Friday, June 30, 2017

40 Things You Might Not Know About Walt Disney World

By Keith Mahne

Where can you come face to face with some of Disney's most famous film scientists? Who built those authentic thatched roofs on the buildings in Harambe? And what's the recipe for the World's biggest ice cream sundae? Let's dig in and explore some of Walt Disney World's lesser-known gems with these 40 things about Walt Disney World that you just might not know...

1) In the preshow area of Jim Henson's Muppet*Vision 3D, you can see a net full of Jell-O, a loving nod to Disney legend Annette Funicello. While at first you might not get what Jell-O has to do with the Mouseketeer, if you say "a net full of Jell-O" slowly, it quickly becomes clear.

2) Inside Mouse Gear, located in Innoventions East at Epcot, you can see the Dream-Catching Machine, the blimplike vehicle from the original Journey into Imagination attraction.

3) Much like Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, It's Tough to Be a Bug! opened before the movie it was based on premiered in theaters. A Bug's Life wasn't released until months after the attraction opened. Similarly, Dinosaur opened with Disney's Animal Kingdom in 1998 and was called Countdown to Extinction; the name was changed in 2000 to match the film released that year.

4) While many windows on Main Street, U.S.A. honor people who've played critical roles in Walt Disney World's construction and growth, the window above Crystal Arts is dedicated to M.T. Lott (pronounced empty lot). This window celebrates the companies created by Disney to purchase the empty land that would one day become the Walt Disney World Resort.

5) The model of the City of Tomorrow you pass as you ride the PeopleMover is part of the original model for Epcot. It was located on the second floor of General Electric Carousel of Progress when it resided at Disneyland; it was dubbed Progress City from 1967 to 1973.

6) While most tomatoes grow on tomato vines, the only tomato tree in the United States can be found at Epcot's Land pavilion. This tree produced a world-record 32,000 tomatoes weighing a combined 1,152 pounds! This unique plant was discovered by Epcot's manager of agricultural science, Yong Huang, while on vacation in Beijing, China, and he made arrangements to bring seeds back to the U.S. It seems that even while on vacation, cast members are always looking for ways to create new guest experiences.

7) If you want to get a taste of what it's like to be Robin Hood, try the Fort Wilderness Archery Experience. Archery experts lead you through a training session on the fundamentals, then offer tips and tricks as you enjoy open range time and target archery.The cast at the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground will be happy to provide you with details – just as long as you promise not to point your bow and arrow in their direction.

8) You know the quintet of singing busts that serenade Doom Buggies in the Haunted Mansion with “Grim Grinning Ghosts” as they drift by? You know the one with the thin mustache? Did you know that’s Walt Disney himself? Well, you shouldn’t, because that is NOT Walt Disney! This is the voice and face of Thurl Ravenscroft, the man who voiced Tony the Tiger and sang “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Thurl has the distinction of playing the broken bust second from the left in the Haunted Mansion's graveyard scene. He does, indeed, bear a slight resemblance to Walt Disney with the same-style mustache, and since guests only briefly see him as they ride by, it makes sense that this rumor got started. Thurl Ravenscroft is also the voice of many other characters that you know and love on Disney attractions like the drunken pirate, the singing dog, and one of the minstrels in Pirates, Fritz in the Tiki Room, and Buff the buffalo head in Country Bear Jamboree just to name a few.

9) Most Disney regulars are familiar with the song played on the radio of your safari vehicle during Kilimanjaro Safaris, but most don't know that the song is "Hapa Duniani," performed by African Dawn, and it's actually The Lord's Prayer in Swahili. Take a listen below...

(For your viewing pleasure, be sure to pause the Disney Avenue Music Player at the top, left-hand corner of the page prior to playing the video below if you are on a desktop computer.)

10) Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge is home to a diverse collection of African art, including sculptures and carvings that help familiarize guests from around the world. One highlight is the 16-foot-tall Igbo ijele mask, a piece created and exported by the Igbo people of Nigeria specifically for use in the lodge. While on the topic of African art, Disney acquired the Tishman collection of African art in 1984 with the intent of displaying it at the never-realized African pavilion at Epcot. As the pavilion was never built, Disney donated all 525 objects to the National Museum of African Art, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

11) Thirteen Zulu craftsmen from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa were brought in to construct the authentic thatched roofs on the Harambe buildings in Disney's Animal Kingdom. They brought 15 trailer loads of thatch with them. Wonder if they filled those trailers with Disney souvenirs for their return trip?

12) Disney's Animal Kingdom  has the largest herd of Nile hippos in the Western Hemishere. Beware of the ones that blow bubbles and wiggle their ears – they have a tendency to charge toward your boat. At least they do on the famous Jungle Cruise at the Magic Kingdom.

13) Want to learn more about the dream-makers who bring Disney parks and resorts to life? You can break bread with a Walt Disney Imagineer at the Hollywood Brown Derby. Enjoy a four-course meal, receive a souvenir plate, and get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes magic. And you can find out what went into developing your favorite attractions. Oh, and don't forget to order the Cobb Salad, which, interestingly enough, was invented by Brown Derby restaurateur Bob Cobb in the 1930s.

14) Many of the floats used in the Festival of the Lion King show at Disney's Animal Kingdom are from Disneyland's The Lion King Celebration parade, which ran from 1994 to 1997. This is just one example of Disneyland sharing with its Florida sibling. The General Electric Carousel of Progress was also shipped over from Disneyland, where it lived from 1967 to 1973. The Disneyland edition of the Main Street Electrical Parade came to the Magic Kingdom a few times as well. But perhaps the most gracious example of sharing was when FedEx was called upon to ship Walt's working office from Disneyland's Opera House to One Man's Dream at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

15) In one of the windows by The Hall of Presidents, you'll find two lanterns, a reference to the line "One if by land, two if by sea" from the poem Paul Revere's Ride, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The 1861 poem is credited with making Paul Revere a national icon by telling the tale of how the American legend rode his horse while spreading the news that the British were arriving by sea after receiving the lantern signal, reproduced in Liberty Square.

16) The Great Moments Movie Museum was a conceptual name for The Great Movie Ride. Originally it was going to be showcased at a showbiz pavilion at Epcot, but the idea grew until it became the centerpiece attraction at Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney's Hollywood Studios). The Mary Poppins carousel horse located in the lobby must feel particularly at home, as the film held its premiere at Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on August 27, 1964, as a benefit for the Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts.

17) Walt Disney World's road signs used to be brown so they blended in with the natural environment. The problem was that they blended in too well, and some motorists got lost as the resort expanded. The current signs were then designed to be more noticeable while still sporting a Disney touch.

18) Dino-Sue is the most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever discovered. The back half of the fossil was prepared for display in a lab that was created at Disney's Animal Kingdom where rock was removed from the dinosaur bone. Now you can see a cast of the fossil in DinoLand U.S.A. in front of the Dinosaur attraction.

19) While you are waiting for Mission: SPACE at Epcot, you pass along Mission Control where you may see footage of an albatross making a landing. Think you've seen this clip somewhere before? You're correct! This footage was previously shown at Mission to Mars at the Magic Kingdom.

20) The Morocco pavilion is the only Epcot pavilion that is sponsored by the government of the country represented, instead of by a corporation, thanks to King Hassan II's desire to showcase his cou8ntry to the world. Morocco was the first nation added to Epcot after its opening, joining the original nine pavilions. Norway was added in 1988, bringing the total number of countries represented at World Showcase to 11.

21) Two of the spaceships used in the film Flight of the Navigator have been featured in Walt Disney World. The most recognizable one appeared in the old Studio Backlot Tour before it was closed for the new Star Wars Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios. The other has been re-themed as the aptly named Cool Ship that rests atop a drink cart at the Magic Kingdom. An interesting side note: Actor Paul Reubens has experienced voicing many robotic spaceship pilots. He lent his voice to Max, the pilot in Flight of the Navigator, as well as to Rex, your droid pilot in the original incarnation of Star Tours.

22) Tomorrowland was built with the WEDway PeopleMover track in mind, despite the fact that the attraction did not open until 1975, four years after the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. In the spirit of Tomorrowland, Imagineers sure thought ahead!

23) Inside the Imagination pavilion at Epcot, there are nods to some famous Disney film scientists and academics, including Wayne Szalinski (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Ned Brainard (The Absent-Minded Professor), Wilby Daniels (The Shaggy Dog), Merlin Jones (The Monkey's Uncle), and Professor Quigley and Dexter Riley (The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes). Speaking of Dexter, his red tennis shoes are seen outside the room with the giant computer.

24) As part of the expansion of Fantasyland, Imagineers and the Buena Vista Construction Company moved the 120-ton Winnie the Pooh tree from its former location at Pooh's Playful Spot to its current site, where it's part of the queue for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

25) Walt Disney World is filled with references to Disney films, but some are more subtle than others. Dyed-in-the-wool Disney fans will notice that the wedding-planning studio at Disney's Wedding Pavilion is named Franck's, a reference to Martin Short's zany character from Father of the Bride, released in 1991 by Disney's Touchstone Pictures.

26) The Town Square Theater was originally envisioned as a hotel. Disney built the lobby and adjacent restaurant with the thought that the hotel could be added to the back of the building at a later date. That idea was discontinued with the 1973 opening of The Walt Disney Story, which was housed at the back of the building. Perhaps ironically, the building also serves to mask a very real hotel, the Contemporary, from guests' view on Main Street, U.S.A.

27) Disney's Contemporary Resort was constructed in a unique way. In partnership with U.S. Steel, Disney built the rooms separate from the structure of the hotel. The completed rooms were then lifted by crane and inserted into the resort's distinctive steel A-frame.

28) The effect in the "Big Blue World" finale scene of The Seas With Nemo & Friends at Epcot makes the undersea movie characters appear as though they are swimming in the tank with real fish. It was developed at Walt Disney Imagineering's Research and Development division. All of the Finding Nemo characters seen in the attraction were produced at Pixar Animation Studios by many of the original film's animators. Altogether, more than 2,000 fish, sharks, rays, and dolphins call the 5.7-million-gallon aquarium at The Seas with Nemo & Friends home.

29) Liberty Square and Frontierland are separated by a river dubbed the Little Mississippi. This waterway divides the Disney version of eastern and western United States, just as the real Mississippi does.

30) As you ride the TTA (Tomorrowland Transit Authority) PeopleMover, you hear, "Paging Mr. Morrow. Mr. Tom Morrow. Please contact Mr. Johnson in the Control Tower to confirm your flight to the moon." This is a reference to the extinct and fondly remembered Flight to the Moon attraction that occupied the space where Stitch's Great Escape! now resides. Mr. Johnson was the commander of your lunar mission.

31) Aloha! Get into the swing with dance lessons most days at Disney's Polynesian Resort at the Great Ceremonial House. Yes... you can learn how to dance like Lilo! Just don't be late because you tried to give the fish that controls the weather a sandwich. With leis and grass skirts, you might even learn chants and dances from Hawaii or Tahiti. Check with the Polynesian Resort for dates and times.

32) One of the animal carvings on the Tree of Life is of David Greybeard, the first chimpanzee to approach Dr. Jane Goodall when she was in Gombe, Tanzania. It was placed here as a sign of appreciation for Dr. Goodall's support and guidance during the development of Disney's Animal Kingdom.

33) What's the best and biggest ice cream sundae at Walt Disney World? Lots of guests will tell you it's The Kitchen Sink at the Beaches & Cream Soda Shop in Disney's Beach Club Resort. The decadent dessert features eight scoops of ice cream (including vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and coffee), chocolate topping in the house (angel food cake, bundt cake, brownies, peanut butter, hot fudge, and more), and a whole can of whipped cream. The sundae serves four, and the cast will be happy to make adjustments and cater to your group's taste.

34) On the Dinosaur attraction, Dr. Helen Marsh and Dr. Grant Seeker use proprietary cutting-edge technology to send you 65 million years into the past to experience the age of prehistoric beasts. While the good doctors are very secretive regarding the science that makes this all work, eagle-eyed guests will notice some of the ingredients needed to make this technological feat possible. As you board your time-rover vehicle, you see red, yellow, and white pipes that have chemical equations written on them. The compounds listed are for ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise.

35) If you enjoy watching people, don't miss Club Cool at Epcot, where you can sample such Coca-Cola products from around the world as Smart Watermelon from China, Kinley Lemon from Israel, and Mezzo Mix from Germany. The best part is watching unsuspecting guests sipping Beverly from Italy, as most American palates are not used to the flavor of this bitter drink. The acidic taste of the clear soft drink causes some fun reactions from those not expecting its unique essence.

36) If you prefer soup instead of salad, visit Boma at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge. Several soups are featured each day. Their names and appearances might inspire you to feel adventurous, and trust us, each and every one – including the chicken com porridge, the creamy carrot and ginger soup, and the coconut curry seafood soup – is delicious. The selection rotates daily, so you can try a different one each time you go.

37) Although Mr. Toad's Wild Ride closed in 1998, the star of the attraction has not been forgotten. In fact, there are several homages throughout the Magic Kingdom: J. Thaddeus Toad has a statue in the pet cemetery outside the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square; in his former home, there is a painting of Mr. Toad with Owl located in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh; and in the Town Square Theater, you can find a letter from Angus MacBadger of J. Thaddeus Toad Motors, LTD., thanking Mr. M. Mouse for his purchase of a "Nifty Nineties" edition horseless carriage.

38) Many Disney fans know that there is a five-legged goat in the Grand Canyon Concourse's mosaic mural at Disney's Contemporary Resort. But why five legs? That was an artistic decision by designer and Disney Legend Mary Blair as a symbolic suggestion to guests who looked at the mural that no man-made work of art is perfect. And did you know that this mural has 1,800 one-square-foot titles and took 18 months to construct?

39) The best place to relax after a day of hustle and bustle is Chip 'n Dale's Campfire Sing-a-log at Fort Wilderness. Unwind by roasting s'mores, singing campfire favorites, and enjoying a Disney movie under the stars. While the experience happens nightly, the movies and times can vary, so check with Fort Wilderness to find out which Disney classic will be featured and when.

40) There are 180 Walt Disney World seamstresses, and they have more than 1,000 fabrics, 75 shades of thread, and more than 800 styles of buttons at their creative disposal. These materials combine to create and maintain the 15,000 entertainment costumes and 15,000 operational garment pieces worn by Walt Disney world cast members. To see these talented artisans at work, take the eye-opening, 7-hour Resort-wide Backstage Magic tour.


Keith Michael Mahne is the owner and editor of Disney Avenue and the host of the Disney Avenue Podcast. He has made countless trips to the Walt Disney World resort since his first trip in 1989 at the age of four. Keith has a strong passion and respect for Walt Disney, the parks and resorts, and the men and women who help create them. He started Disney Avenue as a way to inform and entertain readers and to repay all those who make dreams come true every day.

You can find all of Keith's articles here.

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