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Sure, you might know some pretty obscure Disney facts. Mickey was supposed to be named Mortimer, Pocahontas is the only character to have a tattoo and Ursula in the Little Mermaid is based on a famous drag queen. But still, even the most extreme Disney fanatics can’t possibly know all of the secrets about Walt Disney’s magical, international empire. We reached out to Disney experts (some of whom are former Disney employees and cast members) to shed light on what’s really going on behind the scenes in Disney parks in both Orlando and Anaheim. When you’re ready to head to Disney to check these out for yourself, be sure to look for great deals on

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There’s a labyrinth of secret tunnels under Magic Kingdom

A maze of secret tunnels, called Utilidors, spread like veins underneath the pavement of Magic Kingdom. The tunnels and utility rooms move cast members and staff members beneath the “main streets” in order to make the park performances and orchestration seem like magic. “They’re basically just sewer tunnels, and everywhere you go you’re walking past these huge, noisy pipes filled with sewage—not terribly pretty,” says Lia Garcia, a former cast member at Disney World and author of the blog Practical Wanderlust. “Many folks are surprised to realize that Magic Kingdom is actually on the second story—the Utilidors are on the ground level.” The Utilidor are also where cast members dine and take their breaks; the tunnels also house employee locker rooms, manager offices, entertainment costuming and even a hair salon. If guests are interested in seeing what the Utilidor is like, you can get a glimpse of it if you take the Keys to the Kingdom backstage tour.


Flickr CC: CL Photographs

Cinderella Castle is much smaller than it looks

Fact: Cinderella Castle is only 189 feet tall, but it looks much taller due to the use of forced perspective. “The buildings on Main Street are noticeably shorter, and both those buildings and Cinderella Castle have details that get smaller in size the higher they are located,” says Brittany DiCologero, a Disney historian and blogger, and author of “Red, White, and Disney: The Myths & Realities of America History at the Walt Disney World Resort.” The reason Cinderella Castle wasn’t simply built larger is due to a Florida ordinance that mandates buildings more than 200 feet tall to have a blinking light near the top. The addition of such an aircraft warning light might kill the magical castle vibe, hence it hovers just under 200 feet.

You can get your cell phone charged for free while you continue to enjoy the park

Drained your battery taking all the selfies with Disney characters? No need to camp out near an outlet or park yourself at a restaurant to recharge. Did you know that you can drop your cell phone and charger off at any Guest Relations station throughout all Disney parks and they will charge your phone for you? True story! You’ll be given a claim ticket so you can return to pick up your phone at your convenience.

There’s a basketball court on top of the Matterhorn at Disneyland

This one is surely an urban legend, right? Nope—it’s true! Believe it or not, there is a small, open space at the top of the Matterhorn structure that features a basketball court. Legend has it that at the time of construction, an Anaheim city ordinance restricted the building of structures exceeding a certain height—except for sports facilities. To accommodate the height restriction, Walt Disney installed a basketball court. But it’s not as glamorous as the legends would have you believe. “As is so often the case with Disney rumors, there is a bit of truth to them, but the rumors have grown and become more and more embellished over time,” says Scott Wolf, a Disney expert, author and former employee for Disney’s TV animation. He is the owner of website “As for the Matterhorn, the first time I visited the ‘basketball court’ was back in the early 1990s. There was a large cleared-out area and there was a basketball hoop hanging. I was disappointed to learn that was the rumored basketball court. The next time I saw it there were lines on the floor to resemble half a basketball court.”

The scents and sounds are all part of the act

Smells and sounds are piped in to certain areas of the parks to make them more immersive. “You may walk by a storefront and smell whatever baked goods are available inside from the street, or hear screams of guests on Tower of Terror after the park has closed, because these effects are added by Disney,” says DiCologero.

ALSO: The secret to saving on your next trip? Joining Orbitz Rewards!

Professional wedding photographer takes pictures of the bride and groom in garden, the photographer in action with two cameras on a shoulder straps.

You can take pictures at the park before anyone else arrives

By making a special pre-park opening breakfast reservation (between 8am and 8:50am) at any of the park restaurants, visitors receive access to the parks before anyone else is allowed in. “This is great for some mostly empty park pictures, like those famous castle pictures, while you walk to your restaurant,” says Nicole Graber, the owner of Disney vacation planning blog, The Disney Journey. “However, the ultimate secret is that if you have a Pre-Park Opening Breakfast at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, after your meal you can get in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train before anyone else.”

disney princesses

Flickr CC: Loren Javier

There are more than one of each character, but you’d never know it

Disney lives and dies by its character integrity, meaning that the characters you meet in the parks are, in fact, as “real” as can be. As such, there is only one of them and they cannot be in more than one place at one time. “Character integrity helps preserve the magic for all guests visiting the parks, and it’s taken very seriously,” says DiCologero. “For instance, at times you may notice certain character meet-and-greets end when a parade starts if that character is in the parade.” Cast members are required to uphold character integrity, but this means that if you make comments to cast members implying anything other than there being one real character, they’ll have a backstory prepared.

Character autographs have withstood the test of time

When a cast member joins the Disney team it’s not just about learning to walk the walk or talk the talk of the characters they play. They have to actually have to write like that character. “There is an autograph book loaned out to all cast members hired to play characters that sign autographs,” says Meaghan Wichmann, a Disney travel planner and former Disney cast member with Disney College of Knowledge certification. “One of my roommates came home with a binder filled with just about every character autograph, and she had to perfect the signatures of the characters she had been assigned to before she was allowed to go on stage as that character.” This is to ensure that the signature of every single character never changes and is consistent across time and parks.

Flickr CC: Jeff Kays

Some of the tombstones at the Haunted Mansion reference real people

A few fun facts about the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom: First, some of the names on the tombstones and some of photos within are actually of the Imagineers who worked on the ride. But eerily still… “Guests do frequently bring ashes to scatter during the ride, so it probably really is haunted,” says Garcia.

About those human ashes…

Wait, what? Yes, people bring cremated friends and relatives to spread around Disney parks, and apparently the Haunted Mansion is a popular spot for this. The internal code word for an ash incident is “HEPA cleanup,” referring to the ultrafine vacuum cleaner filter needed to suck up the cremated remains.

Mickey Mouse is usually played by a woman

Yep! The character has to be petite, so often the cast member inside the Mickey Mouse costume is a woman.

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Tagged: California, Disney, Florida, Los Angeles, Orlando

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Meagan Drillinger

Meagan Drillinger

Meagan is a New York-based travel writer, though if you give her a plane ticket today she'll be somewhere else tomorrow. Her focus and passion is Mexico, but her travel wishlist never seems to get any shorter.

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