Walt Disney’s life and creative works have always been subject to scrutiny and intrigue. Although he was far from a secretive man, fans and critics alike are drawn to the idea that there was more than meets the eye to a man whose core ideals were dedicated to creating wonder and bringing childhood imagination to life. Since Disney’s first theme park opened in California in 1955, more than 650 million guests have come flooding through the gates to enjoy the place “where dreams come true”. There are now six Disney theme parks around the world which all run like clockwork and entertain millions of guests each year. However, over the years countless urban legends and weird stories have been associated with Disneyland. Of course, many of the most popular rumours are false and seek to create a darker side to the most magical place on earth, but it was Walt Disney himself who helped cultivate a sense of mystery for his parks. Disneyland is full of tiny little details and hidden meanings which the vast majority of its guests are blissfully unaware of. Very few guests really know what’s going on behind the curtain or what they’re missing out on as they walk around the park.
10. The Hidden Mickeys
Perhaps the most popular ‘secret’ in Disneyland is the Hidden Mickeys. Mickey Mouse is an instantly recognisable character and he is arguably the most important creation of the Walt Disney Company. Mickey was the character which helped Walt Disney make his name (Disney received his first of his record-breaking 22 Academy awards for the creation of Mickey) and the playful mouse still plays a hugely important role to this day. The silhouette of Mickey’s head (or often just his ears) is used throughout Disney’s merchandise and branding, but it also plays its part as a hidden ‘easter egg’ for fans to find in various forms of Disney media. Hidden Mickeys and background appearances of the famous mouse can be found in countless Disney commercials, video games, movies and various other forms of Disney output. Hidden Mickeys have also been placed throughout all of the Disney theme parks. There is no definitive, official list of all the Hidden Mickeys, but fans have found at least 1000 of them in the park’s attractions, architecture, stores and décor. Often found hidden away in the background of a mural or in hard to reach places, the Hidden Mickeys are also sometimes formed by a collection of objects (like a pile of rocks) or found as a pattern in brickwork and flooring tiles.
9. The Haunted Mansion’s Mysteries
First opened in the California Disneyland in 1969, the Haunted Mansion is one of the park’s most popular and enduring rides. Over the years, the ride has suffered from its fair share of urban legends and rumours, but only a few of them are true. One of the most popular stories is that one of the five singing statue busts (The Phantom Five) is modelled after the likeness of Walt Disney and served as a commemoration to him after his death. Apparently, even some Disney cast members pass this off as a fact. However, the bust in question is actually the face of Thurl Ravenscroft, a famous voice actor who happened to bear a passing resemblance to Walt Disney. Another rumour is that a guest died of fright shortly after the ride was first opened. Although this is another false tale, in the early 70s there was an ‘incident’ when a guest pulled out a .22 handgun and apparently started shooting while on the ride. No one was injured but one bullet hit a huge sheet of glass in the ballroom and the pane proved to be too difficult and expensive to replace without removing the roof. To cover up the eyesore, they simply stuck a spider web over the bullet hole.
8. Amateur Filmmakers made a Horror Film in Disneyland without Permission
Disney has a reputation of being very protective of its licenses, trademarks and likenesses. The company doesn’t like to share its intellectual property, especially when it comes to its theme parks, so the fact that some amateur filmmakers managed to shoot an entire movie set in Disneyland is pretty impressive. Director Randy Moore knew that Disney wouldn’t give him permission to film his weird psychological horror “Escape from Tomorrow” in the park, so he took matters into his own hands. Adopting a guerrilla filmmaking style, the cast and crew dressed as tourists and entered the park in small groups. No lighting equipment could be used so the director had to chart the position of the sun in advance so each scene was well-lit, and they had to use small handheld cameras which wouldn’t attract attention. Surprisingly, park employees and operators didn’t get suspicious, even when the cast and crew had to keep riding the same rides over and over to get the takes right. Although it was a low budget effort and received a mixed reception from critics, the movie was an audacious accomplishment and one of the few times Disney was completely in the dark about exactly what was going on its own theme park.
7. Guests can Enjoy some Hidden Perks on Rides
Surprisingly, Disneyland offers a few perks to guests who know the right things to say. On the Disney Railroad, Walt Disney wanted guests to be able to enjoy a proper locomotive experience and find out how exactly the trains work. If guests ask for the “tender ride”, they can ride up front near the engineers operating the engines of the train. The engineers are more than happy to answer any questions about how locomotives operate and talk about the history of the trains, but guests who partake have to complete a full circle of the railroad because it is only possible to safely embark and disembark from the tender carriage when the locomotive is at Main Street. Guests can also ask to ride the ‘Lilly Belle’ carriage. The Lilly Belle is a grand, ornate carriage with velvet drapes, mahogany panelling and plush velvet chairs. The monorail and Mark Twain riverboat trips have also been known to let inquiring quests ride up front. Although these special rides are sometimes restricted and guests may not always be able to enjoy them (there’s usually a long queue, too), it’s always worth asking.
6. The Park uses Feral Cats to Curb the Rodent Problem
photo: Eddy Van 3000 / flickr
Disney goes to remarkable lengths to make sure that the theme park is kept in pristine condition. Guests are never far away from a trashcan, horticulturists and gardeners keep all the plantlife and grass at the right length and any scratches or chips made to the paintwork and décor get patched up as soon as possible. However, Disneyland’s workforce also has a secret weapon. An influx of feral cats accompanied the opening of Disneyland in 1955, but instead of chasing the animals away Disney put them to good use. The cats were very adept at catching rodents which targeted leftover food and trash left by guests. It may seem rather ironic given that the theme park was built on the popularity of a fictional cartoon mouse, but the cats proved to an effective solution to a persistent problem. To this day Disney still uses feral cats as rodent-catchers. They spay any cats they can catch before releasing them back into the park and any litters of kittens they find are put up for adoption.
5. There’s a Private Club with an Exclusive Guest List
photo: Mxreb0 / Wikicommons
Disneyland seems like the last place on earth which would have a secret ‘speakeasy’ on its grounds, but the park is actually home to one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet. Located at number 33 Royal Street in the New Orleans Square, Club 33 was built in 1967 and it was originally devised as a place for Walt Disney to entertain VIP guests and sponsors of the park, but he died several months before it opened it’s doors (it has been speculated that this is where the club really gets its name as there were 33 corporate sponsors of Disneyland between 1966 and 1967). Nowadays, the club operates on a strictly exclusive basis. Although members of the public can apply for membership, there is a decade-long waiting list. The lucky few who are chosen have to pay a one-time initiation fee of $10,000 (the price is $27,500 for corporate members) and annual fees of $3,500. The club is located across two levels and it contains a foyer, dining rooms, lounges and a balcony overlooking the park. All of the rooms are furnished with actual props from Disney movies as well as hand-drawn animation cels and even antiques owned by Walt Disney’s wife Lillian. Club 33 is also the only place in the entire park to serve alcohol.
4. Matterhorn Mountain has a Basketball Court
photo: HarshLight / Flickr
The landscape of Disneyland is full of huge, towering attractions and rides, but many areas are inaccessible to guests. While some areas of the park are specifically built to house the mechanics and machinery of its roller coasters, others are simply built as a way to spruce up the scenery. However, at least one of these structures is more secretive than it seems. Matterhorn Mountain is located near Tomorrowland and is home to the Matterhorn Bobsleds ride. This high-speed ride shoot guests down a steel track at high speeds as they pass in and out of the mountain. For some reason or another, the structure also houses a basketball half-court. Located at the top of the mountain above the roller coaster tracks, the mountain climbers who scale the Matterhorn for the entertainment of guests are the only ones who can access this mountain as there is no internal access. An urban legend circulated that Walt Disney ordered the court to be installed as a way to bypass zoning laws because it allowed him to claim that Matterhorn Mountain was a ‘sports arena’ which wasn’t eligible for height restrictions. However, this has been debunked as these height regulations did not exist until after the ride had been built (the Matterhorn isn’t as big as it seems anyway as it uses forced perspective to appear much grander than it actually is). Another rumour is that the court was actually built by the mountain climber staff as a way to pass the time between shifts during rainy days when they were unable to safely climb on the outside of the mountain. Whatever the reason for it’s construction, the basketball court is still enjoyed by staff to this day.
3. The Park has an Underground Tunnel System for Employees
It makes sense that Disney employees need a quick and convenient way to get around the miles and miles of park each day, but it’s hard to see how they manage to do so with bustling crowds of guests queueing up for rides and attractions at every turn . Disney’s answer to the potential problem was clever but very surprising in its execution. Disneyland is built above a huge underground network of corridors and paths which are strictly for employee use only. The network was actually built at ground level and the rest of the park erected above it, and it serves as a very necessary feature for the smooth running of the park. It also means that costume actors don’t have to worry about being swarmed by mobs of fans or straying into the wrong areas (Buzz Lightyear would look very out of place in the American Old West of Frontierland) when they’re trying to get to their shift on time.
2. Tomorrowland Grows it’s Own Fruits and Vegetables
Tomorrowland is one of the most ambitious and intriguing areas in Disneyland. The themed zone attempts to bring the sights and wonders of the future to present day, and many of the attractions are imaginative takes on what tomorrow may bring. Tomorrowland entered into its third generation in 1998 (the area needs to change every few decades to make sure it doesn’t get left behind in the past) and one of it’s new features was investing in ‘Agrifuture’. A food crisis seems all but inevitable in the future and sustainable farming and foods will become a necessity. Tomorrowland’s ‘Imagineers’ called attention to the issue by growing edible fruits and plants throughout the entire themed area. Lettuce patches, orange trees and strawberry bushels are just some of the many edible foods that are grown all over Tomorrowland. Although the sight of all these trees and plants is noticeably different from the pristine landscaping found throughout the rest of the park, this feature goes almost completely unnoticed by guests. Apart from a solitary ‘Agrifuture’ billboard near the railroad in Tomorrowland, this interesting detail isn’t advertised or ‘shown off ‘ by Disney at all.
1. Disneyland Tricks the Sensory of Guests
Disney really thought of everything when it came to enhancing the theme park experience. The sights and sounds of Disneyland are overwhelming and there are always little things (like the Hidden Mickeys) which are easy to overlook. Even if they go unnoticed, it shows just how much effort has been put into every tiny aspect of the park. However, this attention to detail doesn’t stop with the eyes and ears. One of the unsung heroes of the Disneyland experience is the ‘Smellitzer’ – a crafty device which wafts aromas around the park. Usually placed in strategic locations like outside the candy stores on Main Street U.S.A, the Smellitzer can ‘launch’ a scent into the air. It’s likely that guests will realise they are suddenly able to smell a very strong aroma of freshly baked cookies as they pass by the bakery in Main Street or fresh popcorn and peppermint sweets near the candy stores, and it’s all thanks to the Smellitzer. With so many people walking around the busiest areas of the park during the day, there’s no way these smells would be able to stand out without a little assistance. It makes sense that Disney would go to these lengths to make sure that their guests could get some gentle persuasion in indulging their sweet tooths (and depart with some of their cash) just as they pass by a candy store. Another interesting secret is that each different land in the park has a different type of flooring. Guests can literally feel the effect of moving into a different section of the park as they walk over smooth asphalt instead of cobblestones or bricked pavement. These different textures serve as subtle subliminal hints to guests that they are in a different area with new things to experience.