This past March, I joined my sister, her husband, and their four-year-old son on a trip to Disneyland. It was my first visit to a Disney park in quite a while, and 20 years since being at Disneyland itself. So I was looking forward to some of the classic rides like Splash Mountain one more time and other old favorites. I was also obviously looking forward to riding scores of attractions I hadn't been on before.
Doing so reminded me of the joy of Disney parks: There is absolutely nothing that beats the first time you ride a Disney attraction.
It's a feeling I've had since my family first visited Disney World in 1984. Back then, attractions like Spaceship Earth, Horizons, and other parts of EPCOT Center were mind-blowing. There were also the thrills for the Mountains, Pirates, and all the rest. It took three years to go back when there wasn't too much new, so it felt good but not the same thrill.
Then, in January 1990, my family made a trip that included the first time for the MGM Studios and Wonders of Life, and that feeling overtook me again, the thrill of seeing this stuff and being amazed at what was then high-tech rides. Just a couple of months later, during a trip to California, we worked for a day at Disneyland, and Splash Mountain (back when it was the only version) was wild.
From 1991 to June of 1995, my family lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and took advantage of Florida resident deals to visit WDW a couple times a year. While great, there could be a sense of familiarity with some rides to rob me of that feeling. So I was happy we took a break from late 1993 to August of 1994 to enjoy a new Epcot and Tower of Terror opening, providing a fresh wave of "nothing like this has happened before" feelings.
Once we moved, WDW became a yearly trip for a while, and that made it more refreshing for new stuff around. 1998 was a big deal with the Animal Kingdom, and 1999 may be one of my fave trips ever: Winnie the Pooh, Buzz Lightyear, Rock n Roller Coaster, Kali River Rapids, Disney Quest/The West Side, and more to make it stand out.
The longer breaks of years between visits meant there was always something new when I went to Disney World and that pushed my love for it. As much as Disneyland fans may slam the early version of California Adventure, for a first-timer in 2003, experiencing an entire new park was sensational and my recent return saw it changed to feel fresher. Thus, spacing out visits to experience more new attractions is better than making a Disney park a constant visit.
Still keeping that feeling today
A shift has come thanks to YouTube, allowing you to see full ride-throughs of attractions. Back in the pre-Internet era, you could catch clips on TV and read about them, but nothing like being on the ride. Thus, so much of it was truly brand new for you, the first time seeing it from the AAs leading to the drop on Splash Mountain to how Body Wars worked.
That seems to have changed thanks to such videos putting you into that experience. But when I visited Disneyland this year, I realized those still pale next to the experience. As many times as I watched videos of Rise of the Resistance, that thrill from the queue to the ride itself made me feel like I was five years old again, spinning around and fully immersed in the experience. It was the same on Radiator Springs Racers, letting out whoops at the turns.
Videos can't capture the actual feeling of a ride itself, the wind in your hair, the music in your ears, seeing the environment whisk around you. It's one thing to recapture a ride you've been on before, and a fresher experience on a new attraction adds to it.
Even if the ride itself disappoints (like the 1999 redo of Journey into Imagination), it still had that feeling of newness and the anticipation for a good time. Sure, it could be a letdown now and then but when it worked (and more often than not it did), then it was beautiful.
It's not even the ride itself but the build-up in the lines. True, my family used the VIP tour to skip a lot of the lines, yet a couple we did wait for, and the excitement on what something like Spider-Man Webslingers or Mickey's Runaway Railway could feel like was palpable. It's something unique to Disney; somehow, other theme parks don't quite have that magical pull.
That's what made the Disneyland experience so remarkable and why I would love a return trip to WDW sometime soon. No matter your age, no matter how much you see videos of it, there's nothing like your first time on a new Disney ride, and that's magic that never goes away, and why there's always that kid inside you feeling the thrill?