When it comes to Disney history, park lore is easily the most exciting kind. So much work, time and creativity went into developing the theme parks as we know them today, that the stories behind the groundbreaking attractions can be as thrilling as the rides themselves (if you've managed to snag a front-row seat, that is).
If you've been to Disneyland a few times, you've likely heard all about the secret basketball court inside the Matterhorn—which, sadly, is no more. And, if you consider yourself a Walt Disney World expert, you probably know about the re-used props within the Jungle Cruise and maybe even the curious way Animal Kingdom staffers encourage the gorillas and lions to places where they'll be seen by guests.
Whether you're gearing up for your first trip or your fortieth, there are plenty of other secrets and stories about your favorite attractions you've definitely never caught wind of. Curious about the many weird iterations of The Haunted Mansion? Or what surprise flows beneath the It's A Small World boats? Read on:
Say "Cheese!" and "Thank You"
The real reason photos are taken during the drop on Splash Mountain is because former CEO Michael Eisner liked his own mug so much. After someone took his picture during the ride's plummet, he wanted other guests to be able to share in that experience (for purchase, of course) and had Imagineers install the photo setup that exists there today.
It's All (Kind Of) An Illusion
If you think Haunted Mansion's stretching room involves an elevator ride, well, you're half correct. In Disneyland, an elevator is necessary to get guests down under the Disneyland Railroad tracks and into the actual show building, which lies outside of the park lines. When the ride was constructed in Walt Disney World, though, there was plenty of room to work with, so the ceiling simply rises to give a similar effect.
Space Mountain's Building Is Inside-Out
The rigid white beams of the building that calls Space Mountain home helps emphasize its futuristic appeal—but the form is more function than design. By placing the roof structure on the outside, Imagineer John Hench was able to utilize a smooth surface inside to project all of the planetary wonders that make the star-filled atmospheric journey so realistic.
Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere
The Astro Orbiter is inspired by sketches penned by Leonardo Da Vinci. The play Our Town—and its lead character's pride for his hometown—served as the spark for the story within Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress. The idea for the PeopleMover came from products inside the Ford factory moving on tracks between assembly lines. And Splash Mountain? Well, that idea simply came to Imagineer Tony Baxter...while sitting in traffic.
The Haunted Mansion As We Know It Today Almost Didn't Happen.
The current ride was only one of many, many iterations on the concept. The attraction was tossed around in development for 18 years, and while the early idea of it being a "retirement home for ghosts" prevailed after Walt's passing, the ride to this day remains a mish-mosh of creative differences. Imagineers couldn't decide whether the ride should be scary or funny, and while the latter won out, the terrors weren't totally done away with. If you'll notice, the first half of the ride with is much spookier than the lively ballroom dancers, graveyard songs and hitchhiking ghosts in its second half, honoring two top creatives' varied concepts.
Plenty of Changes Come From Guest Feedback
Snow White's Scary Adventures in Disneyland is intended to take park-goers through the ride as Snow White, but that proved to be too high-concept. The only reason visitors now see her within the ride is because guests continued to wonder where she was. The Jungle Cruise wasn't supposed to be humorous, either. When Walt overheard guests commenting that they didn't need to ride it again, he knew he had to change things up to keep them coming back. With a joke-packed script—as well as regular scenery changes—it's become the crowd favorite we know today.
Your Favorite Disney Ride Was Almost A Museum
Pirates of the Caribbean, before it was the boat ride we all love today, was originally intended to be a walk-through wax museum. (It became a ride following the success of It's A Small World.) The Haunted Mansion, too, was at one point planned to be home to a Museum of the Weird, a collection of oddities from around the world.
It Really Is A Small World
The beloved ride (and its slightly annoying soundtrack) sure takes its nation-melding seriously. When the ride was brought to Disneyland following its appearance at the 1964 World's Fair, the first boats traveled over a mix of water that was brought from various oceans and seas throughout the world as part of its opening ceremony. For a modern take on Disney's cross-culture attractions, try your hand at drinking around the world in Epcot.
Many Rides Aren't Experienced Today As Intended
Walt originally wanted for the Jungle Cruise to contain real animals. That plan was tossed aside for obvious reasons, though Animal Kingdom's Kilimanjaro Safaris are essentially a full-scale realization of his original dreams. When Disneyland Autopia opened in 1955, it didn't have center tracks; the ride became an amusement version of highway lunacy but guardrails weren't added until a decade later. (The Mad Tea Party originally didn't have brakes either, but that was rectified more quickly.) The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror didn't always plummet the way it does now—when it first opened at Disney's Hollywood Studios, guests experienced just one full drop to the bottom instead of the randomized sequence guests now love. And, while you may have heard that Expedition Everest is home to a Yeti that is the most advanced audio-animatronic Disney Imagineering has ever built, despite practically no guests have ever seen it work at full capacity—that may change soon. Rumor has it that the Yeti's fix-up could come as soon as next year.