New Fantasyland? Unlimited Passport? Gift Giver Extraordinaire? What do You Think was Most Interesting About 1981-1985 at Disneyland Park?

Heather Hust Rivera

by , Vice President, Consumer Products

We’re going back…waaay back to 1981 through 1985 in this week’s countdown to the 55th anniversary of Disneyland park.

Certainly, one of the biggest transformations at Disneyland in this half decade is the re imagining of Fantasyland in 1983. Kim Irvine, Director, Concept and Show Design at Walt Disney Imagineering, worked on the Fantasyland project in 1983.

Kim recalls, “I have worked on many Disneyland projects in my 35+ years with Walt Disney Imagineering, but one of my all time favorites was the new Fantasyland in 1983. John Hench had spoken often of the little fairytale village that Herb Ryman had originally drawn for Fantasyland, but apparently time and budget had constrained it to the jousting tournament tent facades that were ultimately built. Finally, here we were, 27 years later, creating that village that Walt had hoped for! It is a delightful collection of European styles from the English Tudor of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight to the Tyrolean charm of Pinocchio’s Daring Journey and Village Haus, but with lots of storybook charm and detail layered on top. Add King Arthur Carrousel in the middle and Dumbo the Flying Elephant in back, and you truly have a child’s fantasy world!

For a visual explanation of the changes to Fantasyland that Kim explains above, check out these photos of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride before and after the changes in 1983. (The photo on the left is from 1955, and the photo on the right shows how the attraction has looked since the changes in 1983).

 Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride  Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

1985Disneyland park’s 30th anniversary was celebrated in spectacular style. A gigantic machine called the Gift Giver Extraordinaire doled out thousands of prizes to guests as they entered the gates, including brand-new GM cars to every 30,000th guest; Disneyland park stayed open for a full 24 hours to mark the actual anniversary on July 17. A new version of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln premiered on Main Street, U.S.A., complete with an advanced Audio-Animatronics figure. Videopolis opened, bringing teens and young adults a place to dance the night away to the latest popular tunes. And for the first time in the park’s history, Disneyland park began operating 365 days a year (before this time, the Park was closed Mondays and Tuesdays in the off-season).

1984 – This year was a grab bag of special events and activities. Summer Olympic fever spread from Los Angeles to Disneyland park, and the pre-games Olympic Night Charity Benefit on May 24 brought in $600,000 to Team U.S.A. During the games, the park hosted hundreds of athletes on Olympic Spirit Weekends. Donald Duck finally got his due with a 50th Birthday Parade. The Magic Eye Theater replaced the Space Stage in Tomorrowland and premiered EPCOT Center’s Magic Journeys 3D film. Elsewhere in Tomorrowland, Circle-Vision 360 reopened with two new breathtaking films: “American Journeys” and “Wonders of China.” The Country Bears received a special Christmas makeover for the first time, and the New Fantasyland was finally complete with the opening of the refurbished Alice in Wonderland attraction.

1983 – Fantasy reigned in 1983, as a whole new version of Fantasyland was unveiled in May. The new land cast aside its old facades of tournament tents and banners and became the Fantasyland of Walt Disney’s imagination: a quaint little fairy-tale village, where the denizens of Disney’s classic animated features lived and thrived. Old classics like Snow White’s Adventures and Peter Pan Flight remained, but with new technology, slightly altered names (they were now Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Peter Pan’s Flight), and brand-new facades that stressed the distinct cultural origins of each characters’ story. A new adventure, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, joined the group. The whole Park celebrated the new Fantasyland with the aptly titled Flights of Fantasy Parade.

1982 – When Disneyland park first opened, guests used tickets to gain admission to individual attractions. Those tickets eventually gave way to the A–E coupons, which could be used for multiple attractions. All tickets were retired in June of 1982 and replaced with the Passport – an all-encompassing ticket providing unlimited access to all attractions and shows (except the arcades). In Frontierland, Disney Legend Wally Boag hung up his carpet bag and officially retired from the Golden Horseshoe Revue after more than 39,000 performances. The SuperSpeed Tunnel along the PeopleMover route received a futuristic makeover and became the World of Tron, showing highlights from Disney’s big summer film release, “Tron,” on massive circular screens.

1981 – The New Fantasyland was still two years away, but a project on par with that one developed in small scale along the banks of Storybook Land in June, 1981. All of the original miniature buildings and scenery details built for the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction in 1956 were removed and replaced with brand-new ones. Efforts were made to make the replicas as similar to the originals as possible, stressing even the most minute details. In this year, Disneyland park also welcomed its 200,000,000th guest: 26-year-old Gert Schelvis of Santa Barbara, California received a lifetime pass to Disneyland, as well as an assortment of goodies from the Park’s sponsors.

What do you think is most interesting about 1981-1985 at Disneyland park? If you have a favorite memory from these years, we want to hear that, too. Let us know in the comments.

This is the 6th post in this 11-part series. To find past posts, click on the “Countdown to 55” tag just below this post.


  • Yes the change from tickets to passes is definitely memorable. I remember being able to buy all days passes a couple years before they did the switchover.

    The Fantasyland makeover was great but one of my favorite places disappeared with the makeover. I miss being ale to buy Welches Grape drink at the park. It was located approximately where Pinnochio is now I think.

    For me the most memorable though has to be Videopolis opening in 1985. It opened up officially on my Grad Nite so we were the first group to really see this all new techonolgy and being able to dance all night.

  • I have a clear memory of using the A-E tickets and trying to decide how to use each of them up. I was only 5 at the time they were phased out so it’s fun to be able to date that memory.

  • 1985 The Gift Giver -I was five years old and so excited to go to our yearly trip to Disneyland. I remember it so clearly. I remember lots of excitement in the line as people were winning things. So there I went with a double fingers crossed (on both hands) and walked thru and someone said Congratulations! I was the only one in my family to win something! I won a Mickey Mouse watch which got mailed to me a few months later. I still have the brown package it came in with the watch inside. I never wanted to wear because I thought I would lose it.
    It would be nice it they did something like this again ~ I was there on Disneyland 50th birthday and all we got was a huge crowd!

  • It would have to be the unlimited passport for me. I remember as a child I was always saddened when my tickets were gone and we couldn’t afford to buy more. This was indeed a welcome change.

  • have there been other events like the 200,000,000th guest getting a life time pass for other guest number milestones

  • As “Fantastic” as Fantasyland became…I have to go with the “Passport”…it was heartbreaking and time consuming to have to pick and choose which rides to use your tickets on. The passport made the experience much more enjoyable. Disneyland is our favorite place to be !

  • So what is on those cast members backs? (in the photo on the left) Water for guests or bug spray?

  • New Fantasyland was a big deal, and has had a long-lasting effect on Disneyland and people’s perceptions of what theming should be like. But the 30th Anniversary Celebration’s parade song has stuck with me all these years (“30 Years of Magic (Magic!)…”), so I’m going to say that’s what most affected me! 🙂

  • Dan–Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is still at Disneyland in California. 🙂

  • Such a shame that it’s 2010 and WDW’s Fantasyland still basically looks like the picture on the left, just in color.

  • I miss Mr. Toad : (

  • #14 – Definitely the redesign of Fantasyland, is a big memory for me! Just look at the difference between the original Mr. Toad and the one that stands today!! So much more atmospheric than those original show buildings.

    Also, getting rid of the original ticket books, as well as the “Magic Key” tickets we used to get from the original Disney “club” (the name escapes me at the moment) we joined from work was a definite plus, since we didn’t have to care how many times we rode something, or if we had enough “E” or “Magic Key” tickets for everything we wanted to do.

    Before the passports, I have fond memories of going on “Bank of America” nights, when we’d basically have the park to ourselves, with a special ticket we wore on our shirt somewhere, so CMs could see we didn’t need to give them a ticket.

    Once they did away with the ticket books, I still had several tickets left, so I “sold” them back to Disneyland, when they gave us some cash amount for each ticket brought in towards that day’s admission ticket. I did keep a couple of “A” tickets as souvenirs, but I’m happy to have finally been able to purchase the commemorative “ticket book” notepads they’re selling for the 55th anniversary, since they recreated the A-E tickets for that.

    Thanks Heather for the trip down Memory Lane!! It’s been fun!

  • I was just a young mump when all this happened, but the thing that I believe affected me the most was the Tron are on the People Mover. I know that when Disney no longer used the PM, I was devastated…it was honestly one of the things I looked forward to on a trip to Disneyland.

    I will agree that the ticket change was definitely a big deal though. Haven’t had to use the old tickets, but I am sure I would have loved the change none the less.

  • It’s so hard to choose, But i think that the New Fantasyland would be it. It was finally bringing Walt’s dreams to life.

  • OH and of course I was there too.

  • The best thing had to be the ticket books being replaced with passports. My wife spent our Honeymoon at Disneyland in June of 82 and having Passports instead of ticket books made it that much more Magical.

  • Add me to the group saying the ulimited passport was the biggest change. I have a vague memory of the old Fantasyland, but the redesign would be a close second.

  • The 30th Anniversary and the updating of Fantasyland stand out to me in particular. During those years I was in High School and our band participated in many Disney events at the park. We marched out carrying banners thru the castle after the draw bridge was lowered during special nights for the reopening of Fantasyland. We also were a part of the 30th Anniversary television special. I must have been at the park 15-20 times a year with school and the free passports they gave us for performing there.

  • The Passport was definitely a great thing, and its awesome that they got to re-model Fantasyland, it still looks great today.

  • It’s hard to choose. I loved both of the changes. Fantasyland was so magical but with the Passport, life changed as we knew it. It’s wonderful how it lead up to the annual passport so my family can enjoy a whole day or just a nice evening at Disneyland most anytime we want.

  • I have to go with the unlimited passport as well-the fact that I didn’t have to pick which rides I would use my precious E tickets on and then always coming back home with A and B tickets still in my book-that was pretty amazing. As someone who has been going to Disneyland since it opened, the other thing that comes to mind was with the creation of the unlimited ticket came the creation of the long, long lines. Before that, a 15 minute wait to get on the Bobsled was considered a really long wait! So excited to see World of Color on Friday! Into a new era we go!

  • Although the ticket books are fun to think about and certainly trigger lots of fun memories of trips to Disneyland, it was a major thing when they eliminated the use of them. No more having to beg my parents to buy extra E tickets when we ran out, no more worrying about losing ticket books, no more feeling limited to going on favorite attractions only a certain amount of time. I loved (and still do) that I can go on any attraction I want however many times I want! It’s also better for the environment, if you think about it (how many trees are being saved, lol).

  • Skyfest (1985)

  • definitely the redesign of fantasyland…i mean i don’t know if it’s just me but when sitting near pinnochio’s daring journey and seeing the matterhorn tower over the big ben clock for peter pan i feel like i’m in another world!

  • The unlimited passport had to be the biggest thing. I remember my dad doling out the E tickets carefully. I do not think we ever used the A tickets. With advent of the passport we got to do whatever we wanted. Granted by that time I was going by myself and could decide what I did. I was in my 18 to early 20’s. Disneyland became a cool place to hangout at. Ahhh, the good old times.

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