Our Disney100 anniversary celebration is in full swing, and what better way to mark this milestone than with a look back at our Disney Parks castles? Starting with the debut of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland park in 1955, we’re sharing a behind-the-scenes look at our six iconic centerpiece castles around the world!
Walt Disney and his Imagineers modeled the 77-foot Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland park after several European medieval castles. However, in a deliberate decision to be more friendly and welcoming than the often-intimidating historical structures, Sleeping Beauty Castle was designed on a smaller scale. In the photos above, you’ll see it under construction in spring 1955, and again just two months before the park’s July 17 opening date.
While it’s the smallest of the Disney Parks castle centerpieces, Sleeping Beauty Castle plays a big role in Disney history, serving as a comparative inspiration for Magic Kingdom-style parks around the world.
Walt Disney World Resort
The next castle opened its gates in 1971 at Walt Disney World Resort. Cinderella Castle took approximately 18 months to build and was constructed with concrete, steel, cement, plaster and fiberglass as opposed to the traditional brick structure of European castles. However, if you look closely, you’ll still find nods to European architecture in the Romanesque, fortress-like base and Gothic upper portion of the structure.
Today, this 189-foot landmark has been freshened from its original grey, blue and gold color palette, sporting an EARidescent makeover of royal blue, gold and pink. You may also remember a magical — and iconic — birthday cake overlay from Walt Disney World’s 25th Anniversary!
Cinderella Castle at Tokyo Disneyland may look familiar because it was modeled after its counterpart in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort. Although the exterior was repainted in 2006, the current color palette looks more like the original structure than the recently updated version in Magic Kingdom. Debuting in 1983, this was the first castle to be built internationally and charted a path towards future parks around the world — a very special moment indeed.
In 1992, Disneyland Paris opened with Le Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant (Sleeping Beauty Castle) as its centerpiece. This structure is unlike any other in the world: Walt Disney Imagineers strove for a more fairytale-inspired appearance than any real-world European castle, skillfully combining architecture, nature and fantasy, as well as inspiration from various French monuments. The icon does so by embellishing traditional touches — such as gothic shapes and stained glass — with distinctly Disney details.
Next time you visit, look for the oval stained-glass window, which is permanently lit at the top of the main tower! It signifies a royal presence, just as the Château de Chambord in France indicated when France’s king was in residence.
Shanghai Disney Resort
Enchanted Storybook Castle opened in Shanghai Disneyland in 2016 and shines over the park as its tallest structure! Deep in its lore is a sense of enchantment, as the storybook within is infused with magic which brings its pages to life. You’ll notice the warm, glistening tones of the granite and limestone building materials and the glowing windows framed in ornate Baroque flourishes.
Two of the seven towers incorporate Shanghai Disneyland’s guiding principles of “Authentically Disney, Distinctly Chinese.” These feature traditional Chinese cloud patterns and peonies (China’s national flower), blended with Disney stars and a crown with many Disney Princess symbols.
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort
In 2005, a re-creation of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland park opened in Hong Kong Disneyland. However, in 2020, the park centerpiece was transformed into the Castle of Magical Dreams, a one-of-a-kind symbol of magic. This structure takes inspiration from the princesses and queens featured in Disney Animation and Pixar films: think characters like Mulan, Moana, Tiana, Ariel and Rapunzel. You’ll notice that certain elements of the castle, such as towers and domes, are uniquely designed to represent each character. The tower dedicated to Princess Aurora stands the tallest, as a nod to the original Sleeping Beauty Castle which served as the foundation for the Castle of Magical Dreams.
The mountainous backdrop of Lantau Island was also important to Imagineers: the castle’s trees and foliage seamlessly blend the architecture into the natural landscape surrounding the park.
As you can see, each castle fuses recognizable Disney features and a touch of magic with its surrounding cultures and landscapes. Our look back in time demonstrates the impressive attention to detail and ingenuity of our Walt Disney Imagineering teams, from Disneyland park’s opening to today.
Which of these six park landmarks have you visited? Let us know, and stay tuned to the Disney Parks Blog for more peeks into our storied history in honor of the Disney100 Anniversary Celebration! Plus, check out “100 Disney Adventures of a Lifetime” for more memorable Disney experiences around the world.