world” in Fantasyland and the Mark Twain Riverboat in “Westernland”, Tokyo’s answer to Frontierland. A defining feature of the park is its Cinderella Castle, pictured here in 1998.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Some 15 years after its opening, in 1998, Tokyo Disneyland garnered world attention for the creative way it marked Mickey Mouse’s 70th birthday. The celebratory spectacle involved more than 2,000 people holding colorful materials above their heads to form an image of Mickey’s beaming face.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


Located just east of the French capital, Disneyland Paris (then Euro Disney) opened to visitors on 12 April 1992. The first theme park here was Disneyland Park, which featured many familiar attractions and lands, including Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Main Street, U.S.A. Captured in this photo are those lucky enough to enjoy a press preview, which took place on the eve of the park’s opening day, on 11 April.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


On the official opening day, then-chairman of the Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner gave a speech to an expectant crowd. Here he’s seen at the entrance to Main Street, U.S.A holding up the very first entry ticket to the park. It’s reported that the family who bought this ticket were granted free entry to the park for life.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


The final hours of Euro Disney’s opening day went with a bang. Fireworks glittered over the new park and floats bright with lights passed in a parade through Main Street.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.



Microsoft and partners may be compensated if you purchase something through recommended links in this article.


38/38 SLIDES