In the 60 plus years of the history of the Happiest Place on Earth, over a billion visitors have passed through the gates of the park. From opening day on July 17, 1955 all the way through to today, there are great many celebrities and VIPs that have visited Disneyland. Movie stars, politicians, world class athletes, musicians have all sought out the park for a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
If you’ve ever spotted a celebrity at Disneyland, you’ll notice their party is usually being escorted by the red and blue plaid vests wearing VIP guides. Well, those VIPs guides aren’t free. Like everything in the Magic Kingdom, it’ll cost ya–a lot. Depending on the time of year, VIP service can cost between $360-500 per hour. So, a typical 8-hour day in Disneyland in peak season might set you back 4 grand or so just for your VIP guide alone! That’s before the cost of admission for family and friends and a few churros and turkey legs.
While it’s true that celebs do get “expedited access” to the park’s attractions, there are a number of perks they aren’t automatically entitled to just because they’re a household name. Take the ultra-exclusive Club 33 for example: Even if you’re a member of the invitation-only organization, you still need to call and make reservations for the day of your visit. There may be a few exceptions to this policy (Johnny Depp and other Disney mega-earners are squeezed in) but as a rule, there’s no table waiting with your name on it.
Walt Disney was once asked why he didn’t run for President. He replied, “Why would I want to be President of the United States? I’m the King of Disneyland.” He did, however, begin a long tradition of inviting world leaders and several U.S. Presidents to the park, beginning in 1957 with Harry and Bess Truman. They took advantage of a few attractions but eschewed Dumbo the Flying Elephant reportedly because the lifelong democrat didn’t want to be photographed with a symbol of the Republican party.
One politician who was denied a visit to Disneyland was Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. During his eleven-day visit to the U.S. in 1959, Khrushchev expressed interest in seeing Disneyland while in Los Angeles. However, the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) chief declined to arrange such a trip because adequate security arrangements could not be made. In typical style, the Premier responded saying, “And I say, ‘I would very much like to go and see Disneyland.’ But then, we cannot guarantee your security, they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?”
Well, old Nikita was a rare exception in a rich history of iconic figures to be welcomed to Anaheim. From John F. Kennedy to Katy Perry, check out this collection of the famous figures to visit the park over the last six decades.
Michael visits Disneyland in 1980 for the taping of a television special featuring himself and legendary Hollywood singer/dancer Danny Kaye. Here he is being filmed with Mickey and Minnie.
On April 10, 1974, as part of ABC’s “The Sandy Duncan Show: Sandy in Disneyland,” The Jackson Five took part in a skit onboard a ship cruising the Disneyland waterways. Dressed as sailors, the group sang a Gilbert & Sullivan parody that led into a (prerecorded) medley of their two hit singles, “I Want You Back” and “A-B-C.”
Michael participated in a TV special for Disneyland’s 25th Anniversary in 1980, which was sponsored by Kraft. The theme park celebrated with a 25-hour party that started at midnight on July 18th and ended at 1 am on the 20th, 1980. Here Michael posed with Goofy.
Michael sang a medley of “When You Wish Upon A Star” that led in to “Ease On Down the Road” from “The Wiz” with a cast of Disney characters during Disney’s 25th Anniversary TV special in 1980.
Lucille Ball, best known as the star of “I Love Lucy,” was a frequent visitor to Disneyland. Photos from one of these trips in 1956 (just one year after the park opened) show Lucy with her son Desi Arnaz Jr. on the Fantasyland Carousel; with son Desi Jr. and daughter Lucie Arnaz spinning in the Fantasyland Teacups; and with Desi Jr. on one of the Disney boat rides. Desi Sr. was also with his family on this day, although not shown in any of the photos – he must have been taking them! Desi Sr. is said to have especially enjoyed riding the Astro Jets in Tomorrowland! Although Lucy had no direct connection with Disney, having never done any work for the Disney Studio, Lucy did know Walt Disney. Walt and Lucy were both guests on the Ed Sullivan Show on the same night in 1956.
As part of “The Grand Opening of Walt Disney World” TV special on NBC (which aired on October 29, 1971), Julie Andrews took the TV viewers on a tour of the new park when this special aired on “The Wonderful World of Disney.” Julie rode the Monorail into the new resort as she explains, “This is a place to stir the imagination and instill a sense of good for tomorrow.” Along with music, comedy, and variety acts by various celebrities , viewers got their first glimpse of the all-new Disney resort in Florida. Above Julie sings along to “It’s a Small World” when she rides the attraction during the TV special.
This photo, taken on Sophia Loren’s first visit to Disneyland with her family, captures the timeless style and elegance of the film star while she enjoys her birthday at the Happiest Place on Earth. When asked she said she enjoyed being with her family at the Magic Kingdom and that it was a “dream world.”
Here Andre the Giant picks up Minnie Mouse. All the Disney characters were said to have been thrilled by Andre’s visit. One employee was heard to have said, “He could be one of our attractions!”
George Harrison and Monty Python’s Eric Idle in Front of The Carousel In 1977
In 1983, Disneyland did a major renovation to Fantasyland. Shortly before its reopening, Disney aired a special on TV to promote the “new” attractions. Here, as part of the TV special, “Poltergeist” star Heather O’Rourke (playing herself) goes to Disneyland with her “older brother” who abandons her in the park to meet his girlfriend at the Haunted Mansion. Heather is befriended by Mickey and other Disney characters, and she is excited to meet them until she finds out that Fantasyland is closed until further notice. It is then that she meets up with Morey Amsterdam who gives her a preview of the “new” Fantasyland. Shots of the “land” under construction and some scenes from inside the Pinocchio ride are shown. The special ends with Heather “on trial” being questioned by some Disney villans about whether she is a believer in Disney Magic. Snow White comes to her rescue and convinces the villans that Heather is indeed a believer!
Joey Bishop and Jerry Lewis pretend to be looking for their “lost parents” on Disneyland’s Main Street in 1958.
Dick Van Dyke, who played Bert (and Mr. Dawes Sr) in “Mary Poppins,” always enjoyed visiting Disneyland. Here he is with his daughters at the Disneyland Hotel in the ‘60s. He is famously quoted as saying, “Walt Disney and I have always said we were two children looking for our inner adults!”
Elizabeth Taylor famously had love affairs with men and jewelry, but she also had one with Disneyland! Here she is on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride with Richard Burton in the 1960s.
In 1962 she visited the park with then-husband Eddie Fisher and sons Michael and Christopher Wilding. Here the group takes a popcorn break!
In July 1973, Liz visited Disneyland with adopted daughter Maria, son Christopher Wilding, and daughter Liza Todd. Here they take a picture with Mickey Mouse inside Club 33, Disney’s private restaurant and lounge for VIPs. This is the only venue inside Disneyland that serves alcohol!
In 1982, former US President Jimmy Carter attended a conference at the Disneyland Hotel. While on site, he took a running tour of the park with his security detail. He was and still is the only US President to visit Disneyland by jogging through it!
The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, pursued by autograph seekers through Tomorrowland in the 1960s.
In the 1970s, Lisa Whelchel (Blair from “The Facts of Life”) celebrated her 16th birthday at Disneyland. Here she rides the Matterhorn Bobsleds with “bestie” Brooke Shields and other friends.
In 1961, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Disneyland with his family. Here, the President pauses for a photo with wife Mamie aboard the Disneyland fire engine.
This photo of Laurence Olivier – who is widely regarded as the greatest actor of the 20th century – with Mickey Mouse was taken in August 1976. It was shot inside Disneyland City Hall as Mr. Olivier signed the Disneyland Guest Book during his only known visit to the park.
Another British Actor, Michael Caine and friend, visit Disneyland’s New Orleans Square in the 1970s.
Former President Harry S. Truman and wife Bess visited Disneyland in 1957, here riding the Disneyland Street Car. Truman (a staunch Democrat) playfully refused to go on the Dumbo ride during his visit because of the Republican symbolism associated with the elephant-themed attraction!
President Nixon is considered the biggest Disney fan of all the Presidents. He evidently holds the record for the most visits to Disneyland by any US President. Walt Disney referred to him as, “My friend, Dick Nixon.” Here as Vice President, he and his family dedicate the Disneyland Monorail System in 1959.
Actor and comedian Steve Martin worked at Disneyland on weekends and summer breaks from school in the late 1950s. He began by selling guidebooks to Disneyland visitors, and then later worked in the Magic and Joke Shop on Main Street where he performed magic tricks for his appreciative customers!
Anaheim native Gwen Stefani and her 3 sons – Apollo, Kingston, and Zuma – spent a day at Disneyland in November 2015. The group toured the park with a guide, checked out the rides, and stopped to grab churros. Here the singer shares a moment with villain Darth Vader.
In a 1970 TV episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” the script is that the Osmond brothers and actor Kurt Russell come to Disneyland to perform at a show being held there. Donny and Jay wander off to explore the park, and the fun ensues when – worried that they will miss the performance – the rest of the cast tries to find them before it is too late. Later in the episode, Kurt Russell gives viewers an inside look at the Haunted Mansion which had just recently opened in 1969. Above, the cast takes a break from filming and perches on the wall in front of the Haunted Mansion.
Prior to the release of “Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Men Tell No Tales” in 2017, some lucky Disneyland park guests got the surprise of their lives when Johnny Depp, as Captain Jack Sparrow, delighted them aboard the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, which had recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.
Here, again portraying Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp talks to fans from the Pirates of the Caribbean balcony outside the ride.