The "STRANGE" side of Disney Theme Parks

Discussion in 'Community Board' started by Deb in IA, May 4, 2005.

  1. Deb in IA

    Deb in IA Knows that KIDS are better

    Aug 18, 1999

    A Strange Ride Through Disney Theme Parks
    Who Combs the Talking Robots' Hair? Where Does the Magic Kingdom Greet Real Kings?
    Disney theme parks are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Disneyland. (Walt Disney Co.)

    May 4, 2005 — If you're not tall enough to ride Space Mountain, you're probably not ready for this tour of some of the strangest corners of Disney.

    Fifty years ago, Walt Disney gambled $17 million on Disneyland — the world's first theme park. Up to that point, amusement parks were largely roadside carnivals and state fairs. Other amusement park operators laughed, dismissing Disney as a Hollywood filmmaker dabbling in a business he didn't understand.

    But the Anaheim, Calif., attraction drew 28,000 people on opening day, 1 million people within six months and more than 250 million in its first three decades.

    Last year an estimated 169 million people in America — and 252 million worldwide — strapped themselves into thrill rides like Space Mountain. Disney accounts for eight of the world's top 10 most-visited theme parks.

    To mark the 50th anniversary, Disney on Thursday kicks off "The Happiest Celebration on Earth" with a massive launch of new attractions and a complete makeover for some old favorites. The 289 dolls that sing "it's a small world" even have a new wardrobe.

    And if you're no longer thrilled by Disney's audio-animatrons — the talking robots that seem to have a place in every exhibit — how about a 9-foot-tall, 450-pound, free-roaming robot dinosaur named Lucky that will be getting up close and personal with guests at Disney's Animal Kingdom? Time magazine dubbed Lucky one of 2004's top inventions.

    Among the coming attractions: Expedition Everest, a 20-story mountain roller coaster bigger than Disney's most famous manmade mound, Space Mountain.

    I never imagined myself as a "Happiest Celebration" kind of guy, yet I found my cynical self headed down to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for the big event. After all, Disney is the parent company of ABC News, so I'm a member of the Disney family.

    But although I'm a "cast member" (as Disney refers to all employees, no matter which division they work for), I wanted to look at the other side of Disney. I wanted to explore secrets of the Magic Kingdom that few people know about — or talk about.

    Many of the Disney urban legends that have been written about so many times are false. After his death, Walt Disney's body was not cryogenically stored. It was cremated. The hearse at the Disneyland Haunted House did not carry Mormon leader Brigham Young, although it did come to the park via Utah.

    Still, there are nuggets of strangeness in the House of Mouse. There's a secret spot in Disneyland — created by Walt himself — where you can actually get a stiff drink. Everything — from how male park employees wear their mustaches to the funky things that happen to garbage — is just a little different at the happiest place on Earth.

    So, here's a little look into the stranger side of Disney, a view you probably won't get from Cinderella's Castle.

    Disneyland's Most Secret Attraction: The longest line at Disneyland is for an attraction that isn't on the map — and most visitors never get to see it. But if you've got $9,500 and the five-year waiting list doesn't scare you off, you can join Mickey Mouse's ultra-exclusive club, the secret spot where the Magic Kingdom welcomes real kings.

    Somewhere near Pirates of the Caribbean, in the heart of New Orleans Square, is the hidden doorbell to Club 33, a members-only restaurant reminiscent of a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Here, Elton John might come in and tickle the keys of an antique harpsichord. Since its opening, Club 33 has reportedly welcomed King Hussein of Jordan, Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, President Reagan, Cher and Michael Jackson.

    When Walt Disney made plans for the club in the early 1960s, he intended Club 33 to entertain corporate sponsors and address special adults-only events. Decorated in a 19th century French style, it remains the only place in the park where you can sip a single-malt scotch with your meal.

    Club 33's kitchen was supposed to be shared by a secret apartment for the Disney family, but Walt passed away in 1965, two years before the hideaway was completed.

    Nowadays, the list of 450 paying members is strictly confidential, although each member gets fancy matchbooks inscribed with his or her name — consider it the most expensive souvenir that you won't see at a Disney gift shop.

    Magic Kingdom's Garbage Really Sucks: One of Disney's fastest rides is not for humans. Trash from all around Florida's Magic Kingdom gets sucked through an immense series of tunnels at speeds of 60 mph — the same speed the Rock 'n' Roller Coaster travels. Disney World was an early pioneer of citywide vacuuming systems — with suction portals tucked away on street corners — a technology now used in parts of Hong Kong; Stockholm, Sweden; and Barcelona, Spain.

    Mouseketeers Not Encouraged to Grow Whiskers: Abe Lincoln always had a spot in Disney's Hall of Presidents, but if he wanted a job at Disneyland, he'd have to shave. Up until 2000, men who worked at Disney parks were forbidden to have any facial hair — even though Walt Disney himself sported a mustache. Park historians say the strict dress code emerged in the early days, when amusement parks had dubious reputations, and Disney was trying to set his park apart from the rest.

    Women were only allowed to start wearing eye shadow and eyeliner in 1994. Nowadays, the policy is relaxed. Mustaches must be neatly trimmed and grown on vacations. Beards, goatees and shaggy sideburns, however, are still not permitted.

    Hair Care for Dummies: You can comb President Bush's hair every day and he'll never complain — at least if you're one of the 11 hairdressers Disney World employs to style its army of audio-animatrons. The talking robots cast as commanders in chief at the Hall of Presidents get their wigs styled daily. The scurvy dogs at Pirates of the Caribbean are haunted by lost treasure, not bad-hair days.

    Flying Toupees on Space Mountain: When Disney World closes for the day and the lights go on, just about everything imaginable has been found on the floors of Space Mountain. Don't be embarrassed to claim your lost sunglasses and wayward toupee. It's happened before. Go to central Lost and Found. You'll be happy to know that the spare change you had in your pocket will be donated to charity.

    No Pants, No Problem for Donald Duck: Reports have circulated over the years that Donald Duck was banned in Finland because he frolics freely in a sailor's hat and no trousers. At a time when speculation as to the sexual orientation of SpongeBob SquarePants has generated headlines, casting Donald as a dirty bird almost makes sense. But it's untrue.

    Donald has never been banned. A news report got blown out of proportion in 1977, when the Finnish capital of Helsinki, stricken with a tight budget, had to discontinue the purchase of Donald Duck comic strips for city youth centers. International media somehow construed it to mean that Donald was banned from school libraries, simply because he shows his tailfeathers.
    The truth is that Donald might be more popular than Mickey himself in Nordic nations. Disgruntled Swedish voters even have a tradition of voting for the Donald Duck Party — better known as Kalle Anka — to register protest votes. In fact, at points over the past 25 years, the Donald Duck Party had enough votes to theoretically qualify as the country's ninth most-popular political organization. Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny hardly register a single vote. Now that's quackers.

    Rooney Slips a Mickey: Actor Mickey Rooney recalled how, as a little boy, he climbed on Walt Disney's lap and looked at a drawing of a mouse that Disney called Mortimer.

    It was 1927, and Rooney, just 6 or 7 years old, was already starring in "Mickey McGuire" comedies. He recalls his fateful meeting with Disney quite clearly in his 1991 autobiography, "Life Is Too Short."

    "I told him I had a better name — mine. I said, 'Why don't you call him Mickey Mouse, Uncle Walt?' " Rooney wrote

    It's a great story, but it isn't true, except for the fact that Mickey was almost named Mortimer. Rooney, now 84, always loved a tall tale, but Disney historians say this claim qualifies the 5-foot, 3-inch actor for full citizenship in Fantasyland. Another Disney naming dispute involves Tinkerbell, who wasn't inspired by Marilyn Monroe or even Paris Hilton.

    Splash Mountain's Overboard Pictures: In the late 1990s, Disney's Splash Mountain log flume began clamping down on female visitors who were showing the camera a little more than a smile as they hurtled down the water slide. Several photos were posted on the "Flash Mountain" Web site.

    In a 1998 Los Angeles Times article titled "Unzip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," park management said it was taking stricter measures to make sure that the camera mounted on the flume for souvenir photos would not be abused by a few naughty Mouseketeers. Reports of these thrill seekers have since disappeared, faster than the speed of Magic Kingdom trash.

    Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.
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  3. monkeyboy

    monkeyboy <font color=purple>Strangely fascinated by zombies

    Jul 25, 2003
    Off to Google and look for Lime Green shirts
  4. lynetteSC

    lynetteSC <font color=red>Have you ever been BACK-DOORED?<br

    Aug 19, 1999
    :wave: some great tidbits we didn't learn in Keys to the Kingdom tour! :)
  5. leahannpen

    leahannpen <font color=0099FF>WDW fan and A.J. fan<br><font c

    Oct 25, 2000
    Some I knew, some I didn't...I love reading stuff like this...thanks!
  6. HTH

    HTH <font color=blue>The Tag Fairy is going to lecture

    Mar 4, 2005
  7. kimwim8

    kimwim8 <font color=red>Won't admit to anything<br><font c

    Nov 11, 2003
    Me too! That's why I'm on a Disney reading kick.
  8. WDWHound

    WDWHound DIS Veteran

    Feb 21, 2000
    I actually got to eat at Club 33 when I took an Imagineering tour a few years back. Its an amazing place. I got to see the animatronic vulture and the microphones that Walt had hidden in the Chandaleers The idea was for a cast member to listen in on diners via the microphones to provide better service. The person operating the vulture could also use the information overheard to interact with the guests. It was a neat idea, but never really implemented. However, the vulture and the mikes are still there, 40 years after they were installed.

    I met some of the folks from MousePlanet on that tour. Nice folks. They published an article on the tour that day. It Includes a good writeup on Club 33 and other good Disneyland trivia (along with a really bad picture of myself, I look like a lobster with a bad hair cut). Here is a link:
  9. Dan Murphy

    Dan Murphy We are family.

    Apr 20, 2000
    Great article, Deb. And good one with you too, Don, and a good picture. MousePlanet is great, good info.
  10. dvcfamily41801

    dvcfamily41801 <font color=red>Has realized you can NEVER have to

    Sep 23, 2001
    Hey that was interesting! Thanks for posting this Deb!!! :)

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