7 Disney landmarks inspired by places around the world
A visit to Disneyland (or any Disney park) is almost like taking a one-day trip around the world.
If you go through the turnstiles and head towards the fairy-tale castle in front of you, it’s as though you’ve traveled to 19th-century Europe. A different route could take you to New Orleans, the American frontier, or the Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland.
Like many other Disney landmarks and attractions, these were inspired by Walt Disney’s love of travel.
Insider spoke with Becky Cline, director at the Walt Disney Archives, via email to learn more about the destinations Walt visited over the years and how they impacted the Disney parks we know today.
When you step into New Orleans Square at Disneyland, it feels as if you’ve been transported to another place.
Everything in New Orleans Square — the curio-style shops, live jazz music, and even the intricate wrought-iron balconies — feels straight out of the Big Easy.
The area was inspired by Walt’s love of the city after he began making frequent visits in the 1940s. But it wasn’t until the late 1950s that Walt started making plans to transform part of Disneyland named Magnolia Park (which was inspired by the South) into New Orleans Square.
As well as being inspired by the architecture of the city, it’s also likely that Walt had the idea to create Audio-Animatronics on one of his many trips to New Orleans.
“It was during one of these trips in 1946 and 1947 that we believe he found the antique singing bird-in-cage automaton made by Bontems of Paris,” Cline told Insider. “The music box is the one that inspired him to later create and develop Audio-Animatronics technology into the 1960s.”
Somehow, Walt was able to bring both the actual relics he and his wife Lilly found on their trips and the experience of being in New Orleans to California. According to the Disney Parks Blog, “several of the items they found, from mechanical toys to ornate vases to lacy wrought-iron lampposts, found their way into Disneyland.”
The Mayor of New Orleans was on hand for the dedication of New Orleans Square in 1966, and even made Walt an honorary citizen of New Orleans.
Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany, is often noted as being the inspiration for the landmark castle that serves as a gateway to Disneyland’s Fantasyland.
While Neuschwanstein Castle — which Walt say during a 1952 family trip to Europe — is often considered the sole inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle, Cline said the Disney palace “was an amalgamation of several examples (and their related design elements) found in Germany and France that Walt had seen and read about.”
Before Disneyland opened to guests in 1955, Sleeping Beauty Castle went by many names.
“During development of the project, Walt referred to the castle by several names – the Medieval Castle, the Fantasyland Castle, Robin Hood’s Castle, and in an early ‘Disneyland’ television episode he referred to it as ‘Snow White’s Castle,'” Cline said.
Though it wouldn’t premiere until 1959, the animated classic “Sleeping Beauty” was already in production when Disneyland opened, and “as a way to promote the upcoming film it was dubbed Sleeping Beauty Castle instead,” Cline said.
With its old-world charm and elegant design, Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Riviera Resort pays homage to Walt and Lilly’s many European adventures.
At Disney’s Riviera Resort, the architecture, art, and even the food pay tribute to Europe.
Upon arrival, the grand archways, columns, porticos, and Mediterranean-themed pools signal to guests that they’ve left central Florida for the Mediterranean.
Inside the resort, guests will find a “unique art collection celebrating beloved Disney characters and icons, influenced by master artists who found inspiration along the European Riviera,” according to the hotel’s website.
And while this resort doesn’t scream “Mickey Mouse,” his presence can still be felt. Topolino’s Terrace, the resort’s signature restaurant, is named for the famed mouse — Topolino being the Italian name for Mickey Mouse — and serves a variety of French and Italian cuisines.
Walt visited the Italian and French Rivieras more than once. The first time was almost 40 years before Disneyland was built.
Walt’s visit to Matterhorn Mountain in the Swiss Alps inspired the Disney attraction.
After visiting Switzerland years before, Walt returned to the European country in July 1958. While in Zermatt – home to the Matterhorn – he stayed at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof, known for its views of the majestic mountain.
There is a longstanding Disney legend that during that 1958 visit, Walt sent a postcard to Disney Art Director Vic Greene.
“On the front was a photo of the Matterhorn,” Cline said. “On the back, Walt wrote: ‘Build This.'”
While Disneyland had already been open for three years at this point, the area that now houses the Matterhorn was basically a giant tree-covered hill.
According to the Disneyland website, “Walt decided to cover a forested 20-foot-high mound named Holiday Hill with artificial snow, add a toboggan run, and rename it ‘Snow Hill.'”
Less than a year after Walt’s trip to Switzerland, the Matterhorn Bobsleds attraction opened on June 14, 1959.
Disneyland was heavily inspired by the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark.
“Walt was in the planning stages of Disneyland when he took his first trip to Tivoli Gardens in 1951,” Cline said.
While in the Danish capital, Walt visited the gardens on July 5 of that year with Lilly and his friend Art Linkletter, Cline said.
As Linkletter recalled in the book “The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make Them Happen,” “Walt walked through the amusement park scribbling down notes about the seats, gardens, rides, food, and every other detail he noticed.”
Cline also noted Walt’s fondness for the Danish park, telling Insider that he later said the park was “what an amusement place should be.” He described “the gaiety of the music, the excellence of the food and drink,” and “the warm courtesy of the employees,” saying that “everything combined for a pleasurable experience.”
Four years after Walt’s visit to Tivoli Gardens, Disneyland opened its gates.
Spain, Mexico, and the American southwest inspired Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.
Cline describes Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort at Walt Disney World as an “oasis set on the shore of Lago Dorado [Golden Lake]” that “honors the rich cultures and landscapes of Spain, Mexico, and the American southwest.”
Accordingly, the spirit of Spanish and Mexican pioneers in architecture, literature, and art can be felt throughout the resort.
“One such artist who was quite influential on Walt was Salvador Dali,” Cline told Insider.
The pair first met in California, with Walt and Lilly later visiting the artist at his home in Spain in 1957. In the most unexpected of collaborations, the artists teamed up at Walt’s studio on an animated project called “Destino.” The surrealist animated short took 50 years to finish, though it is less than seven minutes long. Unfortunately, outside forces – World War II and other studio commitments – caused the project to be shelved until Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew, resumed work on it in 1999.
Gran Destino Tower, the newest addition to Coronado Springs Resort takes its name directly from the classic Disney film and adds to the already immersive Spanish-style theming of the resort, with nods to Dali and the film sprinkled throughout.
The Disneyland Monorail was the first transportation system of its kind in America, but it may never have come to be if it weren’t for Walt’s travels to Munich, Germany.
Cline said that during a trip to Munich in September 1957, Walt met with Disney legend Admiral Joe Fowler — who led the construction of Disneyland — to see a new monorail designed by the Alweg company.
Shortly after seeing the monorail, Walt began working with Alweg to build a monorail for Disneyland. Alweg designed the beamway that the monorail would travel on and Imagineer Bob Gurr designed the train. The original Disneyland-Alweg Monorail System debuted on June 14, 1959.
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