Have you ever wondered where Skull Rock and the Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship used to be in Disneyland? Did you know Dumbo once flew on the far west side of Fantasyland? And that the Carrousel wasn’t always where it is now? We look at the many changes made during the creation of 1983’s “New Fantasyland”.
We’ve created the above map to help easily compare early Disneyland Fantasyland with today’s version that came about in 1983. In pink you’ll notice just how crowded things were behind the castle. Below that you'll see a photograph of today's Fantasyland with a blue sketch overlay of the original locations of various attractions and buildings.
Huge growth in the early 1980s
The Disney parks saw HUGE growth in the early 80s. Walt Disney World was getting EPCOT Center. Tokyo Disneyland was being built. “New Fantasyland” was Disneyland’s big project. Not long before this, the first two Big Thunder Mountains came about. My earliest memories come from this time. It was EXCITING. Everything made was extremely impressive.
Why all the changes to Fantasyland?
The land was never quite what Walt Disney wanted it to be. With limited time and money the original Fantasyland was built with the idea that it would later be updated with a more “fleshed-out” decor. Facades were created inexpensively. They were designed to look like medieval traveling tournament tents. the story behind the area explains that rides were “brought in” to the castle courtyard for the “temporary festivities”.
The Storybook Look
It’s often assumed that no European “storybook” facades existed in Fantasyland until 1983 but there were a few. The shops immediately behind the castle, the Skyway station, Matterhorn’s queue, and the miniature buildings in Storybook Land all featured this charming architecture. It is predicted that the Storybook Land architecture would have been the inspiration for Walt’s revisions of Fantasyland had he revised the land.
An Operational Challenge
There was an operational challenge to be addressed. Outdoor rides were placed very closely to the walls of the indoor rides. Narrow walkways created constant pedestrian congestion. The solution? Rip up all the concrete and move rides around.
King Arthur Carrousel
The carrousel was located right between the entrances to Snow White and Peter Pan. It was moved back quite a distance in order to open the funnel of traffic coming from and going to the castle. The move also allowed for larger, more elaborate facades for Show White and Peter Pan. Prior to 1983 no landscaping existed around the carrousel nor was it propped up on a concrete platform.
Peter Pan’s Flight
A London-inspired exterior with a large clock tower was added. 24 new animatronic characters were installed.
Snow White’s Adventures (Renamed Snow White’s Scary Adventures in 1983)
Snow White herself didn’t appear in the pre-1983 ride (other than for short test periods in the 70s). Riders were to experience her adventures from her point of view. Most riders didn’t understand this and just wanted to see Snow White. She was included in the new, longer ride. Show scenes were updated and special effects were added. Outside in the new facade the Queen figure who opens closes curtains was introduced.
Pinocchio’s Daring Journey
What? Pinocchio wasn’t always there? Pinocchio’s Daring Journey was the headliner new dark ride of the expansion. Was it Disney’s first Pinocchio ride? Nope. Shortly before it’s Disneyland debut, Pinocchio opened in Tokyo Disneyland. What was there before Disneyland’s Pinocchio? The space was previously occupied by a theater.
Mickey Mouse Club Theater (Renamed Fantasyland Theatre in 1964)
The theater showed classic Disney cartoons back to back.
Dumbo Flying Elephants (Renamed Dumbo the Flying Elephant)
Originally located near the Skyway entrance where the outdoor patio of the Village Haus Restaurant is today. Originally the elephants were to be pink. This was to help preserve the fact that there’s only one Dumbo. Much like there’s only one Mickey. But Walt at some point decided that everyone should get to ride the real Dumbo instead of a pink elephant from Dumbo’s drunken nightmare.
And get this. Early Dumbo ears were HINGED!! They were mechanized to flap up and down as the Dumbos flew. This didn't work so well so later vehicles didn't have hinges.
Both 1955 and 1983 versions hosted 10 elephants. A new spinner with 16 elephants was installed in 1990 after a few minor accidents occurred. This new build was intended for Euro Disneyland. A duplicate was created for Euro Disneyland in time for its 1992 opening. Fun fact: All Magic Kingdom-style parks today have a Dumbo spinner. All but Tokyo have 16 elephants. Tokyo still has 10.
For New Fantasyland Dumbo was moved to what used to be a small lagoon where a pirate ship stood for over 25 years.
Chicken of the Sea Pirate Ship and Restaurant (Renamed Captain Hook’s Galley in 1969)
Tuna sandwiches, tuna burgers, tuna pies, and even tuna salad in a little boat were served aboard the wooden ship. This ship belonging to Captain Hook is arguably the most interesting setting of any quick service food counter anywhere.
After ordering you could sit at one of a few tables on the ship or eat under umbrellas just north of the ship.
The simple lagoon was enhanced with the addition of plant life and Skull Rock in 1960. Guest would exit the dining area on a path that led under the Skull Rock rock work. The ship was renamed when Chicken of the Sea ended its sponsorship in 1969.
The magnificent ship met its fate earlier than planned during the 1983 expansion. They say it was to be moved near today’s Storybook Land queue but upon removal the thing fell apart. Speculations have surfaced in recent years that they could have moved it successfully if they had really wanted to.
An urban legend I ignorantly grew up believing claims that Steven Spielberg purchased the ship to become One-Eyed Willie’s pirate ship in Spielberg’s 1985 film The Goonies. This is simply not possible.
Added in 1960, Skull Rock featured a waterfall (or several little waterfalls) and its eyes glowed green at night. It was based on Skull Rock in Disney’s 1953 animated film Peter Pan. It was often photographed from above by guests riding in Skyway buckets.
Today rock work and a waterfall stand where the rear portion of Skull Rock was. Do some of the original pieces remain? Probably. The plumbing perhaps?
Skyway to Tomorrowland
The Skyway changed its vehicle style from a round cylinder look to a more boxy look in 1965. The biggest change the Skyway saw in 1983 was a whole new set of views below.
You can still see the old Skyway tower hidden up in the trees.
Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
Toad’s track and interior were removed. The track was made longer. A few new scenes were added. Part of the new queue featured and outdoor garden. The exterior was built to look like Toad Hall from Disney’s 1949 animated film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.
Alice in Wonderland
The Alice dark ride was not a 1955 original. It opened in 1958. It was the only Fantasyland dark ride built after Disneyland opened and before New Fantasyland in 1983.
Mad Tea Party
The “tea cups” as they are most commonly referred to were originally located where King Arthur Carrousel is today. They were moved closer to Alice in Wonderland which of course makes sense, both being based on the same film. A tented snack bar stood near its new location where The Mad Hatter hat shop stands today. Tables and chairs covered the area now occupied by Mad Tea Party. Each version of the ride has hosted three groups of six spinning tea cups.
Next time you are strolling through Fantasyland be sure to compare what was then with what is now! Your friends will be oh so impressed.