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Top 8 Ways To “Experience” Walt Disney At Walt Disney World

Many of us consider ourselves fans not only of the theme parks, but also of the Disney Company and the history behind it. Of course, this all leads back to Walt and his creative genius that brought everything to life. Some also feel an attachment to Walt from growing up watching him on TV introducing his television shows or promoting the various parts of Disneyland as it was about to open. Although Disneyland was really Walt’s park, where you can walk in his very footsteps, the “Florida Project,” or Walt Disney World also offers several ways to pay tribute to the man who started it all (by creating the mouse).  Here are my top 8 ways to “channel” Walt while I’m on vacation:

 

 

8.  Main Street USA, Magic Kingdom

Main Street is an area where we find multiple references to Walt’s influences on the parks.  This is fitting because Main Street itself was based on Walt’s idyllic memory of his childhood home in Marceline, Missouri. Feelings of progress, optimism and patriotism prevail on Main Street and to me that mirrors the sentiments that Walt projected through all of his projects, but especially those that involved the development of his theme parks.

7.   Partners Statue, The Hub, Magic Kingdom

The Partners Statue is the centerpiece of the hub in the Magic Kingdom directly in front of Cinderella Castle.  A touching tribute with Walt holding hands with Mickey as he looks out over Main Street, this much photographed statue reminds us of the two personalities who brought the Disney parks to life. Unveiled in 1995, the statue was sculpted by Blaine Gibson.

6.  Model of Epcot, Towmorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover, Magic Kingdom

One of my favorite ways to relax, get off my feet and cool off in the Magic Kingdom is to take a spin on the Peoplemover in Tomorrowland.  Part of this trip takes you through an enclosed area that exhibits a portion of the original architectural model for EPCOT.  Walt’s vision for the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was an actual community with people living, working and playing in a planned city of the future.  It is vastly different from the Epcot Center theme park that opened in 1982.  This is a nice reminder of Walt’s interest in urban planning and making the most of resources at hand for a better future.

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5.  Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour and Magic Behind the Steam Trains Tours, Magic Kingdom

These two tours are offered at the Magic Kingdom, and both give you a glimpse into the life of Walt Disney.  The 3 hour Marceline to Magic Kingdom tour is available to anyone ages 12 and up and offers a look into Walt’s childhood in Marceline and the town’s influence on the design of Main Street, the 1964 World’s Fair and the attractions it inspired, as well as learning trivia about Walt and an closer look at classic Disney attractions.  The Magic Behind the Steam Trains tour also lasts 3 hours, and is open to anyone over the age of 10.  This tour begins very early in the morning and includes information about Walt’s love of model railroads and how that transferred to the parks.  You get to ride the train before the park opens and visit backstage areas where the trains are maintained.  Both tours require park admission, and are an additional charge.  Reservations are required by calling 407-WDW-TOUR, ask about discounts for Disney Visa Cardholders, Annual Passholders, DVC Members and more.

4.  Windows on Main Street, Magic Kingdom

All along Main Street USA, the windows on the upper levels of the shops pay tribute to Disney legends from animators to designers to real estate developers.  Each one has a clever way to recognize that individual based on their talents and interests.  As a fitting tribute Walt is featured at both the beginning and end of Main Street (the opening and closing credits).  Before you even enter the actual Magic Kingdom Park you will see the first window on the train station.  It reads, “Walt Disney World Railroad Office – Keeping Dreams on Track – Walter E. Disney, Chief Engineer.”  And at the end of Main Street above the Plaza Restaurant the last window reads, “Walter E. Disney – Graduate School of Design & Master Planning – Instructors, Howard Brummitt, Marvin Davis, Fred Hope – Headmaster, Richard Irvine – Dean of Design, John Hench – Instructors, Vic Greene, Bill Martin, Chuck Myall” paying tribute to Walt and all of the men who worked to plan, design and make the Magic Kingdom a reality.

3.  Walt’s Model Railroad Trains, The Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

A little known gem is the Carolwood Pacific Railroad Room (formerly the Iron Spike Room) in the “lobby” of the Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.  Aside from being a quiet and relaxing spot with a nice fireplace, this room is home to an actual train that belonged to Walt.  Walt had an operational 1/8th scale railroad at his home on Carolwood Drive that he called the Carolwood Pacific.  Part of this train is on display in the room along with some other items that relate to Walt’s interest in model railroads.  This location is definitely worth a visit if you are staying or eating at the Wilderness Lodge, or if you just need a break from the Magic Kingdom.

2.  Carousel of Progress and It’s A Small World, Magic Kingdom

Within the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World there are several attractions that Walt influenced before his death in 1966.  Although they did not open in Disneyland until after his death, The Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean and Country Bear Jamboree all had Walt’s input.  Pirates is said to be the last attraction he personally oversaw for Disneyland, Haunted Mansion in Disneyland underwent a lengthy development process including Walt’s participation, and the Country Bear Jamboree began as a project for a ski resort under Walt’s supervision.  The Enchanted Tiki Room also has ties to Walt.  It opened in 1963 and was the first to use the audio animatronic technology pioneered by Disney and WED Enterprises (the Imagineers).  But, for me, the most “Walt” attractions at the Magic Kingdom are those that he designed for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York:  Carousel of Progress and it’s a small word.  Although these two attractions are often maligned for their length, “ear worm” infectious music, and dull nature, they are two of my favorites because of the connection to Walt and his early development of the theme park product that we all love today.  The father in Carousel of Progress reminds me of Walt and the outlook he has reiterates those feelings of optimism found on Main Street.  And of course, it’s a small world is classic with the brilliant costume and design work by Mary Blair.

1.  Walt Disney Presents (formerly Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream), Hollywood Studios

This classic attraction has recently undergone some changes! Walt Disney Presents continues to offer guests a chance to view the history of Walt, but now has the addition of a space for guests to preview what’s on the horizon. Models such as the Toy Story Land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and even Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway attraction are available to preview. We’ve always loved this informative collection of memorabilia, designs, and historical models about Walt. Now we get to experience the past, present, and future of Walt Disney!

How much attention do you pay to the man who started it all when you visit Walt Disney World on vacation?  What is your favorite place to pay tribute to Walt?

About Sarah Chapman

I am a long time Disney fan since I was hooked on Walt Disney World with my first trip in 1987. Since that time I’ve tried experiencing everything I can in the parks, with a total of 30 visits and counting (I’m always planning my next trip) to Walt Disney World—not to mention Disney Cruise Line and even (shhh!) Universal Orlando and Sea World. I’ve turned my Disney obsession into a profession helping others plan their magical vacations as a Dream Vacation Maker at LBAC Travel. I am a work at home mom to three wonderful boys, and each one has been properly indoctrinated with all things Disney. Walt Disney World is definitely our “Laughing Place.” Look for me on Facebook at Facebook.com/SarahLBAC for updates, discount announcements, tips, tricks and planning advice for your next vacation. You can also find me on Instagram (sarahdreamvacationmaker) and Pinterest (sarahlbactravel).