The mere mention of Walt Disney World conjures thoughts of princesses and pirates, mountains from space or mountains from Nepal, fireworks and parades, adventure, fantasy and tomorrow, the sounds of Main Street and the scent of popcorn, and of course – the world’s most beloved characters. Each of them launching an assault on the senses that engages your imagination, emotions, and memories. In fact, there is so much to take in, that it is often very easy to miss what may be among the best attributes of WDW – detail. The reality of missing the trees for the forest happens as we rush from one attraction to the other, all while trying to make it to our next meal reservation, or avoid spending our last dime on another souvenir. Yet, along with all the other amazing things that urge us to rush along, WDW offers some of the most amazing opportunities to stop and appreciate simple beauty. And, more often than not, those moments are as awe inspiring, momentous, and enjoyable than any attraction, parade, meal or fireworks show.
Nestled alongside the Germany Pavilion in World Showcase is – in my humble opinion – one of the greatest of such opportunities. The Garden Railway is, in essence, a microcosm of WDW itself. A world unto itself, surrounded on all sides by reality (of sorts) yet completely oblivious to its presence or its influence. A neat little world of orderly beauty and function. Complete fantasy, yet enough reality to allow relevant connections to the memories, thoughts, and dreams of those who stop to gaze upon the unknowing inhabitants of this miniature world.
It is also fitting that a small, simple, rail themed attraction, serves to capture the spirit of WDW. After all, it was a miniaturized railway that helped start Walt down the path of creating attractions. Inspired by Walt’s lifelong love of trains, the Carolwood Pacific – a 1/8” scale, live steam train – ran along a 2,615 foot track through Walt’s backyard in Los Angeles. It was while on a train trip from New York to California, after losing the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, that Walt had the spark of inspiration for Mickey Mouse. I guess you could say that Mickey was born on a train. And, if it was all started by a mouse, then the WDW connection to railroads is deep and significant. Knowing this, is it any wonder that a train is the very mode of transportation that carries guests on a tour around Disneyland and Walt Disney World; or that a train of the future – the Monorail – carries guests around the 7 Seas Lagoon, or from the Magic Kingdom to EPCOT?
Aside from the significance of trains, this small, unique attraction is awe inspiring because of its simplistic beauty. I love to stand along the rails and imagine what it might be like to live in this world. Or, to visit for a time. What might it be like to step out of one of the shops and stroll in the courtyard behind the Spanish style church? Or tend to a small garden outside a cottage? Or picnic along the tree line in the hills? Or camp alongside the river near the bridges? Who owns that castle on the hill? Might it be possible to buy one of the farmer’s pigs to feed my family? I wonder if I could purchase tulips for my wife from the owner of the greenhouse? Most importantly, I wonder if the cottage and farm near the tunnel is for sale! After all, it’s just down the line from the village and from the church. And, in that might be the greatest feature of this attraction. It achieves the very thing EPCOT was meant to. It sparks the imagination of all those who dare to step away from the main stream hustle and bustle of the “World” and dream of what could be or what might be.
So, the next time you are hurrying through the World Showcase, rushing to ride the Maelstrom in the Norway Pavilion, or to make your reservations at Le Celier in the Canadian Pavilion, or killing time before your Soarin’ fastpass brings you back to Future World, stop for a moment and dream about what could be or what might be if we only had the presence of mind to enjoy the simplistic beauty offered by the hillside community of the Garden Railway.
In the meantime, step out of reality and take a ride on the rails through this great attraction. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qtqMgCHkjfw
For more on the Carolwood Pacific, check out this great video: