“The thing that’s going to make Disneyland unique and different is the detail,” Walt said during the park’s construction. “If we lose the detail, we lose it all.” In Walt’s view, that meant more than just accurate re-creations of old-time America and a jungle river. It meant having fun with park guests! To provide some perspective on Walt’s sense of trickery, all of Disneyland’s buildings were constructed on a smaller-than-life scale to make visitors feel big and significant — especially children.
Additionally, Main Street buildings closer to the entrance are slightly taller and wider than those nearer Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, making the path to the attraction appear longer than it is, and the route to the parking lot shorter. These optical tricks helped guests feel a little like the growing and shrinking heroine of Disney’s 1951 movie Alice in Wonderland. It seemed bigger in one direction, smaller in the other.
Walt was also meticulous. He specified the exact distance between hot dog stands and trash cans. He insisted they be 25 steps apart — because that was how long it took him to eat one frankfurter! Disney also made sure his parks had what he called a “weenie”— his phrase for an eye-catching attraction. The term has a surprising origin. “Dad would go to the refrigerator and pull out two uncooked hot dogs,” daughter Diane recalled. “One for himself and one for the dog… She would go wherever he moved.”
The weenie at Disneyland is the castle. Epcot showcases the silver Spaceship Earth ball and California Adventure features the Mickey’s Fun Wheel. “People won’t go down a long corridor unless there’s something promising at the end,” Walt believed.
Once the illusions and mind games were set, Walt conceived of places he didn’t want guests to go — or even see. Disney Imagineers created their own boring color: “Go Away Green.” The slightly nauseating, definitely unappealing grayish-green paint was intended to camouflage areas like the original members-only Club 33’s door and, most importantly, cast-member access points. Walt didn’t want his little guests to see Mickey or Minnie going off to take a break!
As Disneyland grew, so did the list of secrets hidden in plain sight. Original Disneyland landscaper Bill Evans recalled, “Walt kept emphasizing to us that… to him, Disneyland was a gigantic laboratory and an adventure in public entertainment.” For instance, there’s the employee basketball court installed in the peak of the Matterhorn Bobsled ride, the elite French Provincial–themed Dream Suite hotel room above Pirates of the Caribbean and a Victorian styled Lilly Belle railroad car named after Walt’s wife, Lillian, which can be visited by request only.
There are also lesser-known aspects of the park that frequently go unnoticed. In 1955, Disney published a kids’ book titled Little Man of Disneyland. The story features a leprechaun named Patrick who lives at the base of a tree in Anaheim, CA. Discovered by Mickey and Donald, he allows them to build Disneyland, provided he can continue living there. That’s why, at the bottom of a tree in Adventureland, there’s a tiny wooden door, a porch light, a doormat, and a stove pipe extending from the roots.
Also in Adventureland, the Indiana Jones ride houses a private facility. When the attraction first opened in 1995, guests were forced to endure hours in line. To avoid creating a small Splash Mountain, park designers had a secret bathroom installed in the waiting area. Alas, no ‘X’ marks the exact spot.
Elsewhere, there’s an unusual brick wall near the lockers and water fountains just off Main Street. The eyesore is a “test wall” from the park’s construction, which was installed to get Walt’s opinion on two distinct masonry techniques. No reason was given for leaving it intact, other than that it’s a piece of park history.
Nearby, at the Coca-Cola Refreshment Center entrance, there’s a series of red and white light bulbs. A miscalculation during construction left an odd number of bulbs, which would have disrupted the park-wide red-white light pattern. To fix the error, a single bulb was colored half red and half white.
Some hush-hush off-the-menu (and website) food options can be found in the park. The Golden Horseshoe Saloon serves up Ice Cream Nachos — three scoops with waffle cone chips — and the Coca-Cola Refreshment Center has unadvertised Mac n’ Chili, dished out in a Mickey Mouse–shaped sourdough bread bowl.
There are other things kept under wraps. On July 17, 1995, the park’s 40th anniversary, a time capsule containing Disneyland “memories, messages and milestones” was placed beneath Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. A plaque acknowledging the occasion reveals that it will be dug up on the park’s 80th anniversary, in 2035. A second time capsule was concealed under Buena Vista Plaza at California Adventure on June 15, 2012. It will be opened in 2037, 25 years after it was buried.
Of course, Disneyland isn’t the only “Mouse House” with secrets. Walt Disney World in Orlando also has spots that are more than what they seem. Stones on both sides of the Liberty Square Bridge were mined from a quarry near George Washington’s famous Delaware River crossing! Down the path at the Haunted Mansion is a mysterious “wedding ring”- shaped disc in the walkway. The inconspicuous spot is a favorite for lovers who dare to propose among the ghosts. Fortunately, the origins of the ring are more technical than terrifying. An exit turnstile for the Haunted Mansion once let guests out into Liberty Square. When the route changed, a portion of the apparatus was left behind. Although the original ring has since vanished, Imagineers created the current commemorative replacement, which remains popular.
In every Disney park there are Hidden Mickeys. Concealing Mickey’s three-circle silhouette in attractions began as a prank in the 1970s, when Epcot designers were forbidden from including Mickey in the alcohol-serving park. While there is no exact “head” count — due to the ever-changing landscape — it’s estimated that there are more than 1,000 of them.
Disney World’s Cinderella’s Castle has a private, overnight suite above the clock tower: The ornate, invitation-only room houses a few extra secrets. A discreet wooden box behind the couch contains an old-fashioned telescope — presumably to look for Prince Charming; and only palace guests get to glimpse Cinderella’s glass slipper in her trophy case.
And finally, at the end of the day — approximately 30 minutes after the closing-time fireworks finale — there’s a secret encore called “The Kiss Goodnight.” Cinderella’s Castle sparkles and the Disney theme song, “When You Wish Upon a Star,” accompanies one final light show. In a way, it’s Walt’s final wink to his guests. “This is the real world,” he once said. “The fantasy’s outside.”
For access to all our exclusive celebrity videos and interviews – Subscribe on YouTube!