When you think of Walt Disney World, do you envision the Cinderella Castle? Here is a look back at 50 years of majesty.
Is there anything in this world quite as magical as catching a glimpse of Cinderella Castle? It doesn’t matter where I (KatieP) am: approaching Magic Kingdom on the bus, riding in on the Monorail, stepping onto Main Street USA, or even cresting a hill on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, if I see the castle, two things happen.
One, I wistfully gasp, “The castle!” Is it even possible to see the castle without pointing it out?
Two, my heart gets giddy.
Cinderella Castle is one of the most ionic attractions in any theme park. And though she changes her gown from time to time, she is always recognizable.
I do not know the stats, but I imagine that the castle is one of the most photographed things in all the world. How many of us have used it as a backdrop for selfies or family photos? It is likely if you are reading this post, you have a photo of it somewhere in your home.
Of course, depending on the year your photo was taken, you may notice some subtle or even distinct differences between your photo and the current look of the castle. This is because, like the park itself, the icon has evolved over the years. Let’s take a look at the castle then and now.
A Dream is a Wish
The castle made its debut in 1971 along with Walt Disney World itself. But, before the big day, guests could look at Herb Ryman’s renderings of the soon-to-be famous icon when they visited the Walt Disney World preview center.
Constructing the magic took 18 months! The castle was finally completed in July 1971, several months prior to the opening.
Upon completion, the final product stood 185 feet tall. Though it has changed, it was originally painted in gray, blue, and gold.
Additionally, it has 13 gargoyles and 18 towers with spires and countless other details. I spot something new every time I see it.
Beautiful Inside and Out
The castle serves as a gateway to Fantasyland. When there is no stage show, guests can enter Fantasyland by way of a tunnel through the castle.
As you pass through, you will notice a gorgeous mural depicting scenes from the Cinderella story. If you haven’t had a chance to walk through, I encourage you to do so. While you won’t technically be inside the castle, you can enjoy this magical walkthrough.
How to Get Inside
With the castle came the opening of a restaurant known originally as King Stefan’s Banquet Hall. This gave guests the opportunity to dine in the middle of the magic along with the rare chance to step inside the castle.
Believe it or not, the experience was not always a character meal. At once point, it was a fine dining establishment with knights who served the meals.
However, it turned to Cinderella’s Royal Table and served a princess meal where fans of all ages could interact with a handful of Disney princesses. This meal became a bucket list item for many fans. After all, what could be more magical that dinner in the castle with the princesses.
During the pandemic, the meal shifted to include a socially distanced greeting from just one princess: Cinderella herself. While the character experience leaves something to be desired, the meal and the chance to see the inside of the castle are both lovely.
The Suite Life
Of course, a select few guests have gotten to sleep in the special Cinderella Castle suite. Disney does not advertise this suite as being available on its reservation site.
While rumor has it that an occasional celebrity manages to snag the suite, it is primarily only available through contests or special fundraisers. It is a gorgeous room, and you can get a better look at it right here.
The castle has celebrated many Walt Disney World birthdays over the years. However, it did not receive much of a makeover in the earlier celebrations.
For example, the 15th anniversary in 1986 was relatively modest makeover-wise. While festivities like special parades, character meets, and contests occurred, castle makeovers were limited to the shrubbery.
A 15th birthday cake topiary stood in front of the castle. A simple shrub.
Guests could see the 15 atop the cake as they strolled down Main Street towards the castle. You can see it in this photo from my own trip to the 15th anniversary celebration, pictured above.
Interestingly, while the topiary was in Magic Kingdom, a sculptural cake stood in Epcot. This feels like a bit of a role reversal considering Epcot is the land of topiaries in recent years.
Let them Eat Cake
The next milestone birthday had a very different twist on the castle. For the 25th anniversary, the castle received one of the most controversial makeovers it has ever had. Walt Disney World turned it into a birthday cake.
According to Walt Disney World, this cake was estimated to weigh over 40 million pounds. Even so, this sweet treat left many fans unimpressed. It does, however, have a fan following, many of whom own cake castle merch (myself included).
With the holiday celebrations came a new chance to gussy up the castle. In 2007, Walt Disney World introduced the Dream Lights for the holidays.
While the lights involved less frosting than the cake castle, they do tend to imply frost. Can you think of a more beautiful way to decorate than with 200,000 lights on Cinderella Castle?
Disney also realized that it doesn’t need pyro or lights at all to change the look of the castle. Projections can be used to turn the castle into anything under the sun.
Castle projections have been used as both standalone shows and in conjunction with fireworks shows to entertain guests. The projections can turn the castle into everything from candy to bone.
They can set it ablaze right before your eyes. They can even provide a platform for your favorite characters to come alive.
If you can dream it, Disney can put it on the castle! It seems that projections are here to stay, and I am excited to see what comes next.
Make it Pink
As the 50th anniversary for Walt Disney World drew near, Imagineers began drawing up designs for our beloved castle. The transformation started by painting it pink.
The new paint job was met with mixed reviews at first. Many castle lovers were unimpressed with the pink paint job.
However, as the 50th anniversary grew nearer, Disney’s team began to decorate the castle with drapery and gold and jewels.
The results are rather stunning in my opinion. The castle looks regal, and the accents pull the new colors together. It will be a perfect backdrop for the 50th anniversary festivities!
What’s to Come
While the castle has typically been restored to its traditional colors after anniversaries, it remains to be seen whether this will be the case after the 50th. But regardless, one thing is for certain, the castle is a beloved icon, and it will be for years to come.