I’m going to continue my listicle kick and use this post to celebrate my recent safari through the land of plucky princesses, green fairies, animatronic pirates, and excessively silly ears. Yes, I just spent ten days in the World of Diz, where my toddler shouted “Mick!” at every turn (no idea why she drops the E and Y—kids, man).
I don’t consider myself a Disney fanatic, though I’ve visited The World (and Disneyland…and Disneyland Paris) more than most. And, perhaps more so than anything else I’ve ever encountered, I’m captivated and repulsed by the Disney phenomenon. It’s commercial, it’s joyful, it’s sickly-sweet, it’s problematic, it’s fun, it’s gorgeous, it’s tacky as fuck, it’s globalization at its worst, and it’s awe-inspiring. And really, as a writer, how can I not be fascinated by a complex and deeply flawed egomaniac who built an empire out of a cartoon mouse and then tragically never realized his dream of building a futuristic city?
A few Disney trips ago, I got kind of embarrassingly into Disney history and found out a bunch of weird stuff. Also, each time I visit one of the parks, I discover new hidden gems. Here’s the best of the Disney “secrets” I’ve gleaned over the years.
1. When you’re in Walt Disney World, you’re not in Orlando. And you’re not in Kissimmee anymore either, Dorothy. You’re actually in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which includes two incorporated cities—Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista. Why, you ask? Well, after dear old Walt built Disneyland, he didn’t cotton to the fact that a bunch of cheap motels and tourist traps sprung up right next door. So when he decided to build something in Florida, he wanted a massive buffer zone and TOTAL CONTROL. From a legal perspective, the amount of control Disney has over the land within the RCID is kinda terrifying. Even now, they can do pretty much whatever the frig they want in there, thanks a nice little set of Florida statutes. Richard Foglesong, author of Married to the Mouse (suggested reading!), called it “the Vatican with mouse ears.” To hell with well-meaning land use regulations and building codes.
2. Epcot was not supposed to be a theme park. As I’ve already mentioned, the Waltinator wanted TOTAL CONTROL over his huge swath of swampland. And this wasn’t because he wanted to build a theme park, though he built Magic Kingdom because the Disney board was like, “Or else!” What he really wanted to do was take everything he’d learned about progress and city planning and build an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (in other words, E.P.C.O.T), with a people-mover as the primary mode of transport. Sadly, he died before any of the Florida parks opened and, without Walt at the helm, Disney decided they didn’t really want to be in the business of running cities. But Disney took some of Walt’s ideas and built a sort of perma World’s Fair with some epic retro-futurism.
3. School Bread. I feel like everyone knows about Dole Whips now (raise your hand if you’ve had one with rum), so my new secret Disney food obsession is School Bread (many thanks to the Disney Hipster Blog for the tip). You can find them at the bakery in the Norway pavilion at World Showcase. How would I describe School Bread? Imagine a delicate dinner roll infused with cinnamon and nutmeg and then injected with sweet, creamy goodness. Oh, and there’s also toasted coconut. Mmmmmm…
4. Disney Goths. Goth kids don’t like fun, you say? Clearly you’ve never met a Disney Goth. Goth Day (aka Bats Day) has been an unofficial holiday at Disneyland in California for well over a decade now. I’ve never been, but I’m going to guess it is, or at least began as, a semi-ironic goth-takeover of a family-oriented theme park. What I saw on this last trip to the Florida parks was something else entirely, especially on the day of Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. Disney Goths, not just goths who happened to be in Disney but goths (and steampunkers…and psychobillies) who genuinely appear to love Disney, were out in full force. Maybe we can call this the Nightmare Before Christmas-effect (I saw three twenty-somethings at the Halloween party dressed as the trick-or-treaters, their costumes meticulously handmade, and, truly, I wanted to run up and ask for a group hug). Either way, Disney has clearly recognized a niche market and begun catering to them with all sorts subculture-inspired merchandise because, you know, that’s what Disney does.
5. It’s a forgery! Even with the proliferation of camera-equipped phones and things like Photopass and Memory Maker for capturing meet-and-greets, little Disney-goers still walk around with autograph books, eager to get a John Hancock from their favorite character. One glance at my niece’s autograph book led me to suspect that some serious thought had gone into those signatures. And of course it had, because if there’s anything that sets Disney apart from all other theme park conglomerates, it’s attention to detail. According to Mental Floss, a significant portion of character training is devoted to learning to replicate a character’s Disney-designed signature. I suppose that’s a valuable and transferrable skill if you want to leave Disney to become a con artist or international spy.
What’s your favorite semi-secret Disney morsel?