Dueling Disney: The Castles

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Features, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on December 04, 2013 at 2:00 am with 45 Comments

Hear ye, hear ye! It is decreed that each Magic Kingdom-style Disney Park forthright shall have a Castle as its centerpiece! These majestic structures will stand as the symbol for their respective parks. Now, the topic of “Whose Castle is better?” has been the subject of some debate between Disney fans on the West and East Coasts for many years. But now, Keith and Jeff will put that topic to bed, and one will reign supreme in the penultimate battle of Dueling Disney!

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 23: Castle vs. Castle

Keith: I can already see where this one is gonna go, and fast: “WDW’s castle is bigger.” That matters not, my dear squire! We learned from the very first Dueling Disney in which we debated resort size that bigger isn’t necessarily better. I’ve had to suffer the interminable proclamations of East Coast Disney fans as they say “It’s so tiny” upon their first viewing of Sleeping Beauty Castle. Well I am happy to tell you that in this particular case, size doesn’t matter, as Anaheim’s regal fortress maintains the position of number one American Disney castle.

Jeff: You are incorrect, you conclusion-jumping fiend! That was NOT going to be my opening blow. But since you brought it up already, I’ll carry on with it. Our castle is bigger, neiner neiner neeeeiner! But seriously, it’s bigger. And not just on the outside, there’s much more on the inside as well. But once you walk onto Main Street, USA, and you see it looming in the distance (and looking even LARGER thanks to forced perspective), you can’t help but to have your breath taken away by the sight of it. Bigger may not always be better, but in this case, I think it is.


Keith: In 1955, Disneyland advertising read, “Welcome to Sleeping Beauty Castle, a place where dreams really do come true. Enter this fascinating realm, over the drawbridge of Sleeping Beauty Castle, whose parapets and towers rise dizzily above you. Here in Fantasyland, Walt Disney recreates the fairy tale folk he has immortalized in films, books, and television. You may ride with them, or stroll with them, in the pirate galleon to Never Land, to a mad tea party, whirling with Dumbo in aerial gyration, to the diamond mines with the Seven Dwarfs, to King Arthur’s courtyard-to many happy ports of fantasy.”

The unequivocal symbol of Disneyland was modeled after the Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, the largest and oldest state in the Federal Republic of Germany. It’s worth noting that the Bavarian landmark wasn’t nearly as well-known back when Disneyland first opened. Disney artist Marvin Davis recalled, “At the time we designed the Castle, Neuschwanstein was a little obscure thing that nobody had ever heard anything about. But since we re-created the design at Disneyland, it’s in practically all the airline advertisements… they use it all over as a symbol of adventurous, fairy-like castles.”

Disneyland, settin’ trends!

Jeff: You can set the trends, but we make them better!

Cinderella Castle is not based off on any one castle design, but on quite a few from all over the world, from real to fictional. While parts are also based on Castle Neuschwanstein, it also takes some cues from Château de Chenonceau, Château de Pierrefonds, Château de Chambord, Château de Chaumont (that’s a lot of châteaux!), and finally Segovia Castle. The mash up of styles give it a unique and majestic look.

While Sleeping Beauty Castle may not be as widely known despite being the original, Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom is EASILY one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. It has been used as the logo for Disney Pictures for many years, making it instantly recognizable. Also, whenever people see a photo or likeness of the castle, they instantly think of “Disney.” It’s become the unofficial symbol of the entire company worldwide. And frankly, I couldn’t have asked for a better symbol!


Keith: Jeffrey Bartholomew Heimbuch. You used the proper word for the pluralization of “chateau”. What! Did we just become best friends? I think you just won the Internet.

Jeff: I DID take French for 6 years. Mon château est meilleure que la vôtre!

Keith: Since Sleeping Beauty Castle sits above its very own moat, we actually have a working drawbridge. Since Disneyland opened, it has only been lowered twice. The first time was opening day, in July of 1955. The second time was in 1983 for the rededication of Fantasyland. That’s a pretty special feature. It must have been awesome to see the bridge lowered in person. How many times have they lowered the drawbridge at Cinderella Castle, Jif?

Jeff: Zero times. But that’s OK, because we don’t need a lowered drawbridge to prove how awesome we really are. I mean, we have many other things to make us better. I mean, have you SEEN the show they project onto the castle at night? It’s gorgeous. It really makes the entire thing come alive, and lets you see Cinderella Castle in a whole new light. Literally. Because they use lights and projected images to make the Castle appear to be moving and animated. Sure, you could try to do that at YOUR castle, but then the people in the back won’t be able to see it. Because it’s so small. It’s adorable, really.

Keith: That’s all well and good, but I have a quick question for you: Is it true that during the Magic Kingdom’s 25th anniversary, your castle was made-up to look like a giant birthday cake?


Jeff: That may be true, but at least people can SLEEP inside our castle. We have the Dream Suite. What do you have? Some cats?

Keith: Yes, we have cats.

I’m sorry, but everything after “Dear Keith, my castle was once a 189-foot tall birthday cake, please forgive me” is just sort of invalid. This duel is over. Go home.

As you know, Disneyland opened in 1955. And as you know, our castle is named for the tale of Sleeping Beauty. But Disney’s Sleeping Beauty didn’t premiere until 1959. So Walt himself came up with an idea to promote his upcoming animated film, and help explain the story behind the castle’s name.

Not long after the park opened, Walt brought in animator Ken Anderson to design an ambitious walk-through diorama inside the castle comprised of scenes from the film. But since Sleeping Beauty itself wasn’t near completion, many of the scenes in the original diorama didn’t even end up appearing in the finished film. The walk-through opened at 3pm on Sunday, April 29, 1957. Shirley Temple was on hand to welcome the first guests to traverse the castle’s interior. In the castle’s forecourt, the Disneyland Band played “When You Wish Upon a Star”.

Disney also published a beautifully illustrated 25-cent souvenir booklet that told the story of Briar Rose (aka Sleeping Beauty). Walt wrote its introduction, which began with the line, “Imagination is the mold from which reality is created.” Filled with images from the diorama, page 5 begins the promotion: “The production of Sleeping Beauty as a motion picture has been the most exciting, the most ambitious venture of the Disney studios. Artists, designers, writers, musicians, animators and a variety of other craftsmen have combined their efforts to capture all the magnitude of this wondrous fairy story.” It continues on with some reassuring words for an eager public, indicating that the feature would be well worth the wait: “Five years in the making, Sleeping Beauty is indeed the ultimate of the Disney studios’ constant striving for perfection in the art of animated storytelling.”


In 1977, the diorama was redesigned. In 2001, a month after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the walk-through portion of the castle was closed, some thought forever. Luckily for us it was reopened, and gorgeously updated, in November of 2008.

The Sleeping Beauty walk-through is a terrific example of creative thinking. The castle was never intended to host an attraction, but Walt figured out a way to utilize its empty space, while both promoting his upcoming film, and helping guests better understand the regal landmark itself. And that, along with everything else, trumps both an overpriced eatery and a lavish suite us regular folks rarely get to experience!

Jeff: Well, I NEVER said that, so you are incorrect. You’re delusional, and therefore, cannot be trusted in anything you say. Go home, Keith. You’re crazy.

True, we do not have a walk through of one of the greatest films The Walt Disney Company ever made inside our castle, but you are right. We do have the Cinderella Castle Suite AND a restaurant. It’s a two for one.

On June 7, 2005, it was announced by Disney that the suite would be completely decorated and upholstered as a ‘royal bedchamber’, and that normal folk like you and me could win a chance to stay there during the Year of a Million Dreams event. Since then, stays in the suite have been very rarely, only awarded as prizes and super exclusive events. It’s super cool, it’s super exclusive, and it’s super rare that you get to see it. How many folks can brag that they have stayed in a Disney castle before?

On top of that, Cinderella’s Royal Table is also located in the castle. Formerly known as King Stefan’s Banquet Hall, guests can enjoy a three course meal while being visited by the princesses. Sure, it may be a character dining experience, but it is certainly a unique one!

Sorry, Keith, but any place that allows me to dine with the princesses is A-OK in my book!


What do you guys think? Is the majestic beauty of Cinderella Castle the winner here, or is the quaint charm of Sleeping Beauty Castle triumph? Cast your vote and let us know in the comments below!

Dueling Disney is written by Keith Gluck and Jeff Heimbuch

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • billyjobobb

    Sorry, but even as a California boy i have to give this one to Florida. And I’ve only been there once.

  • Terrytiger

    Sleeping Beauty Castle wins BECAUSE it comes with a Matterhorn towering over it. When you take the 2 together as a whole, you can’t beat Disneyland for that.

    • airick75

      This is a good point and one that at least gives a little more weight to the Disneyland argument.

  • parker4fm

    Cinderella…you left out the stage in front allows for amazing shows on a daily basis.

    I would love to see a Duel for which castle wins out of all of the parks…

    • http://thedisneyproject.com Keith Gluck

      Disneyland Paris wins for best Disney Castle in the world, IMO.

      • Illusion0fLife

        There really can’t be any argument there. Disneyland Paris is definitely the best.

    • mikedoyleblogger

      That stage in front of Cinderella Castle really kills the castle for me. It stops you from getting near the front of the castle or seeing through it as originally intended, and you also can’t hear yourself think anywhere near the Hub when the shows are performing because the speakers are so very loud. The stage turns me off totally on this castle. And that’s even though I’m a DL vet and love our castle, I do get a kick out of MK’s being taller. But what good is that if it keeps you at arm’s length?

      • ScottOlsen

        I agree 100%. The stage in front of the MK castle kills it for me.

  • Susan Hughes

    When I first went to Orlando, I was prepared for a much larger castle there. But what I came away with was a much more impersonal, detached feeling. Yes, it’s big. But it’s not very inviting or comforting.
    In Europe, the royalty would build their castles huge and imposing to show their power and dominance over the commoners below. That’s the feeling I get with Cinderella Castle.
    Sleeping Beauty Castle is smaller, but that’s what makes it so charming. You can get close to it, walk around and inside without being separated by huge plots of water and grass.
    And also, Sleeping Beauty Castle “looks” like a real castle. Cinderella Castle is a bit too ornate and over the top. And the biggest eyesore in my opinion is that seriously cheap looking stage in front. I challenge anyone to find a real castle in Europe that has a cheesy stage in front of it.

    • mikedoyleblogger


  • FerretAfros

    Even though it wasn’t competing, Paris still manages to win this one, hands down.

    And I’ll go on record saying that I actually liked the castle cake for a temporary overlay. I’m sure I’d feel differently if it had stuck around longer like the wand or hat, but it was a fun addition for the 25th celebration

  • mark

    Florida’s castle wins hands down- and I’m from California. BUT Paris’ castle is the best of all!

  • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

    I’m a Disneyland fan, but I’m going with Florida’s castle on this one. Bigger castle with a restaurant inside is indeed a winning combination.

  • WDI33

    Don’t look at Cinderella Castle too closely, especially when in Fantasyland. You’ll see all sorts of modern wires, antennas, doors with modern metal railings… It loses it’s charm pretty quickly under closer observation. I’m going with the original… Elegant and beautiful, just as Walt intended!

    • http://micechat.com Dusty Sage

      If you look closely at Disneyland’s castle, you’ll find even more “Modern” problems. Especially with the addition of metal emergency stairs, railings, etc. It looks especially bad from the Fantasyland side.

      • airick75

        When you get close to the one in Florida, you also notice the turret tips aren’t really metal which was disappointing to me. Still, I’m a huge fan of Disneyland, I recognize all its attributes, but Cinderella’s castle is still the better of the two. It’s incredible – I’m actually surprised Disneyland’s has so many defenders.

      • Concrete Enchilada

        airick75, I hope your not disappointed that there’s not a single stone in Cinderella’s Castle. The material of the “turret tips” shouldn’t be the issue. It should be if the material chosen achieves the desired look and finish. The Imagineers often choose materials that durable and low maintenance.

  • sturgeonslawyer

    La Chateau de Belle au Bois Dormant in Disneyland Paris wins because it has a DRAGON.

  • Illusion0fLife

    I have to go with Sleeping Beauty Castle on this one, purely for home park bias (also because a proper attraction trumps expensive dining and a rarely used hotel room).

    A more pertinent point I’d like to bring to light is the fact that the version of the Walt Disney Pictures logo used from 1985 to 2006 (and occasionally after that) features a sillhouette that is most definitely Sleeping Beauty Castle, not Cinderella. As for the 2006 iteration, it is actually a strange amalgamation of the two. Sure, the Cinderella Castle elements are the more prominent, but Sleeping Beauty Castle is definitely in there, particularly around the base, and a few of the towers on the edges of the castle.

  • LoveStallion

    Sorry, but considering Tokyo and Hong Kong have replicate castles of the Florida and Anaheim properties, respectively, it is only fair to bring Paris into the mix, and Paris wins, hands-down. So inventive with the topiaries themed around Sleeping Beauty.

    And yes, the Dragon. I’ll take an animatronic dragon over a restaurant any day.

  • Dan Heaton

    This is a rare vote where I expect WDW to win. Even so, I voted for Sleeping Beauty Castle. It has an intimate feeling that’s missing from the giant castle in Florida. Both are great, but I have to go with the original.

  • danielz6

    When I was in Tokyo, at first I was impressed by the big beautiful castle, but as I walked throughout the park all day something really bothered me. I could see the castle from almost every other land in the park. It was a big visual intrusion which destroyed the illusion of the different lands for me. I’ve never been to magic kingdom so I was wondering if that was a problem there too?
    I was somewhat disappointed because I’m so used to Disneyland, where forced perspective is used so well to remove visual intrusions as much as possible. Most guests probably don’t realize how inventive this is done in Disneyland. My two favorites that I’ve noticed from visiting the park so much is the giant tree that sits behind frontierland that perfectly covers the Matterhorn s silhouette, so as you walk around the rivers of America the Matterhorn doesn’t break the illusion of being in the old west or new Orleans. Also in Main street there are additional urban facades in the back stage areas behind the actual main street buildings. These facades block the visual intrusion that space mountain would have on main street! Anyways that’s the sort of clever forced perspective I’m so used to at Disneyland, so I was surprised that Tokyo had a much lower standard in that regard. Does magic kingdom have that problem since the castle is the same as Tokyo’s?

    • LoveStallion

      Amen. They do incredible work in Anaheim. Most people on Big Thunder, for example, don’t come close to realizing that they are flying around right next to the western Fantasyland dark ride building.


    I’d go with Paris too. The Disney World is very cathedral-like, and the church reference turns me off, but I still voted for it. just the scale is impressive. i think the current logo castle is what the Shanghai castle will look like.

    keep up the good work!

  • GhostHostJeff

    It’s really hard to compare the two as they are so very difference and each one has it’s own charm. If Disneyland’s was any bigger, the Matterhorn and Main Street would look wrong.