Review: Disneyland's Cultivating the Magic Tour

Review: Disneyland’s Cultivating the Magic Tour

It was a bright Christmas morning when I unwrapped a pair of socks with a little note inside that said, “cultivating the magic” tour. I was beside myself to take this special guided tour through Disneyland that talked about the park’s horticulture. A few days later, the tour was suspended indefinitely when the pandemic hit. I was highly bummed I didn’t get to experience this tour. So a few short months ago, when Disneyland announced they were bringing back Cultivating the Magic, I set an alarm to book it on the first day.

Cultivating the Magic sign
Cultivating the Magic name tag

Checking in for Cultivating the Magic

I found a fascinating surprise when I arrived at the guided tours kiosk. I was the only one on the tour!! Talk about a dream come true. I had Emma, the Guest Relations Tour Guide, all to myself for two hours. Not only did I talk her ear off, but I also learned so much about the horticulture of Disneyland. Cultivating the Magic is a must for those who care about how the magic is made and how the plants enhance the story. Come along with me as I share some of the trivia.

Emma, Cultivating the Magic tour guide

We started the tour with the front of Disneyland. Do you know the fabulous Mickey floral that greets you as you enter the gates? Well, that floral is changed nine times yearly and uses over 6,000 flowers. Since the pandemic, they have experimented with changing the theming, like featuring Minnie during Women’s History Month.

Danielle standing in front of the Disneyland Railroad Main Street Station

Main Street, U.S.A., and the HUB

Then we entered the tunnel and ended up by the opera house. I saw a few extraordinary things, including a window dedicated to Jack and Bill Evans, responsible for most of the horticulture we know around the park. They did every Disney park except the water parks and Chinese parks. Walt found them while building his Carolwood Pacific Railroad in his backyard. He wanted landscapers that would help him dig under Lillian’s rose bushes. The Evans brothers were successful, and Walt invited them to landscape Disneyland.

A window dedicated to Jack and Bill Evans in Disneyland

Forced perspective is one of Disneyland’s show tricks. They use plants of different sizes to maintain the sizes of the buildings and show. On Main Street, you will find Chinese elms often replanted every two decades to ensure they align with perspective and not spoil Main Street’s size. In the flower beds, you will find plants that are a nod to the Victorian era of landscaping. All the colors are intentional and often coincide with different themes in the resort. For instance, they utilize yellows, blues, and red flowers during the Pixar Fest.

Chinese elm in front of Disneyland's Opera House

Then, we moved to what is fondly known by Cast Members as the HUB or the Partner’s Statue area. While the Evans Brothers were responsible for most of the horticulture you see today, Ruth Shellhorn is accountable for the HUB and the blending of all the lands. She worked endlessly to ensure all color palettes complemented and framed Sleeping Beauty Castle. You will often find beautiful tabebuias, dahlias, daisies, and foxgloves in this area.

Disneyland's HUB flowers

Tomorrowland

Then we walked over to Tomorrowland, discussing Walt’s vision for a sustainable agriculture future. There is a nod to this if you ride the train, and you’ll see this sign. Tomorrowland has edible plants around the land, but don’t eat them! Unlike WDW, Disneyland does not use these plants in dishes around the resort. Sage, parsley, and lavender were in one of the flower beds. We also talked about sustainability with water irrigation. Disneyland has a complex system that changes based on the weather. These are just a few ways they are creating a sustainable company.

Sage found in Disneyland's Tomorrowland

Next to Tomorrowland, you’ll find the Finding Nemo Submarines attraction. The Evans brothers built a forest on top to cover the show building. Four feet of soil and 30-40 ft high trees now cover this building where the attraction occurs. Rides and drivers on Autopia also get to go through this forest.

Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage in Disneyland

Matterhorn Bobsleds

Moving on to the Matterhorn, the shrubs on the mountain are natural and pay homage to European plants. In front of the Matterhorn you can find edelweiss, daisies, and foxgloves.

Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland
Flowers in front of the Matterhorn Bobsleds in Disneyland
Himalayan cedar outside Matterhorn Bobsleds
Danielle in front of Matterhorn Bobsleds
Foxglove found outside Matterhorn Bobsleds

Adventureland

We then visited Adventureland, where near Pioneer Mercantile stands the Ficus religiosa, also known as the Buddha tree. This sacred fig holds religious significance in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. It is particularly revered by Hindu and Jain ascetics who meditate beneath it, and it is famously believed to be the tree under which Gautama Buddha attained enlightenment.

Ficus religiosa, also known as the Buddha tree, in Disneyland

We then had an incredible moment: I rode the jungle cruise as the only guest on board. Here, I learned that the Jungle Cruise has seven different types of bamboo, some original trees from when Disneyland was an orange grove, and they have plants that are a hippo’s favorite snack. We talked about the sustainability of the jungle river and how it’s connected to the four primary riverways in the park. What are those, you ask? Jungle Cruise, Storybook, Rivers of America, and Sleeping Beauty Castle moat.

An empty Jungle Cruise boat in Disneyland
Danielle riding solo on the Jungle Cruise
Jungle Cruise skipper and Emma
Emma and Danielle on the Jungle Cruise

On my recent tour of Disneyland, I learned so many exciting things. One of my favorite tidbits was about Herb Ryman’s map of Disneyland, which initially had the Jungle Cruise on the right side instead of the left. I discovered they changed it because a grove of eucalyptus trees resembled a jungle.

After the Jungle Cruise, we discovered the Dominguez Palm, named after Ron Dominguez, who grew up on the property that is now Disneyland. The palm tree stood in his front yard for over three generations, and the Evans brothers preserved it.

Dominguez Palm in Disneyland

I also learned that the Evans brothers rescued many trees from constructing the California 5 freeway, and one of these can be seen outside Pirates of the Caribbean.

A tree rescued from the California 5 freeway now lives next to Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland

Frontierland

Moving on to Frontierland, I was fascinated to learn about a rare Dawn Redwood Tree from China located next to the Golden Horseshoe. This tree, thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in 1944, and a sample of it can be found outside the Golden Horseshoe today.

Dawn Redwood Tree from China located next to the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland
Dawn Redwood Tree from China located next to the Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland

Galaxy’s Edge

In Batuu (Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge), I learned that all the plants use little water, and the foam in the Fuzzy Tauntaun drink at Oga’s Cantina is made from the Seshan button flower.

Fantasyland

Next, in Fantasyland, I discovered that the landscaping is designed in the European parterre style, with flowers in different colors reflecting the animation palette used by Eyvind Earl.

Disneyland's Fantasyland landscaping designed in the European parterre style
Disneyland's Storybook Land displayed in the European parterre style
Disneyland's Fantasyland landscaping designed in the European parterre style

At “it’s a small world,” I learned that the attraction boasts 17 out of the 21 topiaries in the park, which take 3 to 10 years to grow and have wire mesh inside to maintain their shape.

it's a small world topiaries in Disneyland
it's a small world topiaries in Disneyland
it's a small world topiaries in Disneyland

Toontown

Finally, I saw the Dreaming Tree in Toontown, a tribute to Walt Disney’s Dreaming Tree in Marceline, Missouri. This unique tree has saplings planted around the park, including one planted by the Native American family washing in the Rivers of America.

Dreaming Tree in Disneyland's Toontown

After the tour, I received seeds to plant and took a photo with my fantastic guide. I highly recommend this tour for anyone interested in the storytelling through landscaping and horticulture at Disneyland. It sheds light on how plants have been used to bring Walt Disney’s vision to life, turning a bunch of orange groves into what we know as the Happiest Place on Earth.

Emma and Danielle on the Cultivating the Magic Tour
Cultivating the Magic postcard embedded with wildflower seeds

Cultivating the Magic Tour Details

  • 2 hours
  • Price $110.00

You can make reservations on the Disneyland website.

Danielle
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.