Disney World resort tours are common at Disney Deluxe Resorts, highlighting their immersive themes and design elements. Some feature unique collections of artwork, some thoughtful tributes to architectural movements in history. But none of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer such a Disney-specific historical experience as The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour at the Disneyland Hotel.
The Disneyland Hotel, after all, has one simple theme: Disneyland Nostalgia. The Walt Disney Company turned three 1970s-era glass towers into a one-of-a-kind collection space for Disneyland concept art and vintage Disney photos, plus displays filled with maps, tickets, and trinkets. And just like at the theme parks, every design element, from the wallpaper inside to the trees outside, has been specially created to heighten the theme and create total immersion.
The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour helps guests see the stories being told by the towers and the central pool area. Within and without the Adventure, Fantasy, and Frontier towers, Disney fans will find tributes to three of the four opening-day lands from Disneyland. And out on the pool deck, you’ll find the fourth — Tomorrowland.
The tour guides explain the history of the resort that started out as Jack Wrather’s little hotel in the orange grove and, along the way, the history of Disneyland Park.
We all met at the Disneyland map mural that is the centerpiece of the Disneyland Hotel main lobby. I’d left the family out at the pool, and the only other tour participants were a couple from northern California. So although the tour guide handed out the usual earpieces/transmitters that are part of most Disney tours, they really weren’t necessary — it was nearly a one-on-one experience. This was fantastic for questions and getting deeper into subjects that aren’t necessarily on the tour.
Starting at the Disneyland map, the tour guide challenged us to figure out what year the map was from, using the attractions marked “under construction” as a guide. Once we started getting into in-depth conversations about World’s Fair dates and attractions, I knew this tour was perfect for Disney history fans like myself.
Tower by tower, we explored the theming and decoration that went into the different areas of the hotel. In the Adventure Tower, shrouded by palms and tropical foliage, we inspected the Jungle Cruise maquettes, cast from the original clay maquettes used by Imagineering to design animatronic animals.
In the Frontier Tower, we admired cactus and waited for an eruption from Old Unfaithful, based on the geyser from the old Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland… and the geyser lived up to its name, never once spouting. (I did catch it later.) We also found an ingenious tribute to Horseshoe Falls, which once cascaded in front of the Frontier Tower, and explored the attraction models inside the main lobby.
Walking the grounds, the tour guides pointed out remnants of Disneyland Hotel attractions of the past, such as a water show and a long-gone sand-bottom beach. We learned about the massive renovation Disney undertook upon purchasing the hotel, transforming a central marina into the tropical gardens and pools that the hotel boasts today.
Back in the Fantasy Tower, which houses the main lobby, we took a look at the Disneyland concept art and the Mary Blair-influenced designs on everything from the merchandise shop to the carpeting. Standing before a print of the original Disneyland ABC proposal map from Herb Ryman and Walt Disney’s infamous “lost weekend,” we took a few moments to discuss the astonishing rise of the company that brought us all together in that hotel that afternoon. It was a satisfying ending to a tour that brings to life the nostalgia and history of a hotel dedicated to Disneyland’s roots.
This tour is an essential for any Disney fan. Just being at Disneyland Hotel is an experience in Disneyland nostalgia, but to be able to discuss it with the tour guides was a wonderful chance to swap Disney lore and hear more about Walt and his team. The small tour group size meant there was plenty of time for extra questions as we walked. Because I used to work at the Polynesian, I wanted to know more about the obvious influence that the Polynesian Resort had on Disneyland Hotel, and we had a great conversation which isn’t part of the tour spiel–so be sure to ask!
The Disneyland Hotel Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour typically takes place on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 1 PM and lasts about one hour. It is free for Disneyland Resort hotel guests, including Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel guests – register with Guest Services to ensure a spot.