Celebrating 100 Years in Castles: Exploring Castle Parks with Author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime — Disneyland

There are twelve Disney parks worldwide; six of those are Castle Parks. Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland Park led the way, followed by Cinderella representing Walt Disney World and Tokyo Disney Resorts. Next came Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant at Disneyland Paris. Hong Kong’s Disneyland’s original castle (opened in 2005) was transformed into Castle of Magical Dreams in 2020 to represent all of Disney’s princesses and queens. Enchanted Storybook Castle at Shanghai Disney Resort is the latest (and the greatest in terms of sheer size and scale).   I’m a lifelong lover of all things Disneyland, an avowed Disney geek, and now, a Disney author of 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime, Eat Like Walt, and Walt’s Disneyland. In this six-part series, I’ll highlight some of my favorite adventures and magical experiences around the Disney world. Let’s go castle hopping together! Together, we’ll visit each park after their recent anniversary. Just the way that Castle-hopping is one of the adventures I highlight in my book, I invite you to virtually visit each park with me! Sleeping Beauty Castle is also affectionately known as “Walt’s Castle.” At one point it was planned to be called Snow White Castle, in honor of Walt’s original full-length animated film princess. But Walt eventually settled on Sleeping Beauty Castle to promote his upcoming film, which premiered more than three years after Disneyland opened.   Fun fact: The front of the castle was changed at Walt’s whim. In a meeting with fellow designers, Herb Ryman was concerned that the front of the castle looked too much like its real-life inspiration—Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria. “I picked it up and moved the obvious Neuschwanstein part that was facing Main Street and turned it around to the Fantasyland side,” Herb explains. “At that moment Walt Disney was standing behind us in the door and looked at this castle and the way I’d turned it around. And he had his hands on his hips and was smiling and he said, ‘Well, I like that a lot better.’”  

“And I kept insisting I wanted this amusement park. And everybody says,

‘[What’s] he want that… amusement park for?’ And I couldn’t think up a

good reason except that, uh, I don’t know, I wanted it.” – Walt

Those words are incredibly enduring and authentic to me; I can cry just reading them. And here we are, 68 years later, still enjoying Walt’s original Magic Kingdom. This is my home park; the one I grew up with. It’s nearly impossible to pick favorites—attractions or food—so I won’t. However, here are a few highlights featured in 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime:   The Flag Retreat Ceremony may be one of the most overlooked moments at the park—and another way to stay connected to the traditions that were near and dear to Walt. His daughter Diane Disney Miller reminisced: “He’d watch the flag lowering at Disneyland every evening they were down there and tears would flow down his cheeks.”

Walt was a proud American and patriot, saying, “Actually, if you could see close in my eyes, the American flag is waving in both of them and up my spine is growing this red, white, and blue stripe.” So it wasn’t surprising that he instituted the flag retreat—a ritual dating back to his hero Abraham Lincoln’s presidency—on Opening Day of Disneyland on July 17, 1955.

Every afternoon in Town Square, the Disneyland Security Honor Guard lowers the flag and retires the colors. Often, they are accompanied by the Disneyland Band and, on special occasions such as Veterans Day, by the Dapper Dans (Disneyland’s beloved barbershop quartet). The anthems for the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard are played and military personnel are invited to encircle the flagpole when their branch of service is called. Everyone is encouraged to sing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and other patriotic melodies. Bring your children and be prepared to shed a tear or two.   Thanks to the new Walt’s Main Street Story, any guest can go on the walking tour that concludes in Walt’s private apartment above the Fire Station. Walt planned to a second apartment above the Pirates of the Caribbean that he intended to share with his bother, Roy. In fact, the gold W and R can still be seen in the wrought-iron veranda above the attraction. But after Walt passed away, construction for the Disney family residence in New Orleans Square was never completed. Later, however, the space was repurposed for The Disney Gallery, a store showcasing Disney art and artifacts.

The Disneyland Dream Suite was introduced in 2008 as one of the Disney Dreams Giveaways during the Year of a Million Dreams. Using concept art Walt commissioned from Disney Legend Dorothea Redmond, it was built to reflect what Walt and his wife, Lilly, had envisioned for the apartment. There is an all-new enchanted experience named for this exclusive location—21 Royal—and you and your guests are invited to dine like a Disney in utmost elegance.   Your evening begins on the patio with cocktails presented by the butler. Next, walk through the themed rooms and discover the magical and, sometimes, “secret” features. Then it’s time for the culinary adventure to begin. The stage is set at a lavish table in the Disney dining room, replete with white linens, gold-plated dinnerware, and fine crystal. Rivaling the experience at Michelin-starred restaurants, the multicourse tasting menu is prepared with the best of the best ingredients, perfectly plated, and presented with sophisticated flair. Dessert is served on the private balcony, with stunning views of the Rivers of America and the park’s nighttime entertainment. This is an unforgettable epicurean experience that is uniquely Disney!   Over at Disney California Adventure is a daily happening that is not advertised, not listed on the daily schedule, and not to be missed.   Before leaving his friends and for the speedway and a chance at the Piston Cup, Lightning McQueen famously asked his pals in Cars (2006), “Is it getting dark out?” Then, with the assistance of Lizzie and Red, Radiator Springs’ neon lights turn on for the first time in years. It’s a magical moment that brings this stop on Route 66 to life.   Cars Land at Disney California Adventure replicates that scene nightly just after sunset, complete with the accompanying song from the movie, “Sh-Boom.” Seeing it in person is just as impressive as it is on-screen. As day turns into night, the lights turn on across the Carburetor County town. It’s the ultimate way to shift into nighttime gear.   While not an experience listed as an adventure of a lifetime,  I would be remiss if I didn’t share with Laughing Place readers what I consider very important Disneyland history, an event that I had the honor to officially recount in Walt’s Disneyland: A Walk in the Park with Walt Disney. A day that I believe should be recognized and revered.   On October 16, 1966, Walt hosted the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor—the military’s highest honor for valor in combat.  

Although not intentional, it’s fitting that Walt’s last day at Disneyland was

celebrating great Americans in his great American theme park.

  The day began at the Opera House. Following a private performance of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Walt welcomed the American heroes. He let his guests know there was a special lunch at the Plaza Inn and he somewhat sheepishly apologized for the shape of Tomorrowland, which was under construction for the remodel. Everyone was given unlimited access to the park’s attractions and adventures; however, when Walt discovered the special ticket specifically excluded the shooting galleries, he quickly reversed it, humorously pointing out: “Here we got Medal of Honor winners and we won’t let them get up and shoot?!”   After his remarks, Walt was joined onstage by Sgt. Thomas J. Kelly, who said, “There is something that was made up and arrived today . . . and it gives me great pleasure in presenting it to Mr. Walt Disney. It is the seal of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. It comes to you from all these fine men here, for all they have done for their country, and in deep appreciation for everything you did for this country.” Walt was very grateful. “And again I want to say on behalf of the Disney organization, the Magic Kingdom, and everything else that it’s a real privilege and an honor to welcome you folks here today,” he said. Ten days after this celebratory occasion, Walt went to Saint Joseph Hospital for a routine X-ray prior to scheduled surgery. A mass was detected on his left lung. He passed away less than two months later, on December 15, 1966. As I close out this series, I ask we always remember the significance of October 14th. And October 16th—the founding of the Walt Disney Company, which is 100 this year!!!
Marcy Carriker Smothers
Marcy Carriker Smothers is the author of the fan favorite Eat Like Walt: The Wonderful World of Disney Food, a New York Times New & Noteworthy selection. A noted radio personality, she hosted several programs, including The Food Guy and Marcy Show with the Food Network’s Guy Fieri. In celebration of Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary, she co-authored Delicious Disney: Walt Disney World. Her love of all things Disney―especially Disneyland―inspired her to write Walt’s Disneyland: A Walk in the Park with Walt Disney. Her latest release is National Geographic’s 100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime: Magical Experiences From Around the World. When not strolling on Main Street, U.S.A., Marcy can be found exploring food and planning her next adventure.