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.

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Disney Parks May Soon Have Robotic Stunt People
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iStock

Animatronics are a staple of any Disney park, but as the company introduces more characters into the fold—like heroes from Star Wars, Marvel, and Avatar—the bar is being raised on audience expectations. On the screen, these characters defy gravity and pull off death-defying stunts, yet at the Disney parks, they’re still relying on fairly static animatronic models for their live shows and attractions. As Tech Crunch details, though, the gap between what the heroes do on film and in the park may be closing.

This development is all thanks to Disney’s R&D department, where Imagineers are working on next generation animatronics that can pull off aerial stunts like you’d see in any of the studio’s blockbuster films. The project is called Stuntronics, and its goal is to create animatronic stunt "heroes" that can replace a more static model in the middle of a Disney park show when the scene requires some high-energy action to take place. It's similar to the flesh and blood or CGI stunt people that movies have been using for decades.

In a video demonstrating their progress, a robot model is shown leaping from a cable to do backflips, double backflips, and other heroic landings. It’s something straight out of a Spider-Man movie and is years ahead of any animatronic character currently at the park.

Tony Dohi, principal R&D Imagineer at Disney, told Tech Crunch that the idea for this type of animatronic came about because they realized there was a “disconnect” between the exhibits at the park and what people see on film, so swapping in advanced animatronics for complex action scenes would go a long way toward making Disney’s parks feel more authentic to their properties. The Na’vi Shaman from the Avatar exhibit shows that Disney can get their animatronics to emote; this next step will put them into action.

According to Tech Crunch, right now the stunt robots are realized with the help of an “on-board accelerometer and gyroscope arrays supported by laser range finding.” They are autonomous and self-correct their aerial stunts to hit their marks. Though the model used in the video is just a generic mockup, it’s not hard to see how the Imagineers at Disney can easily turn it into any number of heroes from Marvel or Star Wars.

Stuntronics is just one of the advancements happening with robotics at Disney. Tech Crunch also detailed the Vyloo, which are a trio of autonomous bird-like robots in the park that react to guest movements. They can be seen in the Collector's Fortress in the Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! attraction at Disneyland in California.

The Stuntronics project is still in the R&D phase with no practical application in place just yet. But if this technology does progress the way the Imagineers are hoping, the blockbuster action of Star Wars, Marvel, and The Incredibles won’t just be exclusive to the movies anymore.

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Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images
The Fascinating Reason Why There Are No Mosquitoes at Disney World
Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images
Jacqueline Nell/Disneyland Resort, Getty Images

There are no mosquitoes in The Most Magical Place on Earth. That's right, Disney World is so dedicated to making sure you have the time of your life that they've made the bugs practically disappear. How do they pull that off? No, the answer isn't magic. Vlogger Rob Plays delved into the answer in a video spotted by Neatorama.

It would be a feat to get rid of pesky mosquitoes anywhere, but Disney World is in Florida, a.k.a. swamp territory, where insects are more abundant than other places. Bugs are annoying, but they're also dangerous if they're carrying diseases like Zika, and Disney has a responsibility to protect its guests. In short, Disney gets rid of the pests by employing a comprehensive program that includes spraying insecticides and maintaining natural predators, and they do all of this with a level of vigilance that's fearsome to behold.

The park has something called the Mosquito Surveillance Program to manage it all. There are carbon dioxide traps everywhere, and once they catch bugs, the team at Disney freezes and analyzes the population to determine how best to eradicate them. Interestingly enough, they also employ the use of chickens. These sentinel chickens, as they're called, live in coops all over Disney World. While these feathered employees are going about their daily life, their blood is being monitored for mosquito-borne diseases like West Nile virus. Lucky for the chickens, they don't get sick from the virus—but if they do pick it up, the Disney team knows where in the park they got it from so they can deliver a swift blow to the mosquitoes in that area.

You may also notice that the video is populated by clips of the Seven Dwarfs spraying insecticides. If you're wondering how you missed a lengthy sequence in which Happy, Grumpy, and co. did battle with the local insect population in 1937's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you didn't. The clips come from a separate propaganda film that Disney made during World War II called The Winged Scourge, all about the dangers of malaria and the insects that carry it. The disease caused major casualties for the Allies while fighting in the Pacific Ocean theater of World War II.

Next time you're visiting Disney World, be sure to appreciate the relatively insect-free utopia before returning to the real world.

[h/t Neatorama]

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