From Anaheim to Shanghai, the Disney Parks are renowned for their immersive qualities. Strolling down Main Street, U.S.A., you might catch a hint of vanilla in the air as it’s pumped out through hidden vents. The stretching room in the Haunted Mansion disguises a simple elevator ride to the main show building by giving guests the illusion of a spooky enchanted chamber. And you won’t find a panoramic view of the Magic Kingdom through the windows of Be Our Guest Restaurant; instead, diners are treated to mood lighting and the charming projection of a gentle snowfall, mirroring the romantic atmosphere of Belle’s first dance with the Beast.
Everything at the Disney Parks has been designed to enhance your experience: the sights, the smells, the tastes, even the way the music seamlessly shifts from land to land. Much like an expert stage magician, Disney shows you only what you need to see — anything more, and it might ruin the magic that distinguishes these theme parks from their contemporaries.
Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, however — after all, even five-year-olds know that Tinker Bell uses a wire to flit around Sleeping Beauty Castle — and there’s still one classic Disney attraction that consistently spoils the magic of the parks: the Disneyland Monorail.
Is the Monorail a transportation system or an attraction?
First, a little history. If you’re familiar with some of our prior features here, you know that Walt Disney partnered with the Alweg Corporation to create his own monorail system in the late 1950s. (The story of just how Walt was inspired to revolutionize theme park transportation is still up for debate, but most believe that he stumbled across one of Alweg’s straddle-beam monorails on a business trip to Germany in the spring of 1958.) He was smitten by the innovative design and efficiency of the trains and commissioned Imagineers Bob Gurr, John Hench, Roger Broggie and Bill Martin to construct a similar structure in the heart of Tomorrowland.
It was an instant E ticket attraction, drawing over 2,000 invited attendees during a dedication ceremony led by then-Vice President Richard Nixon. While today’s guests can use the Monorail to travel to the far end of the Downtown Disney District, Walt initially planned for the train to circle around the Matterhorn before closing its 8/10-mile loop above the crystalline waters of the Submarine Voyage.
In 1961, a second station was constructed by the original Disneyland Hotel, giving guests an easy way to bypass the long trek to the main gates. Visitors now had two options: they could shell out $3.50 for general admission to Disneyland and take the Monorail into the park or opt for a discounted “tail-cone tour" price that allowed them to ride in the Monorail’s tail cone (without disembarking in Tomorrowland) for one full circuit.
As the resort prepared for a massive expansion in 2001, the original hotel and its monorail station were demolished and rebuilt. Downtown Disney blossomed into an avenue for nighttime entertainment, shopping and quality dining, and the Monorail became more than just a fun gimmick — it was a legitimate, albeit limited transportation system.