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The phrase E ticket (or E ticket ride) refers to the admission ticket system used at the Disneyland and Magic Kingdom theme parks before 1982, where the E ticket (officially termed "E coupon") admitted the bearer to the newest, most advanced, and/or most popular rides and attractions.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, visitors purchased an admission ticket to the park at the main gate booths and then purchased separate admission inside for each attraction. Less than three months after opening, Disney began selling "Value Books", each of which contained several of each coupon labeled "A" through "C", to supplement the pay-per-ride system. Attractions were then designated as "A", "B", or "C" attractions, and visitors needed to either purchase a specified coupon from a nearby booth or present the discount coupon book with the correct coupon attached. As determined by Disney, "A" attractions were the smallest or least popular, "B" attractions were more popular and/or more advanced, and "C" attractions were the most popular and/or most advanced. In 1956, Disney introduced the "D" designation for the most popular attractions and upgraded several former "C" attractions including Jungle Cruise to "D".
In June 1959, amid the completion of Disneyland's first major expansion, Disney introduced the "E" designation for the park's most popular attractions and made the new Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and Disneyland–Alweg Monorail "E" coupon attractions. Additionally, the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad, Rocket to the Moon, Rainbow Ridge Pack Mules, Rainbow Mountain Stage Coaches, Mark Twain Riverboat, Sailing Ship Columbia, Rafts to Tom Sawyer Island, and Jungle Cruise – all previously "D" rides – were upgraded to "E". "E" remained the highest attraction/coupon designation for over 20 years. Several "E" attractions were added throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971 the coupon system was duplicated at the Magic Kingdom when it opened.
The coupon system was gradually phased out with the introduction of unlimited use tickets beginning in the late 1970s. This was largely due to competition from Magic Mountain, which, when it opened in 1971, allowed its visitors unlimited use of its attractions after paying the admission fee. By June 1982 coupons vanished entirely and were replaced by the present-day system where main gate admission entitles visitors to all rides and attractions, excluding coin-operated arcades.
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Although they were officially called "coupons", visitors commonly referred to the admission media as "tickets", as they were often sold in "ticket books". This gave rise to the term "E ticket". Disney has continued to informally call its best attractions "E tickets", even those opened after the coupon system was discontinued, such as Splash Mountain, Indiana Jones Adventure, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, and Soarin' Over California. "E ticket" has survived the discontinuation of coupon admission at Disney theme parks and has transcended into the lexicon of popular culture.
In 1983, astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, when asked about the experience of a Space Shuttle launch, famously described it by saying: "Ever been to Disneyland? …That was definitely an E ticket!"
In her 1984 hit novelty song, "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun", Julie Brown describes homecoming queen Nancy's arrival on a float and wearing a tiara and pink chiffon gown as being "definitely an E ticket".
In the Early late 1980's and 1990's emerging rave culture the phrase "E-Ticket Ride" was a euphemism for a really good dose of Ecstasy or an exceptional rave event where one had a very good time while on MDMA
In 1993, parody recording artist "Weird Al" Yankovic compared a fictional visit to Jurassic Park to the Disney rides in the last chorus: "Well this sure ain't no E ticket; think I'll tell 'em where to stick it!"
From 1997 to 2004, Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom hosted "hard ticket" special events called E-Ride Nights, where a limited number of resort room guests (usually 5,000) were allowed to purchase special tickets that allowed them to stay in the park and ride some of the rides (typically those that had been, or would have been, E ticket rides) for an extra three hours after the park had closed to other guests. E-Ride Nights were eventually replaced with the Extra Magic Hours program, which is available as a free benefit for resort room guests.
The Remember... Dreams Come True fireworks show has been described in promotional materials as an "E Ticket in the Sky".
In 2007, Disneyland brought back the term "Disney's eTicket" for marketing its new Print at Home ticket option; this usage is a pun on the abbreviation for electronic ticket and the classic Disney usage of the term "E ticket".
The Disneyland Hotel's concierge lounge is named the E-Ticket Club and features historic photos and posters from Disneyland's E ticket attractions.
The 2010 video game Disney Epic Mickey uses E tickets as a form of in-game currency.