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Whether you make an annual pilgrimage to Walt Disney World or Disneyland or are headed to a Disney theme park for your first time, you’re guaranteed to discover something new around every corner.
Disney Imagineers, the masters of illusion behind all that Disney parks magic, leave no stone unturned when it comes to crafting endlessly immersive experiences so richly layered, there’s always a new detail to uncover. Here are some of our favorite lesser-known fun facts and hidden secrets that make Disney parks so magical.
The Tower Of Terror Fits Right In At Epcot
The countries of Epcot’s World Showcase are some of the most immersive areas in all of Walt Disney World. So, when Imagineers were designing Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Disney-MGM Studios at the time), they wanted to make sure that the 199-foot tower, which would be seen visually in the background of Epcot’s Morocco pavilion, wouldn’t break the fourth wall, so to speak. Look at the two together and you’ll see that Tower of Terror was built using colors and styles that work as the perfect backdrop to Morocco, seamlessly preserving the viewer’s sense of immersion.
Those Iconic Disney Smells Have Been Cleverly Engineered
If you associate certain smells with your fondest Disney memories, you’re not alone. Scents like the aroma of fresh popcorn and sugary sweets on Main Street, the unmistakable “Disney water” smell on Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain and the perfumed fragrances of resort lobbies like the Polynesian and Contemporary have become so beloved by Disney fans that they’ve even inspired countless candle collections attempting to capture them.
It turns out incorporating smells into iconic locations and attractions throughout Disney parks and resorts is very much by design, explains former Walt Disney Studios and Disney Parks exec Jody Jean Dreyer in her memoir, “Beyond the Castle: A Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After.”
Disney Imagineers are well aware that humans process smells using the olfactory bulb, which has direct connections to the parts of the brain that control emotion and memory. Imagineers tap into this by using a machine called a Smellitzer to emit scents in key locations to enhance your experience.
A Tiny Leprechaun Calls Adventureland Home
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Disneyland’s Adventureland, look closely at the bottom of a tree near the entrance to Indiana Jones Adventure and you’ll find the home of Patrick Begorra, a leprechaun who is the subject of the 1955 children’s book “Little Man of Disneyland.” In the story, Patrick makes his home within the roots of an Anaheim orange tree. One day, Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto turn up and Patrick learns that his home and the surrounding trees will need to be uprooted to make way for “a wonderful place called Disneyland.” Patrick gives them the OK to build the park, provided he gets to move into a new house there once it’s complete. Patrick’s wishes are honored and now his home is there for Disneyland guests to discover for themselves.
The Dinosaur Queue Includes A Nod To The Attraction’s Original Sponsor
Disney’s Imagineers are famous for burying “Easter eggs,” hidden nods to fun facts and inside jokes, all over Disney parks and attractions. In the queue for Dinosaur at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom, just before you board the ride, see if you can spot a series of red, yellow and white pipes overhead. Look closely and on the pipes you’ll see the chemical formulas for ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise, which Disney Imagineers included as a subtle shout-out to the attraction’s original sponsor, McDonald’s.
There’s An Easy Way To Get An Extra FastPass At Magic Kingdom
Pirates-in-training can test their skills at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom by participating in “A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas.” As part of this interactive experience (which bears similarities to Aulani’s Menehune Adventure Trail, Disney Cruise Line’s Midship Detective Agency and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom), budding swashbucklers can pick up one of several different pirate maps and complete a variety of missions around Adventureland. Once you’ve completed two missions, you’ll be rewarded with perhaps the most valuable pirate treasure of all: a FastPass for riding Pirates of the Caribbean, good for everyone in your party. However, past Disney park attendees have noted that you may have to ask for the passes and they could run out.
The Landscaping In Tomorrowland Is Edible
You’re more likely to find the plants in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland in the produce section at your grocery store than in your neighbor’s front yard. That’s because they’re all edible (though we don’t recommend sneaking a taste). According to Disney, “the visionary landscaping doubles as a potential farm, projecting an ecologically astute future where humanity makes the most of its resources.”
There’s A Fascinating Backstory To Disney’s Trash Cans
When Disneyland Park was being built, Walt Disney was worried about the smell and sight of exposed garbage in mesh containers sullying the experience in the park. He invented a solution: an enclosed trash can with a lid and flaps to keep the garbage and smells contained. He also wanted to ensure that there was always a receptacle near enough that guests would have no excuse to litter. Walt paid close attention to see how long people would carry their trash before throwing it on the ground if they didn’t reach a garbage can and determined that distance to be 30 feet. That’s why you’ll always find a trash can within 30 feet at Disney parks.
Get An Architecture Lesson From Liberty Square’s House Numbers
The architecture of the buildings from Liberty Square to Frontierland showcase a chronological progression of styles as you move from the Colonial east to the western frontier. In Liberty Square, if you add an “18” before the two-digit house numbers, you’ll learn the year of the architectural style of that particular building. These buildings are meant to mimic the architecture of 1817 on the left and 1819 on the right.
Frontierland’s Buildings Tip You Off To Their Dates, Too
The transition from the colonial buildings of Liberty Square over to Frontierland mirrors the movement of settlers west during the early days of the United States. The Golden Horseshoe marks the official start of Frontierland, though the transition is so seamless, you hardly notice it. As you mosey along through Frontierland to the tune of banjos and sniff the wafting aroma of smoked turkey legs, you’ll notice that most of the buildings have dates at the top, which denote the year of the architectural style of that particular structure.
Eavesdrop On Old-Timey Phone Conversations
Look closely and you’ll spot old-fashioned telephones mounted on walls in various locations along Main Street at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Pick up the phone and you can eavesdrop on hilarious party-line conversations circa 1890. Find these phones in the Starbucks at Disneyland and in The Chapeau hat shop at Walt Disney World. You can also find a phone that plays a recording of Harry Houdini’s voice in the super-cool magic shop at Disneyland on Main Street.
There’s A Tiny Hidden Millennium Falcon
Forget Hidden Mickeys, in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, you can find a tiny hidden Millennium Falcon concealed beneath the full-size Millennium Falcon. Just look for this strip of grating beneath the cockpit on the side of the ship closest to the entrance to the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction and you’ll see the front of the minuscule ship peeking out.
You Can Eat A $15,000 Dinner Above Pirates Of The Caribbean At Disneyland
If you and 11 of your closest friends each have $1,250 burning a hole in your pocket, there’s a spot concealed above Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction where you can enjoy a wallet-busting dining experience in what has to be one of the most exclusive private venues on the planet. Originally intended to be Walt Disney’s personal apartment and entertaining suite (the studio above the Fire Station that he and his family called their home at the park was too small for that purpose), the space was most recently called the Disneyland Dream Suite. where certain lucky contest winners would get to spend the night. Now, it’s home to 21 Royal, a jaw-dropping food-and-wine extravaganza for 12, capped off with a private balcony viewing of Fantasmic!
There Used To Be A Cigar And Tobacco Shop On Main Street
When Disneyland opened in 1955, one of Main Street’s original shops was a cigar and tobacco shop, which would have been a staple on a typical American main drag in the early 1900s. The shop sold “tobacco and smoking accessories from around the world,” according to a park guidebook. It should come as no surprise that today the store is no more — it closed in 1990 and earlier this year Disney banned smoking at all of its U.S. theme parks. In its place stands the 20th Century Music Company, which today sells pins and other Disney souvenirs. But the cigar store Indian, a traditional symbol once used to signify a tobacco shop in the days when many customers may have been illiterate or recent immigrants, remains today.
The Crooked Shutters On Liberty Square’s Buildings Are Very Intentional
Look closely at the buildings throughout Liberty Square and you’ll notice there’s something wonky about the shutters. No, this isn’t the result of shoddy craftsmanship or the need for a refurb, this is another example of Disney Imagineers going to unbelievable lengths for an authentic recreation. During the Revolutionary War, in an effort to reserve metal for other uses like ammunition, shutters were typically hung with leather straps. Over time these would stretch out, causing the shutters to sag. Liberty Square’s shutters are hung with metal, but they’ve been hung at an angle to recreate the appearance of those Colonial-era crooked shutters.
Spot The Marks Of Puppy Love From A Famous Canine Couple
Check out the pavement outside Tony’s Town Square Restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. Carved in the ground you’ll find Lady and the Tramp’s paw prints, encircled by a heart with an arrow through it. This serves as a sweet hidden reminder of the famous pups and that memorable plate of spaghetti and meatballs — which are the inspiration behind the theming and menu at Tony’s. If you’re a fan of the beloved animated film, be sure to catch the live-action version of “Lady and the Tramp,” available for streaming on Disney+.
Frontierland’s Raised Sidewalks Are Just Like The Ones In The Old West
At Disney parks, you hardly have time to blink before a dropped wrapper gets scooped up by an attentive cast member, but in the old West, things were a bit messier. In the pioneering frontier towns of America’s West, dust, dirt and waste filled the streets, so the sidewalks were elevated off the ground to protect shoes and clothing. This detail really adds to Frontierland’s authenticity. Plus, nothing gives you those old-school Disney feels quite like stepping up onto that raised wooden sidewalk and into classic attraction Country Bear Jamboree.
A Not-So-Hidden Hidden Mickey
Painted on the wall just outside Harambe Market in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a far-from-hidden Mickey Mouse. But, you’ll of course immediately recognize that this one is not like the countless other Mickey likenesses throughout Walt Disney World. This Mickey looks like an amateur artist’s attempt, reminiscent of the super-creepy versions of Disney characters you’ll find at kids’ birthday parties or wandering around New York City’s Times Square. Clearly, the Imagineers were poking all sorts of fun by placing this seemingly unlicensed Mickey in plain sight at a Disney park. The irony is solidified once you translate Mickey’s apparent greeting, “Fichwa! Fellow.” In Swahili, fichwa means “hidden,” and this hidden Mickey is definitely in on the joke.
Stand In The Right Spot And You’ll Trim Your Haunted Mansion Wait Time
Here’s a little trick to ensure you’re one of the first to board your Doom Buggy once you’re inside the Haunted Mansion. When you enter the stretching room, the one with portraits encircling the top half of the room, look for the girl holding the parasol and stand beneath her. After the room stretches to reveal the fates of the subjects of each portrait, a door directly underneath the parasol girl’s picture will open and you’ll be the first one out and headed to the boarding area.
Sometimes Rules Are Made To Be Broken
Outside the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular! at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll find a makeshift tripod with a pulley system and rope descending into a hole. There’s a tempting sign next to it that’s just begging passersby to do just what, on first glance, it appears you’re not supposed to. We’re not going to spoil fun by telling you what happens, but let’s just say you might as well go ahead and pull the rope!
And The Tallest Attraction Is…
Fittingly, the tallest “mountain” at Walt Disney World is Expedition Everest at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. At 199.5 feet, the ride’s tallest peak would tower over Big Thunder Mountain, Space Mountain and Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom. So why stop at 199 when recreating the highest mountain in the world? Anything taller and the Federal Aviation Authority would require a flashing red light on top to alert low-flying planes — and that would definitely spoil the illusion.
The Enchanted Tiki Room Was Originally Going To Be A Dinner Show
One of the earliest and most iconic attractions at any Disney park is Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, which opened at Disneyland in 1963. The long history of the Tiki Room is packed with fun facts. Did you know it was first intended to be a dinner show? While this would have been highly entertaining, Imagineers ultimately decided that combining the first-ever audio-animatronic show with dinner service might just have been a few too many moving parts, so to speak, so the dinner component was abandoned.
Find The Scene Of Han And Leia’s First Kiss
While you wait for your turn to take the controls of the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy at Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run, you’ll get the chance to wander around the ship’s iconic interior. Grab a photo op at the Dejarik table, then look for the spot where Han and Leia first puckered up in “The Empire Strikes Back.” The spot is just off the main room and there’s typically a cast member standing at the doorway, but they’ll happily let you have a look — provided you’re not a scoundrel.
Try To Spot The Fake Waterfall In Pandora
Pandora — The World of Avatar is one of the most ambitious and breathtakingly immersive lands Disney has ever created. You really have to see it in person to fully appreciate the effort Disney Imagineers made to recreate the mythical land with its floating mountains and alien flora and fauna. A go-to effect in the Imagineering arsenal to make spaces feel massive is forced perspective, a sort of optical illusion that makes objects appear further away than they are. You can find an example of this in Pandora by carefully viewing the waterfalls. Most are actual falling water, but if you look closely at one of the highest waterfalls, you’ll notice that it looks a bit different. On first glance, it looks like rushing water, but it’s really a spinning wheel that creates the illusion of water falling at a slower rate than the other waterfalls. This gives the impression that it’s further away. There are a couple of these faux waterfalls in the area.
We Have The Enchanted Tiki Room To Thank For Our Dole Whips
United Airlines, looking to promote a new promotion on flights to Hawaii, was the original sponsor of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. Lucky for all of us, Dole took over as sponsor in 1976 and our Dole Whip-enriched lives have never been the same. From pumpkin spice Dole Whip and plant-based Dole Whip to boozy Dole Whip, all our pineapple-spiked dreams might never have come true if it weren’t for this iconic attraction.
Find Porg Nests Throughout The Queue For Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
Looking for a way to pass the time while you wait for your chance to fly the Millennium Falcon? Throughout the queue for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, see how many porg nests you can spot. If you look closely you’ll see they’ve been made from loose wires and other bits and pieces found around the ship — shh, don’t tell Chewie!
There’s A Detective Agency At Disney’s Hollywood Studios
“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” fans, this is for you. When you think of Disney movies, this one probably doesn’t spring to mind first, but the 1988 live-action and animated mashup was a massive hit that today still has its own ride, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, in Disneyland’s Toontown and at Tokyo Disneyland. Believe it or not, Roger Rabbit was once intended to be the face of Walt Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios, now Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But today, you can only find a few relics of the film throughout the park, including this window above Hollywood and Vine, which bears the name of the film’s starring detective plus a silhouette of Roger from one of the movie’s classic scenes.
There Are Secret Menu Items Hiding Throughout The Parks
Disney secret menu items aren’t uncommon — if you know where to look for them. From off-menu vegetarian options like a delicious Beyond Burger at Disney California Adventure’s Lamplight Lounge and Walt Disney World’s Geyser Point Bar and Grill to the totally outlandish Cinnamon Bun Burger (just like it sounds) at Walt Disney World’s All Star Movies Resort, you could make a whole trip of seeking out and trying secret Disney dishes.
Don’t Think About The Liberty Square Pavement While You’re Eating
You’ll want to forget this fun fact while you’re chowing down on your churro. As you stroll through Liberty Square, you’ll notice that most of the ground is red. But, there’s a brownish ribbon of pavement several feet wide that runs through the land. That’s because in Colonial America, where there was no indoor plumbing, there was waste—that’s right, raw sewage—running through the streets. Keeping it historically real, that’s also the reason you won’t find any bathrooms in Liberty Square.
One Of Disneyland’s Original Balloon Sellers Came Up With A Genius Way To Make Your Balloon Last
Mickey-shaped balloons at Disney are nearly as iconic as the castle itself, but they didn’t always come in that nifty bubble. The original Mickey balloon was an unprotected latex version that broke down or popped easily in the blazing Florida and California sunshine. Enter Treb Henning, who began selling Mickey balloons as a “Balloon Boy” in 1969. It was Treb who developed the “glasshouse balloons,” the Mickey balloons as we know them today that encase our beloved Mickey in that protective plastic bubble. Thanks, Treb, for making sure that $15 balloon makes it through the night!
There’s An Exclusive Private Club Hiding In Plain Sight
Tucked away at 33 Royal Street in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square is a discreet doorway with no signage other than a number above the door and RFID reader to the left. If you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably carry on your way, wholly unaware that this is the entrance to what is easily the most exclusive spot in any Disney park anywhere.
Club 33 is Disneyland’s original private, members-only club. Opened in 1967, the year after Walt Disney died, it was conceptualized (though never visited) by Walt as a place to entertain his VIP guests. With an alleged initiation fee of between $25,000 and $50,000 and reported annual dues of up to $30,000, membership doesn’t come cheap. Nor does it come quickly, as reports have suggested the waiting list is anywhere from 10 to 20 years long. Club 33 outposts have recently come to Walt Disney World as well, though they’re similarly shrouded in secrecy. If you’re interested in joining, you can send an email and hope for the best!