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The Secret History of Disney Rides: "it's a small world"

by Tad on December 7, 2022 13 Orlando   Video

The Secret History of Disney Rides: It's a Small World - Secret History of It's a Small World

"It's a world of laughter

A world of tears

It's a world of hopes

And a world of fears

There's so much that we share

That it's time we're aware

It's a small world after all ..."

Ready to get a song stuck in your head? I guarantee you'll be singing a certain one after reading this secret history of "it's a small world!" This classic Disney ride could be considered a park icon. Did you know it originally debuted at the 1964 World's Fair before it made its way to Disneyland? You can embark on the "Happiest cruise that ever sailed 'round the world" in Fantasyland in five different Disney parks worldwide! During this secret history, we'll talk about this and other fun details of "it's a small world!"

Beginning of It's a Small World

The Secret History of "it's a small world"

WED Enterprises (now known as Disney Imagineers) created the boat ride for the 1964 New York's World Fair. The boat ride was then known as "Children of the World" and presented as a "salute" to UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund). The ride celebrated the happy spirit of children all around the world. In fact, the boat ride is one of five Disney attraction used to test a variety of ride systems and concepts at the World's Fair before moving to a Disney park.

It's a Small World Dolls 2

Iconic Art

Artist Mary Blair actually designed the magical, dazzling style of the iconic Disney ride; in fact, she was considered one of Walt Disney's favorite artists! You'll see more of Mary's work on Disney films such as "Peter Pan," "Cinderella" and "Alice in Wonderland." Marc Davis (you probably recognize his name from other secret history posts) helped with the designing of the scenes and characters, and his wife, Alice Davis, made the dolls' costumes!

Because of It's a Small World's success at the World's Fair, it was decided to bring the ride to Disneyland Park. According to TravelGuide.com, around 10 million ride tickets were sold during its season at the World's Fair! And since it was so popular and proved to be an efficient ride system, Disney decided to create even more boat rides with similar operating systems, Pirates of the Caribbean for one!

Iconic Song

It's a Small World Boat

While we're talking about the ride's creation, it's also worth mentioning the hummable song "It's a Small World (After All)" was written by the Sherman Brothers. Of course, to get the international feel to match the cruise, the song was sung in studios all over the world!

This song is known to be the most-played song in music history! The song plays about 1,200 times a day during a 16-hour operating day. Multiply that by five parks and you can see how it adds up!

While the song gets repetitive, we always have to visit the boat ride each time we head to Disneyland or Magic Kingdom. It's a Disney tradition after all! And because it has no height requirement or scary parts, it a ride the entire family can enjoy.

Look for the Golden Sun

The song says,

"There is just one moon

And one golden sun

And a smile means

Friendship to ev'ryone"

You can find a moon and a golden sun in every room you pass through. That's because the same moon and sun shine down on all of us on Earth.

Inclusion of Dolls in Wheelchairs

The Secret History of Disney Rides: "it's a small world"-Doll in wheelchair

In November 2022, Disneyland introduced the first dolls who use wheelchairs. The message of inclusion for people of all abilities more closely represents diversity around the world. Similar dolls are being added to the rides at Disney World and Disneyland Paris in 2023. Plus, this is one of the accessible attractions in which people can remain in their wheelchair when they ride.

"it's a small world" at Disneyland

Not all version of the ride are the same. The original "it's a small world ride" is a pretty big deal at Disneyland. The ride opened on May 28, 1966, at Disneyland. Walt Disney invited children from around the world to attend the ride's dedication. The children poured water from their home countries into the attraction's water.

At Disneyland, the ride has outdoor loading and a huge façade in front that is designed with Mary Blair's whimsical style in mind. (However, Imagineer Rolly Crump actually designed the outside.) The 30-foot-tall clock tower chimes every 15 minutes, opening up for 24 figures to parade out. Once the parade ends, two front doors on the clock tower open, revealing two toy jesters who herald the current time. The façade includes moving pieces. The striking gold you see is real 22-carat gold leaf! It holds up better than gold paint.

That façade also serves as a place to view projection shows for fireworks, special projection shows and holiday entertainment. In 2022, an "it's a small world" Encanto projection show took place to the tune of "We Don't Talk About Bruno."

Disney Characters in 'It's a small world"

Another thing that sets Disneyland's version apart from Disney World is that Disney characters are planted amongst the "small world" dolls. They were added in 2009. Can you spot these Disney characters in their lands amongst approximately 300 audio-animatronic dolls?:

  • Peter Pan, Tink, Alice and the White Rabbit in England
  • Cinderella with mouse friends Gus and Jac in France
  • Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket in Italy
  • Aladdin, Jasmin, carpet and Abu in the Middle East
  • Mulan and Mushu in China
  • Simba, Pumbaa and Timon in Africa
  • The Three Caballeros (Donald Duck, Jose and Panchito) in Latin America
  • Ariel, Flounder, Dory, Marlin, Lilo and Stitch are in the South Seas
  • Woody, Jessie and Bullseye are in the North American Southwest

All the dolls on the ride are the same size to reinforce unity, the theme of the ride. Where they differ is in costume and props and paint that represent their country and culture.

In 2022, the "it's a small world" dolls and artwork inspired the new finale for the Main Street Electrical Parade. New characters from recent and classic Disney movies appeared in doll form amongst floats designed to look like the attraction to celebrate parade turning 50. Hopfully, we'll see this parade again soon. It's a Disney classic!

"it's a small world" Holiday Overlay at Disneyland

Come Holiday Time, "it's a small world" is one of the most popular attractions in the park. Set sail on "it's a small world" Holiday. The whole exterior and interior undergo a holiday overlay every year, opening at Holiday Time and then closing some time in January for about two weeks to return to its regular state. That also means the ride is closed from end of October until Holiday Time begins to prepare the ride for the "Merriest cruise that ever set sail."

The Secret History of Disney Rides: "it's a small world"-Snowfall near "it's a small world"The outside is lit with almost 1 million twinkling lights. There is a lighting every day. The clock gets a Santa hat. A projection show entertains guests throughout the night with fun holiday images and music. Then the exterior becomes part of the "Believe ... in Holiday Magic" fireworks show, with different projections set to the music and pyrotechnics.

Snow falls in the area several times per night, including after fireworks. It's a can't-miss attraction during the holidays — inside and out!

During the ride, the dolls add "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" to the "It's a Small World (After All)" song. You can also smell holiday scents in some rooms. Can you detect peppermint, gingerbread, cherry blossoms, cinnamon and coconut? Is that passionfruit in Latin America? So fun!

The Secret History of Disney Rides: "it's a small world"-Holiday version

The longest wait times of the year for this ride are during Holiday Time. It's definitely worth arriving early or booking a Lightning Lane reservation with Genie+. We sometimes see wait times dip during the parade. or just after fireworks.

In 2022, "it's a small world" Holiday celebrated 25 years of making spirits bright on this ride by placing a subtle 25 in each room amongst the holiday decor. It was toadally fun to seek them out.

"it's a small world" Fun Facts

Here are a few additional small facts about "it's a small world."

  • According to TravelGuide.com, there are at least 240 Audio Animatronics on each version of "it's a small world!"
  • The centerpiece clock tower is 30-feet high! Each version of the boat ride features this clock and marks every quarter hour with a characters, animated props and music.
  • Keep an eye out for hidden Mickeys on the ride. We saw one in the shadows on the ceiling at Disneyland!
  • Get a view of the ride from above. In Magic Kingdom you can view the ride from windows in the dining area of Pinocchio Village Haus. At Disneyland, the Disneyland Railroad runs along the façade, offering a view of the boats and Matterhorn Bobsleds in the distance.
  • If you went on Magic Kingdom's version before 2004, you might remember a clown in a hot air balloon with a frown and sign stating, "Help." Via DisneylandNews.com, he was changed to be seen carrying a balloon in his hand and smiling!
  • The holiday overlay at Disneyland tradition started on November 27, 1997!
  • Guess we aren't the only ones who have to visit the boat ride every time we venture to Disneyland! According to Guest Research, 1 in 4 Disneyland guests consider it a tradition to visit It's a Small World each Disney vacation.
  • Not surprising is that the song "It's a Small World (After All)" is the most-played and most-translated song in music history! It plays around 1,200 times during a 16-hour operating day at a Disney park.
  • If you wear a MagicBand on the ride at Magic Kingdom, you might see your name on display at the ride exit.

Ending of It's a Small World

Well, I bet you are now gonna dream about this iconic boat ride and hum the song! When did you first experience It's a Small World? Let us know in the comments below! And don't forget to check out our wait times and more for It's a Small World.

Stay cool!

Keep hopping, Tad!
View Comments
<<  Newer Posts | Older Posts  >>
Dec 13, 2022 at 5:53 p.m. Sue Says...

Your name doesn't appear anymore at the end of the WDW version.

Reply
Dec 8, 2022 at 10:51 a.m. Valerie Wondrick Says...

The best way to celebrate birthdays! Appreciate the way Disney helps to plan the trip with all the tips.

Reply
Oct 5, 2021 at 12:28 a.m. Darien DiMera Says...

This is the entrance to Tomorrowland

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Sep 21, 2021 at 8:30 p.m. Nikki J Says...

I was 8 years old about to turn 9 when we went on the ride in Disney World. It was July 1994. We got stuck on the ride for 2 hours because it malfunctioned part way through the ride. I hate the song....

Reply
Sep 19, 2021 at 10:37 p.m. Alexa Says...

Can u do scary things about it’s a small world?

Reply
Oct 29, 2020 at 10:48 p.m. Steve Says...

seen first time in 1964 New York Worlds fair

Reply
Jul 3, 2020 at 6:25 p.m. Regina Says...

You know the meaning of the numbers on the Clock tower?

Reply
Dec 4, 2019 at 6:25 p.m. john Says...

I was a small child at the 1964 Worlds Fair, it's a small world was really cool. whenever I go to Disney Florida or LA, I always go to it's a small world and the Wheel of Progress

Reply
Feb 23, 2019 at 3:27 p.m. natasha anne lux Says...

I am trying to find confirmation with regards to what my daughter remembers as a child on her first ride on the Small World Attraction. She insists that at the very beginning of the ride, you are welcomed by a small snail. And at the end of the ride, he is there again, saying goodbye. Can anyone verify this for me? Thank you.

Reply
Feb 11, 2019 at 4:32 p.m. DaddyB of old Says...

When you look at the exterior facade of the "Small World building you might notice the dozens of golden doo-dads at the top of every spire of thbuilding. ALL of these little curios are copies o the little charms on Alice Davis' Charm bracelet! (each one having ben given to her by her husband, WED Imagineer (and Disney legend) Marc Davis.I had the opportunity to ask Ms.Davis about this once, and she confirmed this to be true!

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Jul 27, 2017 at 7:30 p.m. Heather Says...

Other fun fact that usually blows people away: the ride is simply stuffed with cultural earth & earth goddess symbols. It's teeming with Fleur-de-lis (ancient birth mother/Mother Mary symbol), 5-petaled flowers (pentacles), diamonds (yonis), almonds (vesica piscis), ankhs, and other birth goddess imagery. Not too surprising since the Earth is our Mother, after all.

...which means that Mary Blair, Marc Davis, and Walt Disney were very aware of the meanings behind these symbols when they designed IASW.

Reply
Nov 3, 2016 at 10:51 p.m. Carlos medina Says...

I like it's a small world because they had singing dolls and they sing a song it's a small world song

Reply
Dec 4, 2016 at 10:17 p.m. Thomas shaver Says...

I have been seeing.or boating in its a small world for over 60 years. I fact I married the first employed Snow White

Reply
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