Disneyland turns 50 this year, and a new parade, a new fireworks show and new attractions will be part of its long party, which begins May 5.
To get the most bucks for the bang, the celebration -- called "The Happiest Homecoming on Earth" -- will continue for 18 months at Disneyland and its sister parks, from Orlando to Paris and Tokyo -- and at the new Disneyland in Hong Kong, which opens in September.
Arising among what were orange groves and walnut farms in Anaheim, near Los Angeles, Disneyland was the brainchild of Walt Disney and the first of what is now a theme-park empire on three continents.
Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, to an invited audience. But eager gate-crashers and those with counterfeit tickets swelled the 6,000 invited guests to 28,000.
On opening day, there were hours-long traffic jams around Disneyland. Inside, overloaded rides broke down, restaurants ran out of food and drinks, and women's high heels stuck in the freshly poured asphalt of Main Street USA.
Since then, Disney theme parks have become expert in managing crowds, and more than 500 million visitors have come to Disneyland alone. It opened with 18 major attractions; it now has more than 60 adventures / attractions spread over 85 acres, with many more in the adjoining California Adventure theme park.
If you want to join the party on May 5 -- a date chosen since its 05 / 05 / 05 designation fits nicely with a 50th celebration -- be ready for big crowds then and the next weekend. And be ready for really big crowds on July 17, the actual 50th anniversary.
Here's some of what's planned for Disneyland's 50th throughout the 18 months:
A new nightly fireworks show, called "Remember ... Dreams Come True," begins May 5, with new pyrotechnics, music and lighting effects. Disneyland calls it "the most elaborate fireworks display in the history of the park."
A new parade, "Walt Disney's Parade of Dreams," also begins May 5 with rolling stages, acrobats, Disney characters, music and more. Scenes from favorite Disney movies will be re-enacted in the daily parade (twice a day at peak times) on Main Street.
Sleeping Beauty Castle's "new look" will be unveiled on May 5. The Disneyland icon will be festooned with banners, trimmed with gold paint and illuminated nightly with a kaleidoscope of colors and images.
Space Mountain reopens July 15 after a major renovation. The indoor roller coaster will have new special effects and a new, onboard soundtrack.
The exhibit "Disneyland: The First 50 Years" opens May 5 in the Main Street Opera House, with vintage films, artwork and more celebrating the theme park's development.
In Disney's California Adventure theme park, which adjoins Disneyland, "Block Party Bash" begins May 5. Street parties featuring Disney characters will be staged throughout the park, with rock 'n' roll, surfer music, disco and more.
Although "Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters" is billed as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, it opened earlier this month. Inspired by the popular Toy Story 2 film, ride-goers command a space mission, fighting invaders with laser cannons.
Need more? Now you can combine a Disneyland visit and cruise.
Disney Cruise Line will sail out of Los Angeles this summer, the first time a Disney ship has been based on the West Coast. Seven-night sailings go from L.A. to Mexican ports, including Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas.
Want to join in Disneyland's 50th birthday? Here are some things to know:
Disneyland is in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles. The closest airport is Orange County's John Wayne Airport, about a 20-minute drive.
Packages that include airfare, hotel and theme-park passes usually are the most economical way to go. They're offered through airlines, by Disney, by online travel companies and through travel agents.
Staying within walking distance of the park is the most convenient, although hotels a few miles from Disneyland may be cheaper and usually have van shuttles to Disneyland.
Disney's own hotels, including the Grand Californian within the California Adventure theme park, are the most convenient and have nice pools but can be pricey. There's a string of more budget-friendly hotels within a five- to 10-minute walk of Disneyland along South Harbor Boulevard, including a Howard Johnson, Carousel Inn and Candy Cane Inn.
For hotel listings and information, contact the Anaheim Convention and Visitors Bureau: 714-765-8888; www.anaheimoc .org.
Some rides and attractions are closed for refurbishment before the 50th anniversary; others close for regular maintenance. Check what will be closed during your visit by going to the Disneyland Web site, www.disneyland .com, and clicking on "calendar." You'll get parade and event times plus a list of what's closed for refurbishment during each day of your visit. Or phone Disneyland at 714-781-4565, then press "1" for Disneyland and press "5" for recorded information on closures.
Get to the park as early as you can in the morning to beat the crowds. Those with certain Park Hopper passes and guests at Disney-owned hotels can get in an hour or more before Disneyland / California Adventure opens to the general public.
Make use of the FastPass ticket system, which assigns you a time for some of the most popular rides; it's a great way to avoid the main lines.
If it rains, make a beeline for the park. Lots of locals stay home in dreary weather.
For more information about Disneyland:
Disneyland general information: 714-781-4565; www. disneyland.com.
An online forum for theme-park fans, with useful tips on visiting Disneyland, is www.theme parkinsider.com. The travelers' Web forum at www.tripadvisor .com also has good tips on Disneyland.
Helpful guidebooks include Birnbaum's Disneyland Resort 2005 (Birnbaum Publishing, $14.95) and The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2005 (by Bob Sehlinger, $15.99, John Wiley & Sons).