Many years before smartphones made snapping pictures unlimited, Kodak declared Cinderella Castle to be the most-photographed building in the world, not just at Walt Disney World, and it’s easy to understand why.
The Magic Kingdom’s central icon is a brilliant piece of imagineering and while it bears no resemblance to the castle in the 1950 animated feature, it has captured the imagination of generations as one of the symbols of The Walt Disney Co.
As you’ll see throughout ClickOrlando.com’s “50 Years” series, a big goal for Walt Disney’s team was to not only learn from creating and evolving Disneyland but to build on that legacy and outdo themselves. In a number of ways, they did just that. While I will always hold a special fondness for the innate charm of Walt’s park, The Magic Kingdom is generally on a much grander scale, starting with the entrance, the train station, on down through Main Street, U.S.A., but nowhere is this felt more than the park’s icon, the Cinderella Castle.
For Perspective, here’s Walt’s original castle, Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.
When it opened in 1955, the design’s goal was to be regal, but approachable. It stands at 77 feet tall and created an unforgettable image.
Soaring 189 feet into the sky, Cinderella Castle is more than twice as tall as its predecessor, yet despite being a “fairy tale” centerpiece the design feels grounded in real life. That is because the design team used eight real-life castles as inspiration. In some ways, it tells the history of castle architecture. The oldest castles are like the base, seemingly built of large, heavy stones, and surrounded by a moat. They were designed for defense, but as you look from the ground to the sky, its turrets and towers grow more ornate and decorative, just as real-life castles evolved.
Its chief designer, Disney Legend Herb Ryman introduced it to the world with this impressive concept painting.
It was designed with 29 towers, though two were eliminated during construction because they weren’t visible. Despite its appearance, no bricks or stone were used in construction, and despite popular opinion, the castle is not made of fiberglass, other than some accent pieces.
At its heart, the castle was formed with 600 tons of steel-braced frame construction, covered with thick fiber-reinforced gypsum plaster and surrounded with a 10-inch-thick reinforced concrete wall.
All of this was done to withstand hurricanes, and to dispel a myth, the towers do not come apart in pieces for storage when a storm threatens. This building was designed to handle 125 mile-per-hour winds. Like Sleeping Beauty Castle in California, it serves as the gateway to Fantasyland, but Florida’s version features elaborate mosaics re-telling the Cinderella story. Towards the top, a large room was intended to serve as a Disney family suite. For decades, it was home to telephone switchboard operators and dressing rooms. It was re-designed into the lavish Cinderella Dream Suite in 2007. While very few guests can actually stay there or see inside the suite, many dine in the heart of the castle at a restaurant originally called “King Stefan’s Banquet Hall.”
It was re-named Cinderella’s Royal Table on April 28, 1997, after a quarter-century of people wondering why Sleeping Beauty’s dad opened up shop in someone else’s palace.
The look of the castle has evolved over the years. Here’s a look just days before opening, in a group photo of all cast members, followed by the color scheme it had through most of the decades.
Disney itself used to point out the color palette was carefully selected to complement and not compete with the blue skies of Central Florida. Just before the pandemic shutdown, work began re-imagining the color scheme to rose gold, with dark blue roofs and golden accents.
For the 50th, Disney added what they call “Earidescent” gold and blue bunting, ribbons and decorations. A 50th medallion was raised into place in late July to get ready for “The World’s Most Magical Celebration.”
The most dramatic change in appearance came from the 15 month-long celebrations of WDW’s 25th Anniversary (October 1996 – January 1998).
It took more than 400 U.S. gallons of pink paint to turn the icon into the Castle Cake, with multicolored “sprinkles,” 26 candles, ranging in height from 20–40 feet tall, along with enormous “candy” decorations. More than 1000 feet of pink and blue inflatable “icing” was needed to finish it off
The most outrageous look came on November 16, 2004 when Stitch littered the place to mark the grand opening of “Stitch’s Great Escape!”
A more tasteful look came in time for Disneyland’s 50th celebration, featuring an enormous “magic mirror,” gold trim, swags, banners, and golden statues of Disney characters.
For its own 50th, new golden characters are appearing in the hub in front of the castle, which will become one of four “Beacons of Magic” every evening.
Here’s to 50 more wonderful years, and a bright future for the icon of Walt Disney World.
To all who come to this happy corner of ClickOrlando.com, welcome! Walt Disney World is counting down to its 50th Anniversary, and so are we. With 50 days until 50 years, we are taking a daily look back at the past, how Disney’s opening shaped Central Florida’s present, and a peek at what’s in store for the future.
We’re also looking to hear your memories of Walt Disney World: What do you love? What do you miss? What are some of your magical moments? You can share them with us and we’ll post them all for everyone to enjoy. Some might even be featured during our News 6 TV coverage of Walt Disney World’s 50th.
Here’s to dreaming, and here’s to another half-century of The Most Magical Place on Earth!