Mickey, Donald Duck, and Cinderella — remember them? They’re the magical companions who shared countless hours with us during our collective youth. Many of us have probably enjoyed their Florida residence, Disney World, at least once. A visit to the park is as American as well, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But how much do you really know about Florida’s Magic Kingdom? To wit, next time you pay Mickey a visit, make sure to find these 10 well-kept secrets of Disney World.
1: The phony American flags
Once past the park gates, you’re welcomed into Main Street, U.S.A, Disney’s homage to mainstream American culture. But the “American-looking” national flags scattered atop various small-town structures — the train station, firehouse, and City Hall, for instance — aren’t the real deal. In order to avoid adhering to the U.S. Flag Code, which requires raising and lowering the American flag each day, Walt had these flags made with one fewer star or stripe. The only legit Stars and Stripes waves proudly from the center of Town Square, and that one gets the real treatment each day. See if you can spot the fakes.
2: Walt’s secret Club 33
Adventureland holds one of the best secrets of Disney World. If you’re a member of Walt’s secret “Club 33” you can make your way to the unmarked club entrance, just past the main entrance gate. Only those with special wristbands will be able to enter, however. What’s Club 33? Legend has it that Walt wanted an exclusive place in the park to entertain his corporate investors and other VIPs. The club includes luxurious dining, lounges, and various other Park perks. Some say “33” was for the $33,000 membership cost, but this has not been verified. While membership is open to the public, the application process is rather opaque. Check out the official 33 Club webpage for yourself.
3: The restrooms in Liberty Square
Be prepared for the colonial treatment in Liberty Square, another themed land in the Kingdom. In the spirit of making the Disney World experience as authentic as possible, Walt adhered to typical revolutionary American conditions in the square: Since there were no indoor bathrooms in the 17th century, there are no bathrooms in the entirety of Liberty Square — so don’t look for them for too long. Oh, and this brings us to #4 of our secrets of Disney World…
4: Liberty Square’s brown concrete path
See if you can spot the brown ribbon of concrete that threads its way along the streets of Liberty Square. What’s this you ask? Remember the aforementioned lack of indoor plumbing? This represents the “river of waste” that typically ran along the streets of colonial towns. Perhaps even authenticity can be taken a little too far.
5: Cinderella’s deceptively tall castle
Raising your eyes from the gutters for a moment, take a gander at the beautiful spire of Cinderella’s Castle. While it may appear to be quite tall — maybe 300 feet or more — it is actually only 180 feet high. Progressively smaller building materials, including bricks (actually made from fiberglass and plaster) and smaller-than-life windows, are used the higher up they’re placed. This gives the illusion that the castle reaches higher into the sky than it actually does.
6: Disney World’s yummy smells
Freshly baked cookies in Main Street, U.S.A., salty air at Pirates of the Caribbean, peppermint at the Confectionary. Breathe in. What’s going on? Another of Walt’s immersive techniques is at work. Disney World is full of plug-in scent machines that spread particular smells throughout certain areas. This makes the sensory experience more complete and the associated happy memories much stronger.
7: The Magic Kingdom’s subterranean floors
Ready for one of the deepest secrets of Disney World? Believe it or not, when you meander through The Magic Kingdom, you are actually two floors above ground. Dirt used from creating the Seven Seas Lagoon (adjacent to the park) was used to raise the park by approximately 14 feet. If you enter the park from the monorail station or ferryboat dock you will be ascending — see if you can feel it. What lies below the Magic Kingdom? See Disney World secret #8 ….
8: The underground tunnels used by employees to get around
Walt thought seeing “cast members” (employees) moving from one workstation to another broke the proverbial Disney spell. In order to keep the illusion alive for his guests, Walt had tunnels built throughout the park for cast members, supplies, and other items to move around the park without distracting the visitors. Can you find a tunnel entrance?
9: A disguised trash can, fence, or piece of machinery
To keep the Disney experience a colorful one, Walt used color — for paint, water, and concrete — to great effect. For starters, anything that you’re supposed to ignore is painted “go away green” to blend in with the landscaping. This includes trash cans, fences, fire hydrants, and other items that distract from the fantasy at hand. Can you find one?
The same approach is used for bodies of water. The Rivers of America (Frontierland) and Jungle Cruise River (Adventureland) are dyed a brackish brown to hide the animatronics that animate the waterborne animals and boat tracks on which the water-based vehicles ride.
Back in Main Street, U.S.A. various sidewalks are painted red so as to provide all visitors with that feeling of importance that comes with a “red carpet experience.” Follow it to feel the glory.
10: Water features designed to support children’s charities
Finally, you may think that the millions of coins that fill the multitude of water features and fountains throughout the park actually go to Disney’s bottom line. Not so, apparently. All coins are collected and donated to children’s charities in central Florida. So, rest easy, make a wish, and toss one in. Word has it that this is where dreams really do come true.