Disneyland’s Bittersweet Birthday: Here’s to 65 More!

Today is Disneyland’s 65th Anniversary, a bittersweet occasion unceremoniously marked by a merchandise line at Downtown Disney, but with both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure closed. In this post, we’ll celebrate Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom with a look back and brief look forward.

It’s depressing to think that this is the first time in Disneyland’s storied history that the park won’t be open on its anniversary, but a lot is depressing about this year. All things considered, this wouldn’t even crack the top 1000. On a personal note, we’ve had to cancel a California trip already, and might have to scrap a couple more. However, we wouldn’t be there today either way. Suffice to say, I don’t really have an opinion on Disneyland being closed today.

It’s impossible for me to sit here, thousands of miles across the country and say that Disneyland should or should not be open. We’ve lived in California’s Orange County and understand its unique social, political, and economic climate. However, that’s no substitute for actually being there, experiencing, seeing and feeling how this is all playing out firsthand…

Which is to say, it’s entirely possible that it’s the right decision for Southern California to keep Disneyland Resort closed–and also the right decision for Central Florida to reopen the economic behemoth that is Walt Disney World. Or maybe only one of those decisions is right for the circumstances. Or maybe somehow both are wrong.

That’s a question that has preoccupied my mind over the last couple of weeks, but not even remotely the point of this post. Let’s move on with a look back…

One of the other things about which I’ve been fixated lately is that the Diamond Celebration was 5 years ago! Depending upon how I think about things, the Diamond Celebration simultaneously feels like it was an eternity ago or only yesterday. (You ever have those types of conflicting memories?) As a whole, the event feels like the distant past–almost a lifetime ago. However, I can remember specific moments and nights in the park with complete clarity–like they just happened.

Disneyland’s Diamond Celebration is especially memorable and meaningful because it happened during our first summer living in California. I remember sitting online one night that January, waiting for the news, seeing the concept art unveiled, and watching the announcements & reactions roll in on social media. Learning about all of the new entertainment was so exciting, and had us anxiously awaiting the May debut.

Equally memorable were the intervening off-season months, when Disneyland undertook colossal refurbishment and improvement projects, and crowds were the lowest we’ve ever experienced. We spent many days that spring watching the park prepare, eager to see the new nighttime parade, fireworks, Sleeping Beauty Castle overlay, and everything else.

We really got to know Disneyland during that time, exploring and poring over every detail of the parks, learning fairly trivial hacks, and just generally loitering around.

While most people probably would’ve taken advantage of the low crowds by doing attractions repeatedly, we went another direction. We befriended goats, discovered some of our favorite under the radar spots to eat, and engaged in various shenanigans with (human) friends.

In typical Disneyland locals’ fashion, we established our own quirky routines. I took a lot of photos. (The temporary fireworks were tremendously underwhelming to the point where Disneyland might’ve been better with no fireworks at all, but they were incredibly photogenic.)

The Diamond Celebration itself was also tremendously memorable, both because it was a ton of fun and for the indelible mark it left on Disneyland. We watched Paint the Night and Disneyland Forever many times that summer–and also caught a few (too many) performances of World of Color: Celebrate.

It’s wild that none of the new entertainment that debuted during the anniversary is still around only a few years later–all traces of the Diamond Celebration itself are gone from the parks save for Fantasyland ride plussings.

Despite the short shelf life of the parade, fireworks, and everything else, the Diamond Celebration had a transformative effect on Disneyland. It’s not at all an exaggeration to say that the Diamond Celebration altered the park’s trajectory for years to come.

While my experience with the California parks is relatively brief in the grand scheme of their six and a half decade history, I can’t think of anything that has ever impacted Disneyland as much as the Diamond Celebration.

That summer marked an explosion in attendance at Disneyland, accelerating the trend set in motion by Cars Land three years earlier. Even after the Diamond Celebration had officially ended, the buzz that the festivities had generated continued the forward momentum.

I still remember sitting in our local Starbucks a couple of mornings after the Diamond Celebration had kicked off. Literally everyone was talking about it, either raving about Paint the Night or making plans to attend. Disneyland had obviously been a Southern California institution long before this, but if our “overhead coffee shop conversations” (as tired of a trope as that might be, it’s true) were any indication, that summer it became the hip and trendy thing to do.

The hype and enthusiasm for all things Disneyland never let up after that. A few months after the massively successful launch of the Diamond Celebration, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was announced.

After Diamond Celebration ended, Disneyland managed to parlay its momentum with the nostalgic homecoming of Main Street Electrical Parade.

Then came the success of Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout. Then construction of a fully-fledged Marvel Land via Avengers Campus. Then plans for redevelopment of Downtown Disney plus new hotels that were (thankfully) abandoned due to conflict between Disney and Anaheim. Then Project Stardust. Then the second plans for a new parking structure.

Then the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. That’s just what Disney itself did during that time–don’t forget an expansion to the Anaheim Convention Center and explosion in hotel development around the Anaheim Resort District, neither of which would’ve happened without Disneyland’s growth. Suffice to say, it has been a big five years.

That brings us today. Looking back five years later, we see the Diamond Celebration as truly transformative in retrospect and the impetus for so many subsequent changes. As we celebrate Disneyland’s 65th Anniversary (or lack thereof), it’s hard to think that we aren’t likewise at another standing at another pivotal moment in Disneyland’s history.

Like everyone else, I don’t know what the future holds and am certainly nervous for it. Nevertheless, I hope to be writing an article on Disneyland’s 70th Anniversary fondly looking back at the last 5 years. Hopefully one that boasts of the fruitful changes that have come during that time, despite the 65th Anniversary itself having left no lasting substantive mark on the parks.

If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!

Your Thoughts

Did you attend the Diamond Celebration? What do you think of how radically Disneyland has changed since? Would you agree or disagree that the last 5 years have been among the most transformative in Disneyland’s history? Think the next 5 will likewise see sweeping changes? Thoughts or your own fond memories to share on the this momentous yet anticlimactic occasion? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

19 Responses to “Disneyland’s Bittersweet Birthday: Here’s to 65 More!”
  1. Heather July 20, 2020
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    • Laura July 17, 2020
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