The other day, at Renaissance faire, I was puttering around in the back of the booth, possibly helping one of my kids with something. From the front of the booth, I heard a discussion about the phrase “E ticket ride.” Specifically, had Space Mountain actually been an E ticket? Were tickets still in use at the time? I came bursting through the wall to the back and declared that, in fact, yes! You see, Space Mountain was a ride that went in during the ’70s, and tickets were phased out in the ’80s. I apologized, said I’d seen the Trivia Sign go up, and went back to what I was doing.
I remember using tickets, though. And I remember my dad ditching us regularly to go ride on Space Mountain. And my memories don’t go back far enough and my dad didn’t live long enough for those memories not to intersect. I also remember all the infrastructure that stayed in place for years to support the ticket structure, long after the tickets were no longer in use.
The reason they stopped using tickets is pretty well documented—Magic Mountain didn’t use them and could use that as a selling point over Disneyland. What people talk about less is why they started at all. When the park opened, you bought admission and then paid individually for every ride. Within a few months, this shifted to buying a booklet of what Disney called coupons and using those to gain admission on rides and so forth. Naturally, you got more tickets for the less-popular rides. The system was originally A-B-C, then added D and eventually E.
But why? It certainly wasn’t popular; the reason for the tickets was, broadly, that people were complaining at being nickel-and-dimed. But why then charge for admission at all? Or, if you’re charging for admission, why charge for ride admission? Why, in short, the double charging?
At a guess? Because people were already used to paying that way at fairs. Currently, the Los Angeles County Fair gets you three ways—parking, admission, and rides. I wouldn’t be surprised if it did then, too. I’m getting less information about Coney Island, but of course I’ve also never been to Coney Island. Also, what I’m looking for is information about Coney Island seventy-five years ago. Still, though, this was not new to Disney. I suppose one of the reasons it made people angry was the inextricable linking of Disney parks and advertising—you pay to go into a Disney park to see things hyping Disney programming, after all, and that’s even before getting into sponsorship of rides and so forth.
Look, I’ve never claimed that Disney was perfect. Even before they were implicated in screwing up the Oscars, which they seem to have done. It just feels, sometimes, as though they’re every once in a while blamed for doing something everyone does. Which I suppose they tend to respond to by coming up with a way of doing it in a less blatant way? I don’t know.
I also suspect that the charging for admission was a way of limiting attendance on overcrowded days. I don’t know, though, if the cost of an average day at Disneyland changed after phasing out tickets. Buying a single E ticket, if I’m working this out correctly, would run you about three bucks today, so I wonder how much admission price plus a booklet of tickets plus spares would work out to at today’s prices, comparable to admission today.
Tickets haven’t been required for individual rides at Disneyland since 1982—if I’ve worked this out right, the last time we went to Disneyland with my dad would’ve been the first time we could just go on whatever ride we wanted to without planning what tickets we wanted to spend. I’m pretty sure it’s also the year he took us on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for the first time. It might have been because we didn’t have to give up Haunted Mansion or something for it, too. It does make me wonder how long the slang term will exist, since so few people remember tickets anymore.
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