With the most rides-per-acre of any Disney theme park, the original Disneyland features more than enough attractions included in regular admission to keep infrequent guests entertained for many days. But for those visitors who think they’ve already seen and done it all, Disneyland offers extra-cost tours that pull back the curtain with some exclusive experiences that are otherwise off-limits to the average guest. During our recent research trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, we had the opportunity to Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps, and we walked away with some some thoughts for fellow Disney fans who are considering signing up for this upcharge exploration of Disney lore.
Signing Up for the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour
Online reservations are not available for Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps, so you need to call 714-781-8687 or show up at the park in person to sign up. We visited the Tour Garden kiosk (located on the left side of Town Square as you enter Disneyland Park) the day before our desired tour and were able to get a spot, but you can book up to 30 days in advance.
The tour is held every day at 9:30 a.m., with additional tours held in late morning and/or early afternoon on weekends and peak periods. We opted for a tour departing at noon, but in retrospect I wish we’d taken the morning tour; read more on that at the end of the review.
Payment for the tour is normally due at the time you make your reservation, but the Cast Member we booked through was kind enough to let us pay on the day of, so that I could upgrade to an annual pass for a discount. All annual passholders—along with Disney Visa cardholders and Disney Vacation Club owners—get a 15% discount on guided tours, which brings the cost of Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps down to $98 per person (normally $115). Of course, you must also have admission to the park in order to take the tour.
Starting the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour
We arrived, as instructed, about half an hour before our tour start time and checked in. We were asked to select our meal for the end of the tour and also handed a pair of customized buttons to wear.
After we’d been sitting for a few minutes in the Tour Gardens, our guide Dakota introduced himself and hooked up our earpiece listening devices. (These allow participants to hear narration and sound clips without disturbing other guests.)
Finally, the tour kicked off on the steps of City Hall with a warning that, while photographs are welcome, video recording is forbidden.
Walking in Walt’s Footsteps
The heart of the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour is an approximately three-hour walk around the only Disney theme park that Walt was able to set foot in during his lifetime. Tour guides use the park as a “living storybook” to tell the history of Walt’s life and his creations. I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises in store, and elements of the tour are subject to change without notice, but here are some highlights from our experience.
Our tour began on Main Street U.S.A., where we heard about Walt’s boyhood in Marceline and Kansas City, which influenced Disneyland’s idealized downtown.
Next, we stood at the Town Square flagpole while Walt’s opening day dedication speech from July 17, 1955, was played through our earpieces. This was the first of many archival audio clips that are incorporated into the tour; many will be familiar to fans who have seen any Disney documentaries, but a few are truly rare.
As we walked up Main Street U.S.A. to the central hub, our guide pointed out the windows memorializing legendary Disney designers. Though I’ve studied the windows often in the past, this was the first time I realized that it’s a small world designer Mary Blair doesn’t have a window, despite being one of Disney’s most famous female artists.
Standing in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, we heard the introduction to the original Disneyland television show, and learned that about half of America’s population watched Disneyland’s opening day TV special.
Inside Fantasyland, we heard the familiar tale of Walt being inspired to build Disneyland after taking his daughters to the Griffith Park carousel. Better yet, we were “back-doored” onto the Alice in Wonderland ride, bypassing the 45-minute queue. (Our guide said the tour has included Peter Pan’s Flight in the past, but was currently bypassing it due to that ride’s limited capacity).
We hiked along Big Thunder Trail, past the future entrance to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (about which our guide was unable to share any new information), and into Frontierland.
There, we heard about Walt’s love for his wife, Lillian, which led to the petrified tree trunk being placed outside the Golden Horseshoe.
Our next destination was New Orleans Square, where our guide shared the “secret” of Club 33 and the 21 Royal suite, neither of which we were allowed to enter. We also heard clips of Walt describing plans for Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion, both of which debuted after his death.
Next, it was all aboard the Disneyland Railroad, as we bypassed the regular queue and New Orleans Station and steamed around to Tomorrowland. After a bathroom break, we heard stories about long-gone attractions like the Midget Autopia and Carousel of Progress. We also stood beneath the peak of the Matterhorn and learned about Disney’s three first-ever E-ticket attractions, which opened in 1959.
During our trek from Tomorrowland back to the central hub, we got to hear my favorite audio clip of the tour: a compilation of rarely broadcast soundtracks from the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair, including Henry Ford II introducing Ford’s Magic Skyway ride, and Rex Allen’s original Carousel of Progress narration.
Over in Adventureland, we traced the lineage of Audio-Animatronics back to a clockwork bird found inside an antiques store, before enjoying a performance in the Enchanted Tiki Room.
Our tour concluded in the exit hallway of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, which is normally included in the tour but was on hiatus during our visit. Our guide shared stories about Walt’s final dream of EPCOT, and his death in 1966. Thanks to the background audio of “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins, there wasn’t a dry eye in our tour group by the end of this shamelessly effective tear-jerking finale.
Walt’s Firehouse Apartment Tour
At this point, our tour group (which consisted of about two dozen people) split in two, with half having lunch and the rest spending about 15 minutes visiting Walt’s private apartment above the Main Street Firehouse. For serious Disney fans, this spot is like a secular shrine; simply seeing up-close the lamp that’s left eternally lit in Walt’s honor—not to mention his personal grilled cheese griddle—almost justifies the cost of the entire tour.
Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take any personal photos or videos inside the apartment, but your guide will take one posed shot of you with your own camera. The framing is less than ideal because, by agreement with the Disney family, they are only allowed to photograph one specific corner of the room.
Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Meal
Our group got to eat lunch first before taking our turn in the Firehouse. The meals we selected at the beginning of the tour were boxed up by Jolly Holiday Bakery and delivered to the Tour Gardens, where we were able to relax without battling the crowd for a table.
My roast beef sandwich was fine, but the best part of the meal was naturally the massive Matterhorn Macaroon, one of my favorite snacks in any Disney park.
The only downside to the included meal was that, by the time we ate around 3 p.m., it was really too late for lunch and too early for dinner. Morning tours eat a little after noon, and the afternoon tours get dinner around 6 p.m.
Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Parting Gift and Final Thoughts
As we prepared to depart, our guide gave us one final gift: an exclusive pin with Walt’s dedication speech engraved inside. I’m not a pin collector; however, if I were, this is certainly one I wouldn’t trade away.
In conclusion, while I’m satisfied to have checked the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps tour off my bucket list, I won’t be leaping to do it a second time in the immediate future. Our tour guides were all very friendly and polite in that practically perfect Disney way, but they didn’t appear to possess much in-depth institutional knowledge or improvisational abilities beyond the scripts they had memorized, and hardcore Disney trivia nerds will probably catch a few misstatements along the way.
Ultimately, your enjoyment of Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps depends on what kind of Disney fan you are. Casual visitors who don’t have much interest in mid-century Americana are likely to be bored stiff, and while guests under 18 are allowed along with a parent, kids’ legs and patience will wear out long before the tour ends. And while skipping the queue for Alice in Wonderland was wonderful, none of the tour’s included attractions are what most guests would consider must-sees.
On the flip side, seriously devoted Disney fans will learn little to nothing on Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps that they didn’t already know, and the tour doesn’t include employee-only backstage areas like the Keys to the Kingdom tours at Walt Disney World. The exception is Walt’s firehouse apartment, which for some guests (myself included) is nearly worth the price of admission all on its own. Just be forewarned that admission to the apartment, while currently a standard component of the tour, is not guaranteed.
The tour seems to be designed for a certain middle-of-the-road demographic of guest who has been to the park a few times but is not yet an expert, and is curious to learn more about the man behind the brand. If that describes you, this tour is a much more entertaining (if also more expensive) way to take your first deep dive into Disney lore than doing old-fashioned research.
Finally, a few tips if you do take the tour. Aim for a morning departure or late afternoon rather than midday, if only because of the awkward mealtime. And be sure to wear well broken-in walking shoes because you’ll be on your feet nearly non-stop for over three hours.
For all there is to see and do at Disneyland, check out The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland by Seth Kubersky with Bob Sehlinger, Len Testa, and Guy Selga Jr. All Disneyland fans should also check out The Disneyland Story: The Unofficial Guide to the Evolution of Walt Disney’s Dream by Sam Gennawey.