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There might be no other man-made place on Earth that captivates, inspires, and delights as many millions of visitors of all ages as Walt Disney World does. Every inch has been meticulously designed, built, and maintained since its inception over half a century ago. And although books, documentaries, blogs, and vlogs frequently share insider tips about the Florida destination, there’s still quite a lot to uncover. Behind every costume, princess, and parade, these little secrets add to the magic of the theme parks that make up Walt Disney World. Here are nine surprising facts you probably never knew about.
Two Castles Keep Secrets Locked Up Tight
Cinderella’s castle holds more than a few secrets. For starters, the bricks used to build the tops of the tall towers are smaller than the bricks used for the lower part of the structure — an engineering trick used by the designers in many buildings here to make them appear even taller than they truly are. Perhaps even more surprising, there’s a hidden suite inside this castle that was originally designed to be an office for Walt Disney himself, but he passed away before the castle was completed. Cinderella’s castle isn’t the only one hiding a surprise: Sleeping Beauty’s resting place boasts an actual working drawbridge. Reportedly, it has been used just twice, once for the opening ceremony in 1955 and again in the 1980s when Fantasyland opened.
What You Smell and See Isn’t Always What You Think
Just like the bears and princesses you’ll find here, not all the smells you’ll notice are real — but that's by design. Different enticing scents, like the mouthwatering aroma of baked goods or freshly popped popcorn, are pumped into the air through a patented scent-emitting machine called the Smellitizer. Another clever trick of the senses by the park designers: None of the flags are real American flags; they are each missing a star or stripe or some other detail so that they don’t need to be lowered according to standard flag regulations. But they do serve an important purpose nonetheless — each flagpole doubles as a lightning rod to keep visitors safe.
The Railroad’s Full of Hidden Details — Even a Secret Train Car
A quick glance at the Main Street Railroad shows that this is no ordinary train or station, but it takes a careful eye to discern just how special it really is. On a shelf with train passengers’ forgotten or lost luggage, there are iconic “lost” items belonging to make-believe characters, such as Aladdin’s lamp and some of Mary Poppins’ bags. There’s an entire fleet of trains and streetcars rolling through Disney World that are original, actual antiques, that have been in use since the 1950s. The Disney Railroad even has a secret train car named Lily Belle, dedicated to Walt Disney’s wife. Only a few lucky passengers get to ride this special car each day, and those who do can enjoy the Victorian feel and the historic Disney artifacts decorating the car as they ramble around in comfort and style.
This Magic Kingdom is Actually a City
While many think the park is in Orlando, Florida, Disney World is actually its own self-governing city. It was set up this way to provide the company with complete control over every aspect of the land it sits on, which measures an astounding 40 square miles — that’s the same size as the city of San Francisco and twice the size of Manhattan. Notably, a full third of this land is designated conservation land.
Hidden Homages Celebrate Disney Designers and Builders
If you’re dining at the Be Our Guest restaurant, look up and you’ll notice that there’s a lovely mural on the ceiling. But what you likely won’t know off-hand is that the faces of the angels painted above are, in fact, the very faces of the Disney Imagineers who create and design all the magic of the park — and even some of their own children’s faces. The names on the building windows above Main Street also pay tribute to the designers and builders of the park.
In This World, Kids Are Magically Never Lost
Of all the things that might attract families to the park, here’s maybe the most comforting fact: Children are never lost at Disney World. How is that possible? When families get separated, cast members or security staff who constantly roam the park (both in plainclothes and uniforms) are ready to help reunite the group — but they do so while treating the situation with whimsy and fun. They never say the children are lost, but rather the parents are lost.
There’s An Invisible City Right Beneath Your Feet
There’s a whole hidden world right under the Magic Kingdom — a labyrinth of tunnels, dressing rooms, garbage chutes (to hide all the trash collected during the day), and even restaurants. And it’s all for the Disney staff. Here, they collect their costumes, come to dress and get made up, socialize on breaks, eat meals, and travel from one area of the park to another, unseen. It’s off limits to park guests, and there are no photos allowed.
The Staff Is Trained in Extra Special Ways
Every staff member receives highly specific training for his or her role at Disney World. Minnie Mouse, for instance, learns to sign their stage name the same way each time for consistency’s sake. And you’ll never see the same character twice — if there were two Gaston characters running around the park at the same time, that wouldn’t feel very magical, would it? There’s also an unusual ergonomic move employees use to keep the park clean, scooping or swooping to collect any dropped objects or trash, so that they are never bent over or showing visitors their backside, nor hurting their back as they work.
There’s a Genie Pass for VIP Make-a-Wish Visitors
Disney World has a special guide for visitors with disabilities to make their experience as easy and pleasant as possible: which rides are accessible, which require transferring, which are loud, or which have other physical considerations. Make-a-Wish visitors, numbering 8,000 each year, are granted Genie passes with extra special privileges to ensure all their wants at the park are met, and they are rightfully treated as VIPs throughout their stay.