I have a wonderful job. I travel the world and talk to people about Disney. One of my favorite conversations is to ask folks about their favorite Disney park attraction. Popular choices include “it’s a small world,” Pirates of the Caribbean, and Peter Pan’s Flight. When I am asked about my favorite attraction, I often tease that it is Walt’s bench–the place where Walt would sit when taking his daughters to the merry-go-round at nearby Griffith Park. It was on this bench that Walt first dreamed of Disneyland, a place where “parents and children can have fun together.” I am a big believer in dreams. After all, where would the world be today without Walt’s dream, Disneyland?
But my favorite Disney ride is really Space Mountain. When I was recovering from a brain tumor and wasn’t allowed to ride anything for two years, it was Space Mountain that I missed the most and what I insisted on riding first when I was finally allowed to ride again on July 24, 2016. In fact, on that memorable morning I rode Space Mountain three times in a row before moving on to all of the other attractions that I had also missed during my two-year hiatus.
Space Mountain was envisioned by Walt Disney himself and started showing up on park maps as early as 1968. Unfortunately, the technology did not yet exist that would allow for multiple roller coaster cars on the same track, at the same time, in the dark. As such, we wouldn’t get our first Space Mountain until it opened at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in January 1975. This was just a few months after my first visit in August 1974 and I remember passing by its construction in Tomorrowland wishing tomorrow had already come so that I could ride this most anticipated attraction! A roller coaster, in the dark? Amazing!
A couple of years later I returned to Walt Disney World with my grandmother. True to Walt’s vision of a place where “parents and children can have fun together” my grandmother and I experienced a number of the tamer and more pedestrian attractions together—to include the short-lived Swan Boats that used to circle the moat around Cinderella Castle. What I looked forward to the most, however, was Space Mountain. I waited, patiently, in the two-hour line as a single rider while my grandmother shopped and strolled down Main Street, USA. There was no way she was going to subject herself to Disney’s latest and greatest E-ticket thrill ride. There was no way I was going to miss it!
Of course, forty years ago I had no idea that I would one day live in California, visit Disneyland more than 500 times, teach a college course on the history of Walt’s original Magic Kingdom, or travel the world using Walt and the World’s he created as a source of motivation and inspiration for each of us seeing our own dreams come true. On that day I was just a kid with an E-ticket in my pocket and a lump of excitement in my throat as I waited to board my rocket that would blast me off to the outer reaches of the galaxy. 10, 9, 8, 7….
That sense of anticipation fills our day at Disney. It can fuel our dreams as well. For example, Disney Legend John Hench was one of the lead designers for Space Mountain and believed in the project so much that he built a mocked-up model that sat on his desk for ten years while he waited for the technology to catch up with the concept. When it finally opened in 1975, Hench was on hand to watch the first couple board the first rocket and then, with great anticipation, raced over to the exit to watch their reaction as they re-entered Space Port ’75. They kissed the ground, thankful for their safe return, while Hench smiled in the shadows—satisfied in knowing that he had turned another one of Walt’s dreams into a reality.
Disneyland wouldn’t get its much-anticipated version of Space Mountain, the better version, until Memorial Day weekend of May 1977. On hand that day to take the first ride were six of the original seven Mercury astronauts. Ironically enough, Space Mountain at Disneyland opened the same weekend as another galaxy far, far away—the original Star Wars.
What is your favorite ride? What attraction do you most anticipate experiencing when planning your day at a Disney Park? Better yet, what dream are you currently working on that has you counting down with excitement? Anticipation?
I don’t see Disney as “the place where dreams come true.” Instead, I see it as the place that is showing you how to make your own dreams come true. In 1955 we needed Walt Disney and Disneyland. In 1975 we needed Space Mountain…at least the 13-year-old version of me did.
Today, we need you and your dream. Regardless of where you are in your journey I want to encourage you to shoot for the stars and enjoy the ride. I am standing in the shadows ready to celebrate your success.
Never Stop Dreaming!
Jeff Barnes is the best-selling author of The Wisdom of Walt: Leadership Lessons from the Happiest Place on Earth and Beyond the Wisdom of Walt: Life Lessons from the Most Magical Place on Earth. Known as Dr. Disneyland, he teaches the only accredited college course on the History of Disneyland. He is an international Disney motivational speaker, higher education administrator, university professor, and leadership/success coach.