20 Design Secrets Behind “The Happiest Place on Earth”
Chances are you have been to Disneyland or Disneyworld at some point in your life, and higher chances are you are unaware of the intentional design secrets which make Disney so ‘magical’. Disney has pioneered and mastered the concept of creating memorable experiences through urban design far before any others. With an average of 16.2 million visitors a year, Disney has clearly been doing something right since their humble (and challenging) beginnings when they opened their doors in 1955. The combination of experiential marketing, meticulous placemaking by a team of hard-working ‘Imagineers’, and extremely detailed design tactics from mastermind, Walt Disney himself have achieved the company grand success.
Disneyland was first opened in Southern California featuring five areas: Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. Main Street, USA is the entry to the Magic Kingdom and where the design secrets all begin. We’ve collected 20 of the most fascinating design secrets behind Disney exemplifying how important and painstaking it is to create “the happiest place on earth”.
1. Walt and his Imagineers Team have created a custom paint color called “go away green” which is used for the buildings and structures Walt does not want visitors to notice. “The goal of this color is to cause the object to fade into your color spectrum so that your eye will miss it completely,” one of the Imagineers explained. Most guests simply don’t see backstage areas and operational buildings as everything is covered in Disney’s special green-colored paint.
2. Throughout the park, Imagineers have placed small vents in mysterious places to activate your olfactory senses. For example, alongside the candy shop and ice cream store the vents release vanilla scents to encourage visitors to visit the sweet shops. Pirates of the Caribbean smells of sea salt and wood; the park entrance smells of fresh buttered popcorn, and the Haunted Mansion smells of dust. These thoughtful designs provide a distinct identity to Disneyland that induces memories and nostalgia and encourages visitor shopping habits. This vent is patented and known as the Smellitzer.
3. All the landscaping in Tomorrowland is edible. As you enter you will see herbs, citrus trees, and even grapes. The landscaping of the park is specifically designed to represent all four seasons which correspond to each of the ‘lands’ within the park.
Mickey travels through underground tunnels below the Magic Kingdom
4. When Mickey or Pocahontas go on break at Disney World, they use a tunnel system under the Magic Kingdom to travel between lands. Story has it that when Walt was visiting Disneyland in 1970, he was unsettled by the sight of costumed characters having to run through the ‘wrong’ lands to get to their allotted spots, spoiling the magic at the first site. He came up with an elaborate tunnel system for Disney World which allows actors to put on their costumes and appear in the appropriate land without shattering the illusion. The entire park is built on a gentle incline to accommodate this.
5. The park’s address, 1313 Disneyland Drive, is code for “Mickey Mouse.” M is the 13th letter of the alphabet.
6. If the sound of the horses walking down Main Street seems louder than usual, it’s because their horseshoes are specially designed to increase the volume. The horseshoes have a special polyurethane coating to give them better traction and to increase the clip-clop sound as they walk the streets.
7. One of the lightbulbs at the corner of the Coca Cola Refreshment Corner at the top of Main Street is painted half white, half red. The story goes that Walt was walking through the park one day and saw two white bulbs next to each other. Walt called a painter over and had him paint half of the white bulb red to correct the pattern. Either the bulb has never burned out, or the bulb changer comes with a can of paint as the alternating scheme of red and white remains to this day.
8. Disney World is its own city. Four years after opening Disneyland’s doors in 1955, Walt Disney became convinced that it was time to expand his franchise. After scouting several locations, he decided on a plot of land in Orlando, Florida. But there was a major obstacle standing in his way. The land spilled over into two counties, meaning the task of constructing Disney World would require navigating the bureaucracies of two local governments. To skirt the issue, Disney petitioned the Florida State legislature to let the company govern its own land, essentially making Disney World a separate city. It has the authority to open schools, create its own criminal justice system, and open a nuclear power plant — although it hasn’t chosen to do any of those things yet.
9. The Imagineers and Walt Disney thought about every single detail when they were building Disneyland, down to what the guests would walk on. “In addition to the red brick/red carpet device, the tunnels entering the park are meant to represent the curtains opening on the stage,” an Imagineer said. “Once you step through them, you have entered a new world.”
10. Walt designed the parks so when you pass from land to land, you don’t see the others. Trees, buildings, and distractions like the water wheel prevent the visitor from their attention drifting to other lands.
Use of ‘forced perspective’ on Sleeping Beauty’s castle
11. As visitors enter the park and walk towards Sleepy Beauty’s castle, Disney chose to use ‘forced perspective’ for the architecture which creates the illusion of grand stature, simultaneously creating anticipation. The bricks progressively change in size from large to small so although the castle may seem to rise up into the clouds, thanks to these carefully placed bricks, it’s actually just a mere 189ft tall.
12. There are more than 20,000 different colors of paint used in Disney World.
13. You will never see a trash being hauled out of a trash bin because the Imagineers team have built complex underground pipe systems which pull and shoot out the garbage at 60 mph.
14. To keep the park clean Disney does not sell any chewing gum in their parks.
15. The black base of the Disneyland flag pole is the broken piece of a light post from Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Set decorator, Emile Kuri was driving home from Walt Disney Imagineering one day and saw that one of the light poles had been knocked over in a car accident. He bought the base of the pole as scrap metal for $5 and it became the base of the Disneyland flag pole.
16. Walt Disney’s attention to detail was legendary. He placed trash bins at Disney World 25 steps away from the hot dog stall, as this was how long it took him to eat a hot dog. No trash can will ever be more than 25 steps away from you. Story has it that Walt visited other parks when he was designing the Disney and counted how long a person would hold onto a piece of trash before dropping it on the ground. He came up with 25 steps.
17. You could fit all of Disneyland into the Magic Kingdom parking lot and still have room to park an additional 500 cars.
Green dyed waterways at Pirates of the Carribean attraction
18. There are hidden telephones throughout the park. You can pick them up and listen to the interesting conversations.
19. The waterways of Disney are dyed green intentionally to mask the tracks of the boats rides and keeps visitors from seeing the junk that ends up “Under the Sea.”
20. When the Pirates of the Caribbean ride opened in 1967, the only fake skeletons available to Disneyland designers were unrealistic looking, so they used real skeletons (previously employed for medical research) from UCLA’s Medical Center.