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These Real-World Sites Inspired Disney Park Attractions

By Daily Passport Team
Read time: 5 minutes

With six Disney resorts worldwide compromising a total of 12 parks, there’s a lot of Disney magic to discover. And while most Disney visits conjure up fairy tales and alternate universes, many of its most beloved attractions are in fact based on actual places around the world. The brand’s famous Imagineers found inspiration in majestic, over-the-top structures and locales — from soaring mountains to fantastical castles — replicating them in painstaking detail within the parks. Here are nine real-life places that inspired these attractions at the Disney parks.

Matterhorn – Switzerland

Sun partially shining over Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland
Credit: Nicolai Krämer/ Unsplash

One of the most recognizable peaks in the Alps, the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland, also inspired one of Disneyland’s oldest and most beloved rides — the Matterhorn Bobsleds. As the story goes, Walt Disney became enamored with the real Matterhorn on a trip to Switzerland in 1959, prompting him to design a replica of the magnificent mountain. Although the Disney ride is considerably smaller (exactly 100 times shorter than its real-life counterpart), the resemblance between the two is clear.

Neuschwanstein Castle – Germany

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany surrounded by forest-covered mountains
Credit: Viacheslav Lopatin/ Shutterstock

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is the focal point of Disneyland, and was inspired by Neuschwanstein, a spectacular European chateau located in the hills of Bavaria, Germany. Neuschwanstein was designed by King Ludwig II in the 19th century and its grandiose architecture was a nod to the bygone Romantic era. Years later, Disney Imagineer, Eyvind Earle, based Sleeping Beauty’s castle off of Neuschwanstein, with Disneyland building a large replica of the castle to attract visitors in 1955.

Cadillac Ranch – Texas

Graffiti-covered cars partially buried in desert at Cadillac Ranch in Texas
Credit: Tiago_Fernandez/ iStock

Located on Historic Route 66 in the Texas panhandle, Cadillac Ranch is one of many roadside attractions that inspired Pixar’s Cars franchise. The art installation, which consists of graffitied Cadillacs that are partially buried and positioned towards the sky, was built by an artist collective in 1974. Since then, Cadillac Ranch has become a famous roadside attraction, so famous in fact, that Disney creators used similar shapes in the so-called “Cadillac Mountain Range” on Radiators Spring Racers in Disneyland.

Sverresborg Trondelag Folk Museum – Norway

Exterior of Sverresborg Trondelag Folk Museum in Norway
Credit: Pearl Bucknall / Alamy Stock Photo

The unique architecture of the Sverresborg Trondelag Folk Museum in Norway served as the style inspo for Frozen’s Royal Sommherhus in Epcot’s Norway Pavilion. In fact, between the red-trimmed windows, Nordic woodwork, and grass-covered roof, the two are nearly identical. The architecture is unique to Norway, with these types of homes traditionally housing royalty in the summer months, so it makes sense that Anna and Elsa would reside in such an abode.

Zambezi River – Africa

Zambezi River winding through African landscape, seen from above
Credit: maiteali/ iStock

When Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise was built in 1955, landscape architect Bill Evans was largely inspired by the plants found along Africa’s Zambezi River. And while he originally designed the ride with a variety of plastic plants that resembled the dense vegetation along the African waterway, eventually the fake plants were replaced with the real thing. In the 1990s, live plants such as palm trees and bamboo were brought in to make the ride more accurately resemble a real-life jungle.

The Millennium Biltmore Hotel – Los Angeles

Grand lobby with ornate ceilings at Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles
Credit: Hanna Tor / Alamy Stock Photo

From the outside, the Millenium Biltmore resembles your average 4-star hotel. But on the inside, the hotel lobby may look eerily familiar. That’s because the lobby of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was directly inspired by the historic Los Angeles hotel. Most notably, the two lobbies share a Moroccan-inspired arched ceiling accented with gold. Coincidentally, Walt Disney visited the Millennium Biltmore in 1937 when he attended the 9th Annual Academy Awards. However, the Tower of Terror, which is set on a gloomy night in 1939, wasn’t built until 1994, 28 years after Disney’s death.

The Himalayas – Tibet/Nepal

View between trees of snow-covered Himalayas at sunset
Credit: Anuj Yadav/ Unsplash

Located in Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, Expedition Everest – Legend of the Forbidden Mountain was inspired by the Himalayan mountains and loosely draws on the world-famous Mount Everest. Summiting the peak of Disney’s mountain may be less challenging, but it is no less thrilling. Visitors board a train that steeply ascends the mountain before racing back down. Although the Disney mountain is not a replica of Mount Everest, the ride’s base is modeled off of real-life Himalayan villages.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park – Arizona

Towering rock formation at Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Arizona
Credit: lev Kamalov/ Unsplash

The sandstone buttes, pinnacles, and mesas that make up the distinctive landscape of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park served as creative inspiration for Disney Imagineer, Tony Baxter. Mimicking the shapes of the park’s unique red rock, Baxter helped to create Big Thunder Mountain Road in Disney World, a ride that takes visitors back to the 1850s Gold Rush. As Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park looks much the same as it did 150 years ago, its vast and majestic terrain served as the perfect backdrop for Disney’s Frontierland.

Castillo San Felipe del Morro – Puerto Rico

Castillo San Felipe del Morro overlooking Puerto Rico coastline
Credit: Wirestock/ iStock

Located in Old San Juan, Castillo San Felipe del Morro is a 16th-century military fort that was built to protect Puerto Rico from the threat of pirates. It is not by chance that the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride in Walt Disney World goes by a shortened moniker — Castillo del Morro. When visitors to the park enter the attraction, they walk through Disney’s version of the historical fort. While Disney’s Castillo del Morro is not an exact replica of the original, it definitely shares the same pirate spirit.

Featured image credit: Ryan Klaus/ Unsplash

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