We were lucky enough to attend the 50th anniversary celebration at Disneyland on July 17, 2005. The entire experience was incredible and was a once-in-a-lifetime event. However, reading about the 50th anniversary celebration at Walt Disney World, we could only think, “what a difference we had versus what we’ve read about on the other coast.” The California experience was one day of fun, food, and celebration. The Florida experience was over a year of merchandise sales and character costumes with little excitement and no special thank you or appreciation to fans celebrating the actual anniversary day. It seemed like more of a year-long money grab. To state it simply… Disneyland had a one-day party, while Disney World had a year-long sale.
February 2006 Park Tickets
To be fair, both parks had year-long celebrations. We went back to Disneyland in February 2006, and the paper park tickets were still showing the 50th Anniversary logo. And Disneyland also had a lot of merchandise for sale. But on the actual day of the celebration, comparing the two anniversaries seemed like night and day.
Hotel warning to guests for July 17, 2005
Free Gift for All 50th Anniversary Park Goers
We arrived in LA the night before Disneyland’s 50th anniversary, to find a note from our hotel (across the street from the main entrance). It stated that if we were lucky enough to already have tickets, and get into the park but decided to leave for any reason during the day, we might not get back in. We got up early the next morning to find over 18,000 people in front of us; this was an hour before the park even opened. In fact, it took over an hour and a half just to get inside the park. However, one of the first things we got when we entered the park was a free pair of golden Mickey ears! That’s right, every single person entering Disneyland on the big day got a set of ears. It was a golden sea of ears everywhere you looked all day. Were there any free items at all at WDW? Nope. Not a pin, not ears, not a gift souvenir to be had.
Free Golden Mickey Ears to All Disneyland 50th Anniversary Park Attendees
More Cake Than You Can Ever Eat!
And the golden Mickey ears weren’t the only free items of the day. Disneyland and Disney World like to create special treats commemorating any and all events. You see different cupcakes and Dole whips every month. But on Disneyland’s 50th anniversary day? They handed out FREE cake! Yes, you read that right! Every person in the park got not only a free piece of cake, but we were offered free cake ALL DAY! Every restaurant, every quick service, every bakery… you actually couldn’t get away from it. And by the end of the day we were ready to hurl. But when was the last time you got a free treat from Disney? This doesn’t count having to pay for entry into a special event. This was just for being in the park with regular admission on that special day.
Merchandise Focus vs. Thanking Guests for Being There
Was there merchandise for sale during Disneyland’s anniversary? Of course. Even with that many people in front of us in line to get in and thousands more waiting in line behind us, there was no trouble getting on any rides because most of the people were in line for merchandise or holding spots in front of the castle to hear the speeches later in the day. But Disneyland didn’t stress the merchandise above the celebration. And the free ears and cake just proved that point. At WDW, other than the merchandise for sale and some golden character statues scattered throughout the park, you wouldn’t know the anniversary day from any other in the year-long “celebration.”
Who was in charge of Disneyland back in 2005? Michael Eisner was leaving and Bob Iger was coming in, but the decision of what to do for the 50th anniversary celebration must have been planned under Eisner’s watch. Would any other CEO since Eisner give away free ears and cake? We don’t think so.
Disneyland Park Brochure July 17, 2005
Disneyland is coming up on its 70th anniversary in 2025, with the 65th missed due to the pandemic (see included link on how Disneyland celebrated its 65th anniversary during the pandemic… we always cry while watching it). Disneyland’s 65th Anniversary Video Do we think they will give away free cake again? Not likely. The type of celebrations now focus on character outfits and merchandise Disney can sell or specialty treats to purchase and take pictures of for Instagram. The days of true sharing in the celebration and thanking people just for being in the parks appear to be over. Will we get that age back again? Here’s hoping.