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Disney World at 50: The making of Cinderella Castle’s makeover
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Disney World at 50: The making of Cinderella Castle’s makeover

Disney senior project manager Elaine Schomburg-LaFleur at Cinderella Castle, adorned with the first decorations being installed for the Magic Kingdom's 50th Anniversary celebration later this year, at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., March 19, 2021.

Disney senior project manager Elaine Schomburg-LaFleur at Cinderella Castle, adorned with the first decorations being installed for the Magic Kingdom's 50th Anniversary celebration later this year, at Walt Disney World, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., March 19, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

It takes more than a “bibbidi-bobbidi-boo” to get Cinderella Castle all gussied up for Walt Disney World’s 50th anniversary celebration. The centerpiece of Magic Kingdom theme park is getting blinged out for the occasion, and that requires cranes, a drained moat, hurricane-proof accessories and scheduling challenges.

Put them together and what have you got? A renovation project for Elaine Schomburg-LaFleur, a senior project manager at Disney World. She coordinates the fabrication and installation of 113 regal pieces that will be attached to the castle during the next few weeks.

“I have a schedule for everything. I do not go a day without a plan,” Schomburg-LaFleur said.

There are already a lot of moving parts to the castle involving multiple Disney departments. Inside, Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant serves lunch and dinner. Disney’s entertainment team uses the castle’s stage and its walls for productions. Plus, park visitors stroll through the middle of the building and use it as a backdrop for coveted vacation photographs.

“Our big thing was to try to plan this so guests will have wonderful photos,” Schomburg-LaFleur said. “We want to be part of the magic but not ruin the magic.”

Right now, pieces known as jabot and swag are being mounted onto the walls. A jabot is one of the long, hanging pieces of faux drapery; swag is a horizontal piece, a bunting of sorts. They are visually held together with broaches and gold pins (the small ones with “50” on them).

“It’s such a beautiful touch,” Schomburg-LaFleur said during a recent walk around Cinderella Castle.

These sets eventually will go completely around the castle. They’re color-coordinated with the paint job the castle received last year. The anniversary design was created by Walt Disney Imagineering. Two outside companies make the pieces according to Disney’s specifications.

A "50" logo is built into the pin portion of the decorations being added to Cinderella Castle.

A "50" logo is built into the pin portion of the decorations being added to Cinderella Castle. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

An upcoming part of the process includes placement of 10 fiberglass ribbons cascading around turrets and more bejeweled pieces for two towers upfront. Finally, the large medallion that goes above the castle’s balcony, according to Disney’s concept art, will cap off the look. Disney World hasn’t said when that “ta-da” moment to be.

Schomburg-LaFleur recently was encouraged by the installation crew’s ability to attach eight pieces — an entire on-the-wall scene, if you will — in one overnight shift by using lifts, but no crane.

That should help the schedule, she said. There are strict safety rules about crane use, including ones related to winds and rain.

“By doing more with the lifts, I can do more and have less impact and better scheduling. That’s one reason that saves some time,” Schomburg-LaFleur said. The lifts fold down, mostly out of sight, in the drained section of the moat.

The new pieces were designed to ensure that the look can “handle any hurricane,” she said.

She anticipates that the most challenging pieces will go onto a spire in the northeast corner — that’s tower No. 26, turret fans — the side facing toward Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. The angles of approach there will make it difficult, she said. Cranes will be required.

It’s not known how long the castle will maintain this look, but the project is connected with the Disney World’s 50th anniversary festivities — dubbed “the world’s most magical celebration.” That begins Oct. 1 and is scheduled to last 18 months.

Schomburg-LaFleur’s team interacted with the entertainment team, particularly when it came to projection shows, which present animated sequences on the walls of the building. In the past, there were nightly productions and special seasonal editions.

“We spent a lot of time with them, showing them the layout that we were doing to make sure that any future plans that they have — or the current plans — all will work with this,” Schomburg-LaFleur said. “They have all of our (computer) models and images that they can utilize when they do all of their show production.”

Schomburg-LaFleur has worked at Disney World for 17 years. The castle project is her most visible work. Engineers often do vital, if not flashy, behind-the-scenes work. She remembers changing out an electrical panel that feeds all the animatronics in Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

“There are things that I get to do, which are fun, but no one gets to see,” she said. “And, partly, I know I’ve done my job if they don’t see it.”

She considers herself an advocate for women in the field of engineering.

“I do lots of things, outreach with younger students like the Girl Scouts … (helping them) understanding what is engineering and not being afraid of it at all,” she said. “It’s just the idea of somebody who loves to solve problems. And I just think those are skills that women love to do — collaborate, solve problems.”

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