The Walt Disney World Resort is filled with both cutting edge technologically advanced attractions and classic rides that have withstood the test of time. Walt Disney himself said that he imagined his original Disneyland Park to always be in a state of becoming, never truly finished. That mantra has been followed across all Disney Parks, but most particularly within the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. For better or for worse, Disney World is the keystone of the most visited vacation destination in the world and has needed to continually develop and improve to keep guests entertained. As things have changed, nostalgic Imagineers have left nods to classic attractions and references to original contributors to the parks. As the Disney Company continues to push forward into a new age, the focus on Walt Disney’s original vision continues to be lost. The following contains explanations of some of my favorite nods to past Disney history – some of which are completely unknown to even the most steadfast Disney fans.
#1. The Names in the Windows on Main Street, USA
Starting out with one of the more well-known Disney facts, you should know that almost every name anywhere in the Disney Parks is meaningful. Names on the windows along Main Street are in reference to many of the original Imagineers, executives, contributors, and other people meaningful to the creation of Disneyland and Disney World. These names include Imagineers Tony Baxter (Splash Mountain), Mary Blair (it’s a small world artwork), and Bob Gurr (ride vehicles), artists Marc Davis and Yale Gracey, and Disney family members including Walt’s brother Roy. These names are just a few of the many, many people honored in the business names. This window-name tradition has been kept in all Disney parks, and helps keep Main Street a historical nod to the founders of the Disney company.
As a partnering fact to the names on Main Street USA, the names of the ferry boats which take guests from the Transportation and Ticket Center to the front of Magic Kingdom are also in reference to major historical Disney contributors. The boat names are the Admiral Joe Fowler, Richard F. Irvine, and General Joe Potter. Joe Potter was in the U.S Army for the majority of his career and helped oversee construction of the Panama Canal before being hired by Walt Disney. Joe Fowler, following a long career in the Navy, assisted in the construction of Disneyland. Richard Irvine started at Disney as an artist and eventually became a member of WED enterprises, the start to Disney Imagineering. On each ferry, there’s a short poster on the first level of the vessel that provides information on its namesake.
#2. The Lantern in the Japan Pavilion at EPCOT
This park detail is so unknown that there is not concrete confirmation of the origin of the lantern itself. Following the opening of Magic Kingdom, it’s said that Hirohito, the emperor of Japan, personally had the Japanese Lantern crafted as a gift for the occasion. Though it’s unconfirmed whether the gift was from the emperor himself or more generally from the Japanese government, it was well received. After initially moving the lantern around a few times, it found a forever home in the Japan pavilion at EPCOT once the park opened in 1982. It is currently easily visible in the rock garden area just to the right of the main pathway into the pavilion.
This lantern is said to be Roy’s light, since he was the one who opened the Magic Kingdom in honor of his late brother Walt. Those who are true Disney fans know that Walt’s light, his candle, was always lit when he was in his Disneyland Park visiting. The light would be on in his apartment above the fire station both to light his room and to signify everyone of his presence. After his death, a candle has been kept on in the window to signify his continuing legacy and presence in his park. Walt’s brother Roy oversaw almost everything with the construction of Magic Kingdom and was able to open the park in October of 1971. Many close to him say that it took everything out of him to fulfill Walt’s dreams, and he died just over a month after in December of the same year. The Japanese Lantern now offers Roy the same respect for Disney World that Walt’s candle signifies in Disneyland.
#3. Mr. Toad
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a classic (now extinct) attraction at the Magic Kingdom. Fortunately, the crazy-fun ride still exists in Disneyland, so if you have the chance to visit California, be sure to ride it! Mr. Toad’s attraction was replaced by the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Fantasyland in 1999. As a massive fan favorite attraction, many guests were upset at the change. So upset, in fact, that guests would stage protests outside the attraction and outside Disney property in attempt to save the beloved attraction.
Disney Imagineers clearly shared many of the same sentiments. After the change, an homage to Mr. Toad appeared in the pet graveyard located at the exit of the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square. Currently the tombstone is visible at the very top of the graveyard, clearly labeled “Mr. Toad.” The tombstone even sports his likeness in his standing statue form.
In the Winnie the Pooh ride itself, there’s also a homage to Mr. Toad. After exiting the first few rooms with Winnie the Pooh (before he starts his weird fever dream), riders can look directly to the left to see a picture of Mr. Toad handing the “deed” of the ride over to Owl. The future closing of Snow White’s Scary Adventures effectively took away all classic dark rides in the Magic Kingdom. All in all, these touches show a great respect for the original Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride attraction.
#4. The Nautilus
While still referencing the Winnie the Pooh ride in Fantasyland of Magic Kingdom, there’s another homage inclusion that has significant Disney history. In the earlier days of the park, Magic Kingdom featured a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea attraction with the Nautilus Submarine. After Disney’s New Fantasyland expansion in 2012 completely reshaped the Fantasyland area, it added new Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, and Snow White sections while removing almost all of the previous offerings on the northern side of the land. Given 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’s significance on Disney movie history, it was nice to see that the film was honored by its inclusion in a tiny piece of the Winnie the Pooh Ride. Inside the tree just to the left of the entrance that serves mostly as a decoration, there’s a small inscription of the Nautilus Submarine from the movie. Since the Tree is mostly decoration and only has a small entrance where toddlers could wander in, very few people will ever see the small detail. If you’re visiting, try to poke your head in and spot it!
#5. The Ring
Funnily enough, this special item at the Haunted Mansion in Magic Kingdom has nothing to do with original creators of the ride or anything it replaced. Despite many guest theories and stories of the plot of the ride, it was never created to have an exact series of events or interpretation. In its original creation, Walt assigned two of his best creative minds to come up with plans for the attraction. One idea was more spooky and involved all sorts of illusions, while the other was a bit sillier and fun. The ideas were eventually married together for the attraction. Original ideas include bits and pieces of the Master Gracey story, the Captain story, and the Bride story, all of which are somewhat represented in the various Haunted Mansion versions throughout the Disney Parks.
The Bride story gained traction after Disney moved around the iron stanchions in the pavement when re-doing the queue lines. They accidently left behind a small circle in the pavement which looked sort of like a ring. Fans quickly developed a backstory for “the ring” involving the ghost bride in the attraction throwing the ring from the attic after discovering that her husband cheated on her. The ring then lodged itself in the pavement, and hence the circle left behind. Disney actually changed the pavement again to keep it updated and removed the circle, to the dismay of many fans. After the outcry, they went back and added an actual ring into the pavement. That ring is still there in the queue for the Haunted Mansion, just before guests line up in front of the double-door entrance. Before making the U-turn to the left to face the entrance doors, look down on the right side of the path (sometimes next to the trash cans) to spot the ring!