Although “it’s a small world” was added to Disneyland Resort many years after the park opened, it’s hard to think about Disneyland and not hear the joyful melody in your head. Located in Fantasyland, “it’s a small world” is not just a ride for the entire family – it’s a ride for the entire world. 

it’s a small world Disneyland review
it’s a small world” by Sam Howzit licensed under CC BY 2.0

The World’s Fair

“it’s a small world” was designed as one of the three attractions the Walt Disney Studios sent to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. After tremendous success, it was moved to Disneyland Park in Southern California and has remained an integral part of the park since it officially opened in 1966.

Given that most of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, and the ride was meant to illustrate how ‘small’ the world really is, passengers float along a gentle waterway in an open-air boat similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean. It has been dubbed the “Happiest Cruise the Ever Sailed.”

Experiencing “it’s a small world”

There is probably no ride better suited for the whole family. In fact this is one of the best rides as Disneyland for children. Look for the cheerful sign mounted to the top of a brass archway that shows a dozen characters from the ride piled into a boat. Although there is nothing particularly notable about the queue, “it’s a small world” waiting area, is situated by a large gate covered in ivy.

Though it seems non-descript, this gate is where parades start, so if you want to combine riding “it’s a small world” with watching the parade, this is a great spot. There is also a stroller parking area across the way.

One of the downsides to the queue line is that it’s entirely outside. Although most of the wait is beneath large trees that offer a lot of shade, you won’t be able to completely escape they rain or the heat. This can be a challenge when waiting with younger children. And as the barrier that separates and redirects traffic is just a thin, waist-high rope, keep an eye on your toddlers. 

Once you make it onto the final stretch, past trees shaped into whimsical animal topiaries, you split onto one of two footbridges that lead down to the area where you’ll board your boat. Even if the wait isn’t too long, it’s likely you’ll get to see the chiming of the 30-foot clock built into the ride’s façade. 

Every 15 minutes, wooden dolls dressed in different costumes from around the world emerge at the base of the clock and circle around to the left and the right and sing, “it’s a small world (after all).” After the dolls finish their show and disappear back into the clock tower, two doors below the round bouncing clock-face will open to show what time it is displayed in roman numerals. If you pay close attention, you’ll notice the court-jester doll on the inside of each door. 

At the bottom of the footbridge, you’ll take your place in one of the ride’s spacious boats. These are similar to the boats found in the Pirates of the Caribbean, and seat sixteen passengers in four rows of four. As you set sail, you’ll hear safety reminders to keep hands and feet inside the boat at all times announced in several different languages. 

The tunnel begins at the base of the clock tower. Passing under the archway, the iconic song, “it’s a small world (after all),” starts playing for the first time. Cut-out dolls holding balloons and welcome signs, including a friendly sea serpent, lead you to the first of six scenes where over 300 animatronic dolls dressed in traditional costumes characteristic of their culture sing and dance around. 

They’re usually doing some kind of activity their country is known for, and usually doing it near a recognizable monument. Here is a list of countries according to each scene. This is a great guide to use with your children as you sail through. 

Scene 1 – Western Europe

  1. Scandinavia/Sweden/Norway 
  2. Denmark 
  3. England 
  4. Scotland
  5. Ireland 
  6. Belgium
  7. Holland 
  8. France 
  9. Germany
  10. Spain
  11. Italy 
  12. Switzerland

Some of the fun things to notice along the way include a polar bear that’s ice fishing, Can-Can dolls dancing under the Eiffel Tower, and chess pieces from Alice in Wonderland spinning around in front of Big Ben.

If you look up while you’re passing by England, you’ll see Peter Pan flying around the moon! In Ireland, there is a giant harp singing to a little boy holding onto balloons, and just before you get to Italy, you’ll see Pinocchio who is dancing in a window. 

Scene 2 – Eastern Europe and Asia

  1. Greece
  2. Russia
  3. Israel
  4. Bali 
  5. India 
  6. China 
  7. Japan

The most magical thin you’ll see in the sky when you sail through this scene are the magic carpets flying overhead in India. Look for three dancing frogs in Bali, as well as the kites being flown by a little boy in China as his happy Panda eats bamboo shoots.  

Scene 3 – Egypt and Africa

  1. Egypt
  2. Jungles

There are dozens of animals hidden throughout the colorful jungles just past Egypt. Look for a tiger, a pink elephant, and a family of giraffes as you pass under a sparkling waterfall.

Scene 4 – South America and Antarctica

  1. Antarctica
  2. Chile
  3. Brazil
  4. Central America
  5. Mexico
  6. The South American Rainforests

Even though the first thing you see is a line of penguins dancing on an iceberg, this is one of the most colorful scenes throughout the ride. Llamas dancing, sombreros, and even Donald Duck and the Three Caballeros are celebrating Latin America. 

Scene 5 – South Pacific

  1. South Pacific
  2. Hawaii
  3. Australia
  4. Polynesian Islands

Ariel, the Little Mermaid, greets you as you enter this tropical land that starts underwater. She’s joined by some of her other mermaid friends, and a few turtles swimming around above her, while across the pond are singing birds and Nemo, who’s hanging out next to a raft. Find Stitch catching some waves and wave hello to a mama kangaroo with her Joey in her pouch. At the end of the scene Woody and Jessie from Toy Story will wave you along.

Scene 6 – Finale 

The Grand Finale is where all of the children are seen once more dancing together and singing in unison. This time, to show that we are all the same no matter where we’re from, everyone’s costume is white. Look for all your favorite dolls, because they’re all there!

Postcards from around the world bid you good-bye, and tell you to come back soon, as you float outside and back into the world of Disneyland. 

Enjoying “it’s a small world”

“it’s a small world” is a ride for the entire family, from mothers with infants to grandparents with toddlers. Even through it’s one of the dark rides at Disneyland, it is not scary. There are no bumps or drops throughout the ride; rather, it is full of bright colors and smiling faces. 

The boat is comfortable and safe, with plenty of room for bags and baby carriers. This ride easily accommodates people with disabilities, and in fact, there’s a separate loading area for wheelchairs and other mobility aids. You’ll have to take your own picture though. “it’s a small world” doesn’t offer any in-ride photos. 

Because the ride is almost fifteen minutes long, it’s a great chance to sit down and relax. But given that everyone in your family can ride, it makes it a very popular attraction. For this reason, it’s recommended to use the FASTPASS system so you can ensure you get a chance to sail around the world. By keeping an eye on FASTPASS return times through the Disneyland mobile app, you might have a little control in choosing you FASTPASS return window.

Do be aware that there are only a certain number of FASTPASS tickets issued for the day and once they’re gone, they’re no longer available. During peak seasons, including the holidays, wait times can be up to two hours long. And unfortunately, “it’s a small world” doesn’t offer the Single Rider feature. 

“it’s a small world” Around the World

“it’s a small world” is such an iconic and enjoyable ride that a version has been built at almost every other Disney theme park in the world. Here’s a list of the other rides and how they differ from the Disneyland Resort:

Magic Kingdom – Nearly the same except for a few minor differences. The biggest distinction is that the waiting line and the loading dock were built indoors. This makes it a popular ride year-round, as guests are protected from some of the extreme Florida weather.

Tokyo Disneyland – Tokyo Disneyland, located just outside the city, has the most in common with the version found at the Magic Kingdom. To match the Disneyland Resort and Disneyland Hong Kong, 40 Disney characters were added during a recent refurbishment. Among those added were Cinderella, Peter Pan, The Aristocrats, The Little Mermaid, Frozen, and The Lion King, to name a few. It’s also the only version where the loading area is referred to as an actual “station.”

Disneyland Paris – Disneyland Paris is the least like the other “it’s a small world” attractions around the world. The clock tower is very different, and instead of separate rooms that divide up the scenes, the ride in Paris takes place in one large space with arches designed to give you a sense of sailing from only land to the next. The music is very different, and doesn’t sound like the other versions of “it’s a small world (after all).” Since this was originally considered an American exhibit at the World Fair, the Disneyland and Magic Kingdoms don’t have official segments to represent the United States, other than a cowboy and an Indian in the Grand Finale. But in the Paris version, there’s an entire area dedicated to Canada and the United States.

Hong Kong Disneyland – If you ride “it’s a small world” in Hong Kong, you might get confused and think you’re in California. That’s because this is a near replica of the original ride in Disneyland Park. But it does have it’s own signature feature – the Grand Finale room has a special fiber-optic lighting design that is truly impressive.

Holiday Version – While this isn’t a different park, it is a different style that the ride takes on during the holiday season. From November through December, a festive “overlay” is added to almost every square inch of the ride. Hundreds of thousands of extra lights are hung, and Christmas carols are added to the soundtrack. And although they’re a little different, you can enjoy the holiday experience at every park around the world.  

Conclusion

“it’s a small world” was one of Walt Disney’s all-time favorite attractions. The artist, Mary Blair, who worked on original animated Disney movies, such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, designed most of the ride. She had a unique color palette and her joyful art shines through. 

No matter which version around the world that you experience, “it’s a small world,” is a five-star ride. It is reminiscent of the original Disneyland style, and stays relevant no matter how much the world changes. Although it’s easier to travel internationally these days, there is something very special about seeing happy faces from every culture all in one place. Don’t miss your chance to see the world on the Happiest Cruise that Ever Sailed. 

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