The early 1970s saw some of the greatest pop-culture moments of the century: the release of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” the birth of “The Godfather” franchise, the formation of ABBA, the emergence of David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – and the opening of Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
The now-world-famous theme park made its debut in October 1971, and in honor of the mega-destination’s 45th birthday, we’ve rounded up some of the amusement park’s most surprising, bizarre and downright enchanting facts that only insiders know.
▪ The Cinderella castle features a near-impossible-to-access VIP suite: The Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle was inspired by French Renaissance chateaux and Gothic and Romanesque castles of Europe. The iconic structure houses what may be the world’s most unattainable hotel room: luxurious living quarters originally meant for Walt Disney himself and his family. (He died five years before the park’s opening, so he never got to enjoy the super-exclusive apartment.) A private elevator leads to a marble foyer, the entryway for an Italian-tile-floored bedroom, bathroom and sitting area, all adorned in opulent King Louis XVI-era furniture and decor. The Royal Suite isn’t available for booking or touring; access is awarded only to the occasional sweepstakes winner or A-list celeb (Tom Cruise and Kevin Jonas have both scored stays there).
▪ The castle includes a shocking attention to detail: Every seemingly small facet of Cinderella Castle was meticulously planned, including the exact height. The building is 189 feet tall; had it hit the 190-foot mark, Disney would have had to affix a blinking red light at the top to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The upper reaches of the castle hold another architectural subtlety: The bricks are smaller than the ones at the building’s base. This creates a perspective trick, making the castle’s proportions and scale seem even grander than they really are. The gold turrets help with this effect, too. They’re actually coated in aluminum, but 14-karat gold was used in the five hand-laid glass mosaics found in the castle’s archway.
▪ Guests will never see trash collection, off-duty characters or maintenance workers: All of the garbage tossed in bins throughout Disney World is “magically” whisked away, thanks to an elaborate series of pneumatic tubes beneath the park. This may seem like a modern technological upgrade, but it is actually part of the original, half-a-century-old design. Walt didn’t want guests to witness something as “pedestrian” as trash collection, so a massive complex that could contain the tube system was engineered. To this day, the tubes suck waste from the bottom of trash cans all over the park and siphon it to a repository, where it is sorted and processed. The complex, called the Utilidors, not only houses the tubes but also all sorts of functional areas, like locker rooms, laundry rooms, cafeterias and hallways for cast and crew members to get from place to place without being seen. The Utilidors tunnel network is thought of as being underground, but it was actually built on the ground level, with the rest of Disney World constructed above.
▪ The American flags lining Main Street aren’t the real thing: “Things aren’t always what they seem,” Jafar warns Aladdin in the 1992 animated film. That line could be applied to the American flags flying over Main Street USA in the park. Look closely: The flags don’t feature a full set of 50 stars and 13 stripes, meaning they’re not true American flags. The similar-but-not-quite designs are a nifty way for Disney World to bypass such protocol as taking the flags down at night or in bad weather.
▪ Hundreds of secret Mickeys are stashed all over the property: As if Disney-goers need any more diversions, they always have Mickey-hunting as an option. The famous three-circle Mickey symbol is cleverly embedded all over the resort’s 142 acres: Circular survey markers and utility covers implanted in sidewalks feature ear-like adornments. A wood “Steinmouse & Sons” piano at the Emporium Shop has a gold mouse emblem. Decorative rope at the Frontier Trading Post is twisted into the iconic shape. Mickey’s likeness is carved into rocks, cut into shrubbery, painted into murals and woven into carpeting prints, wall designs and floor tile patterns – even the textured skin of a dinosaur on the Cretaceous Trail. Actually, don’t take our word for it: There are books and apps and hashtags dedicated to uncovering each and every hidden Mickey.