It’s been more than 50 years since the world lost the man behind the mouse, and Disney has changed a lot since then. Sadly, Walt didn’t live to see the opening of Walt Disney World, but that doesn’t mean that there are no traces of him in the parks! There are plenty of places in each park where Walt Disney’s impact and legacy can be seen and felt, where his spirit lives on in both classic and brand new WDW magic. Here are our favorite attractions and experiences where Walt Disney continues to shine through.
1. Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
Since it debuted (in 1963 in Disneyland, and in 1971 in Walt Disney World), Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room has delighted guests with hundreds of singing birds, flowers and Tiki statues. This attraction was the first ever to use Audio-Animatronics, which Walt Disney pioneered the use of in entertainment. Disney’s technology was simply ground-breaking, and the synchronization of audio, visual effects and movement stands the test of time. A visit to this classic attraction is a glimpse into the technology that paved the way for all other Disney attractions that we know and love!
2. Pirates of the Caribbean
If you’ve been to Walt Disney World, chances are you’ve ridden Pirates of the Caribbean. But did you know that this was the very last ride that Walt Disney ever had a direct hand in designing? Pirates of the Caribbean opened in Disneyland in 1967, shortly after Walt’s death, and Disney World’s version opened in 1973. The ride was actually initially planned to be a wax museum that guests would walk through, until Disney’s idea to change it into a boat ride.
3. Keys to the Kingdom Tour
Taking a backstage tour is a great way to learn more about Walt Disney! Consider taking the 5-hour Keys to the Kingdom Tour (or the lighter version, Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour, if you’re pressed for time). You’ll discover the fascinating history of Walt Disney World, and learn more than you thought possible about Walt himself – and you’ll visit the famed Utilidors, under Magic Kingdom, which Walt invented to preserve the magic for guests throughout the park.
4. It’s a Small World
One of the most famous classic rides on Disney property – and featuring one of the most famous earworms – It’s a Small World was created when UNICEF asked Walt Disney to create a fourth attraction for the 1964-65 World’s Fair. Imagineers came up with a boat ride through singing, animatronic dolls that turned into the ride we all know today.
5. Kilimanjaro Safaris
If you’re a Walt Disney World fan, you may know that Disney’s Animal Kingdom didn’t exist until more than 30 years after Walt Disney’s death. So how does the spirit of Walt show in Kilimanjaro Safaris? Most people aren’t aware that Walt originally wanted to use actual African animals for his Jungle Cruise attraction. His vision couldn’t be realized at the time, and audio-animatronic animals ended up being used instead. But now, his dream has finally come true, and you can enjoy watching a savanna full of animals while riding Kilimanjaro Safaris.
6. Carousel of Progress
Another entry Disney created for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was the Carousel of Progress, originally called “Progressland”. After the World’s Fair, it was moved to Disneyland, and finally to Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in 1975. When you watch Carousel of Progress, you’re witnessing a classic Walt creation, and one of the oldest in the park! The ride moves guests through a series of vignettes starring audio-animatronic characters in different time periods, and we’re told it was one of Walt’s favorite achievements.
7. Jungle Cruise
When Jungle Cruise first opened in Disneyland, it was quite a serious ride, featuring animal facts. It later became the comedic ride known for hilarious “dad” jokes that we know and love. The famous story goes that Walt was walking through the park and heard a mom tell her child that they couldn’t go on Jungle Cruise because they did it last time they visited. So, Walt decided that he would keep improving his attractions so there was always something new to keep guests coming back. You can even visit Jungle Cruise in WDW at Christmas, when it transforms into “Jingle Cruise”!
8. Journey Into Imagination With Figment
Walt shines through in all of Disney’s Epcot, since it’s based on his vision of a futuristic city (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow). But we especially love visiting Journey into Imagination with Figment while we’re in Epcot, to remind ourselves of the importance of imagination, to Walt Disney, and to all of us!
Gertie, the enormous dinosaur in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, is hard to miss – even if you’re not looking for some of her delicious ice cream! But did you know this gigantic herbivore has a connection with Walt Disney? She’s an homage to Gertie the Trained Dinosaur, a character developed by one of the pioneers in early animation, Winsor McCay, who created an animated short featuring the dino. Walt was a child when it was released, and he later recreated the film, and talked about the important role it played in the development of animated cartoons. Many years later, Imagineers created the Gertie we know and love as a tribute to one of Walt’s heroes.
10. Listen to Lessons
It really is the details that matter, and that’s something that Walt Disney knew very well. For us, one experience in Magic Kingdom epitomizes Walt – and it’s an experience many guests don’t even know exists! Head to Main Street USA, and turn down the tiny, dead-end Center Street. Look up, and you’ll see voice and dance lessons advertised, and if you listen long enough, you’ll actually hear the music and tap lessons taking place. Even though only a handful of guests experience this each day, it was important to Walt to create magic everywhere, and give all his guests special memories to take with them!