This might be the most magical spot in the Happiest Place on Earth.
ABC’s upcoming special, The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60, will feature an inside look into the park’s best kept secrets, including Walt Disney’s apartment and the Disney Dream Suite — which EW toured with one of Disneyland’s expert hosts, otherwise known as the “plaids.” Our tour guide provided a wealth of information on the magic of the Dream Suite and Walt’s apartment, which we present below alongside photos.
The Dream Suite is the one and only place guests can spend the night inside the park, but it’s certainly not easy to score residence there. There is no price tag; the suite is for invited guests only, which means you need to be a celebrity, a dignitary, a president, or very, very lucky. Disneyland has gifted the suite away during the ongoing Diamond Days Sweepstakes, which celebrates the park’s 60th anniversary, as well as back in 2006–07, with the Disney Dreams Giveaway during the Year of a Million Dreams. Sometimes the park awards a night to a cast member (Disney’s term for employee) in a drawing called “Backstage Magic.” The suite was used only three or four times in 2014.
But the Dream Suite, which opened in 2008, wasn’t initially designed for that reason. As the park grew, Walt’s tiny apartment above the firehouse on Main Street (more on that later) wasn’t big enough for his family, nor to entertain his famous guests. Walt aimed to build a VIP complex on the second level of New Orleans Square, containing a jazz lounge (which was recently completed), the exclusive members-only restaurant Club 33, and the 2,200-square-foot Royal Suite, named for its address on 21 Royal Street. Walt enlisted renowned Alfred Hitchcock production designer Dorothea Redmond to create designs for the suite; see one of her watercolors below.
However, Walt died in 1966, before the project could be completed, and his family didn’t want to stay in the park without him, so the project was halted. Through the years, the area was used for office space, where Disneyland Tokyo was designed, and as the Disneyland Gallery. But when the Year of a Million Dreams arrived, Disneyland used the watercolor renderings as inspiration for what became the Dream Suite.
The Dream Suite is located above the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Just to the left of the ride’s entrance is a sign for the Dream Suite at the foot of a staircase leading up to the front parlor. However, we enter through an elevator that runs alongside the Pirates queue. As soon as the door closes in the Legacy Hallway, lined with the Redmond watercolors, all the theme park noise fades away. Now the real fun begins…
Each of the rooms is inspired by a land from within the park. The Adventure Land-themed master bedroom, for instance, features hues of jungle green and brown, a massive four-poster bed with mosquito netting, a rotary phone, and bird-print-adorned lamps. Above the bed hangs a painting of a waterfall, which seems to come to life when you press the special panel near the door marked “Kiss Goodnight.” (Walt wanted to leave his guests with one last magical moment before they left the park, a feature he dubbed a “Kiss Goodnight.” The fireworks spectacular at the close of the night currently serves that function for the park.)
In the master bedroom, the “Kiss Goodnight” button adjusts the lighting to a waterfall blue and cues sounds of mermaids splashing over the lulling strains of the “Serengeti Serenade” from The Jungle Book. The mermaids become visible in the painting above the bed, while a moon appears on the wall, clouds forming over the Jolly Roger ship. Sadly, the button can only be pushed three times between 6 p.m. and midnight, so guests do, eventually, get some sleep.
The Fantasy Land-themed master bathroom features a palatial shower, a Main Street-themed walk-in closet, a throne room with crystal swans in a case above the toilet and more swan details around the sink (as a homage to the birds that used to live in the moat outside the castle), and a whirlpool spa fit for a princess. If you push a special panel in here, music from Fantasia plays, and, in the vaulted ceiling above the tub, little twinkling lights form constellations in the blue tile, including one in the shape of a not-so-hidden Mickey Mouse. The experience continues for 30 minutes — and there’s no limit on how many times you can push the button.
The New Orleans-themed parlor is French Provincial-inspired, with a fireplace grate shaped like Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The faux-fire behind it sends up sparks, creating the illusion of fireworks over the castle, just like the end of each night at Disneyland.
The fireplace also serves as the location for most of the magic in the room. With each chime of the giant grandfather clock, the fireplace either displays animation set to “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” (a glass slipper in a case also lights up), or the mirror above transforms into an image of the castle, with a glimmering star in the corner. Also, as a morning wake-up call for guests, the mechanical bird cage on the mantle comes to life. Walt and his wife Lilian discovered the cage in an antique shop in New Orleans, which then inspired Audio-Animatronics and the first attraction to feature such magic, the Enchanted Tiki Room.
There’s also a white horse from the carousel — each pony on the actual carousel has its own name, whereas this one doesn’t. Suite guests get to name the horse and include the name in the guest book they sign before they leave.
The rustic Frontier Land-themed “kids” room, or wildest room in the wilderness, features deep red and brown hues, with two four-poster beds, and a toy shelf that runs around the entire room. The “Kiss Goodnight” in this room sends the toy train on a journey around the room, bringing each toy on the self (the sailing ship Columbia, included) to life as it passes. A giant mirror becomes a TV. And framed on the wall is a replica of concept art for Disneyland, which Walt used on his TV series to show what the park would look like. When the lights go down, the art shows what the park would look like lit up at night, thanks to blacklight ink.
The pièce de résistance is a button that says “Fantasmic.” Just outside the children’s room is a patio with a perfect view of Tom Sawyer Island, where the nightly Fantasmic show takes place; if the button is pressed at the right time, the children truly believe they are starting the show.
The patio is inspired by Blue Bayou, a restaurant within the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The music from Pirates plays, while little lights on moving wires make it seem as though there are fireflies outside. A fountain handpicked by Lilian features the crest of the Disney family, which you can also see above the drawbridge on Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
Now you may be asking yourself: If you get to spend the night at Disneyland, does that mean you get to roam the park at night? Yes… and no. You are allowed to check in to the Dream Suite at 2 p.m., and later the hosts lead a special tour of the park after it has closed — you can even go out in your Disney bathrobe, if you’d like! — after which you are, in fact, locked into the suite. Hosts don’t reenter the suite unless asked until the morning for check out, so guests get to experience the magic of the Dream Suite at their leisure. As for food, guests receive a welcoming meat-and-cheese platter, but they’re allowed to bring food from the park into the suite. A coffee and tea service is provided, as is complimentary breakfast before the 9:30–10 a.m. check out.
By comparison, Walt’s apartment on Main Street is rather small at 500 square feet. (Walt’s apartment is not currently accessible to the public, though has previously been made available for tours.) First built while Disneyland was under construction, the Victorian-themed studio above the Firehouse was decorated with a floral motif by Mary Poppins set decorator Emile Kuri and Lilian, who spent nights with her husband in their separate pull-out sofa beds. Photos of Walt and Lilian in the park line the walls, while a Regina music box and an Edison phonograph stand at opposite ends of the room.
While that side of the apartment evokes the past, the other side features a small ’50s-style kitchenette with an electric panini press. The cabinets are filled with glass baby bottles and china once purchased from China Closet on Main Street and The One of A Kind Shop in New Orleans Square inside the park.
A small bathroom features a shower (with four shower heads!) and walk-in closet, which once stood beside a fire pole running down to the bottom level. After a Disneyland guest shimmed their way up and found themselves in the apartment with Walt, the top of the pole was cut off and replaced by a staircase leading to a private patio where Walt could watch the parade or candlelight processional — though now a tree and two fences block the view.
Finally, the lamp that sits on the table by the window is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week as tribute to Walt; cast members always knew when he was at the park when they saw the light in his apartment window. The light is moved to another window during the holidays so a small Christmas tree can be placed in its stead.
The Wonderful World of Disney: Disneyland 60 will air Sunday, Feb. 21 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.