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Credit: Becky Burkett

Disney World at 50: a look back at Cinderella Castle over the years

Perhaps one of the most iconic backdrops in family photos in the United States today is Cinderella Castle.

cinderella castle

Credit: Becky Burkett

Even those who don’t frequent the parks can probably dig through an old photo box and find at least a few images of the castle that has come to symbolize Walt Disney World and the magic that the nearly 50-year-old park offers Guests who enter its gates.

Though no additional rooms or spires have ever been added to it, the castle has grown and changed over the years, whether as a part of a park celebration, a Disney milestone, or something more touching, like the honoring of health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

But before we get to that, let’s take a moment to appreciate the splendor and wonder of the castle itself.

Cinderella Castle by the numbers

Construction of the castle took 18 months, beginning in 1970. At that time, it cost Disney $4.7 million to build. If adjusted for inflation, that’s closer to $14 million today. More than 600 tons of steel were used in the castle’s construction. No bricks were used, but the walls of the castle are 10 inches thick and reinforced with concrete, making the castle able to easily withstands winds of up to 125 miles per hour, like those in a Category 3 hurricane.

Credit: Imagineering Disney

Original plans for the castle called for 29 towers, each numbered 1 through 29. But two of them were left out of the final construction when it was discovered that they were not visible to Guests. The two numbers that were left out? Numbers 13 and 17. Tower number 10 has the clock on it, and Tower numbers 20 and 23 have real gold in their architecture.

Credit: Imagineering Disney

The moat that surrounds the beautiful castle holds more than 3 million gallons of water when full. There are 3 elevators inside the castle–one that leads to Cinderella’s Royal Table Restaurant, one for Cast Members to access the restaurant, and one that leads to the mysterious hidden suite on the 4th floor.

Cinderella Castle in the beginning

Cinderella Castle was built between 1970 and 1971, in preparation for Opening Day at Walt Disney World, which was scheduled for October 1, 1971.

It was recognizable as the symbol of Walt Disney World, and its original colors of grey and blue never changed, at least for the first 20+ years.

Cinderella Castle, 1972

Cinderella Castle begins to celebrate Disney milestones

In 1996, the castle got a full makeover–of sorts.

Credit: Chris O’Meara, The Associated Press

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World, the castle got a huge pink overlay. It was dressed in pink icing and candy cane spires and had 26 candles on it. The overlay remained in place until the end of January 1998. Some Guests loved the idea. Other visitors who didn’t frequent the parks were upset that their first (and maybe only) pictures of the castle would be with the castle dressed as an oversized birthday cake.

Nine years later in 2005, Cinderella Castle got another makeover, this time in celebration of Disneyland’s 50th anniversary. There was even a Magic Mirror affixed to the castle that showed pictures of other Disney Park castles.

Each of its 27 towers was covered in gold spirals and character statues graced the castle at different spots. Two of the statues were Peter Pan and Wendy made to look as though they were flying around one of the towers.

A really strange-looking Cinderella Castle

Later in 2005, the castle was vandalized. Or so it was made to look like.

Credit: Hilary White

To commemorate the opening of the “Stitch’s Great Escape” attraction at Magic Kingdom, the entire castle was made to look as though it had been covered in toilet paper. “Stitch is King” was scribbled in graffiti with red paint on the front side of the castle, and–catch him if you can–you could even see Stitch if you looked for him.

Cinderella Castle steps it up for the holidays

In 2007, the castle was covered in “ice” for the first time.

Credit: Becky Burkett

Covered in a netting-type overlay, complete with 400 bajillion tiny lights (give or take a bajillion), the castle looked icy cold for the first time during a winter holiday season. Only at Disney could a castle in central Florida be covered in a layer of ice!

A new kind of special effects for the castle

In 2011, Cinderella Castle played a brand new role–that of projection screen. For the first time, projections covered the exterior of the castle in a lights show called “The Magic, The Memories and You!”

Getting ready for the celebration of celebrations

By 2019, Cinderella Castle looked very much like it did on Opening Day in 1971. But Disney announced in February 2020 that the castle would get some reimagining of its own and look very different by the end of the year. After all, the Disney classic Cinderella was about to turn 70, and the castle needed to be in order.

Work began on the castle, but March would prove that sometimes, no matter what kind of wish your heart makes, unexpected things can happen that throw off even the best plans made.

Credit: The Orlando Sentinel

Very quickly, construction was halted as the parks prepared to close because of the coronavirus pandemic. And no one knew for sure when the parks would reopen. On April 7, the castle was lit up in blue lighting to honor all the healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19.

Credit: MyNews13

“The gesture is a salute to medical personnel on behalf of all Walt Disney World Resort Cast Members during these challenging times,” explained a representative for Walt Disney World News at the time.

Just before Magic Kingdom reopened in July 2020, Cast Members were the first to catch a glimpse of the castle’s new enhancements–bright blue spires and a pale pink exterior, fitting since it’s Cinderella Castle, after all (think pink dress and blue beads).

Credit: Disney

And only last month, Cinderella Castle enhancements were completed for the upcoming 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, complete with blue banners, gold ribbons, and even a huge plaque on the front of the castle that marks the anniversary for all to see!

Happy 50th birthday Disney World! And happy 50th Cinderella Castle, too!

 

About Becky

Rebekah ("Becky") lives in Dallas, Texas, with her family. She's a professional writer, journalist and children's author. She loves to write about all things Walt, Imagineering, Disney Parks news and events, parks history and architecture, Pixar and Disney animation. Between trips to Mickey's stomping grounds in Central Florida, Becky spends time with her four kids and her four shih-tsus and writes inspirational pieces, devotionals and children's books. Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!