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When it came time to design an alternate version of Fantasyland for Florida in the late 1960s, there was no doubt that Cinderella would be the centerpiece of the new park, with a majestic castle that would dwarf the one in California.
Cinderella Castle opened October 1, 1971, as the symbol for the entire Walt Disney World Resort. When people think of Walt Disney World today, it is generally the first image that immediately comes to mind. It is 189 feet high (from its concrete bottom beneath the moat), making it officially the tallest structure at the Magic Kingdom. The original intent was that guests would be able to see the upper portion of the castle from the Seven Seas Lagoon and thus increase their anticipation of entering the Magic Kingdom.
For nearly a decade after it first opened, it was the highest structure ever at a Disney theme park. It took approximately 18 months to build and was completed in July 1971.
One of the standard trick Disney trivia questions for many years was "how many bricks are in Cinderella Castle?" The answer, of course, is none. The castle is made of concrete, steel, cement, gypsum plaster, plastic shingles and fiberglass over a 600-ton framework of steel. No bricks were used in the construction. At the time it was first built, it was the largest fiberglass structure in the world.
The illusion of bricks helps reinforce the forced perspective design. Large stones are used at the bottom, then the stones get progressively smaller toward the top of the structure, which helps give the impression that the castle is larger than it actually is. In addition, Main Street U.S.A. rises about six feet from the entrance to the castle making the castle seem further in the distance and taller as well.
The design took the form of a romanticized composite of such fabled French courts as Fontainebleau, Versailles, and a dozen famed chateaux of the Loire Valley including Chenonceau, Chambord and Chaumont. The emphasis on French architecture was because the Disney animated feature film was based on French writer Charles Perrault's popular version of the tale and not the one from the Brothers Grimm. The designer, Imagineer Herb Ryman, who retired from the The Walt Disney Company after completing this project but returned as a full-time consultant for almost another two decades, referenced the design of the castle in the actual animated feature as well. Although it's not usually officially acknowledged by Disney, apparently Ryman was also influenced by the blue-tipped turrets of the Alcazar in Segovia in Spain.
There are two other Disney Cinderella Castles. The one at Tokyo Disneyland is also 189 feet high. The Cinderella Castle that most Disney fans forget stands proudly in the Storybookland attraction in Disneyland.
The columns that are in the walkway of Cinderella Castle are decorated with mice and birds from the Disney animated feature film "Cinderella." (The female mice are named Sally and Perla.) These characters were sculpted by Blaine Gibson, who also sculpted the "Partners" statue on Main Street, U.S.A., as well as the Cinderella Wishing Well statue located in Fantasyland just outside the castle.
The story of "Cinderella" is displayed on five glittering mosaic murals in the walkway of the castle, with each decorated panel in the shape of a Gothic arch, 15 feet high and 10 feet wide. The mosaic was designed by Disney artist Dorothea Redmond, who also designed the Disney apartment that was supposed to be built inside the castle. The mosaic was crafted by a team of six people who took approximately two years to completely install the murals under the supervision of the world-famed mosaicist Hanns-Joachim Scharff. Both Redmond and Scharff are given credit on the mural (in the lower right corner of the final mosaic), which is quite an accomplishment since traditionally The Walt Disney Company does not allow individual artwork done for the theme park to be credited.
The five murals contain hundreds of thousands of pieces of glass, many of them fused with silver and 14-carat gold. More than 500 colors were used to create the murals. Look carefully and you will notice that Cinderella's stepsisters, Drizella and Anastasia, are "red" faced with anger and "green" faced with envy. In that same mural, you will notice two royal courtiers. Look at their faces carefully because the bearded one is Imagineer John Hench and the other is Imagineer Herb Ryman, who designed both Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland and Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World.
One Disney "urban myth" is that in the event of a hurricane, the castle can be dismantled. That is untrue. The main building has an internal grid of steel framing, secured to a concrete foundation. The turrets and towers also have internal steel framing and were lifted by crane, then bolted permanently to the main structure. Since people saw the castle being assembled in two separate sections, they assumed it could also be dismantled that way as well. The castle can withstand hurricane winds of at least 90 miles per hour.
Prior to April 28, 1997, Cinderella's Royal Table was called King Stefan's Banquet Hall. There are more than 40 coats of arms on display inside Cinderella's Royal Table. Each coat of arms refers to someone who has played a significant role in the heritage and history of the Walt Disney Company, including Roy O. Disney, John Hench and Marc Davis. Walt's coat of arms is on the archway outside the castle facing Fantasyland.
Cinderella Castle has undergone some significant, but thankfully temporary transformations over the last two decades. Most notably, it was redecorated in October 1996 to resemble a gigantic pink-frosted birthday cake to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Walt Disney World. This highly controversial change required more than 400 gallons of pink paint, 26 candles ranging in height from 20 to 40 feet (to maintain the forced perspective illusion) and a variety of candy items from gumdrops to lollipops. The castle reverted to its original state on January 31, 1998.
A one-day transformation took place on November 16, 2004, when the castle appeared to be vandalized with toilet paper tossed by the character Stitch to bring attention to the opening of his attraction: Stitch's Great Escape. All the material was removed after closing that day.
Starting on May 5, 2005, to celebrate the golden anniversary of Disneyland as part of the Happiest Celebration on Earth, Cinderella Castle sported gold trim and highlights including banners, tapestries and golden statues of some well-known Disney animated characters. These added decorations were removed in September 2006 just in time for the 35th celebration of Walt Disney World on October 1.
With the passing of Roy Disney in 1971, it was decided not to complete the small suite inside Cinderella Castle that would have served as a small apartment for the Disney family, much like the one above the firehouse at Disneyland. Instead, over the years, the area was used as the operations unit for switchboard operators, storage, and finally, a dressing room for the entertainers performing in the shows at the Castle Forecourt Stage.
In 2005, The Walt Disney Company decided to use the location as it was originally intended, as a private suite. The area was transformed into a salon, bedchamber and bathroom off of a private marble-floored lobby four stories above the Magic Kingdom Park, with rich details reminiscent of the same French chateaux that inspired the design of Cinderella Castle. An overnight stay in the apartment was awarded randomly to Disney guests as part of the "Year of a Million Dreams" celebration in 2007.
The suite includes two queen beds and a pull-out sofa so that up to six people can sleep. "Magic" mirrors in the suite (one in the bedroom, one in the parlor) double as flat-screen televisions. The suite has a fireplace with fireworks effects, and a parlor. The suite's bathroom has a garden bathtub, a shower and special amenities fit for royalty.
On January 25, 2007, the Fouch family of DeWitt, Michigan, became the first guest family to be selected to spend the night in Cinderella Castle. Sixteen-year-old Brad was in the right place at the right time. In this case, it was Row 2, Seat 8 in Simulator 4 of the Star Tours attraction at Disney-MGM Studios at 10 a.m. He, along with his mom and dad and younger sister, became the first to win the opportunity to stay within the castle-gray stone walls, rich hardwood paneling and ornate stained-glass windows.
Today, stays in the suite are random, from a prize for a charity event to a perk for a popular Disney entertainer. For example, singer Kevin Jonas and his wife Danielle celebrated their first wedding anniversary on December 19, 2010 in the Castle Suite.
The entrance to the most recent addition to the iconic castle is actually located in the courtyard.
"Princess Fairytale Hall is an annex to Cinderella Castle where our park guests will come to meet a visiting princess," said Imagineer Jason Grandt when I interviewed him a few months ago. "It is done in the same regal style as other additions to the castle so that it is a wonderfully detailed architectural environment fitting of Disney royalty."
Guests pass through lush purple and gold trimmings to enter a castle foyer adorned with stained-glass windows featuring characters from the classic Disney animated feature "Cinderella". This elegant passageway leads to an airy, high-ceilinged Royal Gallery.
"The space is really opulent and filled with ornate chandeliers and several framed custom princess portraits that are stunning. They were painted by talented Disney artists who diligently labored to capture the atmosphere, design and story moments of the films," stated Grandt. "For our Disney guests, we know that next to meeting Mickey Mouse, the Disney Princesses are their greatest wish for us to make those fantasy worlds become a reality. I absolutely loved being able to craft such a beautiful environment that will hopefully take people's breath away when they experience it. Our Disney Princesses are truly the heart of Fantasyland and now they have this very special location to interact with our guests."
Even though her famous carousel was renamed for her royal husband in 2010, Cinderella still dominates Walt Disney World's Fantasyland, as she has for more than four decades.