All Aboard The Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour!

All Aboard The Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour!

The Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour returned to the Disneyland Resort in May, allowing guests to explore Walt Disney’s train passion. I was fortunate to participate in the updated tour, and I will provide a detailed description of my experience.

Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour sign
Danielle and friend in front of the Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour sign
Danielle's name badge

Engaging and Delicious Star

The tour costs $135 per person before tax and starts with a treat. Each guest receives a Tropicana no-pulp orange juice bottle and a delicious cinnamon bun topped with caramelized apple. The cinnamon bun is moist, tender, and delicious, and I recommend taking it home and adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Additionally, guests with allergies are accommodated.

Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour cinnamon bun

Intimate and Informative Tour Experience

During our tour of Disneyland, our ten guests created a cozy atmosphere, although it sometimes felt a bit crowded. Our enthusiastic tour guide emphasized that the tour’s primary focus was the story of Walt Disney told through various modes of transportation in the park, particularly the Disneyland Railroad and the Lilly Belle ride. We were informed that riding the Lilly Belle was not guaranteed if the weather was above 80 degrees, so booking the day’s first tour for a better chance to experience it is advisable.

“I suppose I’ve always been in love with trains.”

Walt Disney

During our visits to various places, we delved deep into the nuances of Walt’s life and the rich history of Disneyland. Walt’s profound passion for trains was a pivotal factor in creating Disneyland. I will delve deeper into this aspect later, but it’s crucial to acknowledge the indispensable role that trains have played in the history and development of Disneyland.

Town Square

While visiting Town Square, we heard stories about Walt’s youth. Walt’s deep love of trains started early because his uncle worked as an engineer on the Santa Fe railroad. In the October 1965 issue of Railroad Magazine, Walt said, “I suppose I’ve always been in love with trains. As a small boy living on a farm near Marceline, Mo., I had a unique claim to fame: my Uncle Mike was Santa Fe’s accommodation train engineer between Marceline and Fort Madison. That was something to brag about to my schoolmates when railroads loomed large in the scheme of things, and steam engines were formidable and exciting.”

Walt had a passion for trains at a young age, and that passion never went away. Even in adulthood, he had a great passion for trains. On July 17, 1955, Walt arrived on the EP Ripley train and then dedicated Disneyland.

Disneyland features numerous references to Walt Disney’s life and childhood. One of these details is the costumes worn by the train conductors. This is a tribute to Walt, as in 1916, he worked as a news butcher on a train and wore a “neat blue serge uniform with brass buttons, a peaked cap, and a shiny badge on my lapel.” This costume can still be seen today as being worn by train conductors.

Disneyland Railroad - Main Street Station
Dinsneyland Railroad Tour Guide

Main Street Opera House Entrance

We visited the Main Street Opera House and discussed the crucial role of trains in developing Disneyland. In 1947, Walt Disney became interested in toy trains and eventually built his miniature backyard train in 1950 called the Carolwood Pacific Railroad. The challenge was that his wife, Lillian, had a flower bed in the way. With the help of Jack and Bill Evans, a 90-foot tunnel was dug under Lillian’s flower bed, and the train was named the Lilly Belle locomotive.

This backyard railroad inspired Walt to create Disneyland, where he could offer train rides and entertainment for children and parents. The central track control for his backyard railroad was in a red barn, a replica of one from the Disney farm in Marceline, MO. The Carolwood barn served as his workshop, and he spent many hours there building miniatures and model trains. The barn is located in Griffith Park and is open for tours. The bench in the photo below is from Griffith Park and what Walt sat on when dreaming of Disneyland.

Griffith Park bench found in the Disneyland Opera House

Did you know?
Two train cars from Walt’s personal collection can be found in the Carolwood Pacific Railroad Room in the Boulder Ridge lobby in Walt Disney World.

Harper Goff

In 1951, artist Harper Goff met Walt Disney in London, and they were both interested in purchasing the same model train set. Impressed by Goff’s talent, Disney invited him to talk upon returning to America, leading to Goff’s involvement in creating Disneyland. Initially, Walt Disney wanted Goff to work on a Mickey Mouse Park near the Walt Disney Studios, but later, Goff’s concept art for “Mickey Mouse Park” contributed to the development of Disneyland.

Goff’s experiences in his hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, inspired the design of Main Street, U.S.A. His sketches, influenced by the small, rustic buildings and wooden sidewalks of Fort Collins, played a significant role in shaping the early concept pieces for Main Street, with the later decision to create a two-story street allowing for storage and future attractions. The influence from Fort Collins is particularly evident in the design of City Hall. Goff’s contributions earned him the title of “the Second Imagineer” after Walt Disney.

Magic Shop Entrance

After visiting the magic shop, we discovered the remarkable contributions of Roger Broggie to Walt’s projects. Broggie was involved in various ventures, from building steam locomotives to creating electronic robots capable of singing and dancing. He embodied the core of Disney Imagineering, which involves blending creative imagination with technical expertise. In 1949, Broggie helped Walt construct his miniature trains at the Studio Machine Shop and installed Walt’s backyard railroad at his Holmby Hills home. Furthermore, he was vital in developing the Disneyland and Santa Fe Railroad in Anaheim. By 1950, Broggie was promoted to head of the Studio Machine Shop, and within four years, the shop’s responsibilities expanded, creating special effects for films such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and developing attractions for Disneyland. These attractions included the Monorail system, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and innovative film processes like Circle-Vision 360—a motion picture format with screens surrounding the audience.

In 1951, Walt assigned Broggie to work on “Project Little Man,” and together with fellow Imagineer Wathel Rogers, they constructed a nine-inch-tall figure of a moving and talking man, which served as the prototype for Audio-Animatronics technology. In 1963, Broggie and his team completed Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, marking the first application of Audio-Animatronics technology to a life-sized human figure. The show premiered at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Roger Broggie's window at Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A.

Main Street Cinema

When Walt Disney was young, his passion for animation started early. He produced 26 films featuring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. While in New York, he discovered he had lost the rights to Oswald and most of his animation team. Before heading to Hollywood from New York, Walt reassured his brother Roy in a telegram, saying, “Don’t worry, everything’s OK.” However, things were not okay at all. Walt realized he needed to create a new character quickly. During a long train ride, Walt conceived the idea for a new cartoon character – a mouse – which was further developed by Ub Iwerks and named by his wife, Mickey.

A Western Union telegram from Walt Disney to his brother Roy after he lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit

Frontierland Entrance

In Frontierland at Disneyland, steam-powered trains have always been a historical feature, symbolizing the fusion of East and West. In 2007, the park made the environmentally friendly switch to using biodiesel from recycled cooking oil from its kitchens. Five trains and the Mark Twain Riverboat now run on this cleaner fuel created by mixing leftover cooking oil with diesel. This initiative helps reduce the park’s reliance on traditional fuel sources, demonstrating a commitment to sustainability.

Monorail Track

The Viewliner at Disneyland was an ambitious project that showcased innovative design and technology. Introduced in 1957 as “the fastest miniature train in the world,” it consisted of two trains designed to travel through Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. However, the attraction closed in 1958 to make way for other rides, and the Disneyland Monorail System replaced it in 1959. Despite its short lifespan, the railroad ties from the Viewliner were repurposed for the Deer Lake Park & Julian Railroad, owned by Disney animator Ollie Johnston.

The Disneyland Monorail System originally opened in 1959 as a sightseeing attraction in Tomorrowland. Over the years, the track was extended to 2.5 miles to transport guests to and from the Disneyland Hotel. In 1999, the monorail faced closures and limited capacity due to the construction of the Disney California Adventure theme park. However, by 2001, it was running at full capacity again, now passing through the new park and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. There were also changes to the stations, with the Disneyland Hotel station being converted to the Downtown Disney station. Some of the monorail cars were taken off the line for rebuilding, and in 2007, the livery of Monorail Red was changed to promote special promotions at the park, including the Year of a Million Dreams promotion.

Monorail passing in front of Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland

Former Fantasyland Autopia Entrance

The PeopleMover was popular in Tomorrowland at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. It opened on July 2, 1967, as part of New Tomorrowland and was sponsored by Goodyear. The attraction’s unique feature was its vehicles, which were always in constant motion and accessible by a large turntable inside the station. The trains were not powered by motors within themselves but rather by rotating Goodyear tires embedded in the track. The PeopleMover closed in August 1995 and was replaced by Rocket Rods in 1998 as part of a cost-saving measure. The attraction was sponsored by Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company until December 31, 1981, and was colloquially referred to as the Goodyear PeopleMover.

Train Roundhouse

While on our tour, we had the opportunity to go backstage by “It’s a Small World.” Here, we got a glimpse of the train and Monorail maintenance area, and although we were a bit disappointed, we couldn’t enter the roundhouse. Later, we discovered we could get a better view from the train. We also discovered that the original roundhouse had been replaced by a new one that services the train on the bottom and the Monorail on the top. It would have been incredible to have a closer look.

We also learned the names of the trains: C.K. Holliday, E.P. Ripley, Ernest Marsh, Fred Gurley, and Ward Kimball. On the Ward train, there’s a silhouette of Jiminy Cricket in honor of Ward Kimball, one of the creators. I also learned the fascinating fact that the trains are named after Santa Fe’s president.

Disneyland's It's a Small World

The Lilly Belle

On the tour, I had the amazing opportunity to board the Lilly Belle, a beautifully restored observation car with a fascinating history. The Lilly Belle was originally the Grand Canyon observation coach of the Disneyland Railroad’s Retlaw 1 set, and it was named after Walt Disney’s wife, Lillian Disney. In 1974, the car was renovated and kept its former numeric designation (#106) with the same trim it had as “The Grand Canyon.”

The interior of the Lilly Belle underwent a stunning transformation, featuring drapery, tables, chairs, and faux stained glass. It also houses red glass and crystal antiques, as well as late eighteenth-century-style antique furniture resting atop the carpet from Walt Disney’s own Disneyland apartment.

Our guide provided interesting historical insights about the Lilly Belle and its significance as a VIP experience within Disneyland. The car was completed just in time for Emperor Hirohito’s visit to Disneyland on July 4th, 1976, showcasing Lillian Disney’s dedication to furthering Walt’s projects.

While on board, we enjoyed scenic views of Disneyland Park as the train circled the park, with occasional historical commentary about landmarks like the Grand Canyon diorama and the Main Street station. The Lilly Belle tour script included many interesting stories about the park’s history. The experience of boarding and touring the Lilly Belle provided a unique glimpse into the rich history and attention to detail that Disneyland is known for, making it a memorable and educational experience.

Disneyland's Lilly Belle
A framed picture of Walt and Lillian Disney in the Lilly Belle
Interior of the Lilly Belle
Lilly Belle nameplate
Lilly Belle sign
Lilly Belle in Disneyland
Danielle and Megan inside the Lilly Belle
Audubon Bird Guide, Time Machine, and American Wild Life Illustrator books inside the Lilly Belle
Lilly Belle interior
Handcar in Disneyland
Conductor hat in the Lilly Belle
Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour Guide
Mark Twain Riverboat as seen from the Lilly Belle

Final Thoughts

Step aboard the Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour and get ready for an amazing journey through the incredible world of Walt Disney. During this immersive experience, you’ll hear fascinating stories and enjoy delicious snacks as you learn about the history of the trains. The tour also includes visiting the roundhouse, where you can see the trains up close. It’s a captivating mix of history, nostalgia, and Disney’s special magic, making it a must-see for anyone who loves trains or Disney. The only thing that would have made it better for me is a deeper look at the roundhouse. Other than that, I highly recommend this tour for Disney fans. 

At the time of writing, the Disneyland Railroad Guided Tour runs $135 per guest (ages3 and over). Reservations are available 60 days before your visit, but same-day books are sometimes available.

Danielle Ernest is a dynamic digital strategist and innovative content creator, boasting 14 years of enriching experience that spans various facets of the digital landscape. Her career embarked on a magical note at Disneyland, where she excelled as a Cast Member, setting the foundation for her exceptional journey in digital storytelling.