Finding Walt Disney in Walt Disney World – Part Two

walt disney on carolwood pacific railroad train

February 26, 2024

Written by: Jim Smith

(A version of this article was shared with Me and the Magic and published on August 14, 2023.  I also had the pleasure of joining Amanda Bauner on the Me and the Magic Podcast to discuss Part Two of all things “Walt” in Walt Disney World.)

Welcome back to Walt Disney’s World. Come along for Part Two of our Walt-inspired tour of the Most Magical Place on Earth. You don’t have to visit Disneyland in California to walk on the same ground Walt once walked. In the final years of his life, Walt visited the swampy Florida landscape several times. By the time of his death, he had purchased all the property he needed, and planned the first stages of development for what he was going to call Disney World (it was only after Walt passed that his brother Roy insisted on calling the dream Walt Disney World). 

The very first order of business in developing Walt Disney World was to create a Disneyland-style park, which would attract visitors and fund future Florida projects. Magic Kingdom fit the bill perfectly and included many of the whimsical touches Walt infused into Disneyland, as we explored in Part One. Resorts and other parks followed, and have combined to make Walt Disney World the top vacation destination in the world. Here in Part Two of our series, let’s connect with Walt in other Walt Disney World parks and resorts.


“But the most exciting and by far the most important part of our Florida project… in fact, the heart of everything we’ll be doing in Disney World… will be our Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow! We call it E.P.C.O.T.”

walt disney epcot video presentation
Image: Disney

EPCOT was by far the most progressive portion of Walt’s Florida project. What was once meant to be a prototype for future living, transformed after Walt passed into a demonstration of scientific concepts and cultural ideals. Disney artists, designers, and Imagineers incorporated two key elements of Walt’s EPCOT dream – technology and world culture – into the two facets of a World’s Fair-style exposition.

World Showcase

epcot world showcase pavilions

As much as the 1964 World’s Fair was a celebration of…well…the world, in actuality it shone brightest as a showcase for Walt Disney’s imagination and his talented team. Walt was always interested in world culture, as evidenced by some of his more internationally-flavored films such as Pinocchio, Mary Poppins, Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Darby O’Gill and the Little People, and many others.

Miniature Trains in Germany

miniature trains in germany pavilion epcot
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Many guests breeze right by the living model train set dutifully running its loops outside the Germany pavilion. Others (such as myself and a great many kids and kids-at-heart) are entranced by the sense of peace and purpose embedded in this tiny society. As we know, Walt Disney was a train enthusiast through and through. While this set doesn’t (to my knowledge) have a specific link to Walt, just the presence of a working train system like this is enough to connect with him.

Future World (now World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature)

Walt Disney wanted to entertain his guests first and foremost, and secondarily, help them learn something. While Disneyland and Magic Kingdom weighed heavily on entertainment, EPCOT’s Future World skewed more in the direction of education, matched with a healthy dose of entertainment. This philosophy, dubbed “edutainment” – a phrase used by Walt as early as 1954 – set EPCOT apart from all other theme parks in the 1980s.

imagination pavilion in epcot

The educational component of Future World has faded over the last couple decades, being replaced with more story-based rides. Still, plenty of EPCOT’s World’s Fair flavor remains, including the immensely popular seasonal festivals, celebrating food, art, and culture from around the world.

The Disney Monorail

The introduction of the Disneyland Monorail is the stuff of legend. Just ask Disney Legend Bob Gurr how the first official ride in that Monorail went. The look of the Disneyland Monorail circling above Tomorrowland directly inspired the way Walt Disney World’s EPCOT beam Monorail circles above the Future World portion of the park.

monorail in epcot
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Diving a little deeper into the Monorail, we learn that Walt Disney didn’t just want the Monorail to be a ride. He wanted it to be a fully functioning mode of transportation. Today, almost sixty years after Walt’s death, the Monorail is still running strong in central Florida.

EPCOT’s Nighttime Spectaculars

When viewing the nighttime spectaculars in EPCOT (and other parks for that matter) keep an ear out for old Uncle Walt. You just may hear his smooth, comforting voice stopping by to shmooze the crowd. Of particular note in EPCOT, the intermittent fireworks display “EPCOT Forever” features Walt giving part of the quote you read at the top of this section. It’s always nice to see and hear Walt.

“Walt the Dreamer” Statue in Dreamers Point

walt the dreamer statue in epcot
Image: Disney

For several years now, EPCOT has been in a state of transformation, as Future World has been changing over to the trio of lands to be known as World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature. In World Celebration, right behind Spaceship Earth, we now have a new way to thank Walt. The recently-opened “Walt the Dreamer” bronze statue shows Walt sitting at the top of a handful of steps (called Dreamers Point), gazing out at the endless possibilities of the world in front of him. Guests can step right up to Walt for a quick photo, or just to pause and reflect.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

hollywood tower of terror in hollywood studios
Image: Orlando Vacation

Disney’s Hollywood Studios (formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios) was created to honor the world of cinema and film, and celebrate the glitz and glamor of Hollywood and moviemaking. According to previous Disney CEO Michael Eisner, the park celebrates “a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.” Of course, this romantic version of Hollywood lines up precisely with Walt Disney’s heyday in Tinseltown, and it’s only appropriate that the first entry on our list for this park is the only attraction in Walt Disney World specifically dedicated to celebrating the life of Walt Disney.

Walt Disney Presents

walt disney presents in hollywood studios

Perhaps the most complete (yet amazingly compact) way to learn about Walt and connect with him in Walt Disney World is by visiting Walt Disney Presents. This self-guided mini museum tour walks guests through the life of Walt Disney, starting with his childhood, continuing through his early career in Hollywood, the building of an animation and film empire, Disneyland, Disney parks worldwide, and looking toward the future. Originally opened to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Walt’s birth, the gallery includes a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind sketches, photos, models, costumes, artwork, and more. Guests looking for a quick break from the Florida heat can easily spend 10-15 minutes strolling through and cooling off. Walt superfans like myself may spend an hour or more exploring the nooks and crannies of this trip through the life of a creator, dreamer, and doer.

walt disney desk in walt disney presents hollywood studios
Image: Disney

At the end of Walt Disney Presents, guests often have the opportunity to catch a quick 15-minute documentary film called Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream. This short film showcases the life and times of Walt, featuring audio recordings, historical footage, and rarely seen home movies. If you are looking for a shot of inspiration, One Man’s Dream will certainly do the trick. Occasionally, One Man’s Dream will be replaced with sneak peeks of upcoming Disney or Pixar films. While those sneak peeks are fun too, I’ll take a short film on Walt any day.

Hollywood Boulevard

Entering Hollywood Studios, guests first find themselves on Hollywood Boulevard – the “Main Street, U.S.A.” of the park. This chrome and neon-adorned thoroughfare immediately puts guests back into Walt’s heyday.

The Chinese Theatre

chinese theatre hollywood studios
Image: Mouse Hacking

At the far end of the boulevard, guests will find a full-scale replica of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre – the famous Hollywood landmark. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre notably hosted premieres of Mary Poppins in 1964 and The Jungle Book in 1967. Disney’s theater facade proudly honors Walt’s greatest creation – Mickey Mouse – with an attraction all his own (of course, park purists still lament the loss of the theater’s former attraction – the much missed Great Movie Ride). In the theater’s forecourt,  guests can explore over 100 celebrity imprints, including Audrey Hepburn, Tom Cruise, Dick Clark, Donald Duck, Michael J. Fox, Michael Jackson, Angela Lansbury, Roger Rabbit, George Lucas, and Robin Williams, among many others.

Echo Lake and Gertie the Dinosaur

So you know that tall green brontosaurus happily wading in the lake to the left of the Chinese Theater? It’s not a misplaced resident from Animal Kingdom’s Dinoland. It’s Gertie the Dinosaur – a pioneer of animation! Gertie is an homage to one of the earliest animation pieces, created by Winsor McKay in 1913. Early animation pieces like Gertie were among the largest influences of an up-and-coming animator named Walt Disney.

gertie the dinosaur hollywood studios
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

As for the lake Gertie is using to cool off? That is Echo Lake – based on a small lake of the same name in Northern Los Angeles. Being conveniently located in LA, the lake has been the filming location of many movie scenes. Are you a Star Wars fan like me? You may have mistakenly thought Echo Lake was named after Echo Base – a location from Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back. Given the nearby proximity of Star Tours and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, this is a perfectly understandable mistake to make!

Disney’s Contemporary Resort

wdw contemporary hotel
Image: Disney

Opening alongside the Polynesian Resort and Magic Kingdom in 1971, Disney’s Contemporary Resort has Walt’s urban planning fingerprints all over it. The skeleton of the unique A-frame building was constructed in place, but the individual rooms were actually built off-site, then lifted by crane and slid into place in the frame, with the intention that rooms could be replaced when needed, based on the need for updates. In keeping with Walt’s historical insistence of cohesive theming, the modern-looking hotel blends nicely with the futuristic feel of nearby Tomorrowland.

mary blair contemporary hotel mural
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

The resort is located only a short walk from Magic Kingdom, but it also offers the convenience and whimsy of hopping a ride of the Monorail, which passes directly through the hotel’s Grand Canyon Concourse. The name of the concourse was inspired by the giant floor-to-ceiling mural created by Disney Legend Mary Blair. The Pueblo Village Mural wraps around all four sides of the Contemporary’s center support (which also functions as the main elevator bank). The mural stands 90 feet (nine stories) tall, and includes over 18,000 one-foot-square tiles.

Blair was one of Walt’s favorite artists. She and her husband Lee both had the privilege of joining Walt on his South American goodwill tour, as part of “El Grupo.” Blair’s use of color and simplistic designs appealed to Walt, and her style directly influenced films like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, and the iconic attraction “it’s a small world.”

Carolwood Pacific Railroad Room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

carolwood pacific railroad room wilderness lodge
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

Always a kid at heart, Walt Disney enjoyed a lifelong fascination with trains. They were a part of his life from his earliest days in Marceline, Missouri. The Carolwood Pacific Railroad Room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge celebrates Walt’s love of trains. This peaceful place doesn’t attract many visitors. It is not located in a heavily traveled area, and there are no cast members offering tours. Functionally speaking, it is one of those quiet little nook rooms that Walt Disney World sprinkles outside the main lobbies of most of its moderate and deluxe resorts. There are a few tables, a handful of chairs, a stone fireplace…and an awe-inspiring collection of memorabilia and imagery celebrating Walt Disney’s romance with the rails.

carolwood pacific miniature train
Image: Jim Smith – Facts and Figment

The centerpiece of the room, carefully protected in a plexiglass case, displays two cars from the Lilly Belle train that circled Walt’s backyard of 355 Carolwood Drive in the Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Nearby on the wall, guests can see photos of Walt and his visitors (many of them children) enjoying the train in his yard. Other pieces in the room include models of other Walt-centered trains, memorabilia, photos, paintings, and notes. This room is a must-see for fans of Walt Disney, railroad enthusiasts, and anyone who just wants to rekindle a bit of that childlike sense of wonder. You can read my full experience of the Carolwood Pacific Railroad Room here.

Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

One of the newest additions at Walt Disney World is Gran Destino Tower at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. The sixteen-story tower is themed with a modern twist to classic Spanish style, and celebrates the relationship of Walt Disney and Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali, who jointly created the breathtaking short film Destino.

walt disney and salvador dali
Image: Disney

This film was literally 58 years in the making. Production on the collaboration began in 1945, but was put on hold in 1946 (conjecture on the reason for pausing production ranges from financial constraints to creative differences). True to the “No Good Idea Ever Truly Dies” spirit of the Walt Disney Company, the project was resurrected by Walt’s nephew Roy E. Disney in 1999, during production of Fantasia 2000.  The short was completed and released in 2003.

destino dahlia
Image: Disney

The story is largely set in the surreal world of Dali’s paintings, and features the ill-fated love story of a mortal woman named Dahlia and the immortal Chronos, who personifies time.  Though the two wish to be together forever, their destiny will not allow for it.

walt disney and mickey in gran destino
Image: Pixie Dust Fan

The influence of Salvador Dali and Destino can be found all throughout Gran Destino Tower, in the art and decor. Dahlia is specifically represented in a beautiful portrait in the main lobby, across from a similar portrait of Walt and Mickey. Destino plays on several screens in the main lobby and in the Dahlia Lounge, located on the tower’s 16th floor.

Thank you for coming along on our Grand Circle Tour of Walt Disney’s inspirations in Walt Disney World. Keep Walt’s spirit alive by leading an inspired, creative, and positive lifestyle. You just may be surprised at what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it! And don’t forget to check out Part One in this two-part series, if you haven’t already.

What’s your favorite way or place to connect with Walt Disney? Let us know with a comment on social at:  Instagram  Facebook  X (formerly Twitter)

And don’t forget to listen to Part Two of a discussion on where to find Walt in Walt Disney World, with my friend Amanda Bauner on the Me and the Magic Podcast!

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