If you visit the Walt Disney World Resort, you’ll likely notice something strange: mosquitoes don’t buzz around the park. And this is particularly odd as the state of Florida – where the amusement park is located – is famous for its sticky weather and swampland. These factors commonly attract hordes of unpleasant insects. But there’s a surprising reason why the only guests that grace Disney World are human.
Before Disney World first opened its gates to the public in October 1971, though, it’s safe to say that mosquitoes did hover around the site. However, Disney decided to build a resort in the insect-riddled Sunshine State after the success of Disneyland, which was unveiled in 1955 in Anaheim, California. Market surveys from the 1950s had shown that only 5 percent of visitors to the West Coast attraction traveled from beyond the Mississippi River, you see – despite the fact that this area was home to 75 percent of Americans.
Seemingly, then, Disney was eager to tap into that huge potential market on the eastern side of the United States. So the filmmaker chose a site situated in the Florida city of Bay Lake – close to Kissimmee and Orlando. And it was here that Disney sought to build an attraction that was to become styled as “the Happiest Place on Earth.”
So Disney began designing the park in earnest, planning it mostly in secret throughout the 1960s under his special code name “The Florida Project.” And the filmmaker envisaged that the project would be much more than a simple amusement park and dreamt up a varied series of attractions. For instance, he masterminded the area of Disney World that is now known as Epcot.
Epcot – standing for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” – was meant to be an urban community that would serve as the backdrop for the latest developments in city living. It was spearheaded by Disney himself, but following his death in December 1966 the experimental plans were in time abandoned. Instead, Disney World became more like Disneyland than the filmmaker had apparently intended.
So sadly, Disney didn’t live to see his dreams for Disney World realized. In fact, the first part of the park to open – the Magic Kingdom – wasn’t accessible to the public until 1971. Epcot followed 11 years later, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1989 and 1998, respectively. And it’s pretty safe to say that Disney World has been a success, as the park now welcomes more visitors each year than any other holiday resort on the planet.
Yes, on average over 52 million people flock to Disney World each year. And in 2014 all four of the parks within the resort earned their spots among the top eight most-visited theme parks on the globe. The Magic Kingdom actually topped the list at number one, as an impressive 19,332,000 holidaymakers stopped in at the amusement park.
But the guests aren’t the only people who populate the resort. To keep things ticking over, Disney World relies on over 74,000 so-called “cast members” – making it the biggest single-site employer in the country. And to keep their many employees happy, each year the company shells out over $1.2 billion in wages as well as a further $474 million on additional perks.
Given the sheer numbers that Disney World attracts, then, running the resort is apparently a massive operation. For instance, there are 34 hotels and resorts dotted around Disney’s Floridian property. To put that into perspective, if you wanted to hunker down for the night in every hotel room in the park, you’d need to camp out for 68 years.
And in order to house and entertain so many guests, Disney World itself is massive. Yes, comprising almost 25,000 acres of land, it’s actually as big as San Francisco and twice as large as Manhattan. But only 50 percent of the land is currently being used. You see, Disney himself was eager to preserve the area where the park was built, so a third of the property is protected for conservation.
Transporting visitors around Disney World requires a complex travel infrastructure, too. In fact, getting around the park is arguably easier than traipsing around a number of American cities. As the resort boasts close to 400 buses, for example, it has a more impressive fleet than the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.
And to ensure that Disney World runs as smoothly as possible, it seems that no detail has gone overlooked. For instance, you are never far from a waste receptacle in the park: 30 steps, to be precise. Disney himself apparently visited other amusement parks and monitored how long people would keep their trash – for about 30 paces – before discarding the items on the floor.
This level of detail continues underneath the resort, too, as the Magic Kingdom is built on top of a warren of tunnels. And while these passageways have been described as an “underground city” by the online publication Thrillist, they’re actually at ground level. That’s because Florida lies on the same plane as the sea, so engineers were unable to hide the tunnels below the ground. So instead, they simply constructed the park on top.
The tunnels that service the Magic Kingdom are known as “Utilidors.” And it’s here that cast members grab their costumes and take their breaks. The complex system of passages was reportedly Disney’s idea, as he didn’t want any characters walking through other areas of the park to get to their place of work.
And another way that Disney tries to preserve the magic is through the use of “Smellitizers.” These devices are placed in every corner of the resort and release scents relating to the areas in which they sit. For instance, the Main Street Smellitizers smell like vanilla and cookies, whereas the ones situated by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride are reminiscent of fresh sea air.
But as well as smelling amazing, Disney World has to look the part, too. And one of the ways that the staff achieve this is by planting more than three million flowering shrubs in the park each year. Furthermore, gardeners are also responsible for caring for 13,000 roses, over 200 topiaries and two million plants.
And given that so much effort goes into making Disney World look pristine, it’s quite understandable that some items aren’t allowed in Disney’s stores. For instance, Disney himself reportedly decreed that all the parks were banned from selling chewing gum in a bid to keep them – and visitors’ footwear – as clean as possible. So if you can’t go a day or two without that minty fresh feeling, you’ll have to bring your own gum supplies.
It’s pretty fair to say, then, that the team at Disney has gone above and beyond to ensure that all visits to the company’s parks are as magical as possible. However, there’s one consideration that Disney World has taken that’s particularly ingenious: it’s done all that it can to make the attraction virtually mosquito-free.
And Disney’s ability to practically eliminate mosquitoes at its Florida resort is made all the more amazing as much of the site was built on former swampland. In fact, many Southerners would likely attest that the blood-sucking insects are an inevitable part of life in a hot place surrounded by marshy lowlands. But Disney was determined that these pesky critters wouldn’t ruin guests’ fun in the parks.
So the mission to banish mosquitoes at Disney World apparently began with a meeting between Walt Disney and Major General William “Joe” Potter at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Potter was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an engineering expert. And prior to meeting Disney, he was the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone.
The Panama Canal Zone was an unincorporated U.S. territory from 1903 to 1979. The region was also a hotspot for malaria – a disease that’s transmitted by mosquitoes. But to build the Panama Canal, it was crucial that the authorities could control the spread of the pathogen. And it was here that Potter reportedly picked up his vast pest control knowledge.
Apparently, when Disney heard about Potter’s work as an engineer helping to control mosquito swarms in the Panama Canal Zone, he offered him a job there and then. And once Potter had accepted, he began putting his insect-fighting expertise to good use on Disney’s “Florida Project” – which would later become the Disney World that we know and love today.
So thanks, in part, to Potter’s legacy, it’s now pretty unlikely that guests will be bothered by mosquitoes during their visit to Disney World. And while it’s practically impossible to eliminate the pesky bugs altogether, the staff at the park use a range of techniques to keep the bloodsuckers at bay. They appear to work well, too.
For instance, rather than killing adult bugs, the resort tries to make itself seem as unpleasant as possible for any insects that need to lay their eggs. So by following a policy of prevention, Disney World can keep the population down permanently – and help ensure that guests aren’t bothered by the bloodsuckers.
And one such way that Disney tries to keep the mosquitoes at bay is by ensuring that there’s no still water at Disney World at all. After all, the insects are attracted to standing water, as it’s the perfect place to deposit their eggs. So by removing any potential mosquito breeding grounds, Disney drastically reduces the number of larvae that it needs to deal with on the site.
Ridding Disney World of all standing water might sound like a simple enough solution – until you remember that the resort was built on a swamp, that is. Consequently, after Potter was first employed by Disney, he started work on the construction of a vast drainage system to transform the boggy land into something better suited to construction.
The original drainage gutters that Potter installed – affectionately known as “Joe’s ditches” – are still in use at Disney World today. And as you might have gathered, their primary purpose is to keep all water flowing through the park at all times – without ever coming to a standstill.
Disney expert Christopher Lucas further explained to Reader’s Digest magazine the concept behind Potter’s drainage system, saying, “The guests usually don’t notice it, but the water is constantly flowing… Whenever you walk by a body of water, there’s usually a fountain in the middle of it, or they’re doing something to keep it flowing.”
And the system has seemingly proven so successful that whenever Disney is in the process of planning a new development, it purchases extra land close to the property in order to accommodate drainage ditches. However, that’s not the only way that the company’s architects designed the parks to prevent water droplets from pooling.
You see, Disney also designs its buildings to ensure that water cannot collect anywhere on the parks’ structures. Lucas told Reader’s Digest, “All of the buildings are built so that water flows right off of [them]… With all the rainstorms, if water got caught on the buildings… it would form a pool, and then mosquitoes would hatch their eggs, and you’d have thousands of mosquitoes.”
And the way that Disney achieves this is by ensuring that any water runs straight off the buildings. According to Lucas, “They made every building there curved, or designed in a way so there’d be no place for the water to catch and sit there… The architecture is really appealing to the eye, but it also serves a purpose: it makes it less conducive to mosquitoes.”
So as you might have concluded, standing water is very much seen as the enemy when it comes to Disney’s mission against mosquitoes. And even the plants that are dotted around Disney World are part of the fight against the critters. Specifically, only certain species are planted in the resort to prevent any puddles from forming in the foliage.
What’s more, all the water features in Disney World – including fountains – are rid of any flora such as water lilies that can disguise mosquito eggs. Lucas revealed to Reader’s Digest, “They also stock-fill those places with minnows, goldfish and a type of fish called mosquito fish that eat the larvae.”
And as well as going to great lengths to avoid creating standing pools of water, Disney also uses sprays to combat mosquitoes. However, at Walt Disney’s own request, it stays away from nasty pesticides. Lucas explained, “[He] did not want to ruin the environment at all, so they couldn’t use pesticides… It’d be easy to just spray the whole thing, but he wanted it to be something natural.”
So in keeping with the filmmaker’s wish, the staff at Disney World are very familiar with garlic spray. The insects are apparently averse to the pungent-smelling plant, so the resort diffuses a garlicky scent all around the park. Lucas told Reader’s Digest, “The amount that they use is so small that humans can’t smell it, but mosquitoes are very susceptible to it.”
Yet while garlic sprays might sound bizarre, that’s nothing compared to Disney’s use of chickens in the fight against mosquitoes. The birds are kept in coops all around the resort and live pretty ordinary lives. However, the chickens do undergo frequent blood checks to determine if they’ve been exposed to any mosquito-transmitted pathogens.
Some of the diseases that mosquitoes spread include Zika and West Nile. And while hens are not susceptible to such viruses, evidence of these pathogens will be present in their blood work. Staff can then see where any affected birds live in the park, helping them to determine which area of the resort needs more mosquito-beating attention.
But while Potter’s legacy is still clear to see in Disney’s mosquito-busting efforts, the park continues to improve its Mosquito Surveillance Program. And one way that the company goes about this is by scientifically testing the mosquitoes that do make it into Disney World so that it can better understand how to tackle the critters in the future.
Nevertheless, Potter’s influence has certainly not been forgotten. Following the engineer’s death in 1988, Dick Nunis – Walt Disney Attractions’ former president – said, according to an extract on The Official Disney Fan Club website, “Joe was a man [whom] Walt Disney was very fond of. Without Joe Potter, there would be no [Disney World] today.”
Touchingly, in 1997 Potter was dubbed a Disney Legend. And in yet another tribute from the company, one of the ferries that operates on Seven Seas Lagoon was renamed General Joe Potter. However, most people who visit the park presumably have no idea of the part that the engineer played in preventing them from getting pesky mosquito bites. So next time you go, keep an eye out for any chickens!
But Disney’s approach to keeping mosquitoes out is only one of the behind-the-scenes secrets that guests don’t often know. Indeed, from mysterious water bubbles to a population of feral cats, these 18 revelations will tear down everything that you thought you knew about Disney World. And if you find yourself bumping into Chris from Orlando a lot, you’ll soon know why…
18. There are “hidden Mickeys” everywhere
Next time you head to Disney World, take a closer look at your surroundings. Before you know it, you’ll be seeing the famous mouse ears everywhere you turn. That’s because the Imagineers who designed the park left imprints of the ubiquitous symbol in every nook and cranny they could find, from rides to restaurants. And one blogger, Steven Barrett, has even spent years tracking them down.
17. Feral cats help keep the rodent population under control
Back in the 1950s, Walt Disney decided to build a new attraction inside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. When the Imagineers took a look inside, however, they found that it was overrun by wild cats. Eventually, they were allowed to stay – if only to curb the other pest problem that had sprung up, mice of the non-Mickey variety. There are now around 200 wild cats living across Disney’s parks.
16. It has the largest wardrobe in the world
With a costume library boasting some two and a half million items, stored on eight miles of racks, Disney is basically in ownership of the world’s largest wardrobe. That’s right, no matter how many outfits or pairs of shoes you own, you’ll never compete with the Mouse. But that means you can at least enjoy all those wonderful costumes at Disney World – Mickey himself has in excess of 290.
15. Underground pipes transport litter using pressurized air
The utilidors aren’t just for helping staff members get around – they’re also a convenient method for moving trash around the park. Thanks to a series of pipes, litter is sent on its way using pressurized air, at speeds of over 60mph. There may be fewer than 30 steps between trash cans at Disney World, but the real ingenuity is underground.
14. There’s only one substitute name tag
If you’ve been to Disney World, chances are you’ve bumped into Chris from Orlando. And there’s a reason the odds are so high: that’s the only name tag available to staff who forget theirs. Indeed, maybe there’s a real Chris from Orlando out there who never has to worry about forgetting his or her tag. Everyone else just has to impersonate them.
13. The water is dyed green on purpose
You’ve probably noticed that the water at Disney World is predominantly green. Don’t worry, it’s not dirty: it’s actually intentionally dyed that color, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the murky hue hides the tracks beneath the water, making that boat ride a little more immersive. And it also helps to conceal trash and other objects that end up in the water over time.
12. The water bubbles at “Fantasmic!” to save ducks’ lives
If you’ve ever hung around for the “Fantasmic!” show on the Rivers of America, you’ll know that it involves a lot of fire. Specifically, an enormous dragon sets a river ablaze. In the early days of the show, though, this meant that the ducks on the river were basically being sizzled. Now, the water bubbles a few minutes beforehand to frighten them off, saving their lives.
11. There are secret codes for everything
And when we say everything, we mean everything. There are the simpler ones, like Code 101, meaning a ride has broken down, or Code 102, meaning it’s open again. Then there’s Code V, which you may have used yourself once or twice while hungover. Most surprising, though, is “white powder alert,” which signals a guest trying to scatter ashes at Space Mountain. Apparently, it happens regularly enough to need a code.
10. Main Street windows honor the park’s creators
Those names plastered on the windows of Main Street buildings aren’t just random monikers. In fact, they’re actually the names of people who contributed in some way to the creation of Disney World. Indeed, the store that each name is bestowed upon sometimes relates to what their job was. However, only top-notch, retired employees stand a chance of getting their name added, at the behest of the Imagineers.
9. There are secret cast member parties
Imagine getting after-hours access to Disney World, dressed in full costume, among dozens of other people dressed in full costume. It’s basically every childhood fantasy come true at once, and it’s exactly what cast members get to do. While there are no doubt downsides to standing all day in a hot outfit with a permanent smile etched on your face, it has its benefits too.
8. Until 2001 some workers had to essentially share underwear
Part of cast members’ costumes includes a variety of undergarments, provided by Disney. And that used to mean relying on the Mouse to do the laundry properly each and every night. But as recently as the early 2000s, workers were complaining about getting scabies and pubic lice from their costumes. In 2001, though, unions won the right for workers to take the undergarments home with them and wash them there.
7. “Have a magical Disney day” is actually code for something else
It doesn’t matter how obnoxious guests are being – as a cast member at Disney World, you have to stay polite and in character. Fortunately, there are ways to vent steam while doing so. One phrase devised by cast members, for instance, is “have a magical Disney day.” It may sound sweet, but it’s actually their way of saying “f*** you.” So, you’d best hope you never hear it.
6. It’s not always the Happiest Place on Earth for its employees
Or for some of them, anyway. Back in 2008, a group of staff – dressed in full costume – protested over pay and conditions, right outside the park. In the end, 32 costumed characters were arrested, while scores more chanted in front of bemused guests. It’s certainly not the image Disney would like to portray of its parks.
5. Crazy items have been handed into Lost and Found
Among the strange things that have turned up in Disney World’s Lost and Found over the years are a glass eye and a prosthetic leg. Thankfully, both were later claimed – we imagine their owners would have been pretty stuck without them. Meanwhile, a whopping 210 pairs of sunglasses are typically turned in each day, so if you lose your shades, good luck picking them out.
4. There’s a lot of laundry
According to Disney, you’d need to do a wash and dry cycle every day for 52 years to match their daily laundry loads. In fact, a whopping 285,000 pounds of laundry is washed each day across Disney World resorts, with another 30,000 items of clothing being dry cleaned. The numbers are absolutely staggering, but considering there are 70,000 employees in Florida alone, perhaps not surprising.
3. Cinderella Castle contains zero stones
Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle may look impressive on the outside, but it’s even more extraordinary when you realize it contains precisely zero stones. Yes, the entire building is actually just a fiberglass shell. We guess it’s a little more durable that way – and less prone to people carving out their own souvenir slice.
2. Cast members have been accused of serious misconduct before
While Disney characters are usually known for being wholesome, there have been a number of lawsuits filed against the people who inhabit them over the years. For instance, in 2011 a woman settled out of court after accusing Donald Duck of groping her and then making joking gestures about it.
1. There’s a strict dress code
In fact, there’s an entire 34-page manual dictating employees’ appearances, titled the Disney Look Book. Visible tattoos and body piercings are forbidden, the style of prescription glasses must meet Disney’s demands, and there are even length limitations on fingernails and facial hair. So, if you want to work for the Mouse, you’d best be prepared to change your entire appearance.