Fantasyland has always been the most popular and well-known land within Disneyland. But since its debut in 1955, Fantasyland has changed dramatically, and is virtually unrecognizable from its original design. Walt Disney and the Imagineers were never completely happy with Fantasyland’s layout or theme, but with limited time and money, they set up Fantasyland with the idea that it would later undergo major changes.
As Disneyland expanded and gained popularity over the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, Fantasyland struggled to compete with the continuously updated and fresh façades of the other lands in the park. Though it did see several ride and attraction changes, Fantasyland’s Renaissance fair décor and overall infrastructure stayed largely the same. However, the rides in the land were too close together, congesting traffic and limiting space for parades or temporary attractions. So by the early 80’s, Imagineers planned a complete overhaul of the land, which would be known as the “New Fantasyland.”
The Renaissance fair tents and decorations transformed into a quaint Bavarian-style village, complete with stone towers and houses with stain glass windows. While the castle was unaffected by this new architectural style, the rest of Fantasyland now looked like it hopped right out of the pages of the classic fairytales that inspired the land in the first place. Here is a photo of the original Fantasyland theme:
Source: Designing Disney
For a comparison, check out some photos of Fantasyland today here.
Before the 1983 expansion/renovation of Fantasyland, traffic flowed into one main area: the plaza right behind the castle. With so many rides in one concentrated area, the massive crowds surrounding each ride did not make for such a charming environment. This photo from 1959 shows how horribly congested Fantasyland was during peak visiting times:
Source: Designing Disney
To remedy this problem, Imagineers opened up central Fantasyland. The Mad Tea Party moved to its current location, alongside Alice in Wonderland, and the King Arthur Carrousel moved to the Tea Party’s former circle. With this change alone, Fantasyland became much more spacious and less overwhelming for guests.
This graphic from ImagineeringDisney.com shows the original locations of the Fantasyland rides in pink:
Source: Imagineering Disney
As you can see on the graphic, the Tea Party and the Carrousel were not the only rides that changed locations. Skull Rock, the Pirate Ship, and its surrounding moat were removed, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant took their place. Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures still reside in the same locations as pictured in pink, and the Fantasyland Theatre is now Pinocchio’s Daring Journey. (Note: this map also shows the Skyway, which closed in 1994).
With Fantasyland’s new layout, guests could freely access the center plaza from Frontierland, Tomorrowland, or Main Street USA without having to navigate lines for popular rides. Fantasyland opened up, providing room for future rides, attractions, and character meet and greets.
While the primary focus of the 1983 expansion and renovation was to “reimagine” Fantasyland’s overall theme, several rides within this land experienced facelifts themselves:
Alice In Wonderland – Though Alice was the only Fantasyland ride built between the park’s opening and the 1983 renovation, it still experienced its share of changes. Originally, Alice was nowhere to be found inside the ride, and guests were meant to experience Wonderland themselves, mimicking the journey of Alice in the film. But not many guests understood this concept, and instead wondered why Alice wasn’t featured in the ride named after her. So during the renovation, Imagineers added Alice, so that she would accompany riders as they navigate Wonderland.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride – Mr. Toad and friends experienced their share of upgrades as part of the renovation. The entire track was replaced, enabling Imagineers to expand the ride and create additional scenes. On the outside, the façade became Toad Hall, with an adjoining garden for the waiting area, complete with busts of the main characters.
Peter Pan’s Flight – This ride underwent few interior changes during the 1983 project, but its exterior was completely redone along with the rest of the façades. Imagineers created a London-inspired home with a tall clock tower, reminiscent of the scenery in the film.
Snow White’s Scary Adventures – Before 1983, this ride was called “Snow White’s Adventures”, and did not feature the heroine inside. Instead, guests were supposed to experience the ride from her vantage point, as if they were escaping the Evil Queen. Like with Alice in Wonderland, this concept never really resonated with guests, so Imagineers added the princess in a few places during the renovation. When Snow White arrived in the ride, she came with updated special affects and additional scenes from the film, extending the ride’s length and storyline. Additionally, the carousel’s new location provided space for a more detailed façade, which now features a tall window where the Queen likes to peer out at guests.
On May 26th, 1983, the drawbridge to the Sleeping Beauty Castle finally opened, signifying a new era for Fantasyland. Disneyland hosted a grand opening ceremony, welcoming guests to the new and improved land. Today, Fantasyland still maintains the same layout and style that debuted in 1983, and has captivated imaginative park guests ever since.
Source: Designing Disney