CLOSE
Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

Inside Disney World's Secret "Tunnels"

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

There’s never a dull moment at the Magic Kingdom. Parades, food vendors, shows, rides, characters, barbershop quartets, shopping—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. But what you may not realize is that there’s almost as much hustle and bustle happening right beneath your feet.

Legend has it that Walt Disney was once strolling around Disneyland in Anaheim when he saw a cast member in a Frontierland cowboy costume wandering through Tomorrowland. He felt the incongruity was disruptive to the “magic” people were meant to experience at the park, and decided to do something about it at his next park.

When construction began on the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, the first layer of the park that was built was 392,040 square feet of “underground” tunnels, known as utilidors. Fun fact: They’re not actually underground. The “basement” level of the park is actually at ground level, and the part of the park visitors experience is the second floor. Cast members access the utilidors via staircases positioned at key areas in the park.

The utilidors are used for way more than just allowing cast members to move about undetected. Here are some of the others:

The Mouseketeria

All of those cast members have to eat somewhere. The Mouseketeria is where you’ll find Snow White and Elsa munching on pizza alongside Tigger and Gaston. The eatery, which includes a Subway, is located back behind the castle, near Pinocchio’s Village Haus restaurant.

Kingdom Kutters

Disney is notoriously strict on the hairstyles their employees are allowed to have. Luckily, cast members who find themselves getting a little too shaggy can pop down to Kingdom Kutters to get a trim before their shifts start. There’s another one at Epcot called “HairPort International.”

The “Glow Room"

Don’t get your hopes up—the Glow Room isn’t a secret place for raves. According to former cast members, there’s an area under Adventureland where all of the carts selling light-up bracelets, necklaces, swords, and Mickey ears are stocked.

Garbage

Despite the massive amounts of trash generated at Disney parks every day, you won’t see garbage trucks anywhere. That’s because the AVAC (Automated Vacuum-Assisted Collection) system takes care of it instead. Giant pneumatic tubes at designated areas in the park carry garbage to a processing area behind Splash Mountain—and it’s all concealed within the utilidors.

Your Food

Similarly, you’ll never see food trucks backing up to a gate to deliver produce or meat. All of those churros, turkey legs and Dole Whips you eat are stored and, in the case of prepared meals, even cooked down in the utilidors.

The Character Zoo

It takes a lot of costumes to make the Magic Kingdom go ‘round, and until 2005, all of those 1.2 million costumes lived in the Character Zoo area of the utilidors. Many of those costumes moved to a building in the cast member parking lot about a decade ago, but the wardrobes of key characters, such as the Mouse himself, are still housed in the Zoo.

The Entire Park Operating System

It’s not just Tick-Tock Croc lurking beneath Peter Pan’s Flight. Engineering Central, or what used to be known as DACS (Digital Animation Control System), is the place where parades, lights, music, and more are controlled for the entire park.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
arrow
Pop Culture
The Computer Virus That Brought Down Whac-A-Mole
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Walk inside any pop-up carnival, amusement park, or retro arcade space and you’re likely to find a rodent infestation so stubborn that visitors are expected to bludgeon the pests to death with a mallet. Despite receiving thousands of concussive blows, these creatures are virtually guaranteed to continue being a nuisance—and for the game’s operators, their seeming indestructibility is a lucrative source of revenue.

Whac-A-Mole, first introduced in 1976 by the Bob’s Space Racers (BSR) amusement company out of Florida, is a cabinet game that features plastic-molded moles raised and lowered on mechanical sticks to be walloped by players wielding a foam club. Despite all of the moving parts, it’s generally understood that the games will require only minimal maintenance: a new washer every now and then, and maybe a cleaning.

That’s why the sudden failure of several Whac-A-Mole machines beginning in 2008 was so strange. BSR began fielding calls from unhappy customers who complained that their units were malfunctioning. After working fine for days or weeks, the units would power down without warning.

Some of them opted to deal directly with Marvin Wimberly, a computer programmer and contractor working for BSR who was able to diagnose and fix what appeared to be a defective module that was infected with a virus.

Before long, both BSR and local authorities would come to believe the repair came easily to Wimberly for a simple reason: They suspected he was the one who infected the modules in the first place.

A Whac-A-Mole game in Cedar Point, Ohio
Sam Howzit, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

According to a 2011 report in the Orlando Sentinel, Wimberly, then 61, had been with BSR since 1980 as an independent contractor. For 22 years, Wimberly wrote the computer programs that told Whac-A-Mole and other games how to interact with players. Wimberly believed his software was his property; BSR believed they owned it—a point of contention that would soon come into dispute.

The work wasn’t always steady, and Wimberly was apparently unhappy with his wages. Following a breakdown in negotiations for BSR to buy his software outright for $500,000, in 2009 he asked that his fee per chip be raised from $60 to $150.

A few months prior, in September 2008, modules began surfacing that were infected with a virus—or what some programmers call a “logic bomb”—that would render the machines useless after a set number of games: sometimes five, sometimes 50, sometimes 511. BSR bought equipment to examine the chips, found the virus, and became convinced that Wimberly had gone rogue. They told police he had sold them 443 infected modules for $51,000, then sat back as the company began to field complaints from operators. When BSR approached Wimberly with offers to fix the chips, he would—and then, according to police, promptly install a new virus that would begin the countdown all over again.

The authorities also believed Wimberly fielded inquiries from disgruntled customers who didn’t want to bother going through BSR for repairs, and even registered a website, bobsupgrades.com, that sought to solicit repair work from amusement operators.

The cabinet art for the Whac-A-Mole arcade game
Nick Gray, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Feeling they had sufficient information from BSR, Orlando authorities arrested Wimberly in February 2011 on charges relating to offenses against intellectual property. He was released after posting $15,000 bail. BSR CFO Michael Lane told the press that Wimberly’s actions had led to roughly $100,000 in losses for the company.

The news media found a lot of humor in poisoning the well of Whac-A-Mole, but Wimberly, who was accused of a second-degree felony, wasn't laughing: He faced 15 years in prison.

Except Wimberly wouldn’t be swatted away so easily. According to court records kept in Volusia County, Florida, Wimberly asserted the virus was a software bug that was a result of new diagnostic procedures, not sabotage. In April 2012, Wimberly argued before a judge that, as the owner of the software under question, he couldn’t be accused of tampering with it—as he owned it outright.

“He is essentially accused of modifying his own software,” read the motion to dismiss, which noted that Wimberly hadn’t been paid for the repairs and was therefore failing to profit from the alleged wrongdoing. The court agreed, and the criminal case was dismissed in April 2013.

But Wimberly wasn’t satisfied. In September 2013, he sued Bob’s Space Racers for misappropriation of trade secrets, accusing them of continuing to sell Whac-A-Mole and other games containing Wimberly’s codes after parting ways with him and without paying any licensing fees. He also alleged that BSR had failed to come to him with news of the virus’s discovery, preferring to build a case against him with local police instead; BSR countered that Wimberly had “intentionally programmed the [chip] software to include a virus” and that he was paid to repair the malfunctioning chips.

The case dragged on for more than two years, inching toward a jury trial. In November 2015, the parties finally reached a settlement with undisclosed terms. A spokesperson for BSR declined to comment to Mental Floss on the matter; Wimberly could not be reached.

If there was an attempt to sabotage Whac-A-Mole, it couldn't be proven to a criminal court's satisfaction. If Wimberly did indeed own the software, his argument that he was free to do with it as he liked would have been weighed against the harm done to BSR's reputation for having to service defective modules. But Wimberly insisted he did not write or install a virus: The accusation that he had, he claimed, was unfounded.

The next time you play, it may be a good idea to remind yourself that the people behind the game often have worse headaches than the moles.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
The One Phrase Disney Theme Park Characters Aren't Allowed to Say
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images
Matt Stroshane, Disney/Getty Images

The 14 Disney theme parks located around the world attract so many attendees each year that the company recently decided to increase admission for peak times by 20 percent to help decrease crowd congestion. Anaheim’s Disneyland is such a popular tourist attraction that some days the park is actually at capacity.

What keeps visitors packed in like sardines? The promise of a suspended reality—one that treats the various Disney characters as though they had just stepped out of a movie. There’s a laundry list of employee policies to help sustain that illusion, and Travel + Leisure recently uncovered one of the most interesting ones: Actors dressed as Disney characters are never allowed to say “I don’t know” to guests.

The motivation is understandable: Disney never wants people to feel as though they need to wander around looking for information. If they pose a question to, say, a Disney Princess, the actor is expected to communicate with other employees or areas of the park in order to find the answer. If Elsa doesn't know where the nearest restroom is, she's tasked with finding out before your kid's bladder gives up.

If a guest is looking for general directions, there’s also protocol for how to point. Performers are not allowed to use their index finger by itself. Instead, they use it in conjunction with their middle finger. In addition to index finger-pointing being considered rude in some cultures, legend has it that the gesture was partly inspired by Walt Disney himself, who once roamed the park grounds pointing at structures with two fingers that pinched a cigarette.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios