Disney then stood at the gates of Disneyland and looked at the string of shoddy hotels that sprung up beside his creation. Disney should be an all-day experience. A Disney World was necessary.
That's what makes it a 'theme park'. Previous large-scale amusement parks didn't have central defining themes, though there were older examples of small-scale theme parks.
By modern standards, 'old timey carnival' might be a theme, but obviously it wasn't at the time.
Fairyland is magical in a specific sort of way Walt tried to capture. Many parts of the park are designed for young kids to go that are too small for parents to easily follow. Imagine being a kid and going through a tunnel coming out to a secret world with just other kids your age who are playing and inviting you to join, similar to Peter Pan. That's what it is like. Walt tried to capture this magic with Disneyland and has captured some of it, but it falls short in some ways. In other ways Disneyland is better, as it is enjoyable for all ages. Fairyland is designed for kids under the age of 13.
Ummm...not sure if this is really true or a myth propagated by Disney; Storytown USA (now Six Flags Great Escape) predates Disneyland by a year.
As the name suggests Storytown was similar to Disney in that is was story-themed: Mother Goose, Humpty Dumpty, Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, etc. Definitely not like a carnival at all.
EDIT: Also nearby was a Western themed amusement park called Frontier Town, which according to this source [of questionable reliability] http://vermonter.com/frontier-town/ was conceived 3 years before Disneyland opened.
DOUBLE EDIT: I just thought of an even older one, Santa's Workshop in Wilmington, New York (near Lake Placid) which is Christmas themed and opened in 1949. It already had its own post office by the time Disneyland opened.
It's also pretty remarkable that they finished the entire thing in a single year. For a modern comparison the new Star Wars expansion took 3 years to complete with just one working ride (the second ride will be open in December, so 3.5 years from construction start). I wonder if that's due to more relaxed laws surrounding construction back then or another factor.
Relaxed regulations back then will be a factor, both externally enforced and internal rules designed to stop past mistakes repeating.
Another significant consideration is the growing complexity of each individual installation. Also the higher expectations and attention to detail of the modern customer: you don't have the luxury of hiding a few flaws behind the spectacle of novelty, now such theme parks are no longer that novel.
I think what you're describing is a great example, checkout one of the classic rides, It's a Small World:
vs the new Smuggler's Run
An astounding leap forward in environmental storytelling, attention to detail, technology, etc.
Might be relaxed laws but not because we were cooler back then,more likely because we didn't know yet that some practices were dangerous.
My favorite bit: "Nearly all of the 36 cars on the Autopia, which Disney envisioned as a utopian miniature freeway on which children would learn respectful rules of the road, were wrecked by aggressive drivers who crashed into other vehicles."
We've never seen this happen anywhere else, have we?
This one caught my fancy. Did they discover the behavior by trial and error?
No city that I know of takes this approach. I’ve heard anecdotally of some cities striving for it. But I can’t imagine it being at the same level as the Disney culture
My first job out of high school was a summer cleaning restrooms at Disneyland. One important lesson I was taught then that I still apply as a software developer today: Don't just deodorize (i.e. mask the smell). Eliminate smells at their source.
Although, being a US citizen, I'll say that what I notice most when visiting Europe is that the graffiti seems 100x worse to my eyes in most European cities than in US cities. Italy seemed especially bad to me. It's like some child has drawn on the walls of Europe with crayons.
Another interesting point to me is Sydney, Australia. I had visited it as a child in the 80's and remembered a very grubby, dirty city. I visited again a couple years ago and found a beautiful, clean, enjoyable city.
Spoiler: ... ah, watch it yourself
But apparently in the late 1990s, Disney's website was so bad that they routinely had customers show up at one of their hotels at Disneyland (California) or Disney World (Florida) with paid reservations for the wrong hotel. And not just a different hotel at the same resort, but a hotel 3000 miles away!
Fixing the website would be much too expensive. Instead they kept a set of rooms free at each hotel for guests who were on the wrong side of the country, so they wouldn't ruin their vacation.
The always predictable marketing stunts to introduce the brand name in our brains in strategic days with any minor excuse (outrage in twitter, historical trivia...)