All the cast members had terrible experiences when it came to filming the scenes inside Walley World, where they rode all of the roller coasters and other rides. In the commentary, Chevy Chase mentions that many of the rides made him and the other cast members vomit, especially since they all had to ride them several times for each take. Dana Barron mentioned in the commentary that the coasters made her so sick, she had to take motion sickness pills and would pass out on nearby benches between takes. Finally, Anthony Michael Hall mentions that in the shots on the roller coaster where he looks scared, he wasn't acting--his fear in those shots was genuine.
In the Walley World scenes, Anthony Michael Hall is taller than Beverly D'Angelo; in previous scenes with her, he was the same height as her. This was because Hall grew three inches after principal photography finished. The ending was re-shot four months afterward, because the original ending failed with test audiences.
Imogene Coca originally turned down the part of Aunt Edna, because she did not think she could portray such a mean character. Even during filming, she was often concerned that she was being too mean to her fellow cast members.
Chevy Chase and James Keach stated in interviews, that during the "Dog tied to the bumper" scene, both he and Chevy were legitimately tearing up, and that Chevy consistently biting his lips and his shortness of breath were genuine. All because they were trying so hard to contain themselves from laughing.
The Wally World parking lot was actually the parking lot at the Santa Anita Racetrack. According to Harold Ramis, when filming Clark and Rusty's footrace, the temperature outside was 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.5 degrees Celsius), and the pavement was 130 degrees Fahrenheit (54.4 degrees Celsius).
In the DVD commentary, Chevy Chase mentions that the scene in which Rusty puts his feet up on top of the driver's seat was originally not in the script, but the producers liked it, so it was kept in the movie.
According to Rena Fruchter's 2007 biography "I'm Chevy Chase...and You're Not", Harold Ramis and Chevy Chase did uncredited re-writes of the screenplay, shifting the focus from the teenagers to the parents. For instance, the Ferrari Girl (Christie Brinkley) was originally to be a thirteen-year-old love interest for Rusty instead of Clark.
According to Dana Barron, originally, Audrey was the older sibling, but in the re-shot ending, they had to change it to Rusty being older, because Anthony Michael Hall had a growth spurt, and was now taller than her, and Beverly D'Angelo.
For the scene where Clark ties Dinky's leash to the rear bumper and forgets all about it before driving off, Producer Matty Simmons said that after the movie's release, he received numerous letters from people who had seen the movie and admitted that they had made the same grievous error with their pets, as Clark did in the movie.
The theme park, that served as Walley World, was actually Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California. The roller coaster, referred by Clark as the "Whipper Snapper", is actually called "The Revolution", and was the first roller coaster to have a 360-degree vertical loop.
In the DVD commentary, Harold Ramis mentions that for the scene in which the Family Truckster jumps into the air, several of the crew members had made bets against Second Unit Director Dick Ziker, that he couldn't jump the car more than fifty feet (even drawing lines in the sand to measure the distance). Ziker ended up winning that bet, as he jumped the car more than fifty feet.
Imogene Coca suffered what is believed to have been a stroke during production. Harold Ramis said they filmed a scene that morning, and by that afternoon she couldn't remember anything they did. After getting out of the hospital, she and her husband worked together to re-learn her lines, and get her back on-set to finish the movie.
Originally, the producers wanted Christie Brinkley to appear naked in the film, but she refused. A compromise was reached, where she stripped down to her bra and panties before jumping in the pool with Clark.
In the scene where the Griswolds are in the parking lot staring at Wally World, they are actually looking at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Harold Ramis said they cut the racetrack out of the frame, and replaced it with a hand painted picture of Wally World.
According to Anthony Michael Hall, originally it was supposed to be Chevy Chase in the front seat of the roller coaster with John Candy. With the combined size of both men, they couldn't fit, so the changed was made with Rusty being in the front seat instead of Clark.
There was a Walley World Water Park in London, Ontario, Canada, which opened several years after the movie was released. John Candy was invited to the opening of the park, but the park owners couldn't afford his appearance fee.
John Candy's cameo at the end of the film was only made possible due to the poor reception the original ending produced from test audiences. Harold Ramis turned to Candy, because he found his character Wally Wypyzypychwk, a Canadian security guard, which Candy had created for his stand-up and television appearances, to be just right for the part. Candy basically modeled his performance as Lasky after the nervy security guard character he had been portraying for years.
On February 7, 2010, Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo reprised their characters from the Vacation film franchise in a Super Bowl ad for the vacation rental website HomeAway.com, and even the Wagon Queen Family Truckster made an appearance in the ad as well. Following the Super Bowl, the website also featured a two-part Vacation mini-movie called "Hotel Hell Vacation".
For the scene in Dodge City, where Clark taunts the ornery bartender, who ends up shooting him with a blank-loaded rifle, one of the prop guys ended up playing a practical joke on the cast members during one of the takes. During that particular take, after the bartender shoots at Clark, the prop guy tossed down a dummy from the second level of the set, and the entire cast jumped in surprise afterward.
There were two scenes which were in the original script and shot, but were cut from the final version of the film. One scene had the Kamp Komfort Manager (Brian Doyle-Murray) dress up in a moose costume and sneak into Clark and Ellen's tent to scare them (which explains the "wildlife fun" the Manager mentioned as they checked in). That scene was cut, because it made the sequence run too long, so it was re-written to have Dinky sneak into the tent instead. The second scene was one featuring the two Native Americans (the same ones who see Clark wandering aimlessly through the desert and say "What an asshole") as well as a camel rider, who finds Ellen and the rest of the family, and rescues them. That scene was cut, because, according to Harold Ramis, the camel had been raised in Burbank, and had only ever walked on pavement, and the camel did not take to walking on hot sand very well. All the shots of the camel were unusable. Remnants of both cut scenes appear as photos during the ending credits photo montage.
When Clark drives to the sporting goods store after leaving Walley World, the Truckster makes a hard left through a red light and nearly hits an oncoming Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon--the same vehicle from which the Wagon Queen Family Truckster was modified.
Exterior filming of the Griswolds "on the road" took the greater part of three months during production, crossing numerous states including California, Arizona, Colorado, Missouri, and Illinois, which was filmed by a second unit. While most of the principle filming took place in California, the cast did travel on-location for scenes set in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.
There was a deleted scene that took place after the redneck mechanics clean Clark out of all his money for the car repairs, and Clark mentions that they're going to run out of gas. In the deleted scene, they do run out of gas, and Clark, Ellen, and the kids are forced to push the car(with Edna still inside of it) to the nearest gas station. The attendant fills the car up with gas, and then Clark drives away very fast without paying for it, because he has no money. The attendant then runs after them on foot, but of course doesn't catch them. That gas station is also where Clark got those sandwiches, because later after leaving the Grand Canyon motel, he tells Russ to get out the sandwiches he got at the gas station.
According to Harold Ramis, he cast John Candy in the role of Laskey the security guard, because he had enjoyed working with Candy on SCTV (1976) (Canada's version of Saturday Night Live (1975)) and that he also loved Candy's "Paul Fistinyourface" character from the show. Ramis had Candy play the character as a sort of relative to Paul Fistinyourface. Also worth mentioning, is that Eugene Levy (the car salesman) also worked with Candy and Ramis on SCTV. Plus, Ramis had enjoyed working with Candy on Stripes (1981).
During the scene where Clark is showing the family the vacation route on the computer, and Rusty is chasing the Family Truckster with his game character, some of the sounds are from Mattel Intellivision games. Some are: Football and Basketball (referee whistle), Las Vegas Poker and Blackjack (gong sound), and Donkey Kong (Jump sound).
As the Griswolds are leaving Chicago, you can see the Buckingham fountain (a popular attraction in Chicago's Grant Park used in the intro to Married with Children (1987)) in the background at one point.
In the scene where the car vaults off the closed road, Rusty says to Clark "Gee, Dad, you must've jump this thing about fifty yards!" The crew had made a bet off camera as to whether the car would travel more than fifty feet, which it did.
The scene where the station wagon goes airborne in the Arizona desert, actually caused some production changes, due to the hard nose-landing that wasn't expected. Among those, were matching the exact front-end damage on other station wagons used in other scenes.
The gas station and sporting goods store, where Clark purchases his BB gun, were located at the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica, California. Both buildings have since been torn down, and replaced by high-rise apartments.
Harold Ramis said in the DVD commentary, that the scene where the Griswolds get off the wrong exit in St. Louis, and get lost in the hood, was one of the most politically incorrect sequences he ever shot, and that it practically demonized everyone involved. He also admitted that he wasn't proud of shooting it the way it appears in the film, and that he was not even sure if he would shoot that particular scene today, and if he did, he would shoot it, or write it out in a different, and more politically-correct way.
In the scene where the Griswolds first stop for directions in downtown St. Louis, a bar called "Ron Frazier's Downtown Bar" can be seen in the background. Ron Frazier is an uncredited propmaker foreman on the film.
The opening scene at the Chicago car dealership was filmed at Star Ford in Glendale, California. The location is still there (as of 2014) with the same buildings that were in the movie. However, Star Ford moved down the street, and the former Star Ford is now Glendale Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership.
The scenes at Cousin Eddie's house, were shot at a farm house in Boone, Colorado, just east of Pueblo. A modified Family Truckster station wagon was used as the crew travelled, which had no engine compartment, and had camera tracks around all sides of the vehicle. The crew gathered shots as they traveled the United States.
The man giving bad directions in downtown St. Louis says the ironic line, "You don't wanna know from me man, this ain't even my neighborhood. I'm from the west side of Chicago, here on vacation." The Griswolds are also from the west side of Chicago, (here) on vacation.
The roller coasters featured, are the Revolution and Colossus at Six Flags Magic Mountain. Revolution, the first modern coaster to feature a vertical loop, still operates, while Collossus closed in 2014, and was rebuilt with steel tracks and an altered layout, including two inversions, in 2015 as Twisted Colossus.
When Grover (Frank McRae) first appears near the end of the film, he asks "What's going on here?" before being held at gun point and being forced by Clark Griswold to "lie down, roll over, and stay." McRae played a teacher in Red Dawn (1984), where he would ask the same question before getting shot for real.
Jeffrey Katzenberg was working at Paramount when Matty Simmons brought him John Hughes' script. He rejected it on the grounds that it was too episodic, which Simmons countered by saying, that it was a road movie, so it was, by definition, episodic. Simmons then took the property to Warner Brothers, where it was snapped up.
According to the commentary, the heat was unbearable traveling through several states. Huge trucks carrying cast, crew, food, equipment, and supplies were used. Anthony Michael Hall remembers it being well over 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.9 degrees Celsius) in the shade. Cast and crew passed out from the heat. Imogene Coca suffered a mild stroke and amnesia. She couldn't remember her lines, or the scenes they had previously shot. She came back after recovery, and amazingly remembered her lines as if nothing had happened. Tempers flared once between Harold Ramis and Chevy Chase, and Chevy threw a suitcase at him.
When Clark brings the new car home, the house next door features a tower with a large "beam" (also known as a "Yagi") antenna. This type of antenna is widely used by amateur (ham) radio operators to communicate worldwide via shortwave.
Beverly D'Angelo and Miriam Flynn, who play cousins in the Vacation film franchise, were both born in one of the three major 'C' cities of Ohio. D'Angelo was born in Columbus, and Flynn was born in Cleveland.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The original ending of the film consisted of the Griswold family, after seeing that Walley World is closed, going to the Hollywood house of Roy Walley. Clark points a BB gun at Walley, then forces him and his business associates to sing and dance Walley World theme songs, before the police arrive to arrest Clark. The Girl in the Red Ferrari turned out to be Walley's daughter, and she convinces him not to press charges against Clark. On the plane ride home, the Griswolds realize they are on the wrong flight. Clark snaps and hijacks the plane. This did not go over well with test audiences, and the scenes in the park with John Candy, were a last-minute alternate ending filmed over two weeks, four months after production ended. The original ending was deleted, and is believed to be lost. However, Chevy Chase has said that he has a tape of the movie with the original ending. A photo of the Griswolds on the plane is shown during the end credits.
It was originally scripted, that after Aunt Edna was tied to the roof of the car, there was a shot of her fingers moving, implying she was, in fact, still alive. This was considered "cruel" to have a live person on the roof of a car by the ratings board, so it was cut, and she remained dead.