How I Got Aboard the Lilly Belle Train Car
All aboard the Lilly Belle!
A couple weeks ago, I was able to arrive at Disneyland right when they opened. I was early enough to be there minutes before the 9am rope dope. You should know that the Park will allow Guests through the Main Entrance a half hour before the Park officially opens. Some of the stores are open as well as Starbucks. There are lots of characters on hand so you can get your photos taken with your favorite before the Park opens.
I immediately made way up to the train station. There were two lines that had already formed. One to ride the train and the other to get a much coveted reservation to ride the Lilly Belle train car. Choose the line to the left and make ask others to make sure you are in the correct line.
After the official opening announcement, the line to the right were all shown to the train while the line to the left was verified by a Steam Train Cast Member. With a clipboard in hand, the Cast Member told each Guest that the Lilly Belle train car would be available to the public for only one ride on this day. I was a little nervous as there were about five people ahead of me. When I got me turn, I was able to get my name in for a reservation for 3. My friends who were joining me were not with physically with me but I was able to include them in my reservation.
My friends and I were excited to take a trip around Disneyland in this iconic caboose. Disney history says that this particular car, named after Walt Disney's wife, Lillian, was needed as a presidential car in order to transport VIPs and special Guests in a secure and private setting. It was not until 1975 when the Lilly Belle was completed. Lillian Disney was instrumental in its decor and theme as a an elegant Victorian parlor car so it is aptly named after her. Japanese Emperor Hirohitho and his wife were among the very first guests to board the Lilly Belle and circle around Disneyland in this special train car.
Our reservation time came quickly that morning and we checked in 30 minutes before our departure time. While we waited in the lobby of the Main Street Train Station, we had a chance to look around and notice some fun things you can see from here. We were also each given a special ticket to commemorate our ride on the Lilly Belle. You can also get a good view of the Main Gate.
We were finally able to make our way to the special car at the end of the train. We had to quickly board as the train was on a tight schedule. It was a Saturday and the Park was pretty busy. Not sure how many trains were on the track but our Tour Guide/Steam Train Cast Member, Steve, rushed in so he could give us some quick words. before we departed the station.
It's pretty cosy inside and vintage. It's like a mini museum on the Disneyland rails. According to our Host, Steve, it seats about 14 people. He gave the reasoning that the Lilly Belle has very limited daily public rides due to its age and fragility of the carpet. Apparently it is the original carpet that goes back to the days when Lillian Disney and her guests would frequent the train. (I know what you are thinking....with technology, preservation techniques and Disney money...like you couldn't replicate the carpet? Is that really why they don't let many Guests experience something so special?) So the implication is that frequent foot traffic on this revered carpet takes a toll on the Lilly Belle. If you look close at the carpet, you can spot some hidden Mickeys in the pattern. It's probably some of the earliest hidden Mickeys that exist.
Steve was great about telling us a little history, some stories, and weaving in some Disneyland trivia during our trip. Between each train stop (Frontierland, Toontown, and Tomorrowland), we had several minutes where we could get up and quickly walk around and take photos. When the the train was moving, we had to remain in our lovely red velvet seats.
Here are some photo of the interior of the Lilly Belle. Like all things Disney, it's all in the details that make this train car special.
We were able to look through this tattered scrapbook. It looks someone started to put some great vintage photos and then was never completed. It felt and looked well worn but there were very few yet interesting photos in it.
This photo shows a replica of the gift that was sent to Lillian Disney after Emperor Hirohitho's visit. It's the the original. Steve told us the original robe could be found at the Walt Disney Family Museum.
It is well known that Walt Disney had a love of trains. If you want to read more about Disney and trains, I would recommend checking out the Carolwood Foundation and picking up Walt Disney's Railroad Story by Michael Broggie. Those are the must read and authority on anything Walt Disney and the Disneyland Railroad.
It was a memorable and exciting trip to circle Disneyland aboard the Lilly Belle. If the walls (or carpet) could talk. It's a big treat for any Disneyland aficionado. There is no definitive daily or regular schedule for when the Lilly Belle is available for Guests to ride around the Park. You'll have to get there before rope drop and take your chances in line. My friends and just super lucky on our timing.
Thanks to my fellow Disney-loving friends for joining me on this unexpected adventure. You never know what might happen on a very early Saturday morning at Disneyland. That early wake up call was worth it.