July 22, 2024


The Tour And Travel Enthusiasts

9 real-life destinations that inspired Disneyland

5 min read
9 real-life destinations that inspired Disneyland

Walt Disney loved to travel just as much as he loved making movies and building theme parks. His travels took him all over the world, from the snow-covered Swiss Alps to the elegant coastline of the French Riviera.

During his time on the road, in the air and at sea, Walt drew inspiration for what would become one of the world’s most well-known theme parks, Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The park opened its gates in 1955 and went on to inspire the creation of five additional Disney resorts in Orlando, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

New Orleans

Walt and his wife Lillian made frequent visits to New Orleans as far back as the 1940s, shopping for treasures at the city’s antique and curio shops. He was so taken by the Crescent City that he created an entire area at Disneyland designed to replicate the architecture and lively atmosphere of the French Quarter.

Eudora’s Chic Boutique Featuring Tiana’s Gourmet Secrets in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. DISNEY

The mayor of New Orleans was on hand at the dedication of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square in 1966 and annointed Walt an honorary citizen of New Orleans.

Today, New Orleans Square is where you’ll find the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions — and, come 2024, the all-new Tiana’s Bayou Adventure ride.

Neuschwanstein castle

While it was not the only inspiration for Sleeping Beauty Castle, which marks the entrance to Fantasyland at Disneyland, Neuschwanstein castle in the German Alps was heavily influential in its design.

Walt visited Neuschwanstein during a family trip to Europe in 1952 and was undoubtedly taken by the castle’s Romanesque design. Though the original is more austere in nature than the whimsical pink-and-blue theme park version, both are among the most popular tourist destinations in their respective countries.

During his tour-de-Europe, Walt also would have passed through Germany’s Black Forest region, likely gaining inspiration for the Bavarian village vibes of attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish and Pinnochio’s Daring Journey in Fantasyland.

Tivoli Gardens

In June of 1951, Walt and his family sailed to Europe on the Queen Mary for a nearly two-month trip that included visits to London, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome and Genoa. While in Copenhagen, Walt visited Tivoli Gardens, one of the world’s oldest amusement parks.

Walt was quoted as saying, “It was spotless and brightly colored and priced within the reach of everyone … The gaiety of the music, the excellence of the food and drink, the warm courtesy of the employees — everything combined for a pleasurable experience,” according to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

The park’s cleanliness and family-friendly atmosphere left a strong enough impression on Walt that he incorporated similar elements into his own park when Disneyland opened four years later.

Castillo de San Felipe del Morro

While searching for inspiration for Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square, Walt flew in his very own Gulfstream jet to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

His in-person look at Old San Juan and Castillo de San Felipe Del Morro helped to shape the final design of the ride, which Walt originally planned to be a walk-through attraction. Sadly, Walt never saw the final product, as he died in December 1966, only a few months before the ride opened in March 1967.

Children’s Fairyland

Children’s Fairyland is a storybook-themed amusement park in Oakland, California, that has been in operation since 1950, five full years before Disneyland opened. Walt may have visited the park more than once, but there is at least one documented visit in May of 1954, when Disneyland was under development.

Walt likely saw attractions themed to Alice and Wonderland and Peter Pan, both of which now have their own versions at Disneyland. He was so impressed with the park that he hired the Children’s Fairyland’s director and chief puppeteer onto the staff at Disneyland.

Founder’s Park

Founder’s Park in Anaheim, California, is located only two miles from Disneyland. At the park, a large Moreton Bay fig tree has been providing shade to the area for more than 100 years. It is also widely believed that the tree provided a bit of inspiration for Disneyland’s Swiss Family Treehouse (now the Tarzan Treehouse).

There isn’t much evidence to prove that the tree fully inspired Walt to build the Swiss Family Treehouse, but there is documentation that staff members who worked on the attraction, and possibly Walt himself, photographed the tree and took recently-trimmed branches to shape details of the Disneyland tree, according to Orange County historian Chris Jepsen in a story for Yesterland.

Griffith Park

Griffith Park in Los Angeles was possibly more influential in the creation of Disneyland than any other destination on this list. Griffith Park is credited as being the spot where Walt dreamt up the idea for Disneyland.

As the story is often told, Walt used to take his daughter to Griffith Park on the weekends for “Daddy’s day.” While they were going round and round on the merry-go-round and he was eating peanuts on a park bench, he “felt there should be something built where the parents and the children could have fun together,” according to the Disney Parks Blog.

Today at Disneyland, you can view one of the original carousel horses from the Griffith Park merry-go-round and the famed park bench where the idea for Disneyland was born; both are located in the lobby of the Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln attraction.

Marceline, Missouri

Walt moved to Marceline, Missouri, in 1906 at the age of 4, and lived there until 1910, when his family moved to Kansas City, Missouri.

Walt considered Marceline to be his hometown and often spoke of his happy childhood memories there. The look of Main Street, U.S.A., however, is not meant to reflect any particular town. Rather, its design reflects an idyllic turn-of-the-century Main Street where everyone feels at home.

While Marceline’s Main Street doesn’t look much like Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A., the town did play a significant role in Walt’s life during his formative childhood years and the feeling of magic and nostalgia he wanted to evoke at his theme park.

The Matterhorn

Walt’s first visit to the Matterhorn in the town of Zermatt, Switzerland, came in 1952 during a family vacation to Europe. He fell so in love with the scenery that he returned the following summer and filmed the 1959 movie “Third Man on the Mountain” there a few years later.

While visiting the filming location in 1958, Walt’s fascination with the Matterhorn inspired him to build an attraction based on it: the Matterhorn Bobsleds roller coaster at Disneyland.

The coaster version is exactly 100 times shorter than the 14,700-foot-tall mountain peak.

Bottom line

Walt’s influence can be seen at every Disney park around the world, but Disneyland is the only park Walt lived to see through to fruition. Because it’s the only park where you can “walk in Walt’s footsteps,” it holds a special place in the hearts of Disney fans.

Just as special, though, is visiting any of these inspirational destinations around the globe that shaped Walt’s plans for his original park.