"it's a small world"
(October 1, 1971 - present)
History and photos of the "it's a small world" boat ride in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Is it good or bad that a ride is so famous that it's both praised and ridiculed by people, even those who have never ridden the ride or set foot in the Magic Kingdom?
That's the legacy of "it's a small world," a slow moving boat ride that spreads a message of world peace and global unity. Throughout the ride, over 300 Audio-Animatronics sing and dance to various versions of the Sherman Brothers' famous song, "it's a small world (after all)."
"it's a small world" was originally presented by Walt Disney at the UNICEF pavilion at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair. The ride was a smash hit with the audiences, and it was quickly transferred and installed at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. The ride officially opened in Disneyland on May 28, 1966.
Just like at the 1964-65 New York World's Fair, "it's a small world" quickly became a hit with the crowds, especially families with small children. It was not a surprise that the ride was also going to be added to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Florida as part of its opening day listing of attractions.
"it's a small world" opened on October 1, 1971 with the rest of the Magic Kingdom theme park. One of the biggest differences with the Florida version of the ride is the building's exterior. While the California version of the ride has an outdoor loading station and a fancy facade and entrance mural, the Florida version was basically hidden inside of a Medieval-style building. Both the exterior and loading station for the Florida version of the ride were extremely plain compared to the original (and very elaborate) version of the ride in California.
In fact, that's how most of the Magic Kingdom's guests experienced "it's a small world" until the boat ride had a much needed refurbishment from May of 2004 through March of 2005. After the refurbishment, "it's a small world" had an improved sound system, better lighting, the addition of safety gates at the loading station, and a much fancier loading station that looked closer to the California version, complete with the smiling, animated clock.
"it's a small world" had a small refurbishment from September 2010 through October 21, 2010. The biggest change in this refurbishment was basically switching the entrance and exit ramps for the loading/unloading station. Now the line queue sweeps around the back of the room, and the riders leave through the old entrance ramp.
The experience for "it's a small world" begins with approaching the ride in the west side of Fantasyland. The ride is near the side entrance to Liberty Square, and it's right across the path from the wildly popular Peter Pan's Flight. The ride's line queue and loading station are housed in a large room, and it's fairly interesting seeing the theming and watching the boats moving through the station. Since the entrance area is open and lets in an abundant amount of light, the loading station looks somewhat different at night than it does during the day.
WARNING --- SPOILERS!
After walking down the ramp in the line queue and boarding our row in the boat, the boat moves forward and floats to the entrance of the ride. Above and to our right are viewing windows from the Pinocchio Village Haus restaurant. In the Pinocchio Village Haus, diners can sit at the tables and look down through the windows at the loading station for "it's a small world." Of course, those few window tables in the restaurant tend to be very popular.
After floating underneath an arch with the welcome sign, we find ourselves in the Europe room with all sorts of European references from the Eiffel Tower to Big Ben to Ireland to Holland to Spain to Italy to Greece and Germany. After that is the Asia room and sights such as Thailand, India (with the Taj Mahal), flying carpets, Russia, China, Korea and Japan. Up next is the Africa room including sights and locations such as Egypt, the Nile River, and equatorial Africa with its people and wild animals. The next room is the Latin / South America room and sights from Mexico in the north to Brazil and the Andes Mountains and even penguins in the cold, southern tip of Chile. The room finishes with a rain forest which transitions into the next room, the South Seas room. Here in the South Seas room are hula dancers, surfers, the people of Polynesia, and familiar sights from Australia and New Zealand. After that is the Finale room, a room that joins together all the cultures of the world, dresses them in white versions of their clothing, and has everybody singing "it's a small world (after all)" in English. The final room on the boat ride is the Goodbye room, a small room with with parting phrases written in different languages and displayed on large flowers.
After passing through the Goodbye room, the boats return to the loading/unloading station, and the guests walk back up the ramps and into Fantasyland. The ride takes about 12-15 minutes to complete.
END OF SPOILERS!
"it's a small world" tends to see its peak crowds in the early to mid afternoon. Although this ride tends to attract little kids, plenty of adults will gladly go on "it's a small world" as a way to sit down and enjoy some air conditioning when it's hot outside. If you want to avoid the crowds and have a boat to yourself, ride this ride at night during and after the fireworks show.
Although "it's a small world" tends to give people a cringe feeling, this is actually a decent ride that's a classic part of Disney theme park history. It's fun to go on the ride and seeing how many different countries you can identify.
Just remember, no trip to Walt Disney World is complete without a ride on "it's a small world." :-)
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