Meet two guys who know way too much about The Happiest Place on Earth--and got in trouble because of it.
You'd be hard-pressed to find grown men who love Disney more than Jim Hill and David Koenig. The two "Disney Dweebs"--Hill said it, not us--have devoted much of their lives to chronicling the parks. They're the kind of obsessives who get excited when news breaks that another mechanical cobra has been added to the Jungle Cruise.
Disney, however, doesn't feel quite the same way about them. In March, Disneyland staffers stopped Hill from leading an unauthorized tour of the park--and worse, charging for it. Afterward Hill admitted he was flat-out wrong for making a buck on private property, noting that "security was unfailingly polite and professional."
A month later, Disneyland guest relations trailed Koenig down Main Street, U.S.A., as he led his own unofficial tour, gently interrogating him in front of the faux City Hall. Because security couldn't prove that any money had changed hands, Koenig was allowed to continue. (A park spokesperson clarified that Koenig should've been stopped because his "free" tour was only for people who had purchased his book: "Only qualified Disneyland Resort cast members are authorized to provide tours.")
Anyone hoping that Disney was trying to cover up tales of scandal and sleaze will be disappointed: The renegade guides' spiels are mostly G-rated fun. We found that the Dweebs' tours add one more interesting layer to the experience of visiting the parks--a totally unofficial, undeniably dorky glimpse behind the magic that is Disney. --The Editors
As is our policy, we tried to confirm every fact in this story. Disney doesn't comment on rumors and certain historic and financial details, so we verified info through third-party sources whenever possible.
David Koenig's tour of Disneyland
Start on Main Street, U.S.A., where the "eternal lamp" still burns in the window of Walt Disney's private apartment over the fire station. The entrance is via a back door at the top of a green wooden staircase, though as in Walt's day, the single-room sanctuary is off-limits to visitors. The brass fire pole in the station used to serve as a second exit to the apartment, but the hole was closed off years ago after a boy shimmied up and surprised Walt.
Anyone can get inside the more luxurious apartment Walt had built above the Pirates of the Caribbean. The Mousetro died before the apartment was completed, and it's now an art gallery--and a great place to escape the crowds. You'll find a shaded courtyard and a spacious balcony overlooking the Rivers of America.
Below the balcony, next to the Blue Bayou restaurant, there's an inconspicuous green door with a plaque reading "33." Inside, a select group of VIPs regularly wine and dine at the Club 33. In the 1960s the club replaced a private room at the rear of the Red Wagon Inn (since remodeled as the Plaza Inn) as the top-secret spot for Disney executives to entertain big shots. Known as the Hideout or the Hideaway, the room had a fully stocked bar, even though the park has always prohibited alcohol.
Toward the end of Main Street, on the right, look for a porch in front of a china shop. When Disneyland opened in 1955, this is where a cash-starved Walt allowed Hollywood-Maxwell to sell corsets and lingerie. Walt took the rent money, but didn't want impressionable young eyes staring at women's undies in the window, so he discouraged business by situating the shop back from the street and installing a giant porch out front. The ploy worked: The so-called "Wizard of Bras" packed its bags in 1956.
Likewise, most of the original Tomorrowland is gone; it was once filled with cheesy corporate exhibits--Monsanto's chemistry hall, Kaiser's aluminum museum, the Crane Bathroom of Tomorrow. The latter had a bidet display; to shield it from kids, Walt had the bottom part of the glass in front of it frosted.
Except for the Autopia car ride, everything in the original Tomorrowland has been gutted and replaced several times over. The new Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters, restored Space Mountain, and Submarine Voyage (soon to return with a Finding Nemo twist) disguise the fact that a $100 million makeover of Tomorrowland, done just seven years ago, was a total bust.
Two telling relics remain: an abandoned overhead track and a giant marble ball on a blue mat. The track was built in the 1960s for the PeopleMover tramway. Once the PeopleMover felt more like Yesterdayland than Tomorrowland, Disney tried to save money by using the track for the high-speed Rocket Rods, introduced in 1998. The vehicles were ill-suited for the winding, unbanked rail, and after two years of breakdowns, the Rocket Rods vanished. The giant ball marked the center of a water fountain called Cosmic Waves. Designers figured guests would enjoy dodging the five-foot spurts of water. Wrong! Children preferred to get as wet as possible, splashing around in their underwear, or even naked. As the area devolved into a public bath, it began to smell like one, and Disney turned off the tap.
Other recent additions that have already started disappearing are Fastpass machines. The ride reservation kiosks, which allow guests to sign up for a specified entrance time rather than wait in line, seem to have grown too popular. I'm guessing that Disney officials removed Fastpass dispensers at rides such as Winnie the Pooh and Pirates of the Caribbean because they were sick of visitors milling around the machines--and clogging up the walkways--instead of waiting in the standby lines.
One activity you never have to wait for is tracking down all eight graveyards inside the park. Here are hints: There's one in Storybook Land, another in the shooting arcade, two on Tom Sawyer Island, and four in and around the Haunted Mansion. One at the Mansion is particularly tough to see--it's a pet cemetery, on the right side of the house, if you're looking at the front. Rumor has it, by the way, that a pet grave near the entrance is real. During construction, an employee reportedly buried the remains of his pet under the doggy tombstone.
Stranger yet, three years ago a family is said to have smuggled the ashes of their late son into the Haunted Mansion, his favorite ride, and began distributing his remains. Attendants watching via hidden cameras feared the powder might be anthrax. They quickly evacuated the ride and called in a HazMat crew.
Jim Hill's tour of Walt Disney World
In the fall of 1963, Walt Disney was up in the corporate plane scoping out central Florida real estate for what was then known as Project Sunshine. He spied a pretty little island among the cypress-filled swamps and imagined taking guests there for treasure hunts. "Treasure Island" was a big reason why Walt bought more than 40 square miles of land outside Orlando. Walt died in 1966, and the 11-acre retreat eventually became known as Discovery Island-- spot for hiking and observing flora and fauna, not treasure hunting. The island, which never drew the biggest crowds, has been off-limits to guests since 1999, around the same time Disney began steering visitors to the newly opened Animal Kingdom. The latest rumor has it that the island will open as an attraction based on the ABC series Lost.
Treasure Island isn't the only one of Walt's ideas not to work out as planned. The apartments he wanted inside the spires of Cinderella Castle were never built. And a much bigger project, Epcot, has almost nothing to do with the futuristic city Walt envisioned. You can catch a glimpse of what Walt had in by mind riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority. Before speeding toward Space Mountain, look on the left at the model of Progress City, used in the 1964 World's Fair--a sleek, Jetsons-style city with a prominent tower in the center. Walt wanted Epcot to be the most technologically advanced town in the world, with its own actual residents, not a park for day visitors. (It's also worth noting that Walt's ideas for urban planning have little in common with Celebration, the early-20th-century-style planned community Disney opened in 1996.)
One battle Walt did win, posthumously, was for the location of the Magic Kingdom. Walt believed it should be constructed far from the highway, so that visitors driving in would get a dramatic view of Cinderella Castle rising out of the forest. Building a five-mile access road through a swamp was going to be costly, however, and for a while after Walt's death this and other ideas were scaled back. Walt's brother, Roy, convinced the board of directors to build the Magic Kingdom right where Walt wanted it.
While the cost of the Florida park ballooned from $100 million to $400 million, the company tried to save money by canceling plans for new rides in Fantasyland based on Sleeping Beauty, Mary Poppins, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and instead building replicas of rides at Disneyland--Snow White's Scary Adventure, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and Peter Pan's Flight. The accountants trying to pinch pennies, however, didn't keep a close enough eye on the designers. Known as Imagineers, the designers built bigger, more elaborate versions of the originals, negating any savings netted by attempting to use carbon copies. The folks in Disneyland, in turn, tore down the original Fantasyland in 1983 for a full redesign.
Fantasyland in Orlando has changed over the years as well. The Snow White ride originally had no Snow White--you were supposed to experience the story from her perspective. Not everyone appreciated the concept, and the Imagineers eventually placed a Snow White figure in the opening scene. Fans of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride wrote letters, held "toad-in" protest rallies, and wore green T-shirts saying Ask Me Why Mickey Is Killing Mr. Toad, but that didn't stop the ride from closing in 1998 to make way for The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. There are tributes to Toad inside the new ride: As you're cruising along in a "hunny pot" through Owl's house, look for two paintings. There's one of Toad handing over the deed to Owl, and another of Winnie standing next to Toad's friend Mole.
Another mainstay that will soon disappear is the Swiss Family Robinson. The tree house, boat wreck, and other backdrops will become part of a Tarzan area. Robinson family props will be replaced by Jane, Kala, and other characters from Disney's 1999 animated feature. The cross-promoting doesn't stop there: Look for an animatronic Johnny Depp, dressed as film character Captain Jack Sparrow, to be staggering around the final sequence of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in 2006. (Something tells me Eddie Murphy won't be doing a similar cameo in the Haunted Mansion ride.)
Disney plays up its magical image, as if every detail in the park was and always will be perfect. The truth is that rides are always getting tinkered with. Young kids found Stitch's Great Escape confusing and frightening, so Imagineers removed scary moments and added audio of an unseen child saying such things as, "Look, Stitch is headed for the ceiling."
Like the rides, Disney staffers aren't always perfect, or particularly well-behaved. During the Watergate hearings, prankster employees in the Hall of Presidents would tie Nixon's hands behind his back--like, well, a crook. And in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the statue of Bill Clinton invariably wound up with condoms stuffed in his pockets.