"it's a small world"

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"it's a small world"
The exterior of "it's a small world" in Disney World is different than any other version of the attraction.
Magic Kingdom
Land Fantasyland
Attraction type Interior Boat Ride
Opening date October 1, 1971
Vehicle names Boat
Vehicle capacity 20
Ride duration 10:30 minutes
Disney Genie + Yes

"it's a small world" is an attraction located in Fantasyland.

Attraction History

The 1964 World's Fair

"it's a small world" as it appeared at the 1964 World's Fair.

The history of it’s a small world began when executives at Pepsi approached Disney about creating a pavilion for the 1964 World's Fair in New York [1]. Although it was only a year before the World's Fair would begin, Pepsi wanted to Disney to construct a pavilion that would be a "salute to UNICEF and all the world's children". [1] In February 1963, Pepsi executives (encouraged by board member and film star Joan Crawford) approached Disneyland's head of construction Admiral Joe Fowler. Regrettably however, Fowler informed the executives that Disney would be unable to work on the pavilion on such short notice, due to the fact that their time and resources were needed for the other three pavilions that Disney was working on at the Fair. These pavilions included pavilions for, Ford Motors (the Skyway), General Electric (The Carousel of Progress) and the State of Illinois (Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln) [2]. When Walt Disney heard that Fowler had rejected the idea of creating Pepsi's pavilion, he was furious. Overruling Fowler, Walt committed the company to a fourth pavilion for the World's Fair.

Inspired by ideas of Imagineer Bob Gurr, it was Walt Disney himself who initially came up with the concept of a boat ride attraction which he titled "Children of the World". Early designs for the attraction were done by Imagineer Marc Davis. The boat system that the attraction used was designed by Imagineer Bob Gurr who was already working on such a system with Arrow Manufacturing [3].

Although Marc Davis held the title of chief art director for the attraction, it was Mary Blair who left her artistic imprint on the ride. At Walt's suggestion, Blair was brought onto the project. Eventually she was charged with the attraction's backgrounds, children, and color schemes [3]. Other contributors to the attraction included: Claude Coats who did the art directing the layout of the attraction), Rolly Crump who created the toys for the attraction [4]. When Walt originally pitched his boat ride attraction, he hoped that all of the different children could sing their own national anthem [2]. Although this idea was originally tried, it was eventually deemed unfeasible. In order to come up with a song that could continuously play on the attraction, Walt turned to the Sherman Brothers[5]. Walt asked them to write a song that could be sung as a round like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" [2]. According to Imagineer Harriet Burns, when explaining to the songwriting duo the kind of song that he wanted, Walt used the phrase "it’s a small world after all". Although not intended as a lyric for the song, the Sherman Brothers used the phrase as the basis for their new composition [3]. Despite the fact that "it's a small world" was the first song that the Shermans wrote for the attraction, they were afraid that it had come together too quickly. Subsequently, two more songs were written, although they were deemed inferior. With time running out, the Sherman Brothers presented "it's a small world" to Walt, who was said to comment "That will work" (Disney employees knew that this meant Walt liked the song) [3]. Although he approved the song, Walt did have one suggestion for the Sherman Brothers. Initially, the brothers had written it's a small world as a slow ballad, and after hearing it, Walt told the duo to "speed it up" [6]. Besides becoming the attraction’s theme song, “it’s a small world” would also give the ride its namesake.

To draw guests into the Pepsi Pavilion, Rolly Crump designed the 120-foot high Tower of the Four Winds. The tower featured a total of 52 different mobiles which “represented the constant energy of the young". According to Crump:

"Walt came to me and said, ‘Rolly, I want to do this big tower out in front of the assignment because he had remembered my interest in kinetic sculpture. I built a small model, probably not more than 12 inches high, that fit into the promotional model that we were using. Then I did a half-inch scale model, and on that one every propeller turned.”

Although Crump was not a fan of the final result, the tower proved to be successful. Besides just drawing guests into the Pepsi Pavilion, the Tower also inspired the phrase "Meet me at the Tower of the Four Winds" which was used throughout the World's Fair [7].

In order to create the attraction on time for the fair, construction crews worked seven days a week [2]. In spite of the fact that Pepsi disliked the attraction Disney had created [3], the pavilion proved to be extremely popular. Over its two year run, an estimated 10 million people rode "it's a small world" [8], making it one of the post popular attractions at the World's Fair. One of the factors that made the ride so popular was the high capacity that it had. By using multiple boats every hour to get guests on the attraction, there was almost never a wait. This ride system would later be used in other Disney attractions including Pirates of the Caribbean [9].

Move to Disneyland

"Walt Disney and Mary Blair showing of it's a small world artwork

Following the conclusion of the World's Fair in 1965, Disney decided to move "it's a small world" to Disneyland. Although the scenes were transported from New York and placed in the same order, the attraction that opened in Disneyland was very different than the one that had been at the fair. Since the show building that was built for the attraction was one third larger than its predecessor, when the show was relocated, there was an increase in the space between the various attraction scenes. Because of this, WED Engineers were able to add new scenes to fill in the empty spaces [10]. Rolly Crump designed scenes depicting the North Pole and the Pacific Islands, to fill in some of the unused space. Another difference between the attractions was the fact that the Europe scene was about 1/3 larger in the Disneyland version of the attraction then it had been in New York [2].

The 120-foot high Tower of the Four Winds (which drew guests into the Pepsi Pavilion at the World's Fair) was not moved to California with the rest of the attraction. It would have cost Disney an estimated $80,000 [2] to ship to California, so the tower was simply demolished [11]. The exterior of the attraction in Disneyland was however once again designed by Crump, who took inspiration from Mary Blair's artistic style [12]. Blair had actually come up with a facade herself, but it was deemed to be too difficult to maintain due to the number of colors used. Crump's design featured a stylized three dimensional facade, with abstract towers, minarets, and turrets. Several depictions of landmarks can be seen on the facade including, the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Walt Disney himself came up with the idea for the large smiling clock located on the outside of the building [13]. The Disneyland version of the attraction also included various dolls that come out of the clock (and dance to a version of the attractions theme song) when the clock strikes the quarter hour [14]. The Disneyland version of it's a small world opened on May 28, 1966 [15].

Creation in Walt Disney World

Due to the immense popularity of "it's a small world", Disney decided to construct a version of the attraction for the (yet unopened) Magic Kingdom. Although the two versions of the attraction are very similar and feature nearly identical plots, there are some differences between them. Perhaps most noticeably, the exterior facade in Walt Disney World is much simpler in its design. While not apart of the attraction's exterior, in 2005 a version of the elaborate and iconic Disneyland facade was added to the loading area of the Walt Disney World version [16]. The dancing clock can also be found in the loading area, although dolls do not come out and dance on the quarter hour. The "Goodbye Room" in the Disney World version of "it’s a small world" is also unique. In Disneyland, the room holds postcards and goodbye phrases from around the world [17]. In the Magic Kingdom however, parting phrases are painted onto large flowers, leading guests to the exit [18]. Also of note is the fact that in 2009 Disneyland added a "Spirit of America Room" to its version of it's a small world [19]. This changed did not occur in the Walt Disney World version. Likewise, when Disneyland added characters to it's a small world, the Disney World version did not follow suit [20].

It's a small world opened to guests with the rest of the Magic Kingdom on October 1, 1971. Although it's a small world has not changed much since it opened, the ride did go through a significant renovation from May 2004 until March 2005. At this time, The attraction received a new state-of-the-art sound system, new paint, and new lighting [21]. The loading queue was also changed, giving guests more cover and protection from the elements. To do this, the line that was previously the exit line became the entrance line and vice-versa [21]. As previously mentioned, at this time the Disneyland facade was added to the Walt Disney World version's loading area [22].

In March 2016, new screens were added to the flowers in the "Goodbye Room" [23]. As part of Disney's new Storymaker program, the screens now connect to guests MagicBands to give them a personalized farewell [23].

Attraction Plot

"it's a small world" is a boat ride attraction that takes guests through scenes depicting children from all around the world.

Queue [24]

Disneyland's exterior facade can be found inside the queue area in Walt Disney World's it's a small world. Photo: Theme Park Tourist".

While guests wait in the queue for "it's a small world", they can see the famous Disneyland facade. The facade is used on the exterior of all other versions of the attraction, but it is located inside the Walt Disney World version’s queue. The colorful facade features abstract versions of various landmarks, with the focal point of the façade being a large smiling clock, which rocks it head in-time. While waiting in the queue, guests can also hear various international songs. Songs heard in the queue include (country of origin in parenthesis):

  • Ach Du Lieber Augustin (Germany/Austria)
  • Alouette (France/Canada)
  • Chiapanecas (Mexico)
  • Estaba La Pájara Pinta (Spain)
  • Funiculì, Funiculà (Italy)
  • Hava Nagila (Israel)
  • Irish Washerwoman (Ireland)
  • London Bridge (England)

Boat Ride

The Walt Disney World version of “it’s a small world” features seven distinct rooms. These rooms feature 472 props (including 289 singing dolls) which represent 100 different countries [25]. The rooms in “it’s a small world “are:

Europe- In this room, the dolls sing “it’s a small world” in Spanish, English, Swedish and Italain. Groups of dolls representing: Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands can be found here.

Asia- In this room dolls representing China, Japan and Korea sing “it’s a small world” in Japanese.

Africa- Although tribal beats set the tone for this room; the dolls here sing the attraction’s theme song in English. In addition to the dolls, many wild animals such as elephants, zebras and lions can be seen here.

Central/South America- In the attraction’s forth room, dolls sing “it’s a small world” in Spanish. Latin instruments such as maracas can be heard.

The South Pacific- This room features dolls representing Polynesia, Hawaii and other islands.

White Room- The grand finale of the attraction, the “White Room” features dolls from all over the world. Despite their different cultures, the children are all dressed in the color white. All of the different languages used in the attraction are sung here.

Goodbye Room- After leaving the finale, guests enter the Goodbye Room. Here parting phrases are written on multicolored flowers. Personalized goodbye messages to individual guests are also shown here. After leaving the Goodbye Room guests finally unload.

See the Attraction!

"it's a small world" is one of the harder attractions to describe in detail. We recommend that you view the attraction yourself, in order to take in all of its intricate details.

Fun Facts and Trivia

  • Each doll in it's a small world has the same face [25].
  • The canal that guests ride down on "it's a small world" is known as the Seven Seaways [26].
  • 500,000 gallons of water are used to fill the Seven Seaways Canal [25].
  • In the Goodbye Room, 22 languages are used to say "goodbye" [27].
  • Over 600 guests can be on "it's a small world" at the same time [27].
  • A model of “The Tower of the Four Winds” created by Rolly Crump can be seen on the fourth floor of the Contemporary Resort (it's located across from the elevators) [28].
  • Previously guests could find a clown in the White Room who was floating in a hot air balloon, frowning, and holding a sign that said "Help". He was the only figure in the attraction that was frowning. During the 2005 refurbishment however the clown was replaced by a smiling clown holding a balloon [29].
  • A doll found underneath the Eiffel Tower is a tribute to Imagineer Joyce Carlson [30]
  • The decorations atop it's a small world's spires are exact copies of jewelry owned by Imagineer Leota Thomas [30].


  1. 1.0 1.1 http://www.nywf64.com/pepsi03.shtml
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 https://www.mouseplanet.com/8343/The_History_of_its_a_small_world
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 http://allears.net/ae/issue769.htm.
  4. http://blogs.disney.com/insider/2015/07/10/in-remembrance-blaine-gibson-1939-2015/#Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-ride
  5. http://www.bmi.com/news/entry/a_conversation_with_richard_m._sherman
  6. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-small-world-20140804-story.html
  7. http://www.nywf64.com/pepsi05.shtml
  8. http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20796496,00.html
  9. http://www.waltdisney.org/blog/marty-sklar-x-atencio-and-bob-gurr-talk-pirates
  10. http://davelandweb.com/smallworld/
  11. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-disney-tower-retrospective-20151117-story.html
  12. http://blog.wdwinfo.com/2013/03/12/small-world-disneyland/
  13. http://blog.wdwinfo.com/2013/03/12/small-world-disneyland/
  14. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRIs1p9yZqM
  15. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/world-610750-disney-sherman.html
  16. https://www.mouseplanet.com/guide/76/Walt-Disney-World/Magic-Kingdom/Fantasyland/its-a-small-world
  17. https://www.flickr.com/photos/harshlight/4917555549
  18. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-sQ-1qZKXmyU/VS40SpF9jQI/AAAAAAAAQhg/M9hGQW9X3t8/s1600/IASW-Sign_Focusedonthemagic.jpg
  19. http://allears.net/dlr/tp/dl/small.htm
  20. http://allears.net/dlr/tp/dl/small.htm
  21. 21.0 21.1 http://www.florida-project.com/walt-disney-world-photos/magic-kingdom/fantasyland/its-a-small-world
  22. https://www.mouseplanet.com/guide/76/Walt-Disney-World/Magic-Kingdom/Fantasyland/its-a-small-world
  23. 23.0 23.1 http://www.wdwinfo.com/news-stories/personalized-screen-added-to-end-of-its-a-small-world-attraction/
  24. http://allears.net/tp/mk/mk_small.htm
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 http://www.laughingplace.com/w/articles/2014/04/09/its-a-small-world-facts-and-figures/
  26. https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/attractions/magic-kingdom/its-a-small-world/
  27. 27.0 27.1 http://disneybythenumbers.com/blog/blog_files/07941701f87c1f2250000388d7ba5111-168.html
  28. http://www.ownerslocker.com/blog/2010/05/the_tower_of_the_four_winds_at.html
  29. http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/disneys-small-world-facts/story?id=22990670
  30. 30.0 30.1 Yee, Keven. Walt Disney World Hidden History Second Edition. N.p.: n.p., 2014. Print.