6 Quirky Things I Learned About Disneyland When I Worked There

by AnomalousArtist

Working at Disneyland many years ago I learned a lot about the park. In this article I reveal some things for you to think about next time you go for a visit!

In the late 80's I worked two summers at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA. The experience changed my life. I had no idea just how much went into making sure the park ran smoothly and everyone who walked through the front gates had as good as time as possible. I learned interesting things about how the park is run and what goes on behind the scenes.

I don’t know that the powers that be at Disneyland would be thrilled to have some of the park "secrets" revealed so I've *tried* to keep to things that are common knowledge and not inflammatory. Also, I haven't worked at the park in many years or even visited the place lately, so some of my information may be out of date or irrelevant. I hope you'll find it fun!

Empty Disneyland!
Empty Disneyland!
All that's left of "them bears!"
All that's left of "them bears!"

1) Disneyland is run as a "show."

My first day on the job I was taken with a group of fellow new employees to a building to the right of the entrance to the park, "Disney University."  For an entire day we were shown films, given lectures and submitted to quizzes on how to exemplify the perfect Disney "performance." 

We were informed that we weren't employees, we were "cast members."  Tourists visiting the park were "guests."  The part of the park that guests can see was called "on stage," the part they can't see was called "off stage."  Rides in the park were called "Adventures."   A day at the park was considered a "show" and Disney University stressed to us until we had it stuck in our heads that every person who came to Disney was to be treated as the STAR of the show. 

We were taught all sorts of things regarding courtesy and decorum, things I unconsciously use to this day, like using two fingers to point directions out in a crowd.  It's less threatening if you point with two fingers--if someone were to look up and see a cast member pointing directly at her the person might feel paranoid!

2) Forced perspective is everywhere in Disneyland.

Anyone with even a passing interest in Disneyland probably knows that Main Street is designed in an unusual and brilliant way.  The buildings you encounter when you first walk into the park are all actual size and have functioning offices and suites above, but as you walk down Main Street  the buildings get progressively smaller and the second floors get shorter. 

Sleeping Beauty's Castle, at the end of Main Street, is actually built smaller than a "real" castle--the higher up the turrets go the smaller they get.

This design serves two interesting functions, as it was explained to me:  When you're walking into the park in the morning, all excited and full of energy, Main Street seems to go on forever and lead to a beautiful, huge castle far away.

At the END of the day, when your feet are sore, you're sweaty, exhausted and just want to be home, the reverse illusion happens:  Standing at the castle end of Main Street looking towards the exit, the distance actually seems SHORTER than it really is, again, because of forced perspective. The park is full of these illusions, you could write a book about this subject alone (someone probably HAS). 

Another fun fact--they pipe in smells in the candy shops.  It used to be they actually made things in the shops but now everything is wrapped.  But they *always* pumped a "sugarey" smell out into the street through hidden vents to entice guests into the shop.

3) There are almost as many buildings behind the scenes as there are "on stage."

There are huge wardrobe rooms where cast member's costumes are maintained, offices everywhere with birds' eye views of each area of the park and cafeterias specifically designated for cast members hidden behind the scenes.  One that particularly intrigued me was beneath the waterfalls in the "Pirates Of The Caribbean" ride and while dining there you could hear people screaming periodically as they flew down the water flume. 

There are buildings where parade floats are kept when they're not being used and repair shops where audio-animatronic figures get cleaned and refurbished, including a wardrobe department for all the pirates in the Caribbean.  When I was there they still had an attraction called "Bear Country Jamboree," a fun animatronic show with cuddly animated puppets.  It was really alarming to see a repair shop for these creatures, a dusty little room with bear parts strewn all around.  One person in my tour group, seeing the room, observed, "That bear has no EYES!" 

In the Disney University building there was a recruiting office where I went for career advice.  I was told in no uncertain terms by the recruiter I met to abandon my dreams of becoming a Disney animator, it was not a job that was "possible to get."  Less than two years later I proved the recruiter quite wrong, I'm happy to say. 

4) There are only a couple of actual tunnels under Disneyland.

Florida's Magic Kingdom is where the legendary network of tunnels exists.  Disneyland only had two main tunnels when I worked there and they were both used to transport refuse out of the park without it being seen by guests.  The one I was most familiar with was under Tomorrowland.  I worked Tomorrowland a lot the year I was a custodial sweeper.  We'd sweep up garbage, buss tables and empty garbage bins around the area into a chute that led into a garbage trough in the tunnel below. 

I don't think anyone would be shocked to hear that things got pretty rank down there sometimes.  Often as not the park would be at capacity and the garbage trough couldn't be emptied fast enough.  The trash would just pile up higher and higher and sit there all day in the heat.  Thankfully I only had to help clean the garbage trough area out once!

One of the more amusing duties I had working Tomorrowland was to help coordinate the appearance of bands playing on the stage. Guest artists had dressing rooms underneath the main dining area and when it was time for them to start they'd get on a platform and begin playing.  The platform was raised up to the level of the seats where guests were eating. 

There was an old system in place, I can't imagine they still use it; one cast member would push a hidden button below and one (me, sometimes) would push the button above when it was time for the band to be raised...if both buttons weren't pushed simultaneously the platform wouldn't move! 

I remember happily sweeping away on the Tomorrowland dance floor and thinking the band was playing the same thing over and over.  I looked up, saw everyone in the band looking at me with panicked faces and realized I'd missed the cue; the band was done and couldn't descend until I pushed the topside button.  Woops!

5) Accidents can and do happen at Disneyland.

All sorts of things happened the year I worked at the park, some I wouldn't feel comfortable mentioning. I saw Mickey and Minnie fall off their horses in a parade once...first Mickey went down then Minnie's horse got spooked and she followed.  Mickey's head actually fell off and rolled down the street a bit and I heard one terrified child cry out, "Mickey died!"  I wonder if she's traumatized to this day.

One rainy day I was working in a restaurant in Frontierland and was dressed as a cowboy, with boots.  There were problems in the Disney stage area; they were having a hard time avoiding a flood. 

I arrived on the scene with two fellow cowboys and we set to work with big brooms pushing the water out.  My boots didn't have much traction when the pavement was dry; walking on wet ground was like skating on ice.

I eventually lost my footing and fell on my face. My fellow cast members stared at me in shock.  I touched my face and realized my brow was split open and blood was pouring out. 

I put a napkin to my forehead and someone walked me to First Aid...it was all the way across the park and I can imagine I must have looked like something out of a horror film to the kids I passed. 

In no time at all I was sent to a local hospital, examined and stitched up and put on worker's comp for a couple weeks. Nowadays I suppose I could have pursued a lawsuit but I thought the company handled things about as well as they could for an accident that no one could have foreseen and that worked out fine.  If I'm a little "brain damaged" I don't think I can blame working at Disneyland for that!

6) Disneyland is in the business of making money.

This may sound like a criticism but it isn't.  When I went to work for the park I was a young, idealistic person who believed that "magic" was real (see my related article on working in the park listed in the sidebar!).  By the time I left, and particularly after I worked at the animation studio, I had gained a better understanding of how much time, energy and cash it takes to create "dreams" and "magic"  so attractive and pleaseant that people will pay money to keep experiencing them. 

I think the park has done a good job of creating a fun, all-consuming environment that has entertained millions of people for years and shows no signs of slowing down.  It is a business concern and a competitive one at that, and I find I am no longer enticed by the philosophies the park tries to convey, but I'm still impressed by what Disneyland has to offer.  I'm proud I was a "part of the magic" for a little while, it had a profound impact on my life and I enjoy sharing some of the things I encountered working there.  Let me know if you enjoyed them too!

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Updated: 10/17/2013, AnomalousArtist
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katiem2 on 06/02/2013

Perhaps another article???

AnomalousArtist on 05/28/2013

Yeah! Without "jumping ahead" too much, heh heh...only been to Orlando once years ago and it's just HUGE. Epcot is really an interesting concept...it's not so much a theme park as a giant, spectacular "science and geography" fair, and just about anything that has the "Disney touch" ends up being magic and kinda cool...

Guest on 05/28/2013

Ooooh. Now that's a thought! I'm not done with Disney yet-not been to Orlando parks so far. Really want to see Epcot! Visited Universal in CA, and it was several shades of awesome. Repeat visitor to Anaheim and becoming Rather Obsessed as I grow older, having started out a total sceptic before I met my husband. (Marketing in the UK for Disney is totally 'family-with-primary-school-kids' oriented, nothing about adults possibly, even maybe, enjoying it at all.)

AnomalousArtist on 05/27/2013

Hmm...interesting idea! :)

katiem2 on 05/27/2013

You've got me wondering if you had to rank the best sites at Disney how would they rank, Disney, Epcot, Universal Studios etc how would they rank from best to well not the best?

AnomalousArtist on 05/20/2013

Hey Janet, thanks for the comment! I've been on both sides; I was obsessed with Disneyland once and then became disillusioned (now I don't really think of it much at all), it's interesting for me to see people who either love it or hate it to excess, and try to understand why, thanks for chiming in with your story.

Janet21 on 05/20/2013

Great insight! I have been to Disney World twice, once as a child and once with my own children. While we did have a nice time, I just didn't get the "magic". To me it is just an amusement park on steroids; a money-making machine. And once you see it, do you really need to go back? I know some people who are addicted to Disney and go every year. Not me. I don't have too much interest to go back anytime soon.

AnomalousArtist on 05/14/2013

Thanks for the comment, CherylIsArt, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

CherylsArt on 05/14/2013

I enjoyed reading your article about Disneyland. I've heard about some of the things you mentioned on TV, and it was nice hearing about some of your personal experiences.

AnomalousArtist on 05/13/2013

Thanks, Katiem2! Yeah, it's staggering to think about how much goes into a day at Disneyland, and I guess you're not supposed to think about it when you're a guest but I always like to anyway :) Thanks for the comment!!

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