Here comes summer! And thus, here comes the trips to Disney World or Disneyland. Or both! If you are making the trek to the happiest place on earth, you need to be prepared. You need to be ready to make the most of your visit. But most importantly, you need fascinating trivia to make the line for Tower of Terror go by just a little bit faster! That's where we come in.
You think you know Disney theme parks? Perhaps you are also an expert, but just in case, we invite you to please check out all the behind-the-scenes secrets, tips and insider info we could pull out a real Disney know-it-all. Andy, a member of the Disney Vacation Club, has been to both Disney World and Disneyland multiple times a year, every year, since before he learned to walk. In fact, his first words were "Mickey." Fine, we made that part up but you get the idea. This dude knows his s--t.
When we asked Andy to give us his best little known facts and secrets about the parks, we expected a numbered list in an email. What we got was nine pages(!) full of Disney trivia, history and must-know tips. We mined it all to give you the gold, so read on for the only information you need before a trip to the magical world of Disney.
Random Disney World Facts
1. Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan and sits on 43 square miles and 27,443 acres.
2. Cast members must always point with two fingers when customers ask for directions as pointing with one finger is seen as insult in some countries.
3. At Disney World, children separated from family members aren't lost. It's the adults who are lost.
4. You are never more than 30 steps from a trashcan in the parks. That's because Walt Disney estimated that's how long an average person would spend looking for a trashcan before throwing the garbage on the ground.
5. Disney World has only been closed three times since opening in 1971: for Hurricane Floyd in 1999, on September 11 due to the terrorist attacks and during a power outage in 2002.
6. Magic Kingdom is actually above ground level. The first floor of Magic Kingdom is a series of corridors used by cast members and other Magic Kingdom employees. You can tour it yourself for a hefty price.
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7. The Walt Disney Company is the largest consumer of fireworks in the world and the second largest consumer of explosive devices, behind the U.S. Department of Defense.
8. The American flags featured on Main Street do not have 50 stars, meaning they are not considered official U.S. flags and not subject to federal display regulations. The only official American flag in the park is in Town Square and there is a lowering ceremony every day at 5 p.m.
9. For the construction of the Morocco Pavilion at Epcot, the King of Morocco sent his architect to oversee construction to make it authentic as possible.
10. You can view an American flag that was pulled from the World Trade Center rubble after the 9/11 attacks at the American Experience Pavilion at Epcot.
11. Hollywood Studios was an actual working movie and television studio for a short period after opening in 1989.
12. Pixar characters no longer fall down when you yell "Andy's coming!" Too many cast members were getting injured, so now you'll get "Andy is away at college" in response.
13. Animal Kingdom was originally supposed to have a section devoted entirely to fictional monsters. That is why you see a dragon above the main entrance of the park.
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General Tips and Tricks
1. Gum is not sold in any store on Disney properties, so BYOM (bring your own mints).
2. You can get cups of water for free at all the food and beverage stands.
3. Many rides have a "single rider" line that is much shorter than the general line. If you don't mind sitting with a random person on the ride, you can cut your wait time down significantly.
4. There are several apps you can download that show you wait times for each ride in the parks. They are updated by other visitors, though they aren't always 100% accurate.
5. You are allowed to bring your own food into the parks, so think about packing your own lunch to save some cash.
6. You can buy alcohol at most parks at Walt Disney Land, except for Magic Kingdom. The only place to get booze there is at the Be Our Guest restaurant.
7. If you stay until right before Magic Kingdom closes for the night, you can see what they call the "kiss goodnight." The castle lights up with different colors and they play the original dedication speech given by Roy Disney when the park first opened in 1971.
8. If you need a bathroom break, avoid Liberty Square. There are no restrooms because they wouldn't have them in colonial times.
9. If you see pay phones in Tomorrowland or in the Main Street hat shop, you can pick it up and listen to conversations between Disney characters.
10. This seems like a weird tip, but do not try to dispose of the ashes of your loved ones on the Haunted Mansion ride. It happens way more than you think, and the park has to shut down the ride until it gets cleaned up.
11. The ride with the most consistently long wait time? Peter Pan's Flight, which is pretty remarkable considering it's a non-stop moving ride.
12. If you ask the Jungle Cruise skipper for a map of the cruise, they'll give you one!
13. Want a good view of fireworks? Epcot is a better choice, as it has a 360 degree view of the water all around World Showcase, so you'll find a better spot much easier than you would at Magic Kingdom.
14. Are you a Beatles fan? The stage area in the U.K. area sometimes has a Beatles cover band performing, and they typically go on around 3:00 p.m.
15. Epcot has the second largest aquarium in the United States. You can dine among the animals in the aquarium at the Living Seas restaurant, but it's one of the hardest Disney World reservations to get. Book early!
16. There's a rope outside of the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular with a sign that says "do not pull the rope." Ignore the sign for once and pull the rope!
17. Near the back lot tour entrance is a Singing in the Rain umbrella, if you press the button, you'll get rained on. Good for hot days!
18. All the restrooms in Animal Kingdom have locks, just in case an animal gets loose and guests need to find safety.
19. If you get a drink in Animal Kingdom, it won't have a lid and the straws will be made of cardboard. This is just in case garbage accidentally gets into an animal habitat.
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The Man Behind the Magic
1. Walt Disney would often stand in line with regular customers because he loved his own park so much.
2. He chose Florida for the site of the second park for the warm weather, obviously, but also because at Disneyland only 5% of customers lived east of the Mississippi River, so he wanted to put a park near those who weren't making it to California.
3. The Disney company bought up Florida swamp land in secret under dummy corporate names to avoid any price spikes. After The Orlando Sentinel newspaper broke the news that Disney was buying land for a new park, the cost shot up to $1,000 an acre.
4. Walt Disney died of lung cancer before he could see Disney World open.
5. The part of the airplane you see on the Hollywood Studios back lot tour is actually Walt Disney's personal plane.
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Andy the Disney Expert's Personal Tips
1. "It is no secret that if you are staying at one of Disney's resort hotels, you do not need a car. You can use Disney's magical express to take you from Orlando International Airport to your resort for free, and once at your resort, use Disney's onsite transportation to get you around. However, do not underestimate the value of your own rental car. If you are staying at a Disney resort hotel, parking at all of the parks is free, and your own car will get you to and from a lot quicker."
2. Since Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios) is mostly under construction right now, Andy suggests only visiting the park if you have a park-hopper pass. It's not worth a stand-alone ticket until construction for Star Wars Land and other expansions have completed.
3. "Don't listen to people who say that you should only visit at ‘off peak' times. Yes, the ‘peak' times are more crowded, but crowded does not necessarily mean busy. The week between Christmas and New Year's, typically the most crowded week of the year, will have park hours from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day. Every ride will be open at maximum capacity and parades and fireworks will be offered multiple times per day."
4. If you do go during Christmas peak time, get to the parks early. They usually reach fill capacity before 10 a.m.
5. The most crowded times of year are the week leading up to Christmas until the Sunday following New Year's, the week of Independence Day and the weeks that elementary schools typically go on Spring Break.
6. September and late January to early February are the least busy times of year for Disney parks.
7. "Christmas time at Disney World begins in early November and goes until early January. The theming and decorations are second to none. This is generally considered the best time to visit. If you are going during the Christmas season, make sure you visit all of the resort hotels, even if you are not staying there, as the resorts have some of the best Christmas displays. The Grand Floridian has a life-size gingerbread house in the lobby made of real gingerbread, selling gingerbread goods."
8. "The best time for an adults-only trip is mid-October, when Epcot is hosting its International Food and Wine festival."
9. "During the months of November and December, there is a hard ticket event called Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This event will cost you an additional $79 per person, in addition to your normal park tickets. If you visit the week leading up to Christmas through New Year's, all aspects of the Very Merry Christmas Party—except free hot chocolate and cookies, are included as normal entertainment without the purchase of an additional ticket."
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10. Andy has done the math and believes that the Disney dining plan only makes sense to buy (assuming you are not getting it as part of a promotion) if you plan on eating a sit-down meal every single day.
11. "You are allowed to make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance. If you want to eat at just about any sit-down restaurant, you will need reservations. If you want to eat at the most popular, you need to logon and make your reservations at 12:01 a.m. exactly 180 days in advance, and even then, it is tough."
12. The Be Our Guest restaurant at the Magic Kingdom has a secret dessert menu option called "the grey stuff."
13. "Never pay extra at your resort for an upgraded view. Most people do not spend nearly enough time in their rooms to make it worth the extra money."
14. "Animal Kingdom Lodge has the most elaborate theming of all of the resort hotels, but it is also the furthest away from the main parks."
15. "The ESPN Club and Big River Brewing Works, both at The Boardwalk, only take walkups, no reservations are accepted. So if you want a sit down meal without a reservation, these are safe bets."
16. "If you are looking to cut costs from your trip, stay offsite. You can get an equally nice hotel for a lot cheaper, or a much nicer hotel for the same price. Just keep in mind, parking at the parks is $20 a day in addition to park admission prices."
17. In Andy's opinion, the best pools of the Disney park hotels are at the Yacht Club Resort and the Beach Club Resort.
18. The Contemporary Resort is within walking distance to the Magic Kingdom, and some rooms have views that allow you to watch the fireworks from your room. No crowds necessary!
That's it! Now, print out these tips, secrets and facts. Laminate them. Put them on your Frozen-themed clipboard and get out there and kick some Disney World ass!