Disneyland may look like a straightforward theme park. But there is a secret world hidden behind the balloons, castles and cotton candy – a place where wild cats roam the park at midnight, Mickey Mouse hides in the wallpaper and movie stars sip martinis behind closed doors.
It is not easy keeping the grounds of Disneyland
utterly spotless and free of unwanted pests. Every night after closing time,
200 feral cats are released into the park to help keep the rodent population
under control. Though Disney does not comment on the matter, rumour has it that
the feline taskforce dates back to 1957, when renovations to Sleeping Beauty
Castle revealed a colony of more than 100 stray cats. After unsuccessful
attempts to chase them out of the park, Disney decided to put the cats to work
instead. Today they spend their daylight hours resting in the park's
well-concealed “cat houses”, though you can sometimes spot a furry face peeking
out between the mechanical lions on the Jungle Cruise.
At Disneyland, the round-eared Mickey Mouse emblem is everywhere. But thanks to
clever “Imagineers” (Disney's specially trained designers and
engineers), hundreds of
“Hidden Mickeys” are also
scattered across the park. The subtle symbols are often difficult to spot; they
are camouflaged in the architecture and landscaping as well as in the smallest
stylistic details, from the floral wallpaper of the First Aid station and the
rust marks atop a treasure chest in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, to the
shapes of car speakers on Space Mountain. No one knows exactly how many exist.
Cocktails behind closed doors
Disneyland is dry - unless you can manage to get your name on the list at Club 33. The secret cocktail
lounge, tucked away above the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square, has a limited
membership of just 487 and a waiting list of approximately 14 years. Walt
Disney designed the club as an exclusive space to entertain possible investors;
since then, the lounge, complete with an elegant dining room and a first-class
wine cellar, has hosted US presidents, film stars, foreign dignitaries and lucky
guests with connections. It is said that Robert Kennedy dined here on 3 June,
1968, two days before he was assassinated.
Trick of the eye
Things are not always as they appear at Disneyland. The park's design employs
“forced perspective”, creating optical illusions that make structures appear
larger or smaller than they actually are. Sleeping Beauty Castle, for example,
looks much taller than its 77ft – that is because the “bricks” and other
architectural features grow progressively smaller as the towers rise. The
Matterhorn also appears more massive than it is, since the tallest trees are at
the base of the mountain and the smallest are placed at the summit. Entering
Main Street, thanks to clever angles and scaling techniques, the castle seems
far away and the old-fashioned shops and ice cream parlours seem to be several
stories tall. As you exit, the same Main Street seems much shorter. Walt Disney
figured that families coming into the park would be filled with anticipation,
but on leaving, they would be too tired for a leisurely stroll.
Always on stage
At Disneyland, a janitor is not a janitor – he is a “cast member”. So are the
legions of cashiers, painters, ride operators, gardeners and performers, from
the girl who portrays Cinderella to the guy pushing a broom around
Frontierland. All cast members are trained to follow a specific code of
etiquette that helps to preserve the Disney magic. On the list of dos and
don'ts? Never break character. If wearing a costume that belongs in Fantasyland,
do not set foot in Tomorrowland – it might confuse visitors or break the park's
orderly image. When directing guests, point with two fingers or an open palm,
never the index finger. Cast members are issued a Disney “look book” that
details the fresh-faced ideal – no long fingernails, beards or unnaturally coloured
hair allowed. It is a throwback to Walt Disney's All-American standards: when
the park opened even guests with
facial hair were not allowed entrance.
When construction was underway in the early 1950s, Walt didn't want to miss a
moment of his dream coming to life, which is why he installed a small private
apartment for his family above the Fire Department on Main Street. Decorated by
one of Disney's set designers, the apartment featured turn-of-the-century
decor; the apartment still contains Walt's tiled shower (fitted with multiple
shower heads to soothe an old polo injury) and a ceramic bar set Walt used to
serve his favourite hot drink, the rum- and brandy-based Tom & Jerry. The
lamp in the window, visible from the park, was once illuminated to signal to
cast members that the head honcho was on the premises. Today the lamp always
stays lit in honour of the man behind the mouse.
Correction: A previous version
of this article had the incorrect height of Sleeping Beauty Castle at 189ft. This has now been corrected to 77ft.
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The article 'The secret world of Disneyland' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.