Disney World Staff And Guests Share Their 'Behind The Magic' Stories
Disney has a reputation of being the "Happiest Place On Earth". And while it's true, if you visit the parks it's not hard to be swept up in the magic and theatrics of it all, the real world does insist there's something going on in the background.
So we talked to those people in the background, as well as frequent park guests to try to shed some light on how Disney pulls off the wildest tricks in its books. But do be warned, once you know, you can never un-know. So if you want to keep the magic alive... turn back now.
For everyone else, let's begin!
36. No one is ever lost at Disney if they want to find you, they will
One of the more interesting (and oddly reassuring) things I saw on a trip to Disney was a lost kid. (I assume she was lost).
She went running by us, crying, and not running like she had somewhere to go, more an aimless, panicked half jog and if I remember correctly her shoes were gone. We looked around but didn't see anyone who looked like they were with her, though she was getting some obviously concerned looks.
Not too far behind her was a park employee, clearly stalking her and talking into a radio. Then over the hill in another direction came another employee, and then two others from the side.
..they literally surrounded this kid, but not in a threatening way. Eventually, the girl was taken aside by yet another employee, this one dressed differently so I'm assuming she was part of a special team. She looked like someone's grandmother and started talking to her very calmly and at that point, we decided the kid was in safe hands and went on our way; all the other employees dispersed as well.
I dunno, it was just really cool to see these park employees all come from different directions and make sure the kid couldn't slip away and get more lost.
35. It's pretty cool how they trick the guests
I've worked at Disney World several times in my life in different departments. When I was in security I had to walk into the rides and do what is called a fire check. Back then we had to carry a 'clock', go to the stations and insert a key into it. This told the manager we had actually done the walkthrough. The first time I saw Space Mountain with the lights on it was pretty amazing. So much steel. I also walked the 'cat' walk over the old Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea ride. It was pretty cool. Dark and kind of scary.
Everything there was painted black so the guests couldn't see anything. Walking on the catwalk I could look down into the water which wasn't very deep and see all the cool things below. It's too bad they removed that ride. The submarines are still sitting in the 'boneyard' on property. I think you can buy one if you want. I'm sure they smell pretty moldy by now.
I've also walked through Pirates of the Caribbean many times with the lights dimly on. I even walked up to where the animatronics are. Back then the redhead was still there. It was funny looking at all of that.
There is a lot of water of course and behind the scenes, in the hallway, the water was everywhere. I was afraid of seeing snakes. There are snakes in there. Water moccasins. The water stinks too.
Walking across Grand Prix Raceway was kind of weird. So quiet, no one around. I never got to walk in the Haunted Mansion and I'm glad I didn't have to. Fun story about that ride. Many years later I was working in a different department. One morning a maintenance guy comes in and announces that a janitor from the night shift had gone inside the Haunted Mansion and cleaned off all of the cobwebs.
We about died from laughter. The guy was new and no one told him the cobwebs were fake.
Years later I worked at Disney but for Disney's construction company. I was a scenic artist. Working third shift to get things painted and touched up was interesting too. Got to see things the guests never see. Some things are really cheap looking in the light and it's a good thing the lights are turned off when the ride is going. Most things are filthy dirty too.
34. Princesses get hungry, too
I don’t work at Disney but when I was young I performed there with my dance company. We went behind the scenes, beyond the amusement park.
We took classes and learned about working in the entertainment business, specifically entertainment for Disney. I remember distinctively it ruined the magic of Disneyland.
I remember telling my parents it was cool and a good experience but that it “took away the magic”. It was a plain lot with wood, cardboard, and light rigs everywhere, headless characters and a princess eating a sandwich.
33. The theatre has a long history of cross dressing
I worked at Walt Disney World once upon a time. Mickey Mouse and I used to flirt all the time. I’m a guy, and Mickey was a super cute girl.
Mickey has height limits for the actor so he is often a she in the costume.
And Tinkerbell flying down from the castle before the fireworks is usually a guy because the zip line harness apparently can be painful for women (and they need the right size person to be visible at the correct scale)
32. How devious and clever
This is just something I noticed last time I was at DisneyLand. It was the middle of the summer so it was boiling, like 38 degrees Celsius. And as we walked around looking for somewhere to sit down in the shade, we discovered that there was not a single place in the park that provided shade that wasn’t in a restaurant or store where you had to buy something.
It was that day I knew that Disney is just too good at making money.
One day they will control the universe so we might as well just sell our souls now.
31. And yet, I still want to work for them
Park employees are mostly minimum-wage young adults without a full college degree (or recently graduated) who are working there because a big company like Disney can spare room on their staff to hire them to make change or sell merchandise. They're often doing it because they have to make end's meet, and are wishing for the chance to get into the careers they actually went to school for.
They're also held to a pretty ridiculous policy of employee conduct (not that it's unfair to ask it, but when you're paid the same as a McDonald's employee it feels like you shouldn't be harassed to a higher degree for your inability to smile 24/7).
And management policy in those jobs is that you are disposable: the moment you get unhappy with your job, they can remind you of the hundreds of student-age kids who are ready to take your position.
You do the job and take the pay they give you until you decide to quit or you get fired, and the company moves on without you like it was never a thing for them.
30. I've always wanted to do a Pepper's Ghost illusion for a haunted house of my own
So in the Haunted Mansion ride, there is the famous ballroom scene. That scene is created with the illusion called "pepper's ghost" which I'm sure anyone who has seen a crime show or maybe works in theater, you're probably familiar with it. If not, it works by projecting an image onto glass in order to create the illusion that the image is transparent.
The dancing ghosts are all on turntables underneath you, and they are being projected onto a massive sheet of glass in front of you.
To keep the illusion, you would think that the glass has to be perfectly clean so you won't notice that there's glass at all, and you would be right! So it's kind of odd when you're about two-thirds of the way through the room and there's a little spider prop stuck on the glass. The story behind that is that one day in the 70s, cast members found a bullet hole in the glass and on the opposite wall.
To cover it up temporarily they used that little spider. Of course, the question was if they should replace the glass entirely, and supposedly there is a replacement somewhere. However, that sheet of glass was the biggest ever made at the time, and replacing it would mean removing the roof of the ride. Since it was so easy to cover up, they just left the spider there.
29. The only food worth the price at the castle is the gray stuff, It’s delicious
I worked as a chef at Disneyland... Most of the food at the most expensive parts of Disneyland (the Winery, Blue Bayou) use canned and over-processed ingredients. Any dietary restrictions?! You are most likely getting food from a microwave.
Despite having some of the most skilled chefs on the planet they cut corners in EVERY way.
28. That's more of an America issue then a Disney issue
My mom has been working at Disney for 33 years now and my dad for 25. Neither of them makes over $20 an hour and are considered “managers” (captains and supervisors). My dad does a lot of the background work like rigging lights and doing audio and setting up a lot of events that you see around Disney World and Disney Springs and he also does fireworks occasionally.
We struggle to make ends meet a lot; even if $20 seems like a lot to others, it’s sometimes very hard to raise a family and other things.
27. I want to be mayor of Disney
Back in 1971 when Disney was deciding where to build Disney World, as a way to gain an advantage over other locations, Florida gave them the rights to create their own local government.
This is now known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
If Disney wants to, they can build their own nuclear power plant.
Lake Buena Vista is a part of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special governing system that was set up for Disney by Florida. The district is governed by a five-member board of supervisors. These members are elected, but only landowners in the district can vote. Since Disney is the major landowner, all of the supervisors are senior Disney employees.
Walt’s original intention was to control all of the businesses that surround the park. He hated all of the tacky tourist traps that grew up around Disneyland in California.
26. What was I supposed to do, wake the kid up?
My daughter-in-law worked at Walt Disney World. Some days her only job was to organize the strollers outside of a theatre. As one group left a show and took theirs she’d push the next set of strollers forward. Otherwise, you’d have the third and fourth show guests strollers blocking the paths. She was constantly being yelled for having moved them.
One lady said her purse was in the stroller with their passports and airline tickets. Once they found a sleeping toddler.
25. It's also because pointing with one finger is considered rude in other cultures
I don’t know whether this will “ruin” anything, it’s just a fun fact. Walt Disney was a chain smoker and constantly had a cigarette in his hand.
Consequently, a majority of the photographs taken of him show him holding a cigarette. In today’s modern society, it is no longer socially appropriate to be a chain smoker, so the Disney company has airbrushed the cigarettes out of all the old photos of Walt that they use for publicity.
This leaves Walt holding his hand in a very strange position, with two fingers extended, where there used to be a cigarette between them. The Disney Company’s official explanation for this is that Walt had a very unique hand gesture, that every time he pointed, he did so with two fingers. In order to perpetuate this lie on the public, all Disney employees, in the parks, the hotels, the Disney Stores in malls, everywhere, are required to point with two fingers, and are told, “This is the Disney way”.
And the whole reason is to make the public comfortable with seeing that gesture so that Walt doesn’t look weird in all those old pictures where the cigarettes have been erased. Try it.
The next time you’re around a Disney employee, ask for directions or ask where something is. I guarantee you they will point with two fingers.
24. Dead men tell no tales
Apparently, all the skeletons in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride were once real human skeletons, because Disney himself wanted them to look more realistic. But now we're better at making realistic stuff like that, so they took out all the real ones and replaced them with fake ones. Apparently, there's a skull in there that's still real though.
23. What, you think the Death Star doesn't have break rooms?
I've only been to Disney land once when I was little (little enough for it to be magical, but not so little that I can't ride some of the rides) but the thing that stood out the most for me was seeing stormtroopers going into a breakroom.
I really wanted to get a picture with one and thankfully the guy at the end was nice.
But seeing them go into a break room was weird, I realized that they were people too.
22. They don't call it "The happiest place on Earth" as a joke, it's mandatory
I used to work at both Disney Land and World. I think the worst part is how toxic the mentality they require is. I knew several people who had trouble separating themselves from the "I have to make everyone happy constantly" mindset when they left work. One of them even was hospitalized because he felt like his life was fake when he left work and that it made him a total pushover.
Disney definitely doesn't want you to feel this way, but there is something about the people they hire who have constant over-the-top personalities that becomes too much. As a side effect of it, I felt sometimes like I was going to get in trouble if I didn't constantly smile or feel 100%, even outside work. It definitely isn't a place that embraces reality, but for what they do there that only makes sense. People don't want to pay thousands of dollars to go on vacation and see people feeling bad.
21. So that's why the trees have always been the same height
When their plants don't match their aesthetic standards (i.e. they're sick, too big/small, or not in bloom), they are switched with a full grown replacement.
The trees on Main Street are regularly swapped out so that they maintain the proper height to achieve the forced perspective.
At the end of each season, thousands of flowers in the Mikey Mouse floral display at the entrance are removed and replaced so it is always in bloom. All these rotations are done in one night to not affect the visitor experience.
20. It's the happiest place on earth for the snakes, too
My mom retired from Disney and she was a phone operator. She would tell us about some of the calls that would come in and they were horrifying.
One time a family were staying at the Polynesian hotel and were relaxing on the beach there.
Their teenage daughter decided to go way out into the lake and drowned.
A guest was bitten by a water moccasin at Pirate's of the Caribbean and my mom got the call. Reedy Creek is the fire and rescue on the property so of course they were called to the scene. We don't know of course what happened after that.
You have to imagine that first of all it's Florida. Then you have to realize that Disney has a lot of water, a lot of trees and rocks and they make perfect places for snakes, rats, spiders, and roaches to thrive in.
There aren't enough exterminators to take care of the problem even though they try.
One night me and a coworker were waiting in front of Planet Hollywood gift shop (MGM studios) so we could go in and do some faux finishing on the walls. An exterminator guy pulls up in a vehicle, gets out and tells us we might want to get up from where we were sitting on the sidewalk. He told us to stand up on the bench. He then drops something into the drain and suddenly billions of roaches come rushing out. It looked like a horror movie.
I've been in a lot of the kitchens there after hours and there are roaches everywhere. I guess I was there before the cleaning crew got there but the kitchens are filthy. No one cares.
19. How many bricks are there in Cinderella's castle? Zero, it's made of fiberglass
I was having dinner in the castle with the princesses because of my sister and our table was by a wall. I accidentally hit the wall and it looked like one of those big ones about 30cm across (1foot) and it looked like plastic and felt like it and that was the same type of "brick" as the outside ones. So from that, it seems that the castle is not made of traditional castle stuff.
18. Seems like a weird way to pick the next King of England
I remember seeing this many years ago in Anaheim.
I was waiting in line for a ride when they started the sword in the stone presentation and being on the second floor I had a great view of the whole area.
As they were going through the show, I noticed a park employee standing near the merry-go-round with their hand in the bushes, watching the show very closely.
Once the kid lifted the sword, the park employee withdrew their hand and walked away.
After I got off the ride, I made my way toward that spot and there was a small dark green box with a key cylinder lock very well hidden in the foliage.
I assumed that the switch to unlock the magnetic hold on the sword was inside the box.
17. Ingenious design
Talking characters, like Boba Fett, talk by using slight hand movements with a system built into the costume’s gloves. And if you see a costumed character that blinks, they’re actually controlling the blinks with a sort of pulley system hidden in their gloves.
16. I am now never going to be able to un-see Danny DeVito as Micky and Minnie Mouse
My dad used to date this absolutely gorgeous little Armenian woman. She could have been a model. But she was in the Mickey/Minnie mouse costume.
They need someone small for that costume.
So next time you're taking a picture next to Mickey just know that the person inside could be anyone from a Danny Devito look alike to a super modelesque woman.
Her ex-husband was actually just as small and he played Mickey and Minnie too.
15. Where can I buy the cookie smell
When you walk through areas of Magic Kingdom and you smell freshly baked cookies in a certain area, it's not actual cookies from one of the stores. They secretly spray cookie smell to add to the effect.
14. Everybody hates Chris
If you forget your name tag, you wear a spare from the managers' office. Most of the spares say Chris from Orlando because that's a unisex name. But a lot of cast members keep the spare and wear it when they're not feeling "magical" so they can't get complaints.
I did actually know one Chris from Orlando who was a cast member, and it sucked for him because he never got any cast compliments.
Guest relations always figured it was a fake name.
13. That seems like a really bad decision
A friend of mine just got married and his wife wanted to give up her career at a law firm to go work at Disney. Sounded like she was going to get this big important position, but it was entry level.
So she got there, they have public housing and get paid minimum wage and she was forced to do menial park labor.
She came back pretty fast.
12. Can't imagine why the tunnels would smell
In Magic Kingdom at WDW, there is a vacuum system that literally sucks away trash to a central location backstage behind Frontierland.
The floors of that central location have to be specially treated because so many people pour their sodas in the trash.
If it wasn't, the acidity of the soda would literally eat away at the concrete floor.
The vacuum system also makes the underground tunnels smell.
11. You don't want to end up in Disney jail
Probably more issues on Pirates than any other attraction in Disneyland. Mainly because it’s slow, dark and you have the impression you’re outside. Couples routinely try to get out of the boats. In fact, operators of that ride, in particular, are trained to watch for tells.
Looking side to side, fidgeting, etc. and usually are quick enough that as soon as someone starts to stand up, they get an audible warning to sit down.
If anyone actually gets out of the boat, and onto a set, the ride stops, the fluorescents come on, and they are escorted out to security.
If they’re especially angry, they can and will charge you with trespassing. Anaheim PD has a substation in the park, and it happens at least weekly.
10. Let's all pretend it was just a snickers bar
My girlfriend worked in recreation at Disney, as a lifeguard. The pools are cleaned daily which is great. However, in summer the pools would close up to 6 times a day for 'unscheduled maintenance' or something similar. This usually meant that someone had had an accident in the pool and the manager needed to get it out.
The kid's water area closed down a lot for this too. The water then needs retesting for safety and it can take a long time. One particular day they had 4 back to back (2 from the same kid) followed by a thunderstorm. People were not happy. But trust me, if it's closed, you really don't want to go in.
9. That time Abraham Lincoln turned to piracy
My girlfriend is an avid Disney fan and goes all the time. Her favorite thing to point out is how often they reuse old animatronics. For example:
In Disneyland California there used to be an old attraction called America Sings where animals would sing to an audience.
When the ride closed some of the geese in the attraction were stripped and used in the queue for Star Tours as droids. A lot of others ended up going to Splash Mountain.
Rumor has it they use the old Big Al animatronic from the Country Bears for Oogie Boogie in the Holiday overlay of the Haunted Mansion.
They also reuse molds of animatronics, so there are many in Spaceship Earth, Carousel of Progress and Haunted Mansion in Orlando who share faces with a president in the Hall of Presidents.
8. Good ol Michael "we're not here to make art or history, we're here to make money" Eisner
I went to a conference for a small organization I'm in, in which a previous Disney CEO spoke at.
He talked about how they focused on Disney Princesses so they could sell lots of accessories to girls and how little girls are much better to sell to than boys because boys are satisfied playing with sticks on the ground while little girls want more.
7. Don't always believe everything you see
It goes without saying that Disney is GREAT at keeping sight lines in mind. A majority of buildings and ride queues are just facades. One that comes to mind is the Haunted Mansion in WDW. The building that looks like the ride has nothing in it and is about 1/16 of the actual size of the ride building itself.
You can see it very well on Google Maps.
The same goes for Its a Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, American Adventure in EPCOT, etc.
For those going to Walt Disney World in Florida anytime soon, when you go to Adventureland, go right in front of the entrance of Aladdin’s Flying Carpets and look toward the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse. If you look carefully, you can see the top of Astro-Orbiter in Tomorrowland! That’s on the complete opposite side of the park!
6. Don't be a jerk at Disney
When you stay at a resort, Disney opens a file for you. They know where you eat, what rides you’ve been on, and how many times you’ve complained to a manager or guest services. That’s why I think it's hilarious when people online tell others online that they can get things for free if they complain.
Sure, you might get something at first, but big brother Disney is keeping tabs on you.
Whenever we have difficult guests, the first thing my manager does is pull up their file, and if you’ve been complaining and getting free things at every restaurant, ride, and hotel you’ve been to, chances are, your luck is about to run out.
And it doesn’t go away after you leave. It stays there, till the next time you come back. Think of it as your Disney permanent record. Also, Disney secret security. They look just like a regular tourist, but their job is to walk around and watch for people doing things they’re not supposed to be doing.
5. Why can't Prince Eric just pick Ariel up
I don't think this ruins anything, but it always makes me laugh.
The night show at Hollywood Studios is called Fantasmic, and it ends with a bunch of characters going by on Steamboat Willie. Then they all go inside and fireworks/sparks stream down the side of the boat.
Well, Ariel has a tail and can't walk, so she has to stay outside on her pedestal at the back of the boat. So Prince Eric wraps a fireproof blanket around her before going in. It's dark on that part of the boat when it happens, but if you watch for it you can definitely see it.
4. The Mouse sees all
I worked in broadcast services in Anaheim.
There is not a single place in the park (except for bathrooms, and in some cast member areas) where you cannot be seen on CCTV.
The next time you’re in the park, look for a few of the cooler spots:
Just to the southwest of Pirates, look up on the roofline and you’ll see a $12k Troll cam disguised as a chimney. It’s full pan/tilt/zoom, and KABC uses it often for their weather backgrounds (shots of the Rivers of America).
If you’re leaving Small World/Toon Town, check out the very top of the Matterhorn, and you’ll see 3 small holes. Cameras in each.
Several cameras in trees painted to match. Cameras in Main Street windows, flag poles, on the train....everywhere.
Cameras are especially prevalent on attractions. It may be dark on Pirates, but you’re being watched the entire time by the cast member in the crow’s nest. If you’re doing something especially bad, they’ll stop the boats and pull you out.
3. How to get a drink for less than $5
There are vending machines right on the other side of those partitions that separate the guest area and employee area that have soda in cans for 50 cents and bottles for 75. Just be quick and you'll be fine and if someone notices you just act like you didn't see the employees only sign.
We will believe you. Most employees there have a rather low opinion re: the intelligence of tourists.
2. Imagine wanting to spend eternity at Disney, only to be vacuumed up and dumped in the garbage
My family and I were at Disney World, waiting in line for Splash Mountain. We had been patiently queued up for about an hour when, out of nowhere, they decided to shut the ride down. We heard the operator shout “grandma”! over the speaker phone, which we figured was some kind of emergency code. A minute later, we saw two staff members running toward the front of the ride with a vacuum cleaner as an embarrassed-looking woman was being escorted away by security.
Ashes. She was dumping her grandmother's ashes on Splash Mountain. Apparently this is a common enough occurrence that they have a special code just for disposing of human remains on a ride.
1. Space Mountain maxes out at a top speed of 28 MPH
I have been stranded on a stopped “rocket” inside Space Mountain at Disneyland. It took about 15 minutes to get the ride moving again. Anyway, we ended up riding it with the lights on, and it’s a surprisingly slow tame roller coaster. There are fans blowing air in your face to give it the illusion of speed.