“it’s a small world”

I write “it’s a small world” in quotes and lower case letters because the Disneyland site does. I think maybe the lower case letters are supposed to convey the smallness of the world, or at least the world inside the quotes. I don’t know. Anyway, I really think Small World (I’m bucking convention here) gets a bad rap. Yes, the song is repetitive, but inside the ride they sing it in several different languages. And when they did the refurb they really spruced up all of the dolls. I think the ride is fantastic, and if you have little kids, it’s awesome with them.

I already wrote about the holiday Small World so I’ll just sum up briefly here. Small World opened at Disneyland in 1966, a time when the average Disneyland guest weighed  lot less than they do today. Yes, that’s significant. Because as the guests got heavier, the boats sunk lower in the water, and the “river” was powered only by water current. Your boat would frequently get stuck. They closed the ride for a complete refurb and while it was closed they added some Disney and Pixar characters to the scenes. At first I thought this was going to be a total nightmare, but I actually think they did it well.

The clock face outside of Small World is totally famous.

Totally famous.

Every 15 minutes, it turns into the world’s largest cuckoo clock (not a fact, I’m just speaking off the cuff. I’m sure there’s a larger cuckoo clock somewhere in Germany) and little dolls from different countries come out and circle by.


Now there are two lines for Small World boats. One is physically shorter than the other, and I used to think that one was faster, but in fact that one is the handicap-accessible line so the boats often slow down to help people who need extra time boarding. So the one closest to the clock face is the fastest one usually.

Small World also features a number of topiary animals. I find topiary animals just a little bit creepy since reading The Shining by Stephen King, but mostly they’re awesome.

The Loch Ness Monster exists! At Disneyland!

Here’s a pretty good picture of the boats and loading area.

Good pictures can be a bit few and far between on this blog

You’ll notice in the trough there’s a groove down the middle. The boats are no longer carried entirely by water current anymore. They can get a helping hand every once in a while.

Now I want to make it clear that Theo really likes this ride. He has been on it a number of times and completely enjoyed it. So it was really baffling when we got to the boat loading dock and he completely lost it. We were going to put him and Anderson and Annika together in the row ahead of us, but when I tried to get him in, he started kicking and screaming and going limp and saying “No! No! No!”

It was so unexpected, really. I tried to get him to sit in the row in front but he was throwing such a fit I thought he might pitch himself out of the boat entirely, so I unceremoniously dumped him in our row and then followed him in and pinned him down.

Unsurprisingly, this little incident caught the attention of, well, everyone. I kept saying, “Theo, you love this ride!” and people were looking at me like “Lady, he clearly does not love this ride.” And the people in line were giving me looks like “Are we going to have to stop the whole ride so this crazy lady can get her child off?” I could just feel the Mommy of the Year Award slipping through my very fingers. And Kristin, helpful as always, was saying “Give me your camera–I want to get a picture of this tantrum!”

Then just as quickly as it began, it stopped, so by the time Kristin got ahold of the camera, this is what turned out.

No visible evidence of the trauma sustained mere seconds prior.


Anyway, you float away from the loading dock and enter into the Tunnel of Doom.

Or the Tunnel of Happiness or whatever

One thing I love about Small World is that throughout all of the years and renovations, they have not changed the artwork, so it still maintains its mid-60’s flair. I mean, you’d have to pretty much re-do then ENTIRE RIDE if you wanted to change the artwork, but back in the 80’s everyone thought that kind of thing was a Great Idea so I can say that I’m pleased Disneyland didn’t mess with it.

I think this introductory part is really to help your eyes adjust

Also adding to the retro feel is the fact that Small World is sponsored by Sylvania. I do remember as a child watching Sylvania light bulb commercials, but I very much associate Sylvania with a time when people needed to be sold on a brand-name light bulb. And honestly, when I saw the sponsor, my first reaction was “Does Sylvania even exist anymore?” It does, and apparently it’s gone all LED to compete and stuff. I don’t know how much money they give to Disneyland for Small World, but that’s money they certainly didn’t put into their website, which looks like something I designed in a tech writing class in 1996.


Then you start moving through the various rooms. Sometimes it’s hard to know what country or continent or little chunk o’ the globe you’re supposed to be traveling through, but usually there are clues to orient you somewhere.

That's First Nations artwork over the door, and a Mountie--CANADA!

Some are very straightforward.


In the British Isles room you encounter your first Disney character. Like I said, I was really nervous about how they were going to pull this off, but I think they did a great job fitting it in.

When we were in Oxford in 2009, we visited the Sweet Shop where Alice Liddell used to buy her candy.

Since I’m a huge Alice fan, I like that scene.

And how often do you see Cinderella WITHOUT the blue dress?

This is so charming

It’s refreshing, I tell you. If it weren’t for the mice, you wouldn’t even know it was Cinderella.

This German display goes out to Melinda and her family in Bavaria.


Sorry about the photo quality there, Melinda. It’s the thought that counts.

It’s actually pretty easy to miss Aladdin and Jasmine in the Middle East section.

Hint: a whole new wooooooorrrrrlllllllldddddd

And interestingly, Standard Research Methodology, Aladdin was not originally part of the Arabic versions of the One Thousand and One Nights. Hunh.

Over in China we find my favorite ass-kicking princess, Mulan.

And seriously, who DOESN'T want a talking pet dragon named after my favorite Chinese dish?

Some of the scenes are more fanciful than others, like Africa Dipped In Pink.

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you...

And some I just couldn’t figure out at all.

Where the hell IS this?

UPDATE: Reader correction–This is the Andes! Which also answers my other question, “where is South America represented?”

And let’s not forget the joyous world under the sea. There was already a mermaid scene, so it was kind of a no-brainer to throw Ariel in there. However, they kept the existing other mermaid dolls, so those don’t quite match with Ariel’s sisters in the movie.

Maybe they're distant cousins or something

Over in the Tahitian-ish room you have one of my favorite scenes from when I was little–the hula dancers. For some reason, those grass skirts shaking all at the same time was utterly fascinating to me.

shake shake shake shake shake shake

Then new after the refurb was the good old U. S. of A. Or maybe it’s not new and I never noticed it before, but I’m pretty sure it’s new.

We're all farmers

I think they needed the room to stick in Woody and Jessie. However, out of all of the additions to Small World, I really hate these. I don’t know why they couldn’t just make them dolls like everyone else. I think they look horrible.


However, if you are avid Woody and Jessie aficionados like Anderson and Annika, you keep looking at them even when your boat has passed them.

Still looking

After America you get to the Grande Finale room, which is where all of the other rooms send representative delegations to hammer out world peace by wearing traditional clothes, dancing their native dances, and singing in English.

I'd like to teach the world to sing...

A giant sun bids you a friendly farewell as your journey comes to an end.

This doorway is actually cooler in the holiday version

Then you can send oversized postcards to your friends reminding them that you’re at Disneyland and they are not.

Weather is here, wish you were beautiful

Then you drift back out into the outside world. Kevin likes this part because it’s the only attraction in the park where the “stay seated please” is repeated in German.

And I have to say, of all of the rides repeated at Walt Disney World, the Small World there left me shocked and speechless, it was so bad. The rooms were jumbled and crowded, nobody was singing in their languages (or singing at all, I think they had the music turned way down), it was impossible to tell where in the world you were at any given time. As far as Small World goes, the original is DEFINITELY the best.

So give Small World a chance. There’s so much to see in there and I think you’ll really like it.

25 responses to ““it’s a small world”

  1. Denise June 20, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    No pressure here, Shelby, but I really enjoy your posts. It’s a chance to be at DL in a whole new, and completely entertaining way (for a WHOLE LOT LESS CASH OUTLAY). I honestly have not been to it’s a small world since oh, the 1970’s? But thanks to you, I may go next visit.

    And thank you for your patience with Theo. You are a good mom!

  2. raspberrycordelia June 20, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    I’m pretty sure the one you couldn’t place is Peru, or the Andes at least.

  3. bowmansinbavaria June 20, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    High on a hill was a lonely goatherd! Yodelayieyodelayieyodelayieeeeehooooo! That’s exactly what popped into my head for the alpine part of “it’s a small world”. 🙂

    I was wondering if the one section could be South America/the Andes mountains.

    This looks like a really cute ride and I can see why it appeals so much to small children – there is a lot to notice!

  4. Kelli June 20, 2011 at 8:43 pm

    Great job, Shelby……..loved the photo of A and A with Woody and Jessie!!!! I call this ride 15 minutes of sitting and enjoying the A/C so I love it!!! Rarely do we make a visit without a ride on small world! I do agree the holiday edition is so completely amazing that the regular edition pales a bit in comparision….have not ridden the WDW version.

    I do think my favorite part was how Kristen wanted to take a photo of your sweet boy pitching a fit…but he calmed down once you were holding him……you rock as a Mom ❤

  5. BruinKristin June 20, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    Sorry Shelby – I do wish I could have been more helpful and caught a picture of Theo’s meltdown! Next time I will be more prepared…
    And as much I like the Woody and Jessie (likely just because they are loved by my children) I have to agree that they are a bit out of “small world” character!

  6. Amber June 20, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    When we were there last week my DH exclaimed, “It’s Peru!” He lived there for two years and was excited to see that represented in the “Spanish” room. So that area in your picture is definitely supposed to be the Andes area of Peru.
    I had fun looking for the characters in all of the rooms, I missed Mulan though.
    Our little girl loved the ride too. We took her on it twice in our visit.
    I agree, the Disney World version was not good!

  7. Renee June 21, 2011 at 8:05 am

    We love it’s a small world! Like you I couldn’t get over how different the disneyworld version was, it was terrible! I especially love our version during the holidays.

  8. Lisa June 21, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Great post! Before I had a kid I hadn’t gone on this ride since I was a small child. My parents hated this ride, so we almost never went on it. I never knew what we were missing. We took DS on it and he loved it, and to our surprise we really loved it too. We have become huge Mary Blair fans.
    Bummer about the WDW version of the ride, since we are headed to the Mouse-in-law next year. We recently went on the HK Disneyland version, and I think it was very similar to the original DL version.

  9. Rebecca June 21, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Last time I went to DL, we rode small world 3 or 4 times because it was one of the few rides my 3-year-old daughter would go on. I never noticed Cinderella, so thanks for the photo! Will definitely look for her next time. Did you see Peter Pan and Tinkerbell flying overhead? (I think in England.)

  10. Linus V June 22, 2011 at 5:40 am

    When I was growing up, the glockenspiel only rang once a day, at noon and our family always made a point to see the character event. Having the clock trigger every fifteen minutes takes away some of the charm and specialness. If the typical wait in line is 10 to 20 minutes, then everyone gets a chance to see the clock event. I feel it should be a special event, like the flag ceremony in town square. They only lower the flag at Disneyland once a day, and that is a special ceremony. But it is special precisely because it happens only on time each day. When the Small World glockenspiel is almost guaranteed to go off while you are waiting in line, it takes away some of that special quality. Even if Disneyland set the clock to go off once every hour, it would still remain a special event and be special that some people would just not see.

    The problem with the WDW version was that it suffered from too much space. The ride was bigger and had more space to fit larger props in larger national spaces, The result was that the rider was looking down across a vast open space at the props and characters. And the flume itself was in a raised track, so you were looking down over the scenes like you were riding an elevated highway or floating along a roman aqueduct. And as you looked down over the sets and scenes, you could see many show elements such as electric cables and light fixtures along the ride path. About seven or eight years ago, they rehabbed the entire ride at WDW, and built out the sets to fill in the enormous spaces below and around the flume create a much more intimate experience. Now the sets and props are situated very close to the rider, just like at Disneyland, and the extended sets and props also hide the miscellaneous show elements so there are no more cavernous areas and the rider is no longer looking down over everything. I suggest that Renee give the Walt Disney World version another chance. They have remedied much of what once made it so different.

    • Amber June 22, 2011 at 2:05 pm

      Linus V–I just went to WDW three years ago. I still didn’t care too much for the Small World. My husband liked it howerver.

    • Shelby July 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      There is an hourly clock display that is different than the every-15-minutes one. And I still have to beg to differ on the WDW version. We were there in February and I found it to be quite terrible–overcrowded, but mostly that the different lands weren’t distinguishable and I was particularly disappointed that the dolls didn’t sing in their respective languages. I could barely distinguish a handful of distinct regions and the rest looked quite homogenous. The things I didn’t like about it had nothing to do with the show elements and everything to do with layout and presentation.

  11. Anonypilgrim June 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Since no one else has addressed your question about the US segment. Yes, it has always been there and always represented by cowboy & indian

  12. Susan July 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

    My favorite part is the hula dancers shaking their booty and moving their arms up and down. I always re-enact this part whenever I’m on this ride. Love your blog, BTW.

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