When comparing the Disneyland Resort to Walt Disney World, one of the biggest differences that always comes up is that Disneyland was Walt’s park while Walt never lived to see Disney World completed. While this is true, that doesn’t mean you still can’t find Walt’s attractions and touches on the East Coast. So keep reading to discover just a few of many places where to find Walt at Disney World!
The Hub: One of the most popular places to take a photo at the Magic Kingdom is in front of the statue of Walt and Mickey with Cinderella Castle in the background. Known as the Partners Statue, it’s appropriately positioned at the center of the park known as the Hub, where paths branch off towards the different lands of the Magic Kingdom. Just seeing the statue at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. and at the park center brings it all back to Walt and his most famous creation, Mickey Mouse. The Hub has undergone some changes lately, but you can still find statuettes of other characters that contributed to Walt’s success, such as Goofy, Donald, Minnie, and more.
Main Street, USA: Did you know that you can find Walt even before you enter the Magic Kingdom? When approaching the park entrance, you will probably hear a train whistle and the clang of a bell from up above as a train pulls into Main Street Station. This is because Walt loved trains! The Main Street Train Station, along with Main Street, U.S.A, provides guests not just a look at what Walt’s creations, but what was in his heart. Trains were one of Walt’s hobbies and he spend his free time planning and constructing a miniature train that he and his guests could ride on in his backyard. He called it the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. Once you enter the park, you have to pass under the Main Street Train Station; but I encourage anyone who’s interested in learning about Walt to check it out. It’s filled with nods to railroad history and Walt’s passion for this vintage form of transportation. Main Street, USA was inspired after Walt’s hometown of Marceline, Missouri. Walt loved growing up in Marceline and wanted to recreate his memories of the town in his park. He even included a few odes to his family and Imagineers in the names found on the windows above the street. Fun Fact: Walt has two windows of his own. One of them is on the Main Street Train Station and faces out at the entrance while the other is above the Plaza Restaurant and faces Cinderella Castle!
Swiss Family Treehouse: This Adventureland walk-through treehouse was inspired by Walt Disney’s live action hit, The Swiss Family Robinson. Walt had this attraction built in Disneyland in 1962, granting guests the ability to explore the famous treehouse from the film. Disneyland’s version has long since been converted into Tarzan’s Treehouse, but Disney World’s Swiss Family Treehouse has been standing tall since opening day in 1971 as at testament to one of Walt’s best live-action flicks.
Peter Pan’s Flight: When I was growing up, Peter Pan’s Flight was my favorite attraction. I couldn’t get enough of it! Little did I know then that Peter Pan’s Flight had been delighting kids just like me since 1955. Peter Pan’s Flight was one of Disneyland’s opening day attractions, and naturally was also an opening attraction at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom too in 1971; and if you’ve been to either park lately, you know that it still fills up the lines. Peter Pan’s Flight is an example of how Walt thought differently in that the ride vehicles run on a track on the ceiling instead of on the ground. I have also always thought that Walt Disney was a kind of Peter Pan, and his parks are Neverland, where everyone is a kid and no one has to grow up! What do you think?
Nightly Entertainment: Each night, the Magic Kingdom puts on two incredible shows: Celebrate the Magic and Wishes Nighttime Spectacular. Celebrate the Magic is a projection show on the castle featuring Disney music and Disney characters and some pretty cool effects; but it also features a little clip of Walt himself! Be sure to look for it. However, be aware that Disney updates the show quite often.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover: So this is one of my all-time favorite Disney World attractions! The Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover is a breezy, 10 minute elevated tram ride that serves as a kind of tour above Tomorrowland, along with glimpses inside of a few Tomorrowland attractions. It’s a simple attraction, but a fan favorite and rich with Disney history. You see, Walt had an interest in solving the problems of the day, particularly in urban areas, and he believed that the PeopleMover would be a solution to some of America’s transportation woes. Disneyland’s version of the PeopleMover is no longer open, but Disney World’s version is still whisking guests above Tomorrowland and is a living example of Walt’s desire to improve everyday life.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room: Did you know that Walt originally planned for the Tiki Room to be a restaurant? Audio-animatronics were brand new, and the concept of using them to entertain guests bloomed until the restaurant plan was scrapped in exchange for a full show! When the Tiki Room opened at Disney World, it offered a slightly different version than Disneyland’s. Disney World then offered a new version for a number of years; but it just couldn’t beat the original and thankfully, the Tiki Room is now back to it’s original state and bears Walt’s name. While some guests may skip the Tiki Room or consider it outdated, it really is one of Walt’s ideas and passions come to life. Walt viewed audio-animatronics as a new form of animation, where characters are tangible and dimensional. Without Walt’s Tiki Room, we wouldn’t have the realistic dwarfs in the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train attraction today.
“it’s a small world”: This attraction is somewhat infamous to adults due to it’s well-known, repeating song, but no one can deny that it’s an icon and big part of Disney history. This sweet attraction was built for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and in somewhat of a rush! Walt decided that the Imagineers would create an attraction for UNICEF, despite the fact that the fair’s opening was rapidly approaching; but, as we now know, it became one of the most popular attractions at the fair and later the parks! Walt’s had his legendary songwriting team, the Sherman Brothers, write the iconic song which perfectly captures the message that Walt wanted to relay through this colorful cruise, which is that we’re not all that different and it really is a small world after all. Today, Walt’s message can be heard around the world as “it’s a small world” can be found in each and every Disney Park.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Walt’s original idea for the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction was a walk-through wax museum; but Walt’s idea grew and grew, as they had tendency to do, into one of the most popular theme park attractions ever! Sadly, Walt passed away before Pirates of the Caribbean opened; but it is considered the last attraction he oversaw and makes one wonder what he could’ve created had he lived longer. When the Pirates of the Caribbean films became huge hits, Imagineers decided to let the films inspire the attractions with additions such as audio-animatronic Captain Jack Sparrows, but all without changing the beloved classic attraction’s story. I think this change is something Walt would’ve approved of. He never wanted his parks or attraction to stay the same, but to always be improved and enhanced. That’s why this attraction is just another place where you can find Walt at Disney World.
Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream: At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there is a special tribute to Walt known as Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. It’s my favorite place to learn about Walt and to brush up on my Disney history. It’s a walk-through museum that tells the story of Walt’s life and the Disney Company with impressive displays, artifacts, models, and a film. If you’re a Disney Historian, or just a fan of Walt, or if you don’t know much about Walt at all, I strongly encourage you to carve out some time in your day at Hollywood Studios to check out Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream!
Jungle Cruise: The Jungle Cruise was intended to be an outlet in the Disneyland Park for Walt’s True-Life Adventure Series, along with a dash of thrill and adventure inspired from the classic film, The African Queen. The Jungle Cruise has been a fixture in both Disneyland and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom since their opening days and has evolved throughout the decades into the loveable corny tour of the rivers of the world that we now know. But back in the day, there were stories about how Walt would ride the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland to time the ride’s length and see what could be improved. Even though Walt never had the chance to ride the Jungle Cruise at Disney World, his goal of improving and enhancing the attraction has continued. In the past few years, Disney World’s Jungle Cruise has been offering a holiday overlay known as the Jingle Cruise and even looks to get a restaurant inspired by its famous Skippers! Personally, I think Walt would be pleased.
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress: In Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom, I can always find Walt at Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress. It was one of the handful of attractions that first debuted at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It was a huge hit because it rotated the audience around the stage as audio-animatronics showcased progress and technology from decades past and even a glimpse at what might be possible in the future. Not only did this attraction come from Walt, but it illustrates how he thought. You see, Walt had a passion for both the past and the future. He wanted to celebrate and bring to life the best of yesterday, but also keep looking forward at how our lives could be improved for tomorrow. Whenever I enjoy a gentle spin on the Carousel of Progress, I can’t help but think that John, the attraction’s family man host, is a lot like Walt.
Hall of Presidents: At the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, you can experience one of Walt’s ideas come to life: the Hall of Presidents. Years ago, Walt had an idea for a new Disneyland show. He was going to call it One Nation Under God and it would feature the American Presidents. Unfortunately, the show never worked out but Walt did get a smaller version of it in the form of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair. When Liberty Square was being planned for Walt Disney World, Imagineers thought that technology had caught up with Walt’s original idea and created The Hall of Presidents. It’s just proof that Walt’s dreams outlived him!
Prince Charming Regal Carousel: It’s been said that Walt first had the idea for Disneyland while sitting on a bench and watching his daughters, Diane and Sharon, ride a carousel during their special afternoons together. As they rode, he dreamt of a place where both kids and parents could play together. It’s no surprise then that there is a carousel right in the middle of Fantasyland. It’s the inspiration that started it all!
The Monorail: When Walt was in Europe doing research for a film, he saw a new type of transportation in Germany. It was a single-rail, bullet train and he just had to have one for Disneyland. As I’ve said, Walt had an interest in improving transportation in America and he planned to have Monorails in his working city of EPCOT. For me, a trip to Disney World isn’t complete without a ride on the Monorail and Walt was right, I would rather ride the Monorail than a bus any day!
Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe: Found in Liberty Square, this Colonial-inspired shop celebrates Christmas every day of the year as it’s home to a variety of Disney Christmas ornaments and décor. But what many guests don’t know is that there is a little homage to Walt’s family here. Outside one of the doors is a little wooden heart that reads Kepple, the last name of Walt’s grandparents!
Kilimanjaro Safaris: So I know what you’re thinking. Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris wasn’t one of Walt’s attractions. In fact, Animal Kingdom didn’t even open until 1998, more than thirty years after Walt’s death. Still, Kilimanjaro Safaris is an example of how Walt’s ideas aren’t gone, but rather still inspiring current and even future attractions and projects. You see, when Walt was planning the Jungle Cruise for Disneyland, he originally wanted live animals instead of audio-animatronics. Practicality won out in the end, but that ambitious idea was reborn when Imagineers planned and built Kilmanjaro Safaris, where guests experience what it’s like to go on a real African safari with live African wildlife to delight them at every turn.
Epcot: Formerly known as EPCOT Center, the Epcot park we know today was intended to be one of Walt’s biggest ideas ever. As I’ve said, Walt was intrigued by the future and new technology and had an interest in improving the problems Americans were facing in their cities. This gave rise to his plan for EPCOT, which stands for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. It was to be a real working city where new ideas and solutions would be implemented and serve as an example and testing ground for other cities. However, Walt passed away before it became a reality and Imagineers then had to figure out what to do. In the end, they decided to make Epcota park where guests could see new technology and a glimpse of the future in Future World, and then immerse themselves in other cultures in a World Fair set-up called the World Showcase. Clearly, this Epcot was not what Walt had envisioned, but his passion for the future and hope for a more peaceful world is still alive and well. But to really see what Walt had planned for his Epcot, hop aboard the WedWay PeopleMover at the Magic Kingdom where a model of his experimental city is still on display.
Weenies: A “Weenie” is what Walt called park icons or landmarks. Walt insisted that every park have “weenies” so that guests would have something drawing them in or to aid them in getting around without directions. It’s a simple, but genius concept. After all, what would the Magic Kingdom be like without the spires of Cinderella Castle or Tomorrowland’s Space Mountain? “Weenies” really do pull guests into different parts of the park, and Imagineers have followed Walt’s direction with constructing “Weenies” at all of Disney World’s other parks, such as Spaceship Earth at Epcot, The Great Movie Ride and Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios, and the Tree of Life at Animal Kingdom. Even Disney World’s water parks have “Weenies” as Typhoon Lagoon has Mount Mayday and the Miss Tilly and Blizzard Beach has the thrilling Summit Plummet water slide.
Mickey Mouse: Walt was the one said that “… that it was all started by a mouse.” Mickey Mouse was Walt’s first big success and without this little animated mouse, Walt never could have made his films or the parks. What many people don’t know is that Walt Disney provided the voice for Mickey, and some believed that Mickey was a lot like Walt himself. Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, made sure that Mickey Mouse was nearby when he gave the opening address on Disney World’s opening day as Mickey was the closest thing he had to Walt. Today, you can find Mickey at a number of places; but my personal favorite is at the Town Square Theater.
So even though Walt never saw Disney World become a reality, his ideas and dreams are still alive throughout the parks. I like to think that when I pass by the Magic Kingdom’s Jungle Cruise or Enchanted Tiki Room that he imagined them there when he dreamed up the park in his mind. Disneyland may be Walt’s park, but I think Disney World was his grand vision. Now there are many other ways to find Walt at Disney World that I didn’t mention and probably would have to write a book to include them all; but hopefully your future trips will be enriched now that you know where to find Walt!