From the time the gates first opened nearly 33 years ago, Disneyland has been touted as "the happiest place on earth."

Well, it's time for a new nickname at least from now through May 22.How about "the hoppiest place on earth"?

A couple of weeks ago, Disneyland began a big "Blast to the Past" salute as a sort of cure for the post-winter, pre-summer tourism doldrums. And the place will be hopping literally with a Main Street Hop, a Disneyland Sock Hop, a daily Beach Party and other nostalgic entertainment as part of a nine-week tribute to the fads and fun, music and memorabilia of the 1950s and '60s.

The news media, including writers and deejays from throughout the West, got a sneak preview of the festivities recently at the Emerald of Anaheim Hotel and Disneyland's Videopolis disco.

Many of the media guests got an immediate feel for what to expect. My daughter and I were picked up at the airport not in the perfunctory Hollywood stretch limousine, but in a 1957 Ford convertible. The weather was great and the top was down. Later, in the hotel "hospitality suite," we were given complimentary Hula-Hoops. The vintage autos, by the way, came from National Car Rental's new "California Classics" fleet spiffy, mint-condition vehicles from the 1950s and '60s.

And the Hula-Hoop craze one of the biggest fads of the '50s is celebrating its 30th birthday this year (which is why Disneyland held a big Hula-Hoopathon recently with more than 1,500 participants in an effort to get the feat into the Guinness Book of Records).

Anyway, that evening, following a malt shop-style banquet burgers and fries instead of mystery meat and green beans we were transported from the hotel to Disneyland in school buses. Along for the ride were energetic Disney performers in '50s attire, involved in such high-school pranks (from 30 years ago) as tossing a frog back and forth and whispering "pass it on" rumors.

Then we were escorted through the park to Videopolis.

And there they were such 1950s stars as Clayton "Hi Yo, Silver!" Moore, Diane McBain, two of the Lennon Sisters, Peggy "I Will Follow Him" March, Marvin Kaplan, Gale "My Little Margie" Storm, Buddy Ebson, Edd (Kookie) Byrnes, Tina Cole, Mary Wells, Johnny Crawford, Cameron Clark and a slew of other celebrities doing the Stroll, the Mashed Potatoes and even the Limbo (a bit more of a strain 30 years later for some of these folks).

Well-known game show host Bob Eubanks was guest emcee, and there was a 30-minute performance by Roy Orbison, as talented and energetic as ever.

Every spring, Disneyland attempts to come up with a unique promotion to attract visitors to the park during what, for the Southern California tourism industry, is the off-peak season.

This year it's "Blast to the Past." And if you're into nostalgia, this might be the time to consider an off-season visit to Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

Many Utah families, I've discovered, enjoy visiting Southern California during the off-peak times of year either in the spring or in the fall. There are advantages and disadvantages to visiting Disneyland then, rather than battling the summer crowds.

It's one of those good news/bad news situations.

On the plus side: Lines are considerably shorter. The weather, for the most part, is more pleasant. Nice and warm, not sweltering and hot. You're likely to find more economical lodging during the off-peak times as well.

But there are a few disadvantages to consider. Since spring and fall don't attract the big crowds, Disneyland utilizes this off-peak period to perform heavy maintenance on some of the busiest rides. Last fall, for instance, Pirates of the Caribbean was closed for renovation for several months. It's open again, now, with improved people-moving capabilities and one of the steep ride-through plunges softened somewhat.

But if you head for Disneyland within the next few weeks, you could find that Space Mountain another immensely popular attraction has the "closed" sign posted, while it undergoes some heavy-duty "rehab" work.

But, whatever time you go, I strongly recommend visiting Disneyland during the week. Try to avoid, if at all possible, going on Saturdays or Sundays.

The best option is a two- or three-day pass. The passes do save some money over the three days, and when your youngsters get cranky from walking, you won't feel guilty about going back to the motel for a short nap. (Just get your hands stamped and don't lose your dated "passports." You can re-enter the park again after the siesta.)

On the weekends, when local residents by the droves flock to Southern California's major parks, including Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, Magic Mountain and the beaches, it's best to avoid these places. Instead, visit some of the other area attractions museums, parks, maybe a shopping mall or two. Some shopping malls are almost theme parks, too, with the general theme being "shop 'til you drop."

But, if you do visit Disneyland on a Saturday or Sunday, you can beat the rush if you're clever.

Arrive at the park before it opens for the day. There's usually about a half-hour wait between the time the tickets go on sale and the gates into the park actually open. Getting there early gives you a bit of a headstart. If you're near the front of the pack when the gates open, make a beeline for the most popular sights. These include Star Tours (this year's hottest ride), Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, It's a Small World, Matterhorn Mountain, Captain EO and if it's open Space Mountain.

When my 14-year-old daughter and I visited Disneyland recently on a Saturday morning, we opted for riding Star Tours first and delaying breakfast until later. Wise decision. We had about a 30-minute wait in line and part of this was compensated for by the attention-grabbing pre-show activities once you get past the Star Tours entrance.

(If you pay attention on your way down the ramp, you might pick up on some of the clever, tongue-in-cheek touches in this joint Disney-George Lucas creation. A mechanical-sounding voice announces periodically: "Will the owner of lunar landing modul with the license plate THX-1138 please go the parking lot. Your lights are on." That license plate number was the title of Lucas' 1971 movie about life in a futuristic society.)

But by the time we left the Star Tours attraction, the line outside had a warning sign posted declaring that there was a two-hour wait from that point.

When you spend as much as $21.50 for a one-day adult pass (although there are some discount packages if you look for them), time certainly adds up to money. You can virtually see the little imaginary dollar signs floating down the drain when you spend 120 precious minutes just standing in line.

There are also several Disneyland attractions that usually have shorter queues. My personal favorite is PSA's Circle-Vision 360 theater, with two spectactular travelogues: "Wonders of China," which runs until about 1:30 p.m. daily, followed by "American Journeys" during the rest of the day and into the night.

Or browse around the quaint, turn-of-the-century buildings along Main Street USA. Visit the "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln" exhibit, or spend a few moments out of the sun in the Main Street Cinema, which has six different silent cartoons running simultaneously.

Disneyland is comprised of seven different themed areas: Main Street, Adventureland, New Orleans Square, Bear Country, Frontierland, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. Each area has several interesting places to visit in addition to the major attractions.

As we write this, the popular Bear Country Jamboree and the park-encircling Disneyland Railroad are both closed, due to construction of the park's newest major project: Splash Mountain, a log-flume experience, scheduled to make its debut this summer. Another popular exhibit, the America Sings show featuring dozens of singing and dancing Audio-Animatronic performers, will close permanently soon if it hasn't already. The characters are being recycled to various parts of Splash Mountain.

The Swiss Family Treehouse (Adventureland), the "Art of Disneyland" gallery collection (New Orleans Square), the Mark Twain sternwheeler and Columbia sailing ship replicas, the rafts to Tom Sawyer Island (all in Frontierland), several children's attractions in Fantasyland, and the monorail might be some other options for things to do if lines are too long elsewhere.

Although Disneyland isn't touting them as such, both the Circle-Vision productions and the big-screen "Captain EO," featuring Michael Jackson, fit right into the current "Blast to the Past" scheme of things. They both have roots in two Hollywood phenomena of the 1950s Cinerama and 3-D.

"Captain EO," which premiered last year, is still drawing big crowds into the Kodak Magic Eye Theater. Essentially, it's a grown-up "video" with Jackson dancing his way through a fast-paced adventure. Shades of "Bwana Devil," "House of Wax" and dozens of other 3-D films of the '50s! And in this case those "shades" are the Polaroid glasses patrons don when they enter the theater. The lights dim and suddenly the theater comes to life with lasers and strange creatures bouncing right into your lap. It's great fun, although Jackson will never replace Harrison Ford as a macho adventurer.

Circle-Vision 360 is an awesome, mind-boggling experience that brings back memories of the old three-camera Cinerama process. Disney has taken the same concept and expanded it considerably. Nine curved screens, separated by just enough space to let each projector shine through, completely encircle the large room. The "American Journeys" trek takes viewers from the bright lights and excitement of New York City to the colorful, fall-tinted hills of New England, across the sprawling grain fields of the Midwest, to the ski slopes of the Mountain West and across the Pacific to the golden beaches of Hawaii.

Meanwhile . . . back at "Blast to the Past" . . .

From now through May 22 there'll be several daily and/or frequently scheduled '50s-style activities in the park. (Upon entering the park, each patron receives a schedule of that day's featured entertainment.)

Some of the biggest stars of the '50s and '60s will be showcased in concerts until the "Blast" ends. They include the Four Tops, the Gary U.S. Bonds, Chuck Berry, Little Anthony, Frankie Avalon, the Ventures, the Righteous Brothers, the Platters, the Olympics, Bo Diddley, Del Shannon, the Spinners and Paul Revere and the Raiders.

Several reconditioned cars from National Car Rental's "California Classics" collection are being displayed throughout the park.

As part of a nine-week trivia game contest and giveaway, five 1950s automobiles will be awarded as grand prizes.

Other regularly scheduled activities include:

The "Blast to the Past" parade down Main Street USA and around the Town Square. As oversized juke boxes are wheeled down the street, a troupe of energetic Disney performers decked out in '50s attire billowing, poodle-embroidered skirts and pony tails on the girls, bright letterman-style sweaters and Levi's for the boys dance their way around them.

(The park's traditional favorite, the Main Street Electrical Parade, will resume this summer.)

The Main Street Hop. For the media kickoff, this was staged as a late-night affair. I got all excited. Both my daughter and I thought the big "D" on the athletic sweaters stood for Davis High out in Kaysville where we live. Wow! That's neat! Then as a hint of just how late it must've really been it dawned on us, the "D" was, naturally, for good old Disney High.

The "Everybody's Rockin' with Goofy" show, in which the Carnation Plaza Gardens is transformed into Goofy's Malt Shop. A bevy of Disney characters relives their '50s days, providing some rock 'n' rollicking entertainment.

Pep Rally. This is a Monday-through-Friday "Homecoming" event featuring the high-stepping Disney High Pep Band marching its way throughout the park.

The Beach Party. A daily, surf's up show, complete with palm trees, a sandy beach and live music in a specially designed 1960s Beach Party setting near the Small World area. Annette Funicello won't be there (unless she happens to show up on her own), but there'll be live surfer music by such groups as Papa Doo Run Run or the Six T's.

The Rainbow Diner (a.k.a. Tomorrowland Terrace), temporarily refurbished as a nostalgic "malt shop" setting for burgers and fries. While there, diners enjoy music from the '50s.

The Disneyland Sock Hop at Videopolis. On weekends, this high-tech disco/amphitheater will feature a variety of 1950s and '60s entertainment. Even the videos will have a nostalgic look to them compiled from bits and pieces of Grade B horror and action movies genuine "previews of coming attractions" from such memorable (??) films as "It Conquered the World," featuring Beverly Garland, and "Hellcats of the Navy," which brought resounding cheers from the crowd when it glimpsed Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis, interspersed with some really bad (and laugh-producing) film clips from educational films about proper teenage etiquette.

Disneyland is open seven days a week. Regular one-day passports are $21.50 for adults or $16.50 for children from 3-11 years of age.

Special multi-day passports during the "Blast to the Past" celebration are priced at $31.50 and $26.50 (two days for adults or children), or $41.50 and $36.50 (three days, adults/children) compared with the regular multi-day passport prices of $38.75 and $29.75 (two days) and $51.50 and $39.50 (three days).

A senior fun passport is available from September through June on Mondays through Fridays for those 60 and over for $17.25. Credit unions and travel agents also have special discount packages available.