Extreme Makeover Home Edition: The Truth About The Show
Disney is one of the largest companies in the world - It has a beloved animation studio, it operates several theme parks around the world, owns several movie studios and tv channels, and has a huge merchandising operation. Disney Parks, and especially Walt Disney World in Florida, are a worldwide phenomenon. Children everywhere dream about going to visit a Disney theme park. Whether you've been already, want to go in the future, or never intend to go, these facts about Disney Parks will blow you away!
The first-ever Disney park opened in Anaheim, California, in 1955. Unfortunately, Disneyworld had a terrible opening day (referred to as 'Black Sunday') because a few rides broke down in front of live press. However, thankfully the park still became incredibly popular in its first year of operation. The accompanying hotel, which opened three months after the park, was also a huge success.
Disneyland's massive success caused an odd problem, though. Hotels started cropping up all around the park in Anaheim, and the city council, excited about the boost to the local economy, did nothing to stop it despite Walt Disney's pleas. Eventually, there was so much new, glitzy, construction around the park that Walt felt boxed in. This is one of the big reasons why he made sure to get a much larger plot of land for his second resort.
Market surveys done by the Disney company showed that only 5% of Disneyland's visitors came from east of the Mississippi River, where 75% of the population of the United States lived. Tapping into this huge audience was enough of a reason to open a second theme park, but Walt also had a vision he wanted to achieve.
Disney World, or "The Florida Project," as it was called back then, was going to be much different than its predecessor, Disneyland. Walt wanted the resort to be unique and have its own particular style and set of attractions. A key component of his vision was the 'Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow' or EPCOT. He envisioned Epcot as a city of the future, where city-living innovations could take place.
Walt knew after the Disneyland hotel situation that he needed a much bigger portion of land to truly do his project the way he wanted, and market research had shown that the new resort should be on the East Coast. Walt personally flew over several sites that might have been suitable, and after an exhaustive search, finally settled on a centrally located site near Bay Lake close to Orlando.
Walt Disney World Company used various dummy corporations to acquire 30,500 acres in the mid-60s. They created companies like the "Reedy Creek Ranch Corporation" and others to buy land because they correctly speculated that if people knew what was really going on, land prices would skyrocket. Most of the landowners were happy to sell their land, which was largely just swampy marshland.
It's tough to keep a project on the scale of what Walt was trying to achieve a secret. People eventually started noticing that a lot of land was being bought in the area. There was some speculation that NASA was buying the land, Ford, the Rockefellers, or Howard Hughes, but Emily Bavar solved the mystery from the 'Orlando Sentinel.'
Emily conducted an interview with Walt at Disneyland's 10th-anniversary celebration, where she asked him directly about the project. His reaction was strong, and this, and some more research convinced her that she was correct, so she wrote an article suggesting that Disney was the one buying the land. Once the cat was out of the bag, Walt admitted the truth and revealed his plans to open "the greatest attraction in the history of Florida" on October 25, just a few weeks before the scheduled official announcement on November 15.
Walt Disney died on December 15, 1966, because of complications before his beloved Florida Project was completed. His older brother Roy Disney postponed his own retirement to oversee his brother's dream. Eventually, the future city concept of Epcot had to be modified, but Roy did all he could to make sure that the new resort would be something his brother would approve of.
The park officially opened on October 1, 1971, and just 24 days later, Roy dedicated the property and declared that it would be known as "Walt Disney World" in his brother's honor. He said, "Everyone has heard of Ford cars. But have they all heard of Henry Ford, who started it all? Walt Disney World is in memory of the man who started it all, so people will know his name as long as Walt Disney World is here". Roy died just a few months later, but we hope he died happy knowing that he had completed his brother's vision.
Major General William “Joe” Potter met Walt Disney at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The Major General had graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a degree in Civil Engineering and had served in the Panama Canal Zone. His experience in Panama made him the right man to solve Walt's mosquito problems.
Anyone who's been to Florida is familiar with the mosquito problem. The climate is tropical, it rains a lot, it's humid, and mosquitoes love it there. Walt wanted to make sure that these bloodsuckers wouldn't ruin his guests' experience and started looking for solutions. Major General William “Joe” Potter had worked on exactly this problem in Panama during the construction of the Panama Canal. The area was a malaria hotspot, and authorities needed to control the spread of the disease if they wanted to complete the project on time.
One of the first things Joe had to do was drain the swampy marshlands to get rid of any standing water where mosquitos could breed. He achieved this by creating drainage ditches that are still in use today and affectionately known as "Joe's ditches." The goal was to create a system where water would constantly be flowing, thereby not allowing the insects to lay their eggs.
Joe Potter's experience in Panama had taught him that killing mosquitoes was not an effective solution. The best way to control the insect's population was to make sure that their larvae had as few places as possible to mature. Disney expert Christoper Lucas told Reader's Digest, “The guests usually don’t notice it…but the water is constantly flowing. Whenever you walk by a body of water, there’s usually a fountain in the middle of it, or they’re doing something to keep it flowing”.
The buildings at Walt Disney World are majestic, mystical, beautiful, and anti-mosquito. Lucas explained, "They made every building there curved, or designed in a way so there’d be no place for the water to catch and sit there… The architecture is really appealing to the eye, but it also serves a purpose: it makes it less conducive to mosquitoes”.
Trying to find solutions to a problem as ubiquitous as mosquitoes require a lot of creative thinking and multiple approaches. Even the plants at the park are selected in a way that prevents mosquito breeding - only plants that don't allow water to puddle in them are allowed. Water Lillies and other plants that might hide mosquito larvae under them are also banned, and bodies of water are filled with fish that eat mosquito larvae.
Walt was adamant from the beginning that he didn't want his guests sprayed with potentially dangerous chemicals, and Joe came up with an elegant solution that is still employed at all Disney Parks around the world. Mosquitoes despise the smell of garlic, so liquid garlic is sprayed all around the parks every day in amounts that arent noticeable to humans but are kryptonite to mosquitoes.
Another ingenious prong in Disney's mosquito surveillance program is its use of chickens. Chickens are kept in coops around the park and lead pretty normal chicken lives apart from getting their blood tested regularly. Though chickens aren't affected by mosquito-borne diseases, traces of the pathogens can be found in their blood. Park staff uses these blood reports as a way of finding out which areas of the park need special attention.
Major General William “Joe” Potter died in 1988, but his legacy lives on. The techniques he developed are still in use today, not just by Disney but around the world. Dick Nunis, Walt Disney Attractions’ former president, said, “Joe was a man Walt Disney was very fond of. Without Joe Potter, there would be no [Disney World] today”. Joe was dubbed a Disney Legend in 1997, and one of the ferries that operate on the Seven Seas Lagoon was renamed General Joe Potter.
There is an expansive network of tunnels under the ground at Walt Disney World. Some of these exist because of Joe's drainage ditches, but Walt had always had a plan for the underside of his park. These tunnels, also known as “Utilidors,” are where cast members store their costumes, take their breaks, and get around the park unseen. Amazingly, the utilidors are also used to move trash around the park. A series of pipes and pressurized air is used to shoot trash around at 60mph.
Walt was a visionary who cared about the environment. Whether this was because he just knew that keeping the park green and clean would attract more visitors, or he really just loved nature isn't important. Apparently, Walt himself went to visit several theme parks for research and counted that on average, people will carry trash with them for 30 steps before just throwing it on the ground. That's why you will always find a trash can within 30 steps at Walt Disney World.
Disney World buys the second most amount of explosives in the United States, behind only the US Military. Don't worry, Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck aren't waging a secret war, the explosives are fireworks. The extravagant fireworks displays that happen at different locations around the park several times a day cost a staggering 50 million dollars a year.
Walt Disney World covers about 50 square miles. To put that into perspective, that's almost twice the size of Manhattan and close to the size of San Francisco. This massive park manages over 52 million guests each year and contains over 36,000 hotel rooms. Finally, the resort employs over 70,000 people to keep things magical.
Of course, excited children and people are going to lose things, and considering the number of guests that show up every year, some interesting things have been discovered in lost and found. Some of the weirder ones include a glass eye, a prosthetic leg, and a potty trainer, which were amazingly all claimed. The lost and found department also collects about 200 pairs of sunglasses daily!
The American flags displayed on Main Street U.S.A. at Walt Disney World aren't actually technically American flags. Flags have to be lowered and raised, or kept at half-mast for a variety of reasons. To keep the flags flying high all the time, each flag has one star and one stripe less than the American flag. Did you ever notice?
The tallest structures on the park are Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest and Disney’s Hollywood Tower of Terror. They are exactly 199 feet tall, and that's by design. No, Walt wasn't afraid of heights, nor did he have a mortal terror of the number 200. Buildings in the area over 200 feet tall have to display aviation lights, which would have ruined the immersive experience that makes Disney World so magical.
Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom is stunning, built to be beautiful, it certainly appears so from the outside. Surprisingly, the building is mostly empty, and though it looks like stone, the shell is actually made with fiberglass. The reason? The castle was built to withstand hurricanes up to 125 miles per hour. Maybe the three little pigs should move in.
Each year, visitors at Disney eat a half-million pounds of mac and cheese, one million pounds of watermelon, two million pounds of ketchup, and seven million hamburgers apart from millions of pounds of turkey and other food items. Proving that people love coke, they also drink 75 million Coca-Cola beverages, but just 13 million bottles of water.
The windows on Main Street have the names of people who were instrumental in the construction of Walt Disney World. Sometimes the type of store is connected to the role that they had; sometimes it isn't. Though new names are added on occasion, it's only been done for people who really impacted the park, and only after they retired.
Walt Disney World is indeed a magical place. The visionary behind it, the people who helped him, and the final park all have an incredible story. Walt Disney World is now the most visited vacation resort in the world, with over 52 million annual visitors, and it should be considering the effort, ingenuity, and creativity that has gone into making this dream of Walt Disney's come true.