Our take on the popular, now discontinued Walt tour.
A very popular tour pre-pandemic, ‘Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps,’ took Guests on a guided tour around the Park, introducing them to attractions, and projects that Walt was personally involved with. The whole experience was capped off with a visit to Walt’s Main Street, U.S.A., apartment, an included luncheon, and a beautiful commemorative pin! Unfortunately, this tour was one of the many things lost during the Disneyland shutdown in 2020.
While some areas may be inaccessible without a Cast Member, our tour will take you on a journey around Walt’s Park, visiting key places and taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Happiest Place on Earth! So, print off this article, pack your Disneyland bag, bring some good walking shoes, and let’s get started!
Where to Begin? At the Beginning: Main Street, U.S.A.
Main Street, U.S.A. is the first area of the Park that will greet you as you pass under the Disneyland Railroad. Walking through these tunnels, the first thing that you’ll notice is Town Square. There are a few interesting things to note here, but we’re headed for the flagpole. At the base of this flagpole is where our tour will start.
At the base, you’ll find a nondescript bronze plaque bearing the following description:
To all who come to this happy place, welcome. Disneyland is your land. Here age relives fond memories of the past…and here, youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future. Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.
On July 17, 1955, Disneyland opened its gates to the world after just one year of frantic construction. The stories about that day’s many ups and downs abound: the drinking fountains weren’t operational, fake tickets flooded the Park past capacity, and there were even spots where the asphalt wasn’t dry, and Guests shoes’ sank into it! Notwithstanding, Walt couldn’t have been happier: the dream of many years was finally open, and, despite the issues, it was a success!
What Should I see on Main Street, U.S.A.?
As you may well know, Walt based this first area on his own hometown of Marceline, Missouri. Despite a rough upbringing, Walt had many fond memories of his childhood and wanted to bring them to the modern era. Described by Walt as “Hometown America,” Main Street, U.S.A., is brimming with nostalgia.
Before you leave this area, you will want to prioritize a few stops: First up, the Emporium, or more accurately, above the Emporium. As you walk down Main Street, you’ll notice names painted on windows on the second floor of each building. Some of you may know that these refer to Imagineers, men, and women that helped make the Park a reality. There is one notable exception to this: Elias Disney. Walt wanted to pay tribute to his late father, whom he loved and cherished throughout his life.
Our next stop: the Candy Palace. This was not an opening day attraction, but it was open the same month, on July 22, 1955. Walt was known for being a fan of food and wanted to ensure that everything at his Park was the best it could be. Take a look inside the window, and watch candy being made the old-fashioned way, just as it has been since 1955, and pick some up for yourself!
This area has one more thing you’ll want to take note of food! In particular, the Carnation Café. This small corner restaurant serves a special dish for fans of this tour, Walt’s own chili. Based on a family recipe, this hearty chili was famously Walt’s favorite dish. You don’t want to miss this for either lunch or dinner!
The last stop for this leg of the tour will be what Walt called ‘The Hub.’ Based on a Parisian style spoke and hub design, each land in Disneyland juts out from this center point, allowing easy access and navigation. The statue you see in the center is called “Partners” and depicts Walt and Mickey looking out over their outstanding achievement. Designed by Imagineer and sculptor Blaine Gibson, the statue was installed on November 18, 1993.
Going Around The Hub: Adventureland
We’ll continue our tour with one of Walt’s favorite lands (let’s be honest, they were all his favorite!): Adventureland. Heavily influenced by stories of far-off lands and exotic places brought back by veterans returned from WWII, Walt wanted to bring to life the jungles from his True Life Adventure series. Though some of the attractions here were not present on opening day, Walt brought about the Adventureland you see around you today.
First up, on our left, is Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Walt had purchased a small mechanical bird in a cage during a trip to New Orleans and was fascinated. Always one for innovation, and animation, Walt brought the bird to Imagineering, and they ran with it! From that little bird, the entire concept of Audio-Animatronics was born. This technology is part of many attractions you’ll see here at Disneyland today.
Originally envisioned as a restaurant or tea house, the Tiki-Room slowly morphed into the iteration in which we see it today: a beautiful showcase of audio-animatronic birds, flowers, and tikis, that transport Guests to the South Seas and beyond. The catchy music you’ll hear in this attraction was actually written by Walt’s favorite composing duo, The Sherman Brothers, who also did the music for Disney Classics like Mary Poppins (1964), and The Jungle Book (1967).
As we continue through Adventureland, another of Walt’s most cherished attractions is coming up on the left. An opening day attraction, The World Famous Jungle Cruise brings the concept of a safari in the jungles around the world to the continental united states! Walt would often use this particular attraction to show his Park off to visiting dignitaries, showcasing not only the ride system but the incredibly lifelike animatronics they would see along the way.
The last thing we’ll point out as we move out of Adventureland is the Treehouse. Though it has seen a few iterations over the years, Walt’s initial idea for the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse remains an essential piece of the landscape today. Walt envisioned a high point in each land where Guests could get their bearings. As we go through the other lands, see if you can spot those high points!
New Orleans Square
One of Walt’s last projects, which he was highly passionate about, New Orleans Square, brings the charm and vibrancy of an idealized New Orleans to the Park. This land also houses the last two attractions that Walt worked on directly before his passing in 1966. There are also a few little secrets in this land, one of which we’ll take a close look at!
As we head down the walkway from the Treehouse, we’ll see the entrance to Pirates of the Caribbean. Though the attraction opened after Walt’s passing, he was very involved in the ride’s progress. Behind-the-scenes videos show an elated Walt taking Disneyland ambassador Julie Reihm around a miniature mockup of the ride explaining to her all the ins and outs of the attraction. Appropriately, he describes how Guests will travel up a waterfall, saying, “Anything is possible at Disneyland!”
Now, before we go to the other attraction, there’s something worth seeing here at the exit of Pirates. Just down the road, at 33 Royal street, is the former entrance to Club 33. For years, this private club for members was the only place alcohol was served in the Park, and it was a place where Walt could wine and dine visiting dignitaries and friends. Walt even had animatronic “hunting trophies” on the wall that, with the help of hidden microphones, could interact with the Guests!
On to our last stop in New Orleans Square: The Haunted Mansion. Another attraction that opened after Walt’s passing, the Haunted Mansion boasts 999 happy haunts in a dark ride through a gothic-style manor house. Walt also personally oversaw the construction and design of this attraction and made sure that it struck the perfect balance of silly and spooky, thanks to Imagineers Rolly Crump and Marc Davis, along with many, many others.
While there is more to see in places like Critter Country and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, our tour’s next stop will be Frontierland. Inspired by the huge success of the Davy Crockett miniseries, Frontierland takes Guests back to the wild west, complete with all the trappings! We’ll look at two significant spots in this land, so let’s get started!
The first spot is The Golden Horseshoe. On your right as we come from New Orleans Square, The Golden Horseshoe has hosted a variety show since the beginning, giving Guests a chance to grab a bite and take a load off while getting in some good laughs! However, this spot is special on our tour because it was in this very spot where Walt and Lillian Disney celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary on July 13, 1955, just days before the Park’s opening!
Our final stop is the dock, off to your left on the Rivers of America. At this dock, Guests are able to board the Mark Twain Riverboat for a journey around the river. Nostalgic as ever and a stickler for detail, Walt ensured that the 5/8 scale paddleboat would be as exact a replica as he could. So passionate was he about the project that, when corporate funding dried up, he pitched in his own personal funds to finish the project!
As we leave Frontierland through the Main Gate and work our way through the castle, we will enter Fantasyland! As Walt said, “Dedicated to the young, and the young at heart,” Fantasyland hosts many of the first attractions in the Park and showcases many classic Disney animated characters and attractions. Our first point of interest, however, is right under the castle archway!
Upon entering Fantasyland, and just under the archway of Sleeping Beauty Castle, you’ll see a small golden spike in the ground. This marks the very center of the Park as it was on opening day in 1955. Though the Park has grown and the center has shifted, this small marker still remains as a tribute to those early and formative years.
While there’s plenty to talk about in Fantasyland, like our other stops thus far, we’ll be addressing only two: The first is coming up on your right: Peter Pan’s Flight. Another of Walt’s favorite attractions, this ride takes Guests on a magic flight in a miniature pirate ship over London, to Neverland, and safely back home. So well done was this attraction that renowned author Ray Bradbury took the time to thank Walt personally with a note reading:
“I will be eternally grateful. Today I flew out of a child’s bedroom window in a pirate galleon on my way to the stars.”
The next and last stop in Fantasyland will be King Arthur’s Carousel. A beautiful focal point of the land, the attraction was actually built in 1922 in Toronto, relocated, and refurbished for Disneyland. As the horses make their way around, keep your eyes open for the lead horse, bearing bells on its collar. The aptly named “Jingles” was Walt’s favorite horse, and until 1975 was the only white horse on the ride.
Our last stop will be Tomorrowland. Here we’ll talk about the last remaining attraction from Walt’s time, and catch the train back to Main Street, U.S.A. That last attraction? Autopia! Designed by legendary Imagineer Bob Gurr, Autopia has allowed kids to get behind the wheel of a functioning automobile since 1955. Autopia truly embodies Walt’s vision for Disneyland: a place where parents and children can come and have fun together!
As we board the Disneyland Railroad, we’ll be looking at one last thing Walt had a direct hand in creating: The Grand Canyon Diorama and Primeval World. Initially designed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair, the Primeval World, complete with animatronic Dinosaurs and brought to life with new projections, was moved to Disneyland back in 1966, a full 11 years after the Park’s opening, fulfilling Walt’s statement that, “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as imagination is left in the world.”
Back to Main Street, U.S.A. – Why Should You Take This Tour?
As we disembark the train, we’ll make two last stops to illustrate why this tour is still an important piece of Disneyland history. Head on down the staircase, and hang a left towards the firehouse. Above the main garage, you’ll see a small window with an ornate turn-of-the-century style lamp. This is Walt’s Disneyland apartment.
Walt was so passionate and in love with Disneyland that he wanted to spend as much time there as possible! To that end, he had this small apartment made and decorated in a classic style, so he could wake up and be right in the action, having as much fun as he could from the start of the day to the end! Nowadays, Cast Members keep the lamp lit as a tribute to Walt.
For our last stop, make your way to the Opera house on the east side of the street. There, right inside the entrance, you’ll see two nondescript items that look as though they’ve seen better days: A bench and a small carousel horse. When describing how he got his idea for Disneyland, Walt related a story of sitting on a bench in Griffiths Park, watching his daughters play on the Merry-Go-Round, and eating a bag of peanuts. He said,
“I felt that there should be something built, some kind of an amusement enterprise built where that the parents and the children could have fun together.”
This is why this tour is important: while walking around the Park, walking in Walt’s footsteps, we hope that you’ve come to see the passion, hard work, and dedication that have brought about a place unlike any other! So, go out there, and enjoy! After all, “Disneyland is your land!” Relive some fond memories, savor the future, and remember the man that made it all possible!
What would you add to our tour? Let us know in the comments below!