As Disney fans young and old return to the theme parks each year and cram in all the rides and attractions they can, they may not be aware of just how many parts of the park they missed in plain sight. Even the most die-hard Disney fans (and parents of die-hard Disney fans) will not always be in the know when it comes to all the hidden gems and easter eggs planted by many of the theme park’s dedicated ‘Imagineers’ (and of course, by the original Imagineer himself). But as any Disney historian will tell you, this is precisely what Walt intended in his original Disneyland resort from the get-go in 1955.
The consulting historian for the Walt Disney Family Museum, Paula Sigman Lowery, points out that “Disneyland was designed so that you couldn’t really see everything in a single visit,” and it certainly lives up to that intention. Most adventure theme parks around the world usually boast a gazillion attractions and things to do to win you back time and time again, but the magical kingdom really does deliver on its extra features and hidden mysteries. In a way, many of the Disney land resorts around the world (currently standing at 11 in total) are as much of a giant treasure hunt as they are theme parks, and it’s up to the natural curiosity of kids (and some adults) to seek them out. For now though, we’ll give you a little helping hand. Here are 25 top hidden gems in the Disney parks (but you didn’t hear it from us!)...
25 The Goofy Statue That Will Occasionally Whisper To Visitors
We can’t decide whether the idea of a gigantic talking Goofy is a charming surprise or a bit of a creepy shock for first-time visitors. For the sake of childhood imagination and a sense of magic that only Disneyland can bestow though, we’re going to go with the former! Day trippers to the most popular of all Disney resorts, Disneyland Florida, will happen upon many enormous statues and rides of all their favorite characters dotted about the park, but there aren’t many that will begin talking to you once you sit next to them. Well, except for this statue of Goofy on Main Street.
Near to the Lady and the Tramp-themed restaurant, Tony’s town, you’ll find this 10-foot statue of Goofy sitting on the park bench, and if you sit beside him for long enough, well, Goofy may just start to strike up a conversation with you.
An endless loop of Goofy talking to people who just want to take five for a few minutes (most likely worn and weary parents!) could get annoying for passersby real quick, but this friendly Goofy statue actually whispers to people sharing a bench with him, so you have to be sitting pretty close to hear what he has to say. What does he say exactly?
24 Decoding Walt’s Message At The Railroad Station
Here’s a pretty sweet detail hidden in Disneyland and something that will surely make all Disney aficionados of a certain age get a nostalgic shiver down their spine upon knowing it. If you happen by the Disneyland railroad station in New Orleans square, take a moment before boarding the train to listen out for a subtle tapping sound coming across the park speakers. Across the tracks in the station’s telegraph cable office, a recording of morse code is played, and while this won’t mean much to hear the dots and dashes alone (unless you happen to be a morse code whizz), the decoded message is actually a portion of Walt Disney’s own opening day dedication speech from July 17th 1955, when Disneyland was open to the public for the very first time.
In full, the decoded morse code message reads: “To all who come to Disneyland, welcome. Here, age relives fond memories of the past, and here, youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.” There is no sign anywhere near or around the railroad station in New Orleans square that this is what visitors are hearing, so it makes it all the more amazing when you inquire about the message yourself. Nice subtle way to honor not only the great man himself who made it all possible but to also honor and continue to thank visitors who still frequent the park in their millions more than 60 years later.
23 The Steam Engines Run On French Fry Oil
Nobody could ever accuse Walt Disney of shirking on his carbon footprint responsibilities. Not only do the theme parks have solar-powered palm trees and an array of edible plants growing in the Tomorrowland flower beds, but he also liked to extend his love of preserving fossil fuels to the trains in the park, specifically where the iconic Disneyland steam engines are concerned. Being super energy efficient may not have been the global concern it was in Disney’s time, but he certainly knew how to prepare for the future with this ingenious idea, and the tradition is still going strong today.
If the train smoke wafting through the air in downtown Disneyland has a surprisingly pleasant aroma to it, it’s all because the steam engines are, for the most part, actually run on the leftover oil and fat from cooking french fries.
Choo Choo? Yum-yum! After enough park visitors have ordered a tank load of fries from the park’s many cafes and restaurants on site, the waste oil is then taken offsite where it is handily converted into a form of biodiesel that the trains on the Disney railroad can run on. So next time your order fries and feel guilty about it, don’t; you’re helping Casey Jr. stay in business!
22 The Aladdin Camel That Spits If You Get Too Close
If you’re anything like me and were practically raised on Disney, then your first real ‘interaction’ with a camel will have been the ones you came across in the classic 1992 film Aladdin, and you quickly get to learn then that these guys do not like to be ticked off. Camels like to spit...like a lot. And fortunately, Disneyland likes to keep things consistent with our initial childhood impressions of camels by allowing their gigantic golden humped friend spit on visitors as they walk by. Harsh!
Approach the haughty camel too closely in the Agrabah region of Adventureland in Disney’s magic kingdom and you could find yourself spat on from a great height. Some have said that the camel will simply spit at you if you happen to catch his gaze. Charming. We wouldn't take this act of hostility all that personally, though. Anyone who walks the parks in this corner of Disneyland is a ‘street rat,’ according to this moody mammal. Chances are, you may have come to ride the Magic Carpets of Aladdin after being on splash mountain for most of the afternoon, so a little camel spit shouldn’t hurt, right? At the very least, it’ll stop your kids from daring to climb on top of him.
21 Main Street Is Lit With Genuine 19th Century Gas Lamps At Night
Since the film studios have always produced a good mix of traditional hand-drawn animation with the modern stuff, it's fair to say that Disney has always had an appreciation for the old as well as the new, and it's nice to know that the Disney theme parks around the globe like to keep small parts of the past alive as well. Take for instance the décor. Don’t be fooled by all the modern rides and attractions added to the Disney world. Most places you look will have some subtle link to days gone by, and this is especially true in the lighting along Main Street in Disneyland Florida.
The characteristic gas lamps lighting up Main Street USA are not just a faithful reproduction. They’re the genuine article. So if they give you a fuzzy warm feeling of a simpler time, that’s why! Disney historian Paula Sigman Lowery at the Walt Disney Family Museum reveals,
“Disneyland used to have a costumed lamplighter who lit the lamps at dusk. When the energy crisis hit in the 1970’s, the lamps were turned off.”
Since then, the lamps have been re-lit with regular bulbs, but the dim warm glow still gives us the fuzzies! May they always stay lit this way.
20 The So-Called ‘Warning’ Sign On The Indiana Jones Adventure Ride
The rebel in all of us will relish this little easter egg at the Indiana Jones Adventure ride at Disneyland Florida. For all those times you were scorned by your mom to “not touch” something dangerous, here's the chance for little and big kids alike to live dangerously and do as Indie would do by flying in the face of cautions and rules (unless there are snakes involved, that is). While waiting in line to go in the Indiana Jones Adventure ride in Disneyland–and as you can see, those can get to be a pretty tedious wait most of the time–you may notice a faded wooden sign engraved with the warning sign that reads: “Caution. Do Not Pull Rope! Handling Fragile Artefacts.” You know there’s no way you’re leaving without pulling on the rope!
Pull it once and you’ll hear an excavator telling you to stop. Pull on the rope a couple more times and you’ll hear lots of noises and protests to stop until eventually, BANG! There will be a loud crashing sound that reverberates around the walls. Most older kids will get straightaway that this is all scripted fun, but for little kids of 6 years old, we can only imagine the adorable look of awe and wonderment on their faces for their mom allowing this act of rebellion (either that or they’ll start wailing right there on the spot believing that the ride is actually caving in). Totally your call, mom and dad!
19 The Teacup Ride Has Cups With Varying Speed
As one of the few original Disneyland rides still open to the public since its debut in 1955, it’s an understatement to say that the Mad Tea Party ride is a popular attraction among visitors, so you may find yourself queuing for quite a while. As with all of the most iconic Disneyland rides, though, this is well worth the wait–if only to see your little one’s face in awe of the pretty colors whizzing by (and above), thanks to the gorgeous display of hanging Chinese lanterns gathered above.
Back to the tea cups, though. Something that first time visitors may not realize about the cups themselves is that they aren't all set to the same child-friendly speed, so if you thought about swerving this ride for being too ‘kiddie,’ we’re here to spill the beans (or should that be tea?) that it's a pretty cool ride for all ages! All 18 of the cups in the Fantasyland ride are not just unique in their bright colors and patterns, but they also vary in speed.
We’ll let you in on a secret: the fastest spinning cups are the purple floral cups and the orange diamond ones, while the pink heart teacups are the slowest.
Good to know, if you have really young kids (or if you ride the cups after one too many Mickey cake pops).
18 The Edible Plants in ‘Tomorrowland’
When we first read Roald Dahl’s story of a chocolate factory where almost everything in sight was edible, it certainly gave us overly high expectations of the real world. Fast-forward all these years later and we’re still no closer to a theme park with a genuine chocolate river or houses made entirely with lickable fruit-flavored wallpaper, but in certain sections of Disneyland California, our other childhood hero, Walt Disney, has made good on a promise of making real-life spaces an edible feast. If you step into the Tomorrowland sector in Disneyland, you may not realize at first glance, but pretty much everything planted there is, in fact, edible!
Unfortunately for fussy eaters and kids with a sweet tooth, these edible plants aren't your lollipops on stalks variety, but the fact that such a large landscape on the Disney map is literally there for the picking has to be applauded. Walt first proposed the idea of edible plants in the late 1950’s when the space age was booming and the future promised to be a self-sufficient and sustainable place to live. Hoping that most landscapes of the future would double up as urban farms, Walt filled the flowerbeds of Tomorrowland with things like cabbage, rosemary, and avocado (hipsters can especially enjoy the latter!).
17 Ride The V.I.P ‘Lily Belle’ Train Car
Unsurprisingly, the Disney parks are infused with many of Walt’s own very personal touches here and there. And while the Disneyland theme park has massively evolved since its modest opening in 1955, there are still many parts of the park that retain the romance and charm of the park as when it was first opened to the public all those decades ago. To this day, there are still 12 of the original Disneyland attractions such as Tomorrowland and the Jungle Cruise in the park, but one feature in particular that has stood the test of time (and rightly so) is the Lily Belle Train car, which Walt had built in dedication to his wife, Lillian.
The luxury presidential car situated at the end of the Disneyland train was created to honor the First Lady of cartoons, and today, it serves as a touching and romantic homage to hers and Walt’s memory as a couple.
The gorgeous pink furniture and mahogany interior make for a super luxe train ride, and for those who wondered whether this was a "look but don't touch" deal, it’s not. Guests can have the honor of riding the Lilly Belle, reserved only for V.I.P. and special guests. If you ask one of the cast members at the Disney railroad station about making a reservation, a moving and historical ride in the train car of Mrs. Disney can be yours to treasure.
16 The Musical Manhole Covers
Manhole covers are normally such a dull and mundane object that escape our notice each and every day. Well, not Disneyland. The joy of visiting any of Disney’s theme parks around the world is the attention to detail they use by making pretty much anything... magical. If anyone can add a touch of sparkle and childhood imagination to a dull, ugly manhole cover, it’s the Imagineers themselves at the Disneyland Florida resort. Not only do these manhole covers have mickey’s cheeky face engraved on them (as well as the words ‘Toon Hole’), but they are also musical!
If visitors take a walk through the fun and colorful Mickey’s Toontown section of the Orlando park, they’re sure to come across a fountain featuring Mickey as the conductor of an orchestra in the middle. Mickey may be surrounded by musical instruments, but visitors may be disappointed to realize that none of these instruments in the fountain are actually playing. That is until they step on one of the many Mickey Toon Hole’s scattered about nearby! Each of the musical manhole covers does as promised and actually correspond to the instruments Mickey is conducting in the fountain. Step on the covers and you’ll hear whichever instruments you wish. Involve the whole family and you quickly have a full-fledged orchestra serenading the visitors in Toontown!
15 Steer The ‘Mark Twain’ Riverboat
The Mark Twain Riverboat in Disneyland California is one of the park’s most popular attractions and one of the more iconic sights in the Disney theme park world. It may not be a rip-roaring rollercoaster ride (or anything teen park visitors will find overly fascinating), but this is a riverboat with an impressive history and still attracts millions of visitors each year to enjoy a gentle cruise down the river on Tom Sawyer Island. As well as getting the chance to ride on the boat itself and enjoy the Disneyland atmosphere at a quieter pace, a big thrill for little kids (and big kids at heart) is the chance to pilot the Mark Twain.
Rumor has it around the park that if you ask a Disney cast member on the boat, they may let you captain the riverboat yourself (with some supervision, of course). Once you’re on, ask a staff member if you could be taken to the wheelhouse. You’ll then be led up to the second floor of the boat and come to a door marked ‘private’.
They’ll then ask you to do the honors of knocking on the door and the captain himself will lead you to the wheelhouse where you can ring the bell and steer the boat. Older Disney fans will be interested to know that Walt and his wife, Lillian, christened the very same boat themselves while celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in 1955.
14 The Street Sweepers Handing Out Free Disney Buttons
The most popular of all Disney resorts, Disneyland Florida, is frequented by some 13 million visitors every year (now that’s a lot of Mickey lollipop sticks being scattered!). Inevitably, the maintenance staff at Disneyland work round the clock to make sure the park stays absolutely spotless. But some of these Disney workers go above and beyond the call of duty. As well as working tirelessly to keep the park in tip-top condition, some of the official street sweepers throughout the Florida resort have been known to spread a little extra kindness and joy to passing kids by handing out free Disney buttons as they go.
Disneyland fans of all ages love to collect these buttons to trade with others and always serve as a great souvenir of visiting Disneyland, so to get one for free definitely make a great day even better in a child’s eyes. Not only are the street sweepers super kind and hardworking, but some of them have been known to show off their creative side while doing their jobs too. Don’t be surprised if you see some of the sweepers using their brooms to create Mickey designs on the pavement. Even where the cleaning staff is concerned, Disney certainly goes out of its way to keep the magic alive!
13 The Energy Efficient Palm Trees In ‘Tomorrowland’
The ‘Tomorrowland’ section of the original Disneyland park was–and still is to this day–a genuine hope and vision for the future, according to the mind of the great man himself, Walt Disney.
Way back when Walt didn't just intend to give this part of the park a cool sci-fi-sounding name for the sake of it, he truly wanted to create a theme based on how our world could look and function in the distant future.
One of the first things you notice as you take a stroll through the Tomorrowland attraction at Disneyland is the metal palm trees that look like something straight out of a 50’s sci-fi films like Forbidden Planet and Plan 9 From Outer Space.
Far from just another sci-fi film prop, though, these metal palm trees near the Space Mountain ride actually serve a purpose too, since they collect solar energy. The metal ‘leaves’ also conveniently fold up at night and open up during the day. With all the hundreds of rides and attractions running in the Disney theme parks all day every day, this gesture towards a more energy efficient world may seem like a drop in the ocean. But at least Walt ‘imagineered’ a future in which we could all do a little better, and this deserves some credit.
12 Skip The Train Queues By Requesting The ‘Tender Seat’
We’re often told, “Don’t ask, Don’t Get.” And while this applies to some things in the real world, it doesn't always work. Simply asking to skip the queue at a VIP nightclub, for example, will probably not work. Same goes for trying to get bumped up to First Class on a flight, simply by bribing the flight crew. When in Disneyland, though (almost), anything goes. It’s the place where dreams come true, after all, and if your child’s dream is to ride up front in a Disney train, all they need to do is ask.
Not only will your kid get to feel like a VIP traveling around the theme park, but since you get the chance to avoid the long and tedious queues with a toddler that’s not getting more cranky by the minute, encouraging your child to ask a staff member for an upgrade is a great Disneyland hack all around. So, just how does someone manage to skip ahead and secure one of the first seats on the train? At the Main Street station in the Disneyland railroad, simply ask the conductor or a staff member if you can be seated in the ‘tender seat.’ The next train that pulls in will have a seat with your name on it, allowing you to dodge security straight to the front of the line.
11 The Hidden Mickeys Scattered Throughout
As Walt himself once famously said, “I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” More than six decades later, we’re here to tell you, Walt, that you definitely needn’t worry on that score. Mickey is at the heart and soul of everything Disney does. Other than the statues of him and staff members dressed as him to welcome visitors (sorry, kids), everyone’s favorite mouse is a fixture literally everywhere you look in Disneyland. Aside from all the sights of the iconic Mickey ears and cheeky smile that you can already spot on hats, doughnuts, and cookies, the Disney parks decided that you can never have too much Mickey. And for some eagle-eyed Disney fans, the Mickey symbol crops up in some pretty unexpected places too.
In the Disneyland Florida them park, there are literally thousands of Hidden Mickeys dotted around the place where Mickey's iconic silhouette can be found in the strangest of places.
Some are easier than others to spot, but some can be pretty obscure, and finding the latter can give you a sense of childlike joy like you’re on a treasure hunt. We won’t spoil the fun and list them all here, but some Mickeys have been found disguised in a splat of red paint in the Alice In Wonderland maze and in the design of the gate in the main entrance.
10 Request Your Own Death Certificate At The Haunted Mansion Ride
In what might sound like an overly grim way to commemorate a day spent at Disney theme park, you can actually request to have your own death certificate to take away with you. No, really. We ’re not sure how many kids would like this kind of souvenir, but if your kid happens to be game, they can bring back the kind of artifact none of us get to see in real life (Disneyland really does think of everything, doesn't it?). As soon as you enter the Haunted Mansion attraction in the Magic Kingdom’s Liberty Square, you can do away with the formalities straight away by requesting your own death certificate at the door. After all, only ghosts are permitted into the Haunted estate, so you want to stay in character, right?
These death certificates aren't handed to every visitor to the Haunted Mansion (can you imagine the number of existential crises had by 5-year-olds if they were?). For those who want to, however, you can get one by asking a cast member just before you hop on the Doom Buggie ride within the attraction. The Disney staff member will have your ‘Death certificate’ waiting for you on the way out. Part cool souvenir, part creepy thing to give a kid. Who knew Disneyland was this dark?
9 It’s A Small Castle After All
We hate to break it to all the little wannabe Princesses out there, but the iconic Cinderella castle is not all its cracked up to be. It’s a beautiful castle for sure, but it’s not quite as grand and princessy as it would have you believe. A lot like Doctor Who’s tardis but in reverse,
Disneyland has gone to awesome lengths to make this iconic castle look far larger than it actually is inside. Thanks to the combined trickery methods of forced perspective and a subtle incline in the structure of the building, this iconic castle has given us all the impression of an imposing majestic castle worthy of a fairytale.
The castle is actually built from fiberglass instead of stone and is purposely built higher than any other attraction in the park. In many ways, it always will be a majestic and impressive structure–the iconic image of the castle’s blue spires set against a backdrop of fireworks is a special sight to Disney fans young and old, but it sure does suck to know that it's not quite as humongous as we’d hoped it was! Bonus secret fact: there’s an exclusive suite within the castle that cannot be reserved normally and is available only to competition winners! (Sorry, we’ve given you even greater castle envy now, haven’t we?)
8 Adult Only ‘Club 33’ In New Orleans Square
Since Disneyland has been around for the best part of 60 years, many parents coming to the various Disney theme parks all over the world can enjoy the nostalgia in rediscovering their own childhood, but even for the most Disney-obsessed parent or adult, it can be nice to take a step back from all the cutesy kid stuff for a while and hang out in a purely adult-friendly venue. Where does one such place exist, you ask? A private speakeasy club located in New Orleans Square in Disneyland Florida. (Tokyo’s Disneyland resort also has one, but not in the Magic Kingdom section).
This private dinner club for the adults is known simply as ‘Club 33’ (is this in reference to how quickly parents become weary of all the sugary sweet innocence of the park in minute form?). All cynicism aside, Club 33 is a pretty nifty place, open exclusively to club members instead of the public so you won’t find any long queues here. The biggest draw for adults is that Club 33 is the only place in the entirety of Disneyland that sells alcohol and members can also enjoy valet parking at the nearby Grand Californian Hotel and unlimited access to the Lily Belle train car on the Disney railroad.
7 Find One Of Cinderella’s Horses On The Regal Carousel
Who doesn’t love carousels? A fun part of any childhood was going to the fair and riding the carousel, and chances are, any carousel you’ve been on before is going to find it hard to beat this one. This is Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel in the Magic Kingdom (modeled by an adorable mini-me Prince Charming above!). Walt Disney himself was a massive fan of carousels and one of his first stipulations about the park’s design was that it wouldn't be complete without one. How much is anyone wishing the horses would jump off the carousel like in Mary Poppins and take you round the park? Just me on that one?
Walt actually bought the original carousel from a park in New Jersey and re-designed it to give it a much-needed touch of magic. Other than being moved around from state to state, the carousel has been moved 8 inches from its original spot when Walt’s brother, Roy Disney, decided the carousel did not match up well with the archway of the Cinderella castle behind it.
Jeez, perfectionists! Despite all the headaches that came with designing though, the final result is a stunning thing to behold. And to make sure the Prince Charming carousel wasn’t all about him, Cinderella's own horse is hidden among them (hint: it has a gold ribbon around its tail!).
6 The Real Reason For The Shoddy Window Shutters In Liberty Square
Have you ever noted the quality of the shutters on the windows in Liberty Square? Perhaps not, if you’re running around hyper on sugary Mickey-shaped cookies trying to go on every ride humanly possible. Assuming you’re the kind of Disney visitor who does like to explore the parks at a slower, more leisurely pace though, you may have strolled through the pretty and historical part of the Disneyland Florida park known as Liberty Square and enjoyed the sense of stepping back in time as you walk through the colonial-themed buildings and quaint houses.
Observe the shutters on the windows and it may look as if the Disney maintenance staff let things slip by the wayside a little as some of them are noticeably sagging or wonky. But as we’ve already established by now, there is usually a clever rhyme and reason behind every one of Disney’s curious details, and this one is no exception. The slightly sagging hinges are a nod to the fact that during the revolutionary war, colonists often melted down hinges to make shots for weapons and instead, leather hinges were used in their place. Ironically, the ‘leather’ hinges in Disney’s recreated shutters are made from metal, made to look like leather. Crazy attention to detail the Disney folks.