Travel

22 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Disney

No American institution is so equally beloved and reviled as Walt Disney World, the epicenter of childhood fantasy and fanny-pack couteur in central Florida. Whether you love it or hate it, its intricacies are no less fascinating. 

Take it from a Disneyphile -- we love to swap Disney trivia, not simply out of affection, but because some of this stuff is fascinating, impressive, or genuinely bizarre. Here are a few of my favorite little-known Walt Disney World factoids to get you through a short road trip or a long line at Space Mountain.

1. Dead people's ashes are everywhere

No joke. I had a friend who knew a girl whose mom, upon her death, wanted to be cremated and spread from the top of the Dumbo ride. This sounded odd until I heard it happens all the time. The park apparently even has a special vacuum for such occasions. Which is pretty gross, when you think about it. That’s one way to interpret the Circle of Life.

2. Disney World isn’t actually in Orlando

Forget everything you thought you knew. The majority of the Walt Disney World Resort is actually located in the city of Bay Lake. Orlando’s just its larger, more memorably named neighbor. It’s also a pretty legit city you should actually spend some time in.

3. It would take a lifetime to stay in every hotel room

If you spent one night in each hotel room in Disney World, it'd take you 68 years. And, no, they don't rent by the hour.

4. The Magic Kingdom is actually on the second floor 

The "underground city" network of not-so-secret tunnels really exists -- so if you want to see Snow White out of costume, hang out down there. Actually, that sounds like a good way to end up with a restraining order. But because Florida is at sea level and engineers couldn't dig down, these "underground" tunnels are actually at ground level, with the park built above -- a lot like modern Rome, with about the same number of French tourists.

5. Cinderella Castle is practically empty

The most iconic amusement park building on the planet holds only a restaurant, a gift shop, and the ghost of Walt Disney's would-be apartment. Designers built an apartment for Walt into the castle plan, but he died before its completion. That space was later turned into a hotel room that's literally impossible to stay a night in, unless you win one.

6. The castle’s also made of fiberglass

The Florida housing bubble was already brutal, but the Cinderella Castle really weathered that storm. Still, in the hierarchy of fairy tale homes, Cinderella Castle falls somewhere above the Three Little Pigs' straw and sticks houses, but below the brick house.

7. Disney World is the size of San Francisco, or two Manhattans 

Except with fewer hipsters and cheaper rent. A third of its 40 square miles is designated as conservation land.

8. Admission was a whopping $3.50 on opening day (about $21 now)

Got $3.50 in your wallet now? Congratulations! You can now buy a bottle of water at Disney World. But not the Smart Water, there's an up charge for that. Nowadays, a one-day ticket will run you $102 or $109, depending on which park you visit. You can go to multiple parks for an additional fee of about $60, or purchase multi-day tickets for a discounted price. Which is still not cheap, FYI.

9. EPCOT is an acronym, and an amalgamation

True Disney nerds will tell you EPCOT stands for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, and it was originally supposed to be a living, working city of the future. If you'd ever wanted to live in a Ray Bradbury novel, this would have been your shot. Sadly, Walt's death detoured the original plan.

There's a story, though, about the park's odd genesis. Imagineers couldn't decide between the future concept or the world showcase concept. Supposedly, one Imagineer had the brilliant idea to just push together the two tables with the separate park models on them, thus merging them into one mega park.
Sounds legit.

10. Disney World is basically its own self-governing city 

To make EPCOT its own real city, Walt sought to gain some independence from the counties that his land straddled. He successfully petitioned the Florida state legislature to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), which would give the Walt Disney Company self-governance within its borders. This led to the creation of the cities of Bay Lake and Reedy Creek (now Lake Buena Vista), which are part of the RCID.

This is all legal and very complicated, and the Wikipedia page does a way better job explaining how this all went down, but all you need to know is Walt didn’t play around.

11. Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the US

And employees aren't just called employees -- they're cast members. A lot of them are probably sleeping together. And they can probably tell you where the bathroom is in 14 languages. Just don't ask them for freebies.

12. The Haunted Mansion isn't the only place that's haunted 

The real ghost (not a typo) of a worker who died during construction of The Pirates of the Caribbean allegedly haunts the ride. And that one tourist's finger is probably roaming around there like Cousin Itt, for that matter.

13. Intrepid explorers have broken into Disney's abandoned water park and island

If ever there were a bastion of microbial disease, it would sound a lot like "abandoned water park and island." We do not advise you go exploring (unless you are into brain-eating amoeba), but you can see some pretty cool pictures from the safety of your cubicle.

14. The brown bricks in Liberty Square represent poop

If you’ve ever walked through Liberty Square and seen the wavy brown brick pattern beneath your feet you probably didn’t think much of it. Ah, but take a second to appreciate the sentiment: It’s actually designed to represent the raw sewage that could be found in the streets of Colonial America. To keep up the historical illusion, you won’t find any bathrooms in Liberty Square, either. Definitely don’t chug a whole soda before you ride the Haunted Mansion.

15. Every year visitors eat 2 million pounds of those caveman turkey drumsticks

Unless the rumor is true that some of those turkey legs are actually emu?

16.  Disney World is where sunglasses go to die

More than 200 pairs of sunglasses are turned in to lost and found each day. It's like all those socks that disappear in the laundry, but multiplied to the nth degree. And with way more squinting tourists.

17. You can't get a straw or cup lid at Animal Kingdom

Disney doesn't trust the animals not to get their paws on straws or lids. Or, more likely, they don't trust humans to not throw them where the animals can get them.

18. Disney World took design cues from the Midwest

Walt only lived in Marceline, Missouri for a few years, but it left such an impression that he used it as the inspiration for Main Street, USA. No word on whether he tried to serve everyone casseroles for dinner.

19. It also has very impressive public transportation

Walt Disney World has a public transportation system that puts plenty of American cities to shame. At about 400 buses, its fleet is larger than the one operated by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation. (One reason: On peak days, Disney gives LA traffic a run for its money.)

20. There were originally supposed to be even more hotels in Magic Kingdom

Original plans called for hotels with a Venetian theme, a South Asian theme, and a Persian theme. Those plans, however, were thrown out after the oil crisis put a damper on tourism. Oh, and the Shah of Iran was supposedly going to fund the Persian hotel, but, since this was supposed to happen in the late '70s, the plans basically ran afoul of everything that transpired in Argo.

21. Hotel rooms at the Polynesian and Contemporary were built offsite

After the pre-fab rooms were constructed, there were slid into the frames of the buildings. So that makes it kind of like sleeping in a giant furnished drawer, minus the giant Gideon bibles. 

22. The Beatles broke up at Disney World

Disney is the most magical place on earth, unless you’re a Beatles fan. In the winter of 1974 John Lennon was at Disney’s Polynesian Resort for a holiday vacation with his family. It was there on December 29 that he signed the document that ended The Beatles.

While we’re at it, here’s another fun historical tidbit: In 1973, during the days of the Watergate scandal, President Richard Nixon participated in a Q&A with the media at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It was during that session that he delivered his famous statement, “I am not a crook.”

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Rebecca Dolan is a contributor to Thrillist.