As Disneyland celebrates 60 years, we reflect on a time when a single e-ticket was worth more than gold.

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  • Written by
    Darren Elms

My first memory of Disneyland was at maybe 3 years old, or at least that was my age according to family members who recount the story annually. The day began with me, wide-eyed yet absentminded, forgetting my treasured blanket in the car and then insisting my uncle go and retrieve it. (For those who remember the old parking lot before it was replaced with California Adventure, the yellow VW Beetle was parked in Thumper, so it was really far away.)

The middle of the day included a 45-minute wait in the July heat for a ride on one of Dumbo’s flying elephants. I backed out at the last minute. The day concluded with me howling hysterically as we sailed from land to land on It’s a Small World, a scene that might play back with countless parents who have endured that song over and over … and over.

I’m sure there were plenty of delightful moments during that first visit, despite those select “highlights.” I know for certain there were many wonderful years spent at the park from there on—first with my family, then with friends and now with the children of friends. I’ve enjoyed buckets of popcorn, anniversary bashes, old-school character signatures, dinner at Club 33, the Main Street Electrical Parade (RIP) and many, many rides down the Matterhorn. How many of you still look for the wintery top of the mountain as you head along the 5 freeway?

In 1993, I even spent a summer working at Disneyland—an ambitious, lifelong dream up to that moment. Daily I would sport argyle socks for a stint in Toontown or lederhosen for heavy labor on the Skyway (also RIP) from late afternoon to 1 a.m., head out with friends to Denny’s until 3 a.m. and then do it all over again. I made a whoppin’ $5.50 an hour, but it wasn’t about money. I was a Disneyland cast member and, as far as I was concerned, the luckiest guy in the world.

Fast-forward 20 years or so, and the park celebrates 60 years. In a few months, I’ll take my niece for her 7th birthday. I wonder, amid the commercial hullabaloo, the Frozen mania and the insane crowds, if she’ll experience a similar spark of imagination and wonderment I once treasured as a kid. If she knows the way to Neverland, I’ll have found my answer.