|Walt Disney's Apartment--July 16, 2015|
On the afternoon of July 16, 2015, just hours before the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland, we stepped foot inside Walt’s apartment on Main Street, U.S.A. Just recounting it gives me goosebumps. How did we get this honor and privilege? We took the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour at Disneyland.
The tour is offered daily at 9:30 am and 1:30 pm and lasts 3 to 3 ½ hours. The cost is $109 per person, but we got a 20% discount when using our Disney Rewards Visa to reserve and pay for the tour. This tour, and any others, can be reserved 30 days in advance of your desired tour date. Know that the tours don’t “load” into the system until 8:00 am Pacific Time.
We reserved the 1:30 pm tour on July 16, our last day at Disneyland. This particular tour is recommended for tweens, teens, and adults and includes either lunch or dinner, depending on whether you’re on the morning or afternoon tour.
So, shortly after 1:00 pm, we checked into the Guided Tours location just left of City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A. Guests are asked to check-in 15 minutes prior to the start of the tour and the official location of the check-in is Disneyland Tour Gardens. There is a kiosk for check-in.
When we arrived, there was a heated conversation going on at the kiosk, so we found tables and chairs. Soon, another Cast Member greeted us and knew our names. I think it had something to do with the “Williams Family” shirts and the fact that our names were on his list. We were given personalized pins and dinner menus. When the Cast Member returned to take our dinner order, we were also given cold bottles of water.
Soon we were fitted with ear pieces for listening that were worn around the neck like lanyards with an over-the-ear headphone for one ear. It took some time to figure out the “channel” and volume, but eventually all 18 of us could hear our guide. The boy’s receiver showed low battery and it was quickly replaced with another one. We were assured that the earpieces were sanitized between guests.
It was time to head out and hear the stories about Main Street, U.S.A., the train station, and to look for names on the windows as we made our way down Main Street. We stopped in Central Plaza, also known as the hub, and listened more about the castle and design of the park. We walked through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and into Fantasyland hearing about some of the original attractions that would celebrate their 60th birthday the next day.
We then headed to the Alice in Wonderland attraction. This attraction is unique to Disneyland and has recently undergone a refurbishment. We had ridden it another day and were intrigued by some of the technology found inside the attraction. Well, we got to ride again, but this time, going in the exit with minimal wait. Note: When I had originally done some research about this tour, I had read about other groups going on Peter Pan. While we did make a stop near Peter Pan, I think the wait times were just too much for us to jump in the exit line (70-90 minutes) so our guide made other arrangements.
Once our tour group had exited the attraction, we walked towards Frontierland via the path that leads in front of Big Thunder Ranch. And, as we walked by Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, I snuck out of our group for moment and grabbed Fastpasses. I wasn’t the only one as another gentleman had done the same thing.
We then learned more about Walt’s adventurous spirit and how as a young man had wanted to explore the Mississippi. Since he wasn’t able to do it, he decided to put Rivers of America in Frontierland along with Tom Sawyer’s Island. Walt’s wife, Lillian, often accompanied him and one of his gifts to her after an adventure was a large piece of petrified tree that now sits in Frontierland at Disneyland.
We strolled by New Orleans Square learning about Walt’s suite, Club 33, and the Jazz Club that were all located on the second floor of buildings in New Orleans Square. Seems Walt got his idea for Club 33 when he went to the World’s Fair and experienced the VIP lounges and receptions. He wanted to have that type of treatment for special guests and visitors at Disneyland. Note: Due to the suite being used as one of the prizes for the Disneyland 60th Anniversary, we did not get to peak upstairs.
Soon we found ourselves standing outside the Haunted Mansion. Turns out that the building had been at Disneyland long before there was an attraction inside it. Walt’s participation in the 1964 World’s Fair made it so that Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t a walk through wax museum as previously planned, but instead a boat ride through scenes with animatronics. Well, the Haunted Mansion was originally slated to be a museum for the weird. Animatronics changed all of that, too. We enjoyed the Haunted Mansion attraction as a group, bypassing the line.
After riding Haunted Mansion, we headed for the train station in New Orleans Square and rode the train to Tomorrowland. We exited the train, took a bathroom break, and then rejoined to hear about Autopia, another original attraction dreamed by Walt. Seems that in 1955 Walt was anticipating the freeway system and wanted to give guests an experience to help them learn to drive safely. We also heard a story about how the attraction went from 35 working cars to 2 working cars on opening day and someone famous got run off the path before their were tracks.
The group circled back towards the Matterhorn Bobsleds and we heard the story of how Walt didn’t want to look at a tall pole in the middle of the park anymore and suggested that a mountain be built around it with a roller coaster inside. The steel rod technology hadn’t been invented yet, but Disney Imagineers didn’t let that stop them as they did the inventing themselves. This technology is now used in roller coasters around the world.
We also learned about how Walt was invited to bring current attractions to the 1964 World’s Fair but he said “no.” Instead, he got investors to finance new ideas for attractions that premiered at the World’s Fair, such as It’s A Small World, which at Disneyland only has water for the boats and includes likenesses of various Disney/Pixar characters including Princesses throughout the scenes vs. having the entire attraction in water like it is at Walt Disney World.
The tour was coming to an end and we made our way to the Jolly Holiday Bakery where a section of patio had been reserved just for us and our dinner orders were waiting. Yummy!
While we were dining, each guest was given a commemorative pin to mark the occasion of the tour along with a special Fastpass that could be used on any attraction whether it was a Fastpass attraction or not—at either Disneyland or California Adventure, but only for that day. Wow!
Just when we thought we were done with the tour and special surprises, we were whisked away to stand near the Fire Station on Main Street, U.S.A. We were told of the lamp in Walt’s apartment window upstairs was a symbol to remind us that his spirit is still in the park. When Walt was alive, the lit lamp was a signal that he was in the park. Guests and Cast Members would look up at the window to find out if Walt was in the park that day.
Then, we were taken backstage and got to climb the steps to the door of Walt’s apartment. Cameras off and we had to place them on the counter once we entered the apartment.
The apartment was a mixture of old and new—antiques and yet modern appliances for the time. Walt loved grilled cheese sandwiches so there was a grill for making them there in the apartment. His custom bathroom had a shower with four shower heads so that he could find relief for back pain, something unheard of for the time.
After spending many moments there and asking all the questions we wanted to ask, our guide then gave us the gift of taking our photo. Each group posed with the lamp behind them giving them a souvenir of something they would always remember.
When we got back downstairs, the husband and boy found the fire pole that Walt once used to get downstairs from his apartment but was later closed off when strangers appeared upstairs.
We were so glad we took this tour and especially on the day we took it. While standing in Walt’s apartment and looking out of the window, I could just imagine him being there 60 years ago and worrying about whether the asphalt was going to dry overnight for the guests who were coming the next morning. And, I could imagine his excitement.
Even the boy understood the significance and enjoyed the tour. He was the only non-adult on the tour. The other adults on the tour remarked about his ability to understand the history and ask good questions—he’s been raised Disney, you know.
After the tour we decided to use our special Fastpass to ride Autopia—an attraction we hadn’t yet enjoyed and now, we had some history to attach to our participation. Autopia is typically a Fastpass attraction, but due to construction, the Fastpass machines were temporarily unavailable. Still, we were able to use our special Fastpass. And, the bonus, the Cast Member gave it back to us so we could use it again!