There is no shortage of information in our world, including and especially concerning celebrities. Want to know about Oprah’s childhood? You can do a quick Google search and have all your questions answered in 30 seconds. Interested in how Steve Jobs founded Apple? Take your pic from the collection of media created about the businessman. As a culture, information absorbs our attention, and we readily seek to know more about people who inspire us, impact us, and innovate the ways we operate.
Walt Disney is no exclusion. While the legacy of his studio ascends the producer into having an almost mythical status, it’s not difficult to learn about Walt’s life. There are many written biographies with Walt as their subject, some illuminating and others dull. There are a handful of films and documentaries chronicling Walt’s experiences, some excellent and others filled with fluff. The gist is this: If you want to learn about Walt Disney, you won’t have a hard time doing so. Why, then, would anyone pay an extra $100 on top of theme park admission to hear a history lesson about Walt Disney, especially if you’re a fan who has a solid background on Disney? Because Walk In Walt’s Footsteps is the equivalent of Mary Poppins jumping into the sidewalk chalk drawing. In this guided tour, you’re not told Walt’s story, you walk it along with him, in the original Disney theme park, Disneyland.
Yes, this is the tour that includes the visit to Walt’s apartment. It’s the grand finale of the experience, it’s the sole reason many Guests take the tour, and Disney knows it’s a big part of why you’re here. And while that visit is undoubtedly an exhilarating bucket-list item, don’t sleep on the rest of the tour. Walk In Walt’s Footsteps pairs the wondrous lands of Disneyland with stories from Walt’s personal life, some of which might be new to even the most esteemed Disney scholar.
The tour guide’s script smartly juxtaposes biographical moments from Walt’s life in a non-linear fashion that aligns with the part of the park you’re walking through. For example, while strolling through Frontierland, the guide briefly touches on the making of the land and then shifts gears to discuss Walt’s time served in World War I. This first seems like an odd pairing, until considering what a bold frontier the war was to Walt; he forged his age on his application, demonstrating his eagerness to be part of the cause. This non-linear format of storytelling feels like you’re in the middle of a Walt-centric episode of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, seeing present-day imprints of Walt’s touch throughout Disneyland while simultaneously discovering enlightening details about his past. It’s the closest thing to seeing the park through Walt’s perspective, as it showcases the memories he probably recalled as he strolled through each area.
Guests are given an ear piece upon check-in, which didn’t surprise me. I’ve been on other tours before, and this would be used to hear the tour guide clearly, regardless of where in the pack everyone is standing. Yes, this was part of its function. But to my great surprise, to complement the tour guide’s stories as we walked from place to place, the earpiece played archival songs, interviews, and recordings. What a joy it was to listen to “It’s a Great, Big, Beautiful Tomorrow” (from Carousel of Progress, which, mind you, doesn’t exist on the west coast anymore) while walking past “it’s a small world”, having just been told stories about the 1964-65 World’s Fair. How profound it was to stand in the very spot where Walt dedicated the park and actually listen to his dedication from opening day. These were simple touches that elevated the tour on an exponential level. There was one time, though, that I felt the audio got a bit overzealous. After hearing the story of Walt’s death, the group crossed Town Square while “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins played without warning in our ears. The moment was intended to be sweet, I suppose, but felt somewhat morbid for my taste.
The highlight, of course, is the visit to Walt’s apartment, a space that carries so much meaning in its walls, so much history in its floors. All Guests have the opportunity to take a personal picture of themselves in the apartment, certainly a treasured keepsake for any Disney fan. It’s a very special moment, and the tour guides know this. They handle the experience with the appropriate reverence and care.
Walk In Walt’s Footsteps includes front-of-the-line access to one Disneyland attraction during your tour, which I understand varies from group to group. For mine it was Alice in Wonderland, an odd choice considering its lack of relation to Walt’s personal life in comparison to how connected everything else is on the tour.
There is not any backstage access on the tour, which on one hand might be disappointing, but considering everything else that’s there, it would easily add an entire other layer to the experience. The tour is more about Walt and less about the modern operations of the park, unlike, say, the guided tour Keys to the Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
As a bonus, Guests also get a meal from Jolly Holiday Bakery, as well as a trading pin exclusive to this tour.
I went into Walk In Walt’s Footsteps with the apartment visit as my one and only selling point. And while admittedly getting to experience that might be worth the entire tour price alone for some people, it was surrounded by a riveting narrative journey that far exceeded my expectations. It’s a welcome reminder of the true weight that’s rooted in a trip to Disneyland, a gravity we all too often take for granted.
Have you taken a Disney tour before? What was your experience like?
(All photos belong to author’s personal collection.)
To learn more about Blake and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.