In 1985, Tamia Richardson was a 14-year-old high school student when she walked through the turnstile at Disneyland and won a prize.
For the 30th anniversary of the theme park, Disneyland was running a promotional gimmick to give away gifts, including a new Cadillac, to the 30th visitor and every multiple of 30 thereafter. Tamia won the least expensive prize: a paper ticket emblazoned with the silhouette of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the words “Admit one to Disneyland.”
Fast-forward 34 years. Richardson, now a teacher and school counselor in Alberta, Canada, dug the dog-eared ticket out of a box of keepsakes and trekked to the park Thursday with her teenage daughters. To her surprise, the park accepted the ticket for free admission and exchanged it for a new daily pass with access to both Disneyland and California Adventure Park.
“I was a little nervous because it was an old ticket,” she said of her walk to the Disneyland ticket booth. “I was crossing my fingers.”
At the turnstile, a Disneyland employee had to call a manager to confirm that the pass was still valid. But ultimately, Richardson said, the ticket was accepted and she got into the park with her two daughters, 15 and 17.
Although the ticket was the least expensive prize given out during the promotion, it has significantly increased in value.
When Richardson won the ticket, the entrance price for Disneyland was only $16.50, with an extra charge for each attraction. Adjusted for inflation, the ticket should be worth $39.20, according to the inflation calculator for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But Disneyland admission prices have far outpaced inflation. A one-day ticket to the park during the peak summer months today costs $149, an 800% increase over the 1985 price. A pass to visit both parks in one day sells for $199 during the summer months, an increase of 1,100% over the original $16.50 ticket.
The 1985 yearlong promotion was billed by Disneyland as a $12-million “spectacular” to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the theme park.
Each 30th visitor was awarded a free ticket. Each 300th visitor got a plush Minnie or Mickey toy. Each 3,000th visitor was awarded a commemorative watch.
New American-made cars were awarded to the 30,000th and the 300,000th visitors, but the top prize was a Cadillac DeVille sedan for the 3 millionth visitor. At the time, a new Cadillac DeVille sold for a manufactured suggested retail price of about $18,500. A mint-condition DeVille sells today for about $10,200, a 45% drop in value, according to online car appraisers.
In the summer of 1985, Richardson had traveled from Alberta to spend vacation time with a friend of her mother’s in Santa Ana when she visited Disneyland on Aug. 27. She has returned to the theme park several times since but didn’t remember the old promotional ticket until she recently opened up boxes of old photos and mementos.
“I found it and I said, ‘I need to try to use it,’” she said.
Disneyland Resort has changed significantly since 1985. Disneyland has added and removed attractions over the years, creating whole new sections including Toontown in 1993 and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge this year. In 2001, California Adventure Park opened its gates.
Richardson said she was going to make good use of the free ticket, moving methodically from Fantasyland to Tomorrowland to Toontown. “We are trying to hit them all,” she said.