Photos: Walt Disney World at 40

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  1. 40 and fabulous

    Fireworks explode above Cinderella Castle as dancers and Disney characters perform while taping a segment of "Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade" at the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 3, 2010, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The 40th anniversary of the opening of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort will be celebrated in 2011. (Mark Ashman / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Star power

    Musical artist Yanni, right, plays the piano as the "Yanni Voices" perform an arrangement of "O Holy Night" at the Magic Kingdom on Dec. 3, 2009, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Yanni was taping a segment for the "Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade" holiday TV special. (Mark Ashman / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 'I'm going to Disney World!'

    Tom Brady, quarterback of the Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots, signs autographs at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom on Feb. 2, 2004, one day after leading the Patriots to a 32-29 victory over the Carolina Panthers. (Gene Duncan / Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. The first 25 years

    First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to a crowd as Walt Disney Company CEO Michael Eisner applauds Oct. 1, 1996, during the rededication of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on the 25th anniversary its opening. (Tony Ranze / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Royal fun

    Prince William, right, grimaces after he and friends of the royal family finish their ride on Splash Mountain Aug. 26, 1993, at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Harry Soames, left front, was the prince's companion on the three-day vacation. Other passengers are unidentified. (Bob Pearson / AFP-Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Celebrating two decades

    The 20th anniversary rededication ceremony of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in 1991 brought legions of Disney cast members onto Main Street, U.S.A. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A world-class welcome

    Roy O. Disney, brother of Walt Disney, is joined by the beloved Disney character that started it all, Mickey Mouse, in welcoming the first guests to the grand opening of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Oct. 1, 1971. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Cinderella's future home

    In 1971, a blue-spired castle -- destined to become one of the world's most-photographed buildings -- rose in central Florida as the iconic centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom, which opened on Oct. 1, 1971. In the 40 years since guests first strolled down Main Street, U.S.A., Walt Disney World Resort has blazed brave new entertainment trails based on its founder's fertile imagination and vision that the resort would forever continue to evolve. (Disney) Back to slideshow navigation
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Special to
updated 7/15/2005 1:39:40 PM ET 2005-07-15T17:39:40

Fifty years ago, Disneyland opened its gates to its first generation of visitors.  Disneyland is now more than just a park — it’s a cultural icon.  "The happiest place on Earth" is one of the top vacation destinations in the world.  With half a billion visitors over the last 50 years, it's easy to understand why.

To celebrate Disneyland's 50th anniversary, here are 50 unforgettable reasons to put on those mouse ears and smile:

1. Dream made reality. Walt Disney wanted to create a place for families, where parents and children could have fun together.

2. Disneyland Rail Road. Walt loved trains, so taking a spin around the park on the Disneyland Rail Road is one of the ways to see the park the way he used to see it.

3. Space Mountain. Newly redesigned for the Happiest Homecoming on Earth, Space Mountain was the original big thrill, sending passengers on a rocket through space.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean. A light-hearted look at the dastardly deeds of pirates pillaging a coastal town. Who can forget, "We wants the red-head!"

Pirates of the Caribbean
#4 - Pirates of the Caribbean
5. Drivers License at Autopia. Guests are given a complimentary Drivers License at Autopia, just be sure to buckle-up before putting the pedal to the metal.

6. Fireworks. At Disneyland, the nightly fireworks shows are no ordinary display of pyrotechnics. The carefully choreographed shows are meant to wow you and tug at your heartstrings.

7. Blue Bayou Restaurant. Charming restaurant inside Pirates of the Caribbean, Caribbean dine in the bayou, under the stars, all without the worry of mosquito bites.

8. "it's a small world" The façade at night is simply magical. This Walt original is a must-see, even if it takes days to get the song out of your head.

9. Mickey Mouse. The "big cheese" isn’t too famous to hang out with his fans -- visit him at Mickey’s House in Toontown.

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10. The Monorail. The Disneyland Monorail first opened in 1959 and has carried more than 150 million passengers to and from Tomorrowland.

11. The Disney Gallery. This gallery is nestled above Pirates of the Caribbean Caribbean and is host to rotating displays of Disneyland art pieces. It's a great way to take a break from the heat of the day and see some classic Disney history.

Snow White: An Enchanting Musical
Tanya Segura
#15 - Snow White: An Enchanting Musical

12. "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour. This three-hour tour gives guests a sneak-peek into the makings of Disneyland. You'll learn fun facts and even get a look at the lobby of Club 33, and exclusive, members-only club located in New Orleans Square.

13.Music. There's background music in every land and each attraction. Sometimes you notice it, as in the Enchanted Tiki Room, and other times you hardly realize it's there, adding ambiance.

14. Unique snacks. Pick up a churro, a deep-fried pastry with cinnamon and sugar, in Frontierland and grab a seat along the Rivers of America for a mid-afternoon break. Relax with a mint julep and corn fritters in New Orleans Square. Or, grab a Dole Whip at the Tiki Juice Bar after singing along with the birdies at the Tiki Room.

15. Stage shows. They’re a little piece of Broadway in Anaheim. Today you can see Snow White: An Enchanting Musical, Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, Playhouse Disney: Live on Stage or Billy Hill and the Hillbillies.

To celebrate Disneyland's 50th anniversary, here are 50 unforgettable reasons to put on those mouse ears and smile:

16. Alice in Wonderland. Journey into the looking glass on Alice in Wonderland. If you time it just right, your caterpillar car will make its way along the outdoor portion of the track just as the parade passes along its route below you.

17. It’s the original. Disneyland's success paved the way for other magical kingdoms — Florida, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong — but the original is still the happiest kingdom of them all.

18. Waiting in line. No one likes a 90-minute wait for anything, but the details you encounter while waiting in the ride lines will make you want to linger a bit. Look for the shaking pole and the blow-darts in the line for Indiana Jones Adventure.

19. Not waiting in line. No one likes waiting in a 90-minute line, and with FastPass, you won't have to. Most of the bigger rides offer this free benefit, so take advantage of it!

20. The Mad Hatter. You, too, can be a Mouseketeer. When you purchase a set of mouse ears, you can have them embroidered with anything any name from Aidan to Zena.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
Linda Liberato
#29 - Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
21. Hidden Mickeys. The architecture and artistry around the parks includes "hidden" likenesses of everyone’s favorite mouse. Most common is the three-circle icon forming Mickey’s head, although there are some with the profile or full face of Mickey. Cast members are usually more than willing to point out a few for you, just ask.

22. Mickey Ice Cream Bars. These sub-zero confections are the perfect snack to cool you down on a hot Southern California afternoon.

23. Dark Rides. Go on a daring journey with Pinocchio or help Snow White find her way out of the dark and scary woods.

24. Casey Jr. Circus Train. Take a ride with Timothy Mouse around the Storybook Land Canal.

25. Main Street U.S.A. Guests are welcomed into Disneyland by this charming street inspired by turn-of-the-century Marceline, Mo.

26. Walt’s apartment. An apartment was built for Walt Disney and his family right above the fire station on Main Street. The lamp is always left on to symbolize Walt’s continued presence in the park.

27. Mad Tea Party. This is one of the originals. Take a spin in a tea cup and imagine yourself in Disneyland on opening day.

28. Attention to detail. Whether it's the authentic gas-lights on Main Street or the epitaphs in the Haunted Mansion’s pet cemetery, Disneyland has an incredible amount of detail. There’s so much to see that you could notice something new on every trip.  

29. Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Take a road trip to "nowhere in particular" in an old Model T with J. Thaddeus Toad.

Haunted Mansion
Erica Muzzerall
#31 - Haunted Mansion
30. Tinkerbell. The famous fairy floats down from Sleeping Beauty Castle to mark the beginning of the nightly fireworks spectacular.

31. Haunted Mansion. There's never a stop to the chills and chuckles over the holiday season when the Haunted Mansion is turned into Haunted Mansion Holiday, inspired by "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

32. Electrical Parade. Once called the Main Street Electrical Parade when it ran on Main Street, now it runs nightly through the adjacent Disney’s California Adventure.

33. Fantasmic! Enter Mickey's imagination for a battle of good and evil, complete with a pirate battle, fireworks and film clips projected on screens of water.

34. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This runaway mine train is one of the biggest thrills in Disneyland. Climb aboard for a twisting, turning ride through the Wild West. Hang onto them hats and glasses!

35. Jungle Cruise. Climb aboard the Jungle Cruise and let your skipper guide you through the rivers of the world. Watch out for the hippos and the corny jokes.

To celebrate Disneyland's 50th anniversary, here are 50 unforgettable reasons to put on those mouse ears and smile:

36. Mr. Lincoln. Walt Disney was a great admirer of the 16th President. Check out one of the earliest Audio-Animatronics in The Walt Disney Story Featuring Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, on the east side of Town Square.

37. Matterhorn Bobsleds. Take a trip down the icy slopes of the Matterhorn on Disneyland's original thrill ride. Mountain climbers are once again scaling the mountain during daily shows.

38. Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters. Go to "infinity and beyond" to help Buzz Lightyear battle the Evil Emperor Zurg in this interactive, laser-tag ride. Do you have what it takes to be a Space Ace?

39. Star Tours. Climb aboard and buckle-up for a quick flight to the moon of Endor for your Star Wars fix.

40. Continually changing and growing. Disneyland is ever-evolving without forgetting its roots as a place for family entertainment. As Walt said, "It's something that will never be finished. Something that I can keep developing ... and adding to."

41. Soarin' Over California. Climb aboard for a hang-glider flight over some of the most beautiful scenery in the Golden State. Your airborne journey ends in the skies above Sleeping Beauty Castle.

42. 3-D Movies. Tomorrowland always has a 3-D film to enjoy. Since 1997, it's been "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience," but who can forget "Magic Journeys" or "Captain EO"? Disney's California Adventure shows "It's Tough to be a Bug" and "Muppet-Vision 3D."

43. California Screamin'. This is the first looping roller coaster at the Disneyland Resort. Head to the Paradise Pier area in California Adventure for a spin on this steel coaster designed to look like a classic wooden thrill ride.

44. Mission Tortilla Factory. In the Golden State section of California Adventure, stop by the Mission Tortilla Factory for a glimpse into how tortillas are made. Don’t forget to pick up a free sample!

Soarin' Over California
#41 - Soarin' Over California
45. Chicken Corn Chowder at Storyteller's Café. This restaurant in the Grand Californian Hotel specializes in hearty, home-style California cuisine and hosts a character breakfast.

46. Never Land Pool, Disneyland Hotel. At this themed pool at the Disneyland Hotel, you can swim around and play on Captain Hook's ship.

47. Grand Californian Hotel.This Arts and Crafts-style hotel is actually located inside California Adventure with its own special entrance to the park.

48. The LEGO Imagination Center. After your imagination runs wild in the parks, take a break at the LEGO Imagination Center in Downtown Disney to build and play. There are also life-size replicas of Darth Vader and R2D2 made of LEGOs.

49. World of Disney. If you want to fill your house with treasures from Disneyland, this giant store in Downtown Disney is the place to find them.

50. Cast members. These Disney professionals go out of their way to make sure guests have magical experiences on their vacations.

Bridget Klaka is a life-long Disney fan and visits a Disney theme park at least once a year.

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