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Disney Facts

Here’s some of my notes from a recent Disney trip and the “Keys to the Kingdom” Tour. I’d highly recommend it – it’s quite fascinating.

Note, these are from my memory and dates may not be entirely accurate. I’ve summarized a lot too and probably left off a few details in the name of brevity – if you want to know all the details you can Google it.

  • Disney culture is based on 4 principles – Safety, Efficiency, Courtesy, and Show. Everything done in the park and the decisions made by employees, from janitor to executive, is made according to those principles. A good example is if you had some ice cream, got jostled when walking through the crowd, and accidentally dropped it. Disney would first seek to clean up the mess so someone doesn’t slip and to keep the park looking nice (show principle), do it quickly, then replace your ice cream for free as a courtesy to you being a guest. Walt Disney’s goal was to create a park where families can go to have fun and it’s reflected in the culture.
  • The park areas are referred to as the “stage”, uniforms are “costumes”, employees are referred to as “actors”, and jobs are referred to as “roles”. Everything is designed to reinforce the notion that each employee is responsible for making Disney a “magical” place where families go to have fun away from the outside world.
  • None of the Disney parks sell bubble gum – it’s too expensive to remove from the ground, rides, or other areas where kids might stick/spit it out.
  • There are approximately 78,000 Disney employees.
  • Mickey Mouse wasn’t Walt Disney’s first success. It was actually a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. Walt Disney lost the rights to Oswald in an early business venture with another animation studio in NY. On the trip home to LA from a meeting with the executives at the animation studio in NY, feeling utterly defeated, Walt Disney began thinking of a mouse he used to see scamper around when he was working nights early in his career in LA… and the idea for Mickey Mouse was born. Walt Disney, however, always had a special place in his heart for Oswald. The story gets better though when NFL TV rights were moving from Disney to a new studio in 2006. The new studio, ironically, was the same one that Walt Disney lost the Oswald the Lucky Rabbit rights to over 50 years prior. The new studio wanted Al Michaels to transfer to them along with the NFL TV rights, but Al was under contract to Disney and not to the NFL. Disney traded Al Michaels to the new studio for all rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. It’s the first time that a human was traded for an imaginary character. The other studio’s name – was Universal Studios. Full story here.
  • The Magic Kingdom was built between 1967 and 1971. Opening day, October 1, 1971, was the least attended day in the park’s history. Walt Disney was heavily involved in planning “The Florida Project” until his death in December 1966. His brother, Roy, came out of retirement to oversee the project. Roy died 2 months after the Magic Kingdom opened.
  • The Magic Kingdom, as you know it when you’re a guest, is actually the second floor. It’s referred to as the “stage”. The first floor is a series of underground walkways and rooms that link all the different “Lands” in the park (Tomorrow Land, Frontier Land, Fantasy Land, etc.). There is one open air entrance that goes outside so battery operated utility carts can drive in and out.
  • The series of underground walkways are referred to as the Utility Corridor or “utilidors”.
  • Disney hangs photos of the park’s executive team in the “utilidors” so employees can recognize them. The executive team is required to work front line jobs on a regular basis so they are familiar with the challenges of each park position. Just think, the next time a custodial employee at Disney hauls your trash away it could be an executive.
  • Disney puts the names of honored people instrumental to Disney’s success on the windows of the shops along Main Street. The person’s name is exact, however, the business listed is made up, but corresponds to the industry they represent. Walt Disney’s name is the one closest to the center of the park in honor of his contribution.
  • Tinker bell, who does a high wire flyby during the fireworks show, is a stunt actress and not a Disney princess.
  • While we were taking the “utilidor” tour, Mickey Mouse in character walked by without his head on … and it was being played by a girl inside! 
  • None of the characters (Goofy, Donald, the princesses, etc.) have ear pieces except one – Mickey Mouse. All the actors playing the characters take extensive training in body language and communication so they can interact with the guests during one-on-one visits. The reason why Mickey has one is that it takes 2 people to run the suit and be able to coordinate with the huge number of guests that interact with him.
  • The trash system in Disney was the first to use a vacuum system. There are 13 trash collection points throughout the park where trash is dumped. It is sucked through giant vacuum tubes, like at the drive up teller in a bank, to the back of the park every 20 minutes. You can hear them run by following a loud clattering sound. There is one in the giant red tube next to the PeopleMover.
  • Trash cans aren’t emptied on the street. The whole trash can is exchanged and then emptied where guests can’t see. Janitorial staff go through the trash to remove anything that can be recycled – think about that the next time you toss your empty water bottle in the trash rather than the recycle bin at Disney.
  • The boats in the Jungle Cruise are on a track and run on tires. They’re actually cars partially submerged in the water.
  • The Jungle Cruise ride was originally educational in nature. Ride statistics showed it was not very popular and executives couldn’t figure out why. One day an executive went on the ride and the driver was interjecting cheesy jokes with his prepared narrative. The guests loved it. The executive talked to the drivers about changing the theme officially from an educational ride to more of a comedy one and the drivers unanimously voted to do so. After switching the ride’s theme, it became one of the most popular rides and remains so to this day.
  • The Jungle Cruise boats originally used a red and white striped canvas top. When the ride’s theme changed from an educational ride to a comedy theme with headhunters chasing the explorers, the red and white tops had to be replaced because it didn’t make sense to be on a boat that stood out with a red and white top and still get the guests “in character”. A brown canvas top was selected instead, however, the red and white canvas tops were saved and the material is used on the headhunters skirt at the very end of the ride. He gets a new skirt every 3 months.
  • The water on the Jungle Cruise is mixed with a brown dye so guests can’t see the track. The water action from the waterfall in the center of the ride is the mixing mechanism for the dye.
  • Walt Disney originally wanted live animals for the Jungle Cruise, but the cost was prohibitive in 1967. Animal Kingdom’s Safari ride, in the Africa section of the Animal Kingdom was built in 1998 to honor Walt’s earlier ambition. The entire Disneyland park (California one), California Adventure, and the Disney California Resort can all fit within the Safari ride’s boundaries.
  • Disney uses heaters in the Jungle Cruise’s jungle for the plants in the winter.
  • There are only 2 real flags on Main Street, one in the town square and one on the train depot. All the other flags are technically pennants because they are missing stars or stripes. The were added to the park because Disney is the lightning strike capital of the world – all the “flags” are used to disguise lightening rods required by building code.
  • The buildings in the Magic Kingdom are sized to be distorted so it looks like they are larger than they really are. The first story is built to 100%, the second story to 75%, and the third story to 40%. The visual effect is the building appears larger than it really is because your mind compensates for the visual distance.
  • The ghosts in haunted mansion’s dinner scene, with the dancers and dinners, are based on 1895 magic trick of reflecting light off glass. The dinner patrons and dancers are actually above and below the track the ride uses and are lit by lights in front of mannequins. The lights reflect off the characters then hit the glass which the people on the ride see. Stand in front of your car window on a bright day – it’s the same effect.
  • If you’re back stage and see a patch of red concrete it means that guests can see you. anyone who can be seen from the guest areas has to be in character or “on stage”.
  • The brown pebbled walkway in the Liberty Square section of the park is meant to be slop (poop) from chamber pots tossed from the buildings because Walt Disney wanted to be historically accurate. There are no bathrooms in Liberty Square for that reason.
  • There is indeed a hotel room in Cinderella’s Castle – it’s not an urban myth – but you can’t rent it. You can only win it in a contest or get it through service to Disney. they had pictures of it on the wall so I can say I’ve seen it – It’s pretty freaking nice and what you would expect from Disney. Lot’s of wood, gold and blue accents, almost like what you’d expect from a Snow White princess suite.
  • All Disney costumes world-wide are made in Florida.
  • All character costumes have to stay on property and are checked in and out from the costume department. Employees can wear their uniform to and from work. Seeing someone in uniform at the grocery store is incredibly common.
  • Disney Princesses have to do their own hair and makeup.
  • One way mesh fabric is used on the flits to allow float drivers to see out without people seeing in.
  • The dip at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean ride is to get under the railroad tracks that ring the Magic Kingdom. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride was not original to the park, hence the unique design requirement.
  • The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride is in the basin for the old 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ride and Winnie the Pooh’s playground sits on the other half. There’s a fascinating picture blog here. The ride was demolished in 1994. A Nautilus insignia is etched into the wood above Winnie the Pooh’s playground just inside the doorway in memory of the ride.
  • The characters at the end of the seven dwarfs mine train, in Snow White’s hut, are the original animatronics from the Snow White attraction when the park opened. It had poor reviews and was removed.
  • The character’s hair in It’s a Small World “grows” and has to be cut. The hair material is made from yarn and the moisture in the ride breaks down the yarn and it extends into long straight pieces. You can tell new wigs from old by the number of curls.
  • A picture of the guy who designed the Haunted Mansion is the guy in the bowler hat painting in the stretching room.
  • There is a gravestone in the pet cemetery at the exit of the Haunted Mansion for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to honor another ride that was removed.
  • The stretching room stretches up in Florida, but in California the floor goes down.
  • The Haunted Mansion has a chair pattern that looks like Donald Duck to the left of the long hallway with the floating candle stick.
  • The plates on the dinner table mysteriously get arranged as a hidden Mickey. Nobody knows how the plates get re-arranged, but it’s been happening for over 40 years.
  • To hide the fact that Disney was buying the land, they setup a number of shell companies and purchased the land through these companies.
  • The fair market value of land was $180 an acre when the shell company bought the first 90% of the land it needed between 1960 and 1965. An Orlando reporter commented to Walt Disney during an interview in 1965 that someone was buying a lot of property in Florida and asked point blank if Disney was planning another park. Walt Disney replied that “the Orlando area was the lightning capital of the world, had abysmal water table issues (it was a swamp), and had unpredictable weather where it rained frequently. Why would anyone build a park there?”. The reporter thought it over and after some time came to the conclusion that Walt Disney knew way too much about the weather and land around Orlando. The reporter broke the story that Disney was indeed the one buying the land. Once the word was out, the last 10% cost $80,000 an acre (about $600,000/acre in adjusted dollars).
  • Disneyland (California) was built in 1 year and 1 day. Opening day had working toilets, but due to a plumbers strike did not have running drinking water. Water was bused in for 10,000 visitors. Opening day had 26,000 visitors and ran out of water by noon.
  • Speakers for the parades’ music are in windows along the parade route. They’re opened when necessary from a control room in the “utilidors” and closed back up again after the parade passes. This allows them to be serviced during the day and to avoid any tampering from guests.
  • The parapets on the Haunted Mansion are chess pieces because the designer was an avid chess player. All the pieces are represented, except for the knight, because it’s always night at the haunted mansion… 🙂
  • The Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom is made of fiberglass. The fiberglass posed a huge issue in 1967 – it had never been used for buildings and was unproven. Building permits were blocked numerous times by Orange County. Disney solved the issue by going to the State of Florida and through a special act of the legislature it set up the Reedy Creek Improvement District that oversees the Disney properties. It was then able to grant itself the necessary permits. The Reedy Creek residents, which are hand picked by Disney, still oversee the property today. It’s an interesting story.
  • Hippos in the jungle ride have no bottoms, because you can’t see them. They are referred to by staff as the “hippobottomlesses”.
  • The parade floats not being used are covered by surplus military parachutes to keep the bird poop off them.
  • Doors to the “stage” (the park as we know it as guests) in the “utilidors” have pictures of what is above so you know where you will come out.
  • Utilidor walls are color coded according to the land you’re under.
  • All of Main Street is set at an incline and Cinderellas castle is at the top of the hill to give the impression it is bigger than it really is.
  • The carousel in Fantasyland is 100 years old and has been restored to the original paint color. The original paint was found accidentally when repairing a wooden horse. All the wooden horses are original, but are substituted with a fiberglass horse if it needs refurbishment. The wooden horses are returned to service once refurbishment is complete.
  • When the carousel was first installed Roy Disney (Walt’s brother) was asked to come verify the installation. He walked down to the center of the park, about 200 feet away, eyeballed it, then told them it wasn’t right. The construction team argued it was exactly where it was supposed to be. Roy told them to measure it. Sure enough, it was 6″ to the right. Roy had them tear it all out and start again because “Walt deserved it to be perfect”.
  • Cinderella’s Castle is 189.3 feet tall. At 190 feet it would need a blinking light for airplanes, hence the 189 foot limit.
  • Parker Bridge is a wooden bridge that connects Liberty Square with Adventure Land. It was suggested by a janitorial employee (Parker) who needed to get across the park during a parade and couldn’t. The executive team meets regularly with employees to identify ways to improve the safety, show, courtesy, and efficiency of the park. It’s a cornerstone to their operations.