When my wife and I were planning our (very first) Disneyland trip we wanted to not only experience the attractions but also learn more about the history of the park itself. So we booked Walk in Walt’s Footsteps, a three hour walking tour which offers up a history of Disneyland as well as of the man who created it.
The first thing we did, at about nine in the morning, was check in at the tour gazebo in the Town Square area.
The use of the audio equipment was very cool. Not only could we clearly hear our guide as she spoke, but the recordings that played throughout the tour helped frame a lot of the history that she was talking about.
Once everyone was ready to go, the group assembled in front of nearby stairs where our tour guide explained a bit about what we could expect to see and hear over the course of the morning. Then, we started walking.
From the moment our guide started the tour we were learning about the park and about Walt Disney, but at no point was the content too dry or did we feel like she was just throwing facts at us. Everything was put into context and it was clear from the beginning that Cassie loved the subject and was sharing something she cared about rather than just reciting a script.
Our first stop was the nearby Firehouse. This building is well known for having an apartment on the second floor, in which Walt and his wife stayed when they would come to Disneyland. The guide talked about Walt’s youth, which led into the history of Main Street USA and the “small town wonder” that Walt wanted to capture. We also learned more about the apartment itself, too, as the guide described as best she could what it looked like inside.
Our next destination was right in the center of Town Square, where Walt made the first dedication speech at the opening of Disneyland. Then, the tour guide pressed a button on her own audio device and a recording of that speech played through our earpieces. I’ve heard it before, but listening to Walt’s dedication speech while standing in the spot where he gave it was a surprisingly powerful moment to me.
We then walked up Main Street, stopping at the Central Plaza (aka the hub) so that the guide could talk briefly about each of the lands that make up Disneyland. Audio from the old Disneyland TV show on ABC was then played, a clip of Walt describing what guests could expect to experience in the different lands of the park.
Our route then took us across the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty Castle and into Fantasyland. As we walked, audio of Walt’s Fantasyland dedication played.
Once in Fantasyland, we talked briefly about the history of the land and of the King Arthur Carrousel. A recording then played of Walt Disney and his daughter Diane talking about their days in Griffith Park and how he would sit on a bench eating peanuts and watch her ride the merry-go-round, and how it was there that he first imagined a park where families could all play together.
When my wife and I were researching the tour prior to booking, the information we found stated that we would get to ride some attractions over the course of the day. The rides you go on can vary based on a number of factors, so we had no idea at the start what we’d be riding during our own tour. It was now time for our first one, though: Alice in Wonderland!
From Fantasyland, we moved on to Frontierland, stopping by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The guide talked about Walt’s love of the Old West, and we listened to his Frontierland dedication. From where we stood we could also see part of the long-defunct Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland attraction, which the guide also talked briefly about.
Walking through Frontierland, we stopped in front of the famous Petrified Tree.
In front of Club 33, the guide explained Walt’s interest in having special exclusive areas of the park for corporate VIPs. We got to see the original and the new entrances of Club 33–the photo above is of the plaque next to the original door–and then we learned more about the history of New Orleans Square before walking over to the Haunted Mansion.
In front of the Haunted Mansion we listened to a recording of the Disneyland 10th anniversary television show, in which Walt talked about upcoming attractions Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion (or, at least, their incarnations as of 1965). The guide also talked a bit about the history of both attractions, from their concepts to their very different final forms.
We then rode the Haunted Mansion, again entering through the exit and bypassing the line.
After the Haunted Mansion, we got on the Disneyland Railroad at the nearby New Orleans Square station and took it to Tomorrowland. We took this opportunity to chat with Cassie a bit, as well as get to know some of the other people on the tour.
After we disembarked the train in Tomorrowland, it was time for something very important: a restroom break.
Once the group was reassembled, the guide talked a bit about the history of Tomorrowland. We also got to hear audio of the Tomorrowland dedication while we walked to our next destination, the Matterhorn. Standing between the Matterhorn and Nemo’s Submarine Voyage, we learned about the history of both attractions.
Moving on, we soon reached a spot near “it’s a small world”. Standing in view of the facade, the guide talked about the attraction as well as its history. This included quite a bit of background on Disney’s involvement with the 1964-1965 World’s Fair in New York.
Next we headed back towards Main Street, and while we did we listened to recordings from the World’s Fair attractions. Once we reached Main Street we went into the portrait gallery at Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. It was in the gallery, next to a portrait of Walt and Mickey Mouse, that Cassie spoke of Walt’s final days.
This part of the tour (before lunch) was extremely emotional. Standing in front of a portrait of Walt and Mickey as the tour guide talked about his death was sad. The guide also talked a bit about Walt Disney World, the project that Walt started but didn’t survive to see completed. Audio played of Walt talking about his “Florida Project” and in particular about his vision for EPCOT. As a long-time guest/former cast member of Walt Disney World (and a huge fan of the EPCOT park and Walt’s original Progress City plan) this was a very powerful moment for me. I’ll admit that it… was very dusty in that room and it caused my eyes to water. A bit. To add to the emotional punch of all that, “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins (Walt’s favorite song) played in our ears while walking back towards where we started.
Returning to the gazebo, we found our lunches already laid out in the surrounding garden area. The guide collected our audio devices, and we sat down to eat.
But the tour wasn’t over yet! After lunch, a second guide joined our group and led us to the Dream Suite. This large apartment over Pirates of the Caribbean was originally conceived by Walt as a function space for VIPs visiting the park. After his death the project was abandoned, then it housed the Disney Gallery for a while before being reimagined as the Disneyland Dream Suite.
I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed the Dream Suite. To be totally honest, I was a bit disappointed when I booked the tour and found out that it no longer went to Walt’s apartment or the lobby of Club 33. I had no real idea what the Dream Suite was or why I would want to see it. But it was, in fact, very cool. Obviously, getting to learn more about its history was great, and the space itself is an amazing mix of antique style (much of the decor was based upon designer Dorothea Redmond’s original plans for the space) and new technology. Almost every room has some sort of special effect, whether it be a train moving around the perimeter of the Frontierland bedroom or twinkling fiber optic stars over the tub. Unfortunately, photos weren’t allowed in the Dream Suite, but once the tour was at an end the second guide did offer to take everyone’s pictures.
There are photographs of some of the Dream Suite rooms hung in the lobby of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. So these next couple pictures are actually photos of those.
Once we got our photo taken, we headed outside and down a set of stairs where we had the opportunity to say goodbye to Cassie, as that was the end of the tour.
So, was the tour fun? Was it educational? Would I recommend it to anyone wanting to learn more about the history of Disneyland and its creator?
Absolutely. Yes. Definitely.
The tour is full of information about Walt Disney’s life and his journey from small-town dreamer to creator of the Happiest Place on Earth, and you’ll also learn a lot about the park itself and the ideas that helped shape the attractions.
When we booked the tour, the cost was a little over $100 per person (bear in mind that prices are very subject to change) though we did save something like 20% by paying with our Disney Visa card. As mentioned before, too, that price does include lunch. And honestly, the whole experience was well worth the money. We also scheduled it for a busy day, so rather than just fight the crowds for attractions all morning and for lunch we took the tour which–aside from just being an amazing look at the park’s history–gave us the opportunity to go on a few rides without waiting in line and have a nice quiet lunch. Our tour guide was very good at navigating through the throngs of people, too, so at no point did we feel like we were being delayed by the crowds.
Even if you know some of the information already, like I do, there’s still a lot of new things to learn, and learning it while walking the park–walking in Walt’s footsteps–is just an amazing experience. I actually tried to think of anything I found to be negative about it, just to offer some counterpoints to my gushing about how awesome it was, but really couldn’t come up with anything. I simply can’t recommend the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour enough for anybody interested in the history of Walt and of Disneyland, it was truly one of the highlights of our trip.