Myths Untangled

I came across a number of pages claiming things like “6 Secrets Disney doesn’t want you to know”, or “Disney’s Dirty Secrets”. And since I originally wrote this, I see more and more of these sensational headlines, and I think the “secrets” are up to 25 our so. While there may be truth to some of what is said, in a lot of cases it really isn’t likely – or a secret for that matter. Here are some of them – and facts to go along with them.

There are corridors under the Magic Kingdom

Does anyone not know this now? Although it may have been somewhat secret in the early days, the fact is that it is pretty widely known to anyone who’s read about the creation of the Magic Kingdom, and you can actually take a tour of the Utilidors as they are called. Hardly a secret then.

The truth behind them is that after seeing cast members from one area of Disneyland having to cross another area to get on and off stage, Walt wanted to make sure that couldn’t happen at WDW. So when the Magic Kingdom was designed he wanted to make sure there were hidden passages by which cast members could reach their areas without being seen. To accomplish that, they actually built the corridors at ground level – and then filled in the land to put them underground. The Magic Kingdom was actually raised up higher than the original ground level – what you see as the first level of a building is actually the second floor! Now THAT is something fewer people know about.

Flash Mountain

So, if you’ve been to WDW or Disneyland you know that on Splash Mountain as you start going down the big hill for the splashdown, there is a picture taken – like on a lot of rides. Well, Splash Mountain developed a reputation for a place where people would give obscene gestures for the camera, and women would flash their, um, upper half, earning the ride the name “Flash Mountain”.

Go ahead, if you really want, do a Google search (warning: not safe for work or children viewing). Take a close look at the pictures. No, not there…but look at the ride itself. Very few, if any, of the rides are actually Splash Mountain, but flume rides from various other parks. Fact is, this occurs in many places. “Flash Mountain” was just a catchy name. Also, Disney knew this would occur, and to maintain the family-friendly environment where all pictures are displayed (albeit briefly) to the public, a cast member was assigned to “filter” the pictures. Anything remotely obscene (even a guy showing a bare chest) would not be shown and not available for purchase. Reportedly that position has been eliminated – I don’t know if that has had any effect.

No one has died on Disney property

While there is some uncertainly as to whether there were certain policies in the past that allowed Disney to claim such in the past, in some cases it depends on what you mean by “died”. In the U.S., usually someone needs to be pronounced dead by an appropriate medical professional. As such, most people are declared dead at a hospital. Also, some regulations dictate that if rescue personnel begin resuscitation procedures, they cannot stop until a doctor has evaluated and pronounced.

However, many people have essentially died at WDW – notable incidents revolving around Mission: SPACE were widely publicized as well as a few cast member deaths. And people have in fact been pronounced dead on property, as early as 1984 with a small plane crash in the EPCOT Center parking lot (New York Times, Nov. 22nd, 1984)

The rooms at the Contemporary Resort were meant to be removable

The myth says that the unique design of the Contemporary Resort’s A-frame structure was also meant to be unique in another way – instead of refurbishing the rooms normally, they could be removed and replaced. However, after putting the rooms in, the structure settled and they weren’t able to remove them.

Quick detangling: They were never meant to be removed. Ever.

The myth stems from how the building was assembled. Disney was short on time to get two resorts built in time for the opening of the Magic Kingdom, so they looked at advanced construction techniques. To build the Contemporary, they built the frame on site, but the rooms were a modular design and built at another site, trucked in, then lifted and slid into place. Well, if they slid into place, it stands to reason they can be slid out again, right? Well, there are a number of practical issues.

First, after the rooms were slid into place, all the infrastructure pieces – water, heat, telephone, etc. – needed to be hooked up. Once hooked up, it can be pretty difficult to unhook.

Second, after the rooms were in place, the finishing work on the outside was done. To remove the rooms, significant removal of the outside would need to take place. At best, it would look ugly for a long time while they did it. At worst, it could damage the structure.

Lastly, imagine how much it would cost, and how many rooms would be unavailable, during the swap out of rooms. Why would you spend that much money to refurb a room versus gutting the inside and rebuilding like any other refurb? The slide-in rooms were a time saving measure for construction – not for replacement.

River Country was closed because the water was contaminated by bacteria and someone died of infection

River Country was WDW’s original water park. Opening in 1976, situated between what is now Disney’ Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness resorts along Bay Lake, it featured an “old-fashioned swimming hole” right adjacent to Bay Lake.

First, there is an issue with the warm fresh waters in Florida. It isn’t a bacteria issue, but rather an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, colloquially called the “brain-eating amoeba”. It can be found in the warm shallow waters and soils in various places. Infection is extremely rare, but it is almost always fatal, with only a few victims surviving.

This is why swimming is now prohibited in the lakes on property.

A common misconception is that the water for the swimming hole came directly from Bay Lake, or that it was easy to cross contaminate from the lake. In fact, the water was taken from Bay Lake, but it went through a filtration system before entering the swimming hole. The swimming hole was dammed off from the lake and in fact the water level was above that of the lake itself, so overflow would go from the hole to the lake, not the other way around. Direct contamination was extremely unlikely.

A boy did in fact die from infection in 1980 after swimming at River Country, where it is believed he contracted it. Disney updated the filtration system at that time and there were no other cases.

River Country continued operating for 21 years after the incident. If the risk of infection was the reason, they sure took their time about it. In reality, River Country closed in November, 2001 at the end of the season – a couple months after the September 11th terror attacks in New York City, after which there was a sharp decline in tourism. It was decided not to re-open River Country in 2002 due to the decline in attendance (and by then WDW had two much larger water parks in Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), and in 2005 they announced that it would be closed permanently. It still sits there abandoned in place, but is off limits to guests. Rumors persist that it will re-open as either a shared pool area for the adjacent resorts or as part of a new DVC resort on that parcel of land.

Across the water from River Country is another abandoned area, the original Discovery Island, which was a wildlife sanctuary that was open to guests so they could observe wildlife, but closed in 1999 when it was essentially replaced by Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.