History of Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle

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Photo - Rikki NiblettWhile washing after dinner dishes, I allow my brain time to wander.

Re-reading that first sentence, it makes me sound exactly like Cinderella. Do I have a future of being a Disney Princess after all?! Ahem, anyway….

Often, my mind will start planning future vacations. Where does it go approximately 99% of the time?

Walt Disney World.

My imagination starts at the entrance of Magic Kingdom. I hear the whistle of the steam train and the smell of popcorn. As I walk past Main Street, U.S.A. (stopping to grab Starbucks because parenting), my eyes dart straight ahead to a beautiful structure. A magnificent place I can only ever dream to live inside of: Cinderella Castle.

New Beginnings

Four years after the 1955 opening of Disneyland in California, Walt had the itch to create a second park; one with more land to turn his dreams into reality. He settled on Orlando, Florida and began buying up property.

Unfortunately, Walt never got to see his vision come to fruition. After Walt’s death, Roy Disney came out of retirement to oversee the project in an effort to honor his brothers memory.

Construction began in 1967. Along with that came the idea to create another castle, much like Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland, to represent Magic Kingdom park.

Photo - Brian McNichols
Neuschwanstein, Bavaria

Cinderella Castle was not inspired by one specific castle, but about EIGHT! Here’s the list and please, let me know if you have visited any of these in the comments.

  • Fontainebleau, Versailles
  • Neuschwanstein, Bavaria
  • Alcázar of Segovia Castle, Segovia
  • Moszna Castle, Poland
  • Tyn Church in Prague, Czech Republic
  • Château de Chenonceau, France
  • Château de Pierrefonds, France
  • Château de Chambord, France
  • Château de Chaumont, France

Chief designer Herbert Ryman referenced the above, as well as the castle from the 1950 Disney film, Cinderella, to create plans for the model. Does his name sound familiar? It might as he also assisted on plans for Sleeping Beauty Castle. To read a history of the Disneyland castle, click here!

Construction

Plans were set into motion and after 18 months, the castle was completed in July of 1971. It measures 189 feet tall which is more than 100 feet taller than Sleeping Beauty castle! Ryman and the other designers wanted the castle tall enough to be seen from Seven Seas Lagoon so it would draw guests into the central hub of Magic Kingdom. From there, newcomers would have perfect access to the other lands.

Fun Fact: Ever wonder why the height is specifically 189 feet? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires warning lights at the top of any structure 200 feet or higher. Both Expedition Everest and Tower of Terror stand at 199 feet for this very reason. 

The structure is made of steel (600 tons!) and is secured to a concrete foundation. Although the exterior appears to be made out of bricks, it’s actually a fiber-reinforced gypsum plaster. Yeah…I don’t know what that is either, but apparently the entire building is strong enough to withstand hurricane winds up to 90-110 miles per hour. Fiberglass is found mainly in the upper towers and the roof is shingled in plastic similar to what computer monitors are shelled in.

Like it’s sister palace in California, Cinderella Castle was built using a technique called forced perspective. Features such as doors and windows are full-sized at ground level, but are sized down smaller and smaller the higher up the structure goes. It tricks the eye into thinking those features are farther away, thus creating the illusion of a taller and larger building.

Details

27 towers adorn the castle while 13 gargoyles surround the exterior. The outside was originally painted grey, blue and gold. However, alterations have been made over the years. For the 25th anniversary in 1996, the castle was turned into a pink birthday cake decorated with different kinds of candy. I think I’m the only one who actually appreciated the sugary sight for those 15 months but then again, I love the color pink in any form.

In 2006, the exterior colors were changed to off-white/pink, brown and with dark blue turrets. Three of those turrets are (and have always been) topped with 18-karat gold leaf.

 

Photo - DisneyThough the the castle itself is a spectacular sight to behold, it’s the the mosaic murals located through the castle archway that are truly splendid. Depicting the tale of Cinderella, the murals were designed by Disney artist Dorothea Redmond and crafted by mosaicist, Hanns-Joachim Scharff.

With a team of six people, it took almost two years to complete these 15 x 10 foot pieces. They contain 500 different colors and are made of venetian glass, smalti, silver and 14-karat gold. Next time you’re at Magic Kingdom, take the time to admire these true works of art. Note that in one scene, one step sisters face is red in anger while the others is green with envy. 

Photo - Keith Dahlgren

What’s Inside?

Cinderella’s Royal Table is housed within the castle. Yes, you can actually eat INSIDE the castle. It is such an amazing experience that includes a special wishing ceremony and the opportunity to meet several Disney Princesses (Read about my experience here)!

Note: Up until 1997, the restaurant was called King Stefan’s Banquet Hall. Why King Stefan invaded Cinderella’s castle when he could have just used his own is beyond me. Greedy, greedy.

A penthouse inside the castle was drawn up in castle design plans so Walt and his family could reside there while in Florida. After he died in 1966, it became a switch board operator center. However, it was renovated in 2005 and became a luxurious two bedroom guest suite.

Yes, as if eating inside wasn’t enough, those lucky few can actually spend the night inside the castle.

Spend. The. Night. In Cinderella Castle.

This dreamland contains a fireplace, beautiful mosaic pieces and French-inspired decor. What I wouldn’t give to step inside for even one minute…

Eye-Catching Entertainment

Photo - Angela DahlgrenIf you find a good spot, don’t miss the shows in front of the castle. While Cast Members sing and dance during delightful day shows, nighttime is when the castle really comes to life. Disney uses LED lighting, projection mapping and music to amaze guests with an incredible fireworks display. Seriously, it’s worth closing down the park to see the Wishes Nighttime Spectacular. On calm evenings, you may even see Tinkerbell fly down the castle toward Tomorrowland at about 15 miles per hour!

It’s this attention to detail that keeps guests coming back for more: More memories, more awe and wonder, more magic. No matter how many time I venture to Walt Disney World, I never tire of the stunning beautiful sight that is Cinderella Castle.

What is your favorite Disney castle? Let me know in the comments!

Angela Dahlgren

Angela is cohost of the TouringPlans Podcast and regular contributor to the TouringPlans YouTube channel. When she's not talking about the happiest place on earth, she spends her time entertaining her own little Minnie and Mickey Mouse. You can find her on twitter @AngelaDahlgren or via email - angela@touringplans.com

14 thoughts on “History of Walt Disney World’s Cinderella Castle

  • August 24, 2015 at 12:22 pm
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    My daughter and I were at WDW October 2012 doing some college visits and we have an almost exact same pic of the castle lit up in purple! It was a great mom/daughter time. We usually go to WDW each year as a family but that was the first time it was just the two of us! Lovely memories for us both!

    Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:45 pm
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      Kay Finley,

      You two sound like my Mom and I. So close and both Disney lovers.

      So glad you had a good time. Thanks for sharing!

      Angela

      Reply
  • August 24, 2015 at 4:17 pm
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    I had the pleasure of experiencing a Keys to the Kingdom tour last week and our guide, Megan, explained that the height of 189 feet was based on a then-height rule of 190 feet and greater requiring a red airplane-warning beacon. This has since been raised to 200 feet, explaining the greater height of ToT.

    Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:47 pm
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      Meredith,

      You are exactly correct (I chose to include the new height requirement instead of putting the old.)!

      I, too, went on the tour and it was incredible. Those five hours just flew by!

      Thanks for reading. 🙂

      Angela

      Reply
  • August 24, 2015 at 7:52 pm
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    I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Chenonceau & Chambord. You definitely feel like you’re in fairy tale, but then you remember these are the places the fairy tales are based upon. There is also Chataeu D’Usse, which inspired the original Sleeping Beauty tale (but not the DL castle). D’Usse has a recreation of the storyline using creepy mannequins and some Disney influence, it’s great!

    Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:50 pm
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      Aleksa,

      I can’t even imagine what it must have been like seeing those castles in person. What an overwhelming and awesome sight for you to see.

      Now that you mentioned the creepy mannequins, I’m definitely going to have to research this Chateau D’Usse even further. 😉

      Thanks for the comment!

      Angela

      Reply
  • August 25, 2015 at 10:46 am
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    I think your list of inspiration structures helps make a key point about comparing Disney castles: grandeur is not only measure of greatness. I grew up with Sleeping Beauty Castle and didn’t see Cinderella Castle until I was 10. Cinderella Castle is, of course, spectacular, but I get a little annoyed when those used to that castle pronounce Sleeping Beauty Castle disappointing. Sleeping Beauty Castle is *different* — its scale is appropriate for the denser Disneyland park and goes for charm instead of WOW. Is Chenonceau, which is not tall but beautifully spans the River Cher, less great than Neuschwanstein? I’ve been to both and I would say no — it’s different. Take the castles on their own terms and enjoy!

    Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:53 pm
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      Marmorgan,

      I completely agree. Not only is Sleeping Beauty castle smaller, but most don’t know it was designed that way on purpose! Designers wanted to give the park (and castle) an intimate and cozy feel, so they opted for a shorter height.

      Both castles are beautiful and both are absolute must-sees.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Angela

      Reply
  • August 25, 2015 at 1:19 pm
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    Thanks for this informative article. We have visited about half of the European castles / château on your list.

    Fontainebleau, Versailles
    Château de Chenonceau, France
    Château de Chambord, France
    Château de Chaumont, France

    Visiting these is an amazing experience; one that I heartily recommend. You can definitely see how these have influenced the design of Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom.

    Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:54 pm
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      Ted Flory,

      The castles you named are definitely on my bucket list. Looking at photo upon photo while doing my research gave me the travel itch. Someday!

      Thank you so much for the comment,

      Angela

      Reply
    • August 26, 2015 at 8:58 pm
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      Jaeson,

      It must have been such a lovely experience for you to go not once, but twice! I hope to visit in the future.

      Thanks for reading!

      Angela

      Reply
  • August 29, 2015 at 2:25 pm
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    Great article Angela! Now matter how many pix I’ve taken of the castle (it’s a LOT), whenever I’m in the magic kingdom I cannot help but go take 50 more shots of it. To me it’s a symbol of peace and happiness, if I can see the castle in person something is going very right for me! In the past I’ve even scheduled ADRs at crystal palace for 8am, skipped it and paid the $10 penalty and had the castle almost to myself for nearly an hour. Now that’s magical!

    Reply
    • August 31, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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      Scott,

      I’m the same way! I have to take a photo every single time I see the castle.

      What it must be like having the castle all to yourself! That’s $10 well spent!

      Thanks for the comment,

      Angela

      Reply

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