Yesterland “B” TicketAlice in Wonderland

The dark ride with the “leafy vine” track outside


 
Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Roger J. Runck, 1959, courtesy of Robin Runck

There are indoor Disney rides, outdoor Disney rides, and a few that are both. For example, the Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland enters a show building for its climactic Rainbow Caverns scene. And the Submarine Voyage is partially in a water-filled show building.


Disney dark rides, such as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, operate in the dark. Only their load areas see any daylight—with one exception.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Roger J. Runck, 1961, courtesy of Robin Runck

Caterpillar

Welcome to Alice in Wonderland, based on Walt Disney’s animated feature of the same name. In the 1951 movie and the 1865 fantasy novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Alice follows a white rabbit into the rabbit hole. Now it’s your turn.

Have a seat in a two-row caterpillar—possibly the most unusual looking ride vehicle ever to come out of WED Enterprises. You begin in a garden of giant fiberglass leaves. Shortly after you’re dispatched, you enter a black-light world featuring bizarre scenes such as the Upside Down Room and doors that keep getting smaller—smaller than you are—but you somehow fit through anyway.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Charles R. Lympany, circa 1958, courtesy of Chris Taylor

Construction at the Holiday Hill site adjacent to Alice in Wonderland

Your caterpillar vehicle exits from the show building onto a narrow ramp which resembles a series of leaves forming a vine. From your elevated vantage point, take a quick glance above the construction wall at the site where the mountain for the Matterhorn Bobsleds will soon rise.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Roger J. Runck, 1959, courtesy of Robin Runck

Almost floating in the air

The delicate-looking vine is hardly wider than your caterpillar. You quickly navigate a series of hairpin turns as you return to the load area—sort of like a real caterpillar sliding across the tops of leaves.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Roger J. Runck, 1961, courtesy of Robin Runck

Fiberglass landscaping

The narrow vine is flanked by oversized fiberglass foliage. There are some small shrubs at ground level, but there’s mainly gravel.

There are certainly no actual trees here.


Alice in Wonderland was one of two new attractions that opened at Disneyland on June 14, 1958. The other was the Columbia, a $300,000 replica of the first American ship to circumnavigate the globe.

A display ad for Disneyland in the Los Angeles Times (June 18, 1958) described the new Fantasyland ride:

NEW
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Join Alice in the wonderful, whimsical adventures that beckon inside the Rabbit Hole. Meet all the astounding characters… the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, even the Oversize Chamber and the Upside Down Room… it’s all here to delight and thrill you in this outstanding NEW attraction.

The park was not yet three years old.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2004

Looking better than ever in 2004

While it can be said that the original version of Alice in Wonderland has “gone to Yesterland,” the ride is still alive and well at Disneyland. There have been three major versions:

  1. The original 1958 version, which relied heavily on painted scenery and flat-board characters;
  2. The enhanced 1984 version, which opened one year after the rest of the 1983 New Fantasyland, with dimensional characters replacing the flat-board ones and with show scenes enhanced, rearranged, or replaced entirely (good bye, Upside Down Room);
  3. The 2014 version, which added sophisticated digital projections.
Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2004

A tree grows in Wonderland

The exterior changed too. The photos at the top of this article show Alice without a tree. Now an immense tree with an impressive trunk dominates the exterior. It’s not quite the size of the Swiss Family Treehouse—but this tree is real.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2007

Load area in 2007

And then there’s the story of the vine…

For more than 50 years, the winding vine defined the ride’s exterior. Other Fantasyland dark rides had tournament facades until 1982 and European village facades from 1983 onward. But Alice in Wonderland was always unique. The vine was the ride’s signature. For guests walking by, it was a delightful kinetic sculpture.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2004

Heading toward the finale

The first notable change to the vine came in 1984, but it was really about what came at the bottom of the vine, not about the vine itself. Where the track previously made a U-turn to the unload area, it now reentered the show building for an additional dark ride scene—the Unbirthday finale.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Timeless track

During the first half of July 2010, the vine was still about the same as in 1958.

Then, on Thursday, July 15, 2010—in the middle of Disneyland’s busy summer season and just days before the park’s 55th anniversary—Alice in Wonderland closed abruptly and unexpectedly.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2010

Busy summer day in 2010

The Los Angeles Times (“Disneyland’s Alice in Wonderland ride closed to install safety equipment,” by Hugo Martín, July 22, 2010) had this explanation:

One of Disneyland’s oldest attractions, the Alice in Wonderland ride, has been closed since last week while workers install safety barriers recommended by California work-safety inspectors. Park officials said they hope to reopen the ride in the next few weeks.

Disney officials said the Anaheim park voluntarily closed the ride July 15 after California Department of Occupational Safety and Health inspectors pointed out that it lacked handrails needed for maintenance crews who work on an elevated segment of the ride.

The Cal/OSHA inspectors were in the park on a separate matter and did not order closure of the ride, Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said. “We like to have all of our rides ready for our guests,” she said.

The ride remained closed for about a month.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Temporary fix

The Orange County Register (“Disney ride reopens after safety fix” by Eric Carpenter, Aug. 13, 2010) reported on the reopening:

The Alice in Wonderland ride at Disneyland reopened Friday after a monthlong closure to fix a potential safety hazard, park officials said.

The ride, in the Fantasyland area of the park, was shut starting July 15 so that crews could install a barrier along the outside, elevated track where the ride’s carriages travel. The barrier is intended to help prevent maintenance workers from falling off the ride’s track.

Disney said it voluntarily closed the ride to fix the potential problem.

The delicate vine would never be the same.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

No longer “floating”

There were not only railings on the elevated section, but the narrow track now had a wide floor beneath it. It changed the guest experience.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2013

Decorations

Although it was a temporary fix, an effort was made to dress up the railings with large leaves in a style that would match the ride. That didn’t prevent postings on Disney fan forums from using adjectives such as “ugly“ and “hideous” to describe the changes.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Permanent fix

Alice in Wonderland continued to operate with its temporary safety fixes until Disneyland’s closing time on March 9, 2014. After an extended refurbishment, the ride reopened July 4, 2014.

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Big improvement

Rails along the edge of the track allow maintenance employees to attach harnesses. Some parts of the track have permanent safety railings. Everything looks much better than the temporary fix.

For the rest of this article, let’s take a ride down the vine…

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Much wider than the original 1958 track

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Approaching the Unbirthday room

Alice in Wonderland at Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, 2014

Big tree Wonderland


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Updated October 24, 2014.