THEN AND NOW: How Disney parks have changed over the years

If it’s been a while since you last visited a Disney theme park, chances are that things have changed drastically. Even since 2018, Disney destinations in the US have undergone major alterations and renovations.

Parades in Walt Disney World, for example, are much more elaborate now than they were when the park first opened in 1965. And in Disneyland, the California theme park once sold merchandise that looked unlike anything you’ll find in the parks today.

From Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, to Disneyland in Tokyo, Japan, here’s how Disney parks around the world have changed over the years.


Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, had employees mount horses on opening day in 1955.

As people entered Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on opening day, those who walked through Sleeping Beauty’s castle were greeted by cast members dressed as knights. They were also mounted on horses.


You likely won’t find knights riding horses around Sleeping Beauty’s castle anymore.

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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is one of the main attractions in Disneyland Park.
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HarshLight/Flickr/Attribution License

Instead, the equine creatures are more commonly found leading street cars down Main Street. The park’s crowds and centerpiece castle, however, still remain.


The first monorail was built for Disneyland in 1959.

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The original monorail in 1959.
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The Enthusiast Network/Getty Images

According to Disneyland’s website, the monorail was “the first transportation system of its kind in America.”


Today, the monorail is a fan-favorite feature of Disneyland.

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A monorail decorated for Pixar Fest in April 2018.
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MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images

Not only is the monorail highly regarded among fans, but it’s also gotten some modern updates over the years. According to Disneyland’s website, current models of the train use a 600-volt DC power source,” which emit “no direct exhaust or pollutants into the atmosphere.”

The monorail also looks different than it did in the ’50s, though only on occasion. In April 2018, for example, the train was covered in photos of characters from “The Incredibles” to celebrate the locations first Pixar Fest.


Years later in the ’80s, Disneyland sold plush toys of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

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Mickey and Minnie Mouse toys sold at Disneyland in the 1980s.
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Francois LE DIASCORN/Getty Images

The toys clearly represented Disneyland’s mascots, though they didn’t look exactly like Walt Disney’s cartoons.


The stuffed animals currently sold at Disneyland look much more modern.

Of course, the theme park still sells plush toys of Minnie and Mickey Mouse, which look a lot more like their cartoon counterparts. But Disney also offers fan-favorites like Donald Duck, Pluto, and Goofy.


Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, opened in 1971.

At the time, the Florida destination housed one theme park, Magic Kingdom, and three nearby resorts: the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, and Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground.


Today, the Florida destination is home to four theme parks, a shopping center, multiple resorts, and tons of other attractions.

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From water parks to luxury resorts, Walt Disney World has tons of attractions.
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Disney

In 2019, travelers can visit four Disney theme parks in Florida: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. Parkgoers can also visit Disney’s shopping center, Disney Springs, and stay at a number of on-site resorts.

The destination is also home to two water parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.


Characters looked a lot different in the ’70s than they do now.

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Actress Daliah Lavi and children meet Winnie the Pooh in 1975.
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Peter Bischoff/Stringer/Getty Images

In 1975, for example, Winnie the Pooh had a honey pot on his head and his name written on his iconic red shirt.


Modern versions of the character look a lot more like the cartoon.

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Winnie the Pooh in Disney World in 2006.
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Darrell Taylor/Flickr/Attribution License

Winnie the Pooh no longer carries a honey pot throughout Disney World, and his shirt is now a solid red.


Minnie and Mickey Mouse also looked very different when Disney World opened.

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Minnie and Mickey Mouse walk through Disney World in 1972.
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Jonathan Blair/Getty Images

Rather than wearing a full bodysuit, Disney cast members who dressed as Minnie and Mickey Mouse appear to have worn regular clothes, shoes, and large masks of the characters.


Disney typically uses larger costumes today.

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Minnie and Mickey Mouse in 2008.
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Jeff Daly/Getty Images

Not only do current cast members wear mascot-style masks when dressing as Minnie and Mickey, but they also wear dresses and suits with padding, and large shoes.


When the park first opened, parades in Magic Kingdom were simple.

While Mickey Mouse sat atop a giant drum, other characters like Minnie Mouse, Dumbo, and Pluto followed behind him on foot.


Parades in Walt Disney World are a sight to behold in 2019.

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Mickey and Minnie Mouse during the Festival of Fantasy Parade in 2016.
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Sam Howzit/Flickr/Attribution License

Classic characters like Minnie and Mickey Mouse are still featured in Disney World parades, though they now ride detailed floats that often move, light up, and play music.


A skyway once sat above the Magic Kingdom theme park.

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A view of the Magic Kingdom Skyway in 1971.
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Ray Fisher/Getty Images

According to Yesterland, a blog about retired Disney attractions, the Skyway was one of the first rides built in Disney World in 1971, and could transport travelers from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland.


Today, you’ll have to walk from land to land in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom.

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By fall 2019, Disney World parkgoers will once again be able to ride a Skyliner.
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HarshLight/Flickr/Attribution License

The original Skyway shut down in November 1999 to “to keep the park exciting and fresh,” Yesterland reported. Twenty years later in 2019, parkgoers have to walk between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.

However, that won’t be the case for much longer. Starting in fall 2019, a new Disney World Skyliner will be opening that can transport visitors between Epcot, the Riviera Resort, the Caribbean Beach Resort, Hollywood Studios, the Pop Century Resort, and the Art of Animation Resort.


Rides like It’s a Small World were once extremely popular.

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People wait to ride It’s a Small World in 1971.
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Jonathan Blair/Getty Images

Disney Imagineers originally created It’s a Small World for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair, though it was later transferred to Disney World before opening day, according to Best of Orlando.

The boat-style ride takes visitors through rooms filled with singing dolls, all of which are meant to represent countries around the world.


In 2019, you probably won’t have to wait very long to ride It’s a Small World.

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Disney World parkgoers wait to ride It’s a Small World in 2015.
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Theme Park Tourist/Flickr/Attribution License

The ride is still beloved, but wait times rarely exceed 30 minutes, according to Touring Plans, which tracks the length of line queues at Disney theme parks.

However, this can change if you visit during one of Disney’s busier months.


The Mad Tea Party was originally an outdoor attraction in Magic Kingdom.

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Children ride the Mad Tea Party with Goofy in 1971.
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Jonathan Blair/Getty Images

Some parkgoers even got to ride alongside Goofy in the ’70s.


A roof now covers the ride, though it’s still technically outdoors.

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People ride the Mad Tea Party in 2012.
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Jeremy Thompson/Flickr/Attribution License

It’s also unlikely that park visitors will get the chance to ride any attraction alongside costumed characters in 2019.


Mickey Mouse Revue was once a popular attraction in Disney World’s Fantasyland.

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Animatronics inside the Mickey Mouse Revue attraction in 1971.
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Yale Joe/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

According to Fandom, Mickey Mouse Revue was an animatronic attraction found in Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland section between 1971 and 1980.

23 characters were included in the ride – such as Winnie the Pooh, Dumbo, the Mad Hatter, and Baloo – who “performed” classic Disney songs like “Whistle While You Work,” “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” “So This is Love,” and “Zipp-a-Dee-Do-Dah.”

Read more: 24 photos of old Disney World attractions we wish would come back


A similar but digital attraction has since replaced the Mickey Mouse Revue.

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Mickey’s PhilharMagic is slightly similar to the Mickey Mouse Revue.
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HarshLight/Flickr/Attribution License

Since 2003, Fantasyland has been home to Mickey’s PhilharMagic, a 10-minute-long show during which Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and other beloved characters perform songs like “Be Our Guest,” “You Can Fly,” and “Part of Your World.”

But while the attraction maintains the essence of Mickey Mouse Revue, this modern show is completely new and 4-D – the audience is even sprayed with water and surrounded by the smell of freshly-baked pies.


Country-themed characters once roamed Epcot’s World Showcase.

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A Disney employee wears a Royal Canadian Mounted Police costume in 1982.
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Michael SERRAILLIER/Getty Images

Epcot opened in October 1982, according to Smithsonian, and looked similar to the park today. It featured two sections – Future World and World Showcase – that were said to gave visitors a look at technology of the future, as well as a glimpse into countries around the world.

One feature of the World Showcase that particularly stood out were themed characters designed to look like stereotypes from the countries represented in the park. In the Canada pavilion, for example, employees dressed as Royal Canadian Mounted Police and wore giant masks with cartoon faces. However, it’s unclear how long Disney used these costumes.


Today, the only characters you’ll find in the World Showcase are those from classic Disney movies.

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The Canada pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase in 2016.
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Sam Howzit/Flickr/Attribution License

The current focus of Epcot’s World Showcase is to share the history, culture, and food,” of various nations with Disney visitors, according to Walt Disney World’s website. To do so, Disney offers multiple restaurants, rides, and attractions in each country’s pavilion.

And while you’ll no longer find costumed employees to represent each country, parkgoers can now meet characters from films like “Frozen” in the World Showcase.


When Epcot first opened in 1982, parkgoers could ride a double-decker bus around the World Showcase.

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A double-decker bus in Epcot’s World Showcase in 1982.
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Michael SERRAILLIER/Getty Images

According to Yesterland, the buses were driven slowly through crowds of visitors, and brought parkgoers to each pavilion in the park.


Epcot visitors now have to walk through the World Showcase.

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Disney parkgoers walk through the Italy pavilion in Epcot.
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Theme Park Tourist/Flickr/Attribution License

It’s unclear as to when Disney stopped offering bus service throughout the World Showcase, but visiting the area now requires a lot of walking.


Epcot was previously home to a rainbow tunnel that was beloved by visitors.

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A man and child stand in the rainbow tunnel in the ’80s.
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Francois LE DIASCORN/Getty Images

The tunnel was located in Epcot’s Imagination Pavilion, specifically in the ImageWorks play area above the original Journey Into Imagination ride, according to WDW News Today.

Each person who entered the tunnel was assigned a color, which would follow them as they walked through. WDW News Today also reported that the spot became especially popular after Michael Jackson was photographed there.


The Journey Into Imagination ride still exists, though it’s been altered, and no longer includes the rainbow tunnel.

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Disney parkgoers enter Journey Into Imagination with Figment.
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Theme Park Tourist/Flickr/Attribution License

Today, parkgoers can visit Journey Into Imagination with Figment, an updated version of the classic Epcot ride. However, they won’t be able to head upstairs and walk through the rainbow tunnel as it closed in 1998, according to WDW News Today.

However, it appears that Disney has plans to reintroduce the tunnel in a new section of the park. According to WDW News Today, the walkway is expected to be included in the upcoming Epcot Experience Center in The Odyssey, a new section that will be built in an abandoned pavilion.


In Tokyo Disneyland, parades were once a major spectacle.

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People crowd parade floats at Tokyo Disneyland in April 1991.
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Kurita KAKU/Getty Images

According to Japan Guide, Tokyo Disneyland opened in 1983, and was the first Disney destination built outside of the United States.

By 1991, parades were a fan-favorite part of the park and drew giant crowds. Visitors especially loved the park’s nighttime electrical parade, according to OLC Group, as well as its daytime version that featured floats and giant balloons.


Parades in Tokyo Disneyland are now much more relaxed.

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Tokyo Disneyland hosts a traditional Japanese Star Festival in 2008.
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Tatsuyuki TAYAMA/Getty Images

Parades in Tokyo Disneyland are still extremely popular, but fans now sit on sidewalks to view them. The park has also added new types of parades to its roster, like the Tanabata Greeting, which is a traditional Japanese ceremony that’s also known as the Star Festival.

According to Japan Guide, the event takes place each year on the seventh day of the seventh month when “according to a Chinese legend, the two stars Altair and Vega, which are usually separated from each other by the milky way, are able to meet.”

In honor of the occasion, Tokyo Disneyland has begun to host a celebratory parade, during which Minnie and Mickey Mouse are dressed as Altair and Vega, and sit atop rickshaws.


Disneyland Paris sold a lot of ’90s-style clothing when the park first opened.

According to the park’s website, Disneyland Paris opened in April 1992.

The park’s merchandise often reflected the decade, and featured large character prints and pops of bright colors on T-shirts.


Now, you can buy Disneyland Paris merchandise from the comfort of your home.

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It’s easier to purchase clothing from Disneyland Paris now than ever before.
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Shop Disney

Although you had to actually visit Disneyland Paris to purchase its clothing in the ’90s, the theme park now offers its merchandise on the ShopDisney website.

Themed merchandise from 2019 also looks much more fashionable than what was sold when the park first opened.