10 Secrets from the Wonderful World of Disney

From how to score a cocktail to where to scatter grandma's ashes, this is your ticket to the real Magic Kingdom.  

1. There Are Dead Bodies in the Haunted Mansion

(Image credit: Flickr user Joe Penniston)

The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland is on e of the scariest places in the park, but not for the reasons you'd expect. In his 1994 book Mouse Tales, former Disney employee David Koenig tells the story of a tourist group that requested a little extra time on the ride so they could hold a quick memorial for a 7-year-old boy. Disney gave the family permission, but it turns out, the memorial was only half their plan. When the mourners were spotted sprinkling a powdery substance off their "doom buggies," the Haunted Mansion was quickly shut down until all the remains could be cleaned up. Amazingly, this wasn't an isolated incident. Stealthy ash scatterings have occurred all over Disneyland. Not everyone tries to skirt the rules, however. Every year, several families ask for permission. According to one Disney spokesperson, the answer is always no.

2. The Cats Own the Night

(Image credit: Flickr user Meredith P.)

Each night at Disneyland, after the sunburned families and exhausted cast members have made their way home, the park fills up again -this time, with hundreds of feral cats. Park officials love the felines because they help control the mouses population. (After all, a park full of cartoon mice is more enticing than a park full of real ones.) But these cats aren't a new addition to the Disney family. They first showed up at Disneyland soon after it opened in 1955, and rather than spending time chasing them away, park officials decided to put the cats to work. Today, there are plenty of benefits to being a Disney-employed mouser. When they're not prowling the ground, these corporate fat cats spend their days lounging at one of the park's five permanent feeding stations. Of course, Disney also goes to great lengths to manage its feline population. Wranglers at the park work to spay and neuter adult cats, and any time kittens are found, they're put up for adoption.

3. It's a Good Place to be a Flasher, Again

(Image credit: Flickr user Joe Penniston)

Just before the final, five-story drop on Splash Mountain, Disney cameras take a snapshot of the riders to catch their facial expressions. The idea is to provide guests with a wholesome keepsake of thee experience. But in the late 1990s, the photographs took a turn for the obscene after exhibitionists started baring their breasts for the camera. Soon, Splash Mountain gained a reputation as "Flash Mountain," and websites featuring the topless photos began cropping up. In an effort to curb the Tourists Gone Wild phenomenon, Disney began hiring employees to monitor the photos, training them to pull anything offensive before it got displayed on the big screen. Since then, the number of flashers has dwindled. In fact, the countermeasure was so effective that in May 2009, Disneyland decided it didn't need employees to monitor the photos anymore, putting a end to what must have been one of the strangest jobs in the park -watching for topless riders.

4. Fully Formed Mustaches Are Welcome

Even though Walt Disney had a mustache himself, he wanted his employees clean shaven. The idea was to make sure they looked as different from the stereotypical image of a creepy carnival worker as possible. So, for 43 years, Disney theme park workers were forbidden from growing facial hair. But on a momentous day in March 2000, the company took a giant leap forward and decided to grant the park's male employees to right to sport mustaches. (Beards, goatees, and Ulysses S. Grant-style muttonchops were still off limits.) There wasn't' much time for rejoicing, though. When several employees started to grow out their facial hair, management realized that they hated the stubbly look. The rule was quickly amended. Today, in order to have a mustache at the park, Disney employees must either have them when they're hired or grow them during vacation.

5. The Parking Isn't Cheap

(Image credit: Flickr user Jeff Krause)

In 1954, brothers Hiroshi and Masao Fujishige spent $3,500 on a 56-acre tract of land in southern California, replete with orange groves, strawberry fields, and eucalyptus trees. The following year, Disneyland opened up next door. As the park grew, the company began snatching up the surrounding property, and soon, the Fujishige farm was the only plot within miles that Disney didn't own. The company approached the brothers again and again to urge them to sell or lease the land, but they wouldn't budge. In 1986, Masao committed suicide, reportedly because of the pressure. That same year, brother Hiroshi turned down a $54 million offer from Disney. "I just want to stay here and farm," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1991.

Hiroshi continued to defend his property until 1998, when the 76-year-old suffered a brain injury and fell into a coma. His family finally caved and sold all but 3.5 acres of the farm to Disney for an undisclosed amount (The deal was estimated at $90 million). What will become of the Fujishiges' cherished farmland? In the years since the purchase, rumors have floated that Disney is going to turn it into a new park or a giant hotel. But the latest plans are decidedly less sexy: Disney wants to turn the former strawberry field into a giant parking lot.

6. The Buildings are Smaller Than They Appear

(Image credit: Flickr user Andy Castro)

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland may only rise 77 feet into the air, but to a wide-eyed 10-year-old, it looks much bigger. The reason? A design trick called forced perspective. To make the castle look much taller than it is, Disney Imagineers -the company's crack team of engineers- placed large bricks at eye level and then decreased the size of the bricks with each successive story, so that the smallest bricks are on top. The result is an optical illusion in which the tiny castle's towers looks like a skyscraper.

But that isn't the only visual trick being used by the empire. Imagineers employed a similar technique when constructing Disney's Matterhorn, a miniature version of the famed mountain in the Swiss Alps. By placing large trees at its base and smaller trees at the tree line, the Matterhorn looks much taller than it really is. The engineers also angled all the buildings on Main Street U.S.A. slightly inward to make Sleeping Beauty Castle appear far away, as if it exists in a distant land. When visitors leave the castle, the trick has the opposite effect, making the return trip seem shorter.

7. Disney World Is Its Own City

(Image credit: Flickr user Joe Penniston)

Four years after opening Disneyland’s doors in 1955, Walt Disney became convinced that it was time to expand his franchise. After scouting several locations, he decided on a plot of land in Orlando, Fla. But there was a major obstacle standing in his way. The land spilled over into two counties, meaning the task of constructing Disney World would require navigating the bureaucracies of two local governments. To skirt the issue, Disney petitioned the Florida State legislature to let the company govern its own land, essentially making Disney World a separate city. The request wasn’t as novel as it may seem, however. Governments often create special districts for private companies because the arrangement is mutually beneficial. The company wins by receiving more power over things such as building codes and tax-free bonds, while the local government saves money on providing infrastructure. In the end, the state gets an economy-boosting business that it paid little to help build. So, that’s what Florida did. On May 12, 1967, the Reedy Creek Improvement District was born. Governed by a board of supervisors, the agency has powers typically reserved for city and county governments. It has the authority to open schools, create its own criminal justice system, and open a nuclear power plant—although it hasn’t chosen to do any of those things yet. The company also holds all of the seats on the board, and it can always count on its residents’ support. After all, they’re all Disney employees.

8. They Paint the Town Green

(Image credit: Flickr user ashley rose)

If you look beyond the fantasy of the Magic Kingdom, Disney hopes you won’t see anything at all. The less-than-magical parts of the park, such as fences, garbage bins, and administrative buildings, are all coated in a color known as “Go Away Green”—a shade that’s meant to help things blend in with the landscaping. According to Disney officials, there’s no set formula for the color, but that hasn’t stopped die-hard fans from trying to recreate it. One enthusiast collected paint chips from the park and took them to The Home Depot, where he supposedly found an exact match—useful knowledge if you’re looking to fade into the background at Disneyland.

9. You Can Shoot Hoops Inside a Mountain

Disneyland’s Matterhorn is best known for its bobsled-like roller coaster that twists down the giant peak. But few people outside the park know that deep inside the 147-ft. mountain lurks a basketball court. How did Disneyland become a place where your hoop dreams could come true? After construction of the Matterhorn was completed in 1959, the roller coaster occupied the bottom two-thirds of the mountain, while the top third remained empty. What to do with the extra space? Disney employees voted to put in a basketball court. Because a regulation court wouldn’t fit inside the mountaintop (sometimes magic can’t trump physics), only one goal was installed. As for the story about the court being installed to skirt building ordinances, that’s just an urban legend.

10. There’s a Speakeasy

(Image credit: Flickr user pinguino k)

Hidden behind a dull green door in Disneyland’s New Orleans Square is one of the park’s most exclusive and mysterious attractions: a VIP lounge called Club 33. Walt Disney built the club as a secret hideaway for dignitaries and celebrities, and he even went to New Orleans to personally pick out the knickknacks for the interior. During the 44 years that Club 33 has been operational, it’s served the likes of Johnny Depp, Elton John, and scads of executives from companies such as Boeing, Chevron, and AT&T. But if you’re hoping to join, you’ll have to be patient. It takes about 10 years to get off the waiting list, after which you’ll have to fork over $10,000 in initiation fees and another $3,500 each year that you’re a member. But it’s worth it; Club 33 is the only place at Disneyland where you can ditch the kids for a cocktail.


The article above, written by Adam K. Raymond, is reprinted with permission from the May-June 2011 issue of mental_floss magazine. Get a subscription to mental_floss and never miss an issue! Be sure to visit mental_floss' website and blog for more fun stuff!


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My brother and his wife got to eat at Club 33 on their first trip to DL! Had a friend who had corporate membership.
They said getting in felt very cloak & dagger: you make the reservation, wait near the nondescript door at the right time & someone will open it, check your name and quickly usher you inside.
All I got my first time was a badge!
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Membership in Club 33 also includes a free park hopper pass for each person in your party. The catch there is your whole party must partake of a meal at Club 33 that day. Reservations required. If someone who got free entrance doesn't show for the meal, the member gets charged for their ticket.
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I remember waiting in line for the Roger Rabbit ride at Disneyland and seeing a mouse. My son who was 4 at the time pointed out to me, and I said "It's probably a mechanical mouse". I didn't know that about cats being there after dark.
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