By Jim Smith, Disney Facts and Figment
Disney parks worldwide offer guests a chance to shed the weight of “real life” and experience a bit of magic and whimsy for a few days. The essence of Walt Disney is embedded into each and every Disney park, and specific connections and tributes are plentiful, if you know where to look. Disneyland may be the “holy grail” of Walt Disney connections, but Walt Disney World has more than its share of inspiration from the man who started it all.
In this two-part series, let’s take a look at the best places to appreciate Walt Disney in Walt Disney World. Since Magic Kingdom is chock full of Walt’s spirit, we’ll start there in Part One, and move on to the other parks and a few resorts for Part Two.
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is the closest thing Florida has to Walt’s original Disneyland park. So it is unsurprising that the majority of Walt Disney connections reside firmly in this park. Let’s go for a walk. You’ll notice many of these highlights mirror what you’ll find in Disneyland (and that’s perfectly ok).
Main Street Train Station
The very first place guests go on the way into the park is beneath the famous Disney train tracks. Much like in Disneyland, Magic Kingdom’s train tracks lovingly wrap the park, encircling guests inside Walt’s wondrous world. The station’s exterior is modeled after a former Saratoga Springs railroad station, which no longer exists today. The most notable homage to Walt on the outside of the building is the famous window reading “Walt Disney World Railroad Office – Keeping Dreams on Track – Walter E. Disney – Chief Engineer.”
The bottom floor of the train station (which is primarily used for stroller rentals) is chock full of images celebrating Walt’s love of trains. The ground floor also features a bulletin board displaying train arrivals and departures. The destinations on this board are full of subtle Disney references, including Kimball Canyon (named after Disney Legend Ward Kimball), Medfield (named after Medfield College – the setting for a number of Disney films, including The Absent Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes), and Harrington (the town depicted in the Disney film Pollyanna), among others. Even if you have no need for a stroller, a visit to this space is well worth the time.
To ride the rails, guests must first ascend to the second floor loading platform. There, guests might catch a ride on one of four trains, No. 1 – Walter E. Disney, No. 2 – Lilly Belle (named after Walt’s wife), No. 3 – Roger E. Broggie (head of the Disney Studios machine shop and fellow train enthusiast, often considered the first Disney Imagineer), and No. 4 – Roy O. Disney (Walt’s brother). There’s no better place to ride with Walt than on a “Grand Circle Tour” around his wonderland.
Main Street, U.S.A.
The ideals of Walt Disney’s America began in the place where Walt spent his most vividly memorable childhood days – Marceline, Missouri. Main Street, U.S.A. captures the romantic spirit of America’s small town yesterday, nestled in between the train station and Cinderella Castle. This early 20th-century throwback is a combination of Walt’s boyhood home of Marceline, mixed with a bit of Fort Collins, Colorado (the childhood home of Disney Legend Harper Goff).
On Main Street, time stands still, so feel free to take it slow, relax, and enjoy a trip into the idealistic past. The smells of popcorn and pastries waft through the air. The klip-klop of horse-drawn buggies and the ringing bells of busy trolleys ping the ears. If you’re there at the right time, the Dapper Dans will fill your soul with the musical melodies from a simpler time.
Walt Disney was the ultimate American. As he himself stated, “If you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white and blue stripe.” At Disneyland, Walt insisted that the American flag be respectfully raised up the Town Square flagpole every morning, and safely tucked away each night – a tradition that continues to this day (even during the COVID park shutdowns!). Flag raising and retreat ceremonies are part of daily life on Magic Kingdom’s Main Street as well.
You may wonder about all the flags atop the other buildings along Main Street? Those flags are of a slightly different design, with a slightly different number of stars and stripes. As such, those flags don’t qualify as Old Glory, and serve instead as pennants, which wave proudly through day and night, but don’t carry the same protocol of maintenance.
Speaking of Town Square, don’t forget to say “hi” to Walt’s brother Roy, who sits comfortably “Sharing the Magic” on a bench with Minnie Mouse. Roy was not only Walt’s brother, he was a tireless business partner 100% invested in Walt’s dream, who worked behind the scenes to help his brother’s whimsical dreams come reality. After Walt passed, Roy postponed his own retirement so he could guide the opening of Walt Disney World. He courageously delivered Magic Kingdom’s Opening Day speech on October 1, 1971, and sadly passed away only a few months after the park opened.
Walking up Main Street towards Cinderella Castle, don’t forget to look up. Many windows along the Main Street shops pay homage to folks who helped make Disney magic a reality. Disney Legends like Buddy Baker, Mary Blair, X. Atencio, Tony Baxter, John Hench, and Walt Disney himself (among many, many others) are memorialized here in beautifully crafted, clever nods to greatness.
When you reach the hub at the top of Main Street, take a moment to thank Walt for the magic that surrounds you. In fact, feel free to take a picture with him. The “Partners” statue of Walt and Mickey stands proudly at the center of the park.
Nods to the 1964 World’s Fair
The later 1950s and earlier 1960s was a time of explosive creativity for Walt Disney and his storytellers and artists. Disneyland’s Tomorrowland was given a major expansion and update in 1959 with the addition of the Monorail, Submarine Voyage, and the Matterhorn. In the early 1960s, prominent corporations came calling for Walt when they wanted show stopping attractions for the upcoming 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Walt and his team wowed the world when they created four unforgettable attractions (and one very cool tower) for the fair. Three of those attractions are represented in Magic Kingdom.
Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
Originally created for General Electric, the Carousel of Progress is a four-scene play, following the American family through four eras of life, seen through the progression of technology. The father, John, narrates the journey from a central, fixed stage. The audience revolves around the central stage, giving the carousel its name. The Carousel of Progress wasn’t the first attraction to feature audio-animatronics, but the previous pioneering of this technology paved the way for this show. The Carousel of Progress was moved from its location at the World’s Fair to Disneyland in 1967, and then eventually to Magic Kingdom in 1975.
Of course, no discussion of the Carousel of Progress would be complete without acknowledging the legendary Sherman Brothers, who penned the show’s original theme song “It’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” as well as a one-time replacement theme song “The Best Time of Your Life.” Before you head into the theater, take a few minutes to watch the video of Walt Disney with Richard and Robert Sherman, playing the show’s signature song as a sort of “pitch” to General Electric. The video perfectly showcases Walt’s unending charisma.
“it’s a small world”
Another World’s Fair inspiration, “it’s a small world” was created for Pepsi Cola (way back when Pepsi was still a major partner with Disney). This journey around the world of children was of particular importance to Walt, who himself always maintains the spirit of a hopeful child. The Magic Kingdom version doesn’t quite match the caliber or spectacle of the Disneyland version, but it still speaks to Walt’s unfailing optimism. And you know that infectious earworm song? You can thank the Sherman Brothers for that little tune.
Hall of Presidents
Another of Walt’s big splashes at the World’s Fair was Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, created for the state of Illinois. Lincoln was, at the time, the most advanced animatronic ever attempted by Disney, and he wowed guests from all over the world with his lifelike movements. The original Mr. Lincoln moved to Disneyland after the conclusion of the Fair, and he resides there to this day.
But over at Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, A second Lincoln leads a cast of every president ever to serve the United States in the Hall of Presidents. Lincoln once again recites his famous Gettysburg Address, and George Washington recites a speech as well. The current U.S. president recites the presidential oath.
Walt’s patriotism is fully on display here, as evidenced by several photos of Walt with former presidents. There’s also a bust of Walt in the attraction’s lobby. And perhaps the coolest nod to our Founding Fathers is the The Great Seal of the United States, which is only displayed in two locations – the White House and Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents.
When you leave the Hall of Presidents, be sure to walk across the square to check out the Liberty Tree and its hanging lanterns, made famous in Disney’s 1957 film Johnny Tremain. Next to the Liberty Tree, check out the state flags of the original 13 states and a replica of the Liberty Bell. Walt would be proud of this homage to colonial America.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
The birthplace of Disney’s famous audio-animatronics is Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland. This roughly 15-minute show treats guests to a relaxing “tropical serenade” including over 150 singing and dancing birds, flowers, tikis, and even a singing waterfall.
Walt originally conceived of the Tiki Room as a restaurant where guests could enjoy a meal while being serenaded and entertained. Rolly Crump – one of Walt’s favorite creators – led the artist design of this legendary attraction. This attraction, along with the Carousel of Progress, are the only ones in Walt Disney World which are titled “Walt Disney’s…” Tip: grab a Dole Whip nearby before entering the attraction – you can enjoy it during the show!
Country Bear Jamboree
One of the last projects Walt Disney was working on before his death in 1966 was the Mineral King Ski Resort in California. While not a great skier, Walt enjoyed a good day on the slopes. His dream ski resort in the Sequoias would have included upwards of 14 ski lifts and a gondola system that would connect eight mountain peaks above the resort’s village. Dining options would include ten restaurants and cafes, and a 150-seat coffee shop set atop Eagle’s Crest Ridge, which would be called Walt Disney’s Sky Crown.
Entertainment at one of Walt’s restaurants would be provided by none other than a group of audio animatronic bears, straight out of the Sequoias. Disney Legend Marc Davis designed the show with a healthy portion of his classic humor and wit.
After Walt’s death, environmental concerns over the development of this pristine land stalled the project. With growing environmental opposition, and without Walt to champion the romance of the project to success, the Walt Disney Company eventually dropped the idea. But out of this failure was born the Country Bear Jamboree, an attraction which lives on to this day in Magic Kingdom.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
Transportation and urban planning were among Walt Disney’s passion projects. Walt’s fascination with transportation improvements led him to employing the short-lived Viewliner in Disneyland, which was followed by the world-famous Monorail. A slightly more casual way of traveling around Tomorrowland was the PeopleMover. While this attraction no longer exists in Disneyland, it is still wildly popular in Magic Kingdom.
While the transportation aspect of this attraction is a worthwhile Walt connection in and of itself, an even more poignant connection to Walt resides along the PeopleMover’s route. When cruising above Tomorrowland on the way to Space Mountain, attentive guests will notice a small diorama of a “city of the future” along an inside portion of the route. This is a portion of Walt’s Progress City/EPCOT model. This model formerly resided outside the window of the last scene in Disneyland’s Carousel of Progress. When the attraction moved to Magic Kingdom, the model was displaced, and a portion of it was installed along the PeopleMover’s route.
Did you find enough of Walt Disney in the Magic Kingdom? He’s all over the place, once you know where to look. Connect with Walt in other parts of Walt Disney World in Part Two of our series, where we’ll explore other Walt Disney World parks, as well as a few resorts.
While we are talking about Walt, do you have a favorite Walt Disney quote? Share it with us with a comment to this article, or on social at: