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The Un-Happiest Place on Earth? 10 Little-Known Secrets About Disney Theme Parks

(Photo Credits: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
(Photo Credits: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

When Walt Disney envisioned his animations come to life, he imagined a huge amusement park where people of all ages could escape reality and interact with the characters and worlds they know and love. After years of planning and $17 million dollars, Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955.

Since then, Disney continues to be a huge attraction, with 12 parks across the globe including Shanghai, Tokyo, and Paris. But behind the mouse ears, princess gowns, and thrilling rides, the “happiest place on Earth” can sometimes become a nightmare.

Former Disney employees took to Reddit to share their own personal horror stories about what goes on behind the scenes of Cinderella’s castle – and you won’t guess how wild it gets!

Real ghosts at Haunted Mansion

A ghostly bride from Disney's Haunted Mansion ride
Constance Hatchaway, also known as The Black Widow Bride, from The Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. (Photo Credit: Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Apparently, Disney’s iconic Haunted Mansion ride is a popular spot for guests to spread the ashes of their loved ones who hope their ghosts can join others at the attraction and live in the park forever. Does that make Haunted Mansion the most authentic ride, since it’s complete with actual ghosts?

These unofficial (and unapproved by Disney!) funerals also happen at other attractions like the Magic Kingdom flower beds and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The Disney “FU”

Disneyland Employee
Cast Member at Walt Disney World. (Photo Credit: Elisfkc/Theme Park Tourist via. Wikimedia Commons).

According to one Reddit user, cast members deal with unruly, rude guests by sending them off with the sarcastic saying “have a magical day” – what employees lovingly refer to as the “Disney FU.

The Three D’s

Cast members at Disneyland
Stormtroopers interact with a cast member during the unveiling of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, California. (Photo Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An overwhelming majority of Disney horror stories involve the not-so-PG relations between cast members when guests aren’t looking. This unofficial rule, known as “The Three D’s,” helps to keep employees from sneaking off behind rides. The “Three D’s” stands for Don’t Do Disney – AKA don’t sleep with your co-workers. It never ends well.

Does the Caribbean always smell this bad?

Guests look up at waterfall
Guests are seen on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom (Photo Credit: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Most park-goers who ride the Pirates of the Caribbean water attraction notice the water smells funky. Not swimming pool funky – in fact, most can’t quite put a finger on it. Supposedly, the water in the ride isn’t filtered but is treated with a special chemical called bromine. Unlike chlorine, bromine has a milder smell and is more effective at killing bacteria in the water – giving Pirates of the Caribbean its own special scent.

Splash Mountain surprise

Splash Mountain ride
Guests ride Splash Mountain at Walt Disney Co.’s Disneyland Park. (Photo Credit: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images).

Accidents happen, but Disney doesn’t let that get in the way of dispensing magic to guests. One former employee used to work at the iconic Splash Mountain ride when “the ceiling collapsed on the logs with guests in it. They just put a tarp over the hole and kept running the ride. I never rode it again after that.”

“Mickey Mouse” gets hunted by feral cats

Mickey Mouse
Mickey Mouse attends the 95th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Photo Credit: James Devaney/Getty Images)

Disneyland has a colony of feral cats that live in the park! In exchange for food and shelter, the cats help control pests like mice in the park – does that mean they are encouraged to kill our beloved Mickey Mouse?

‘The Disney Look’

Characters during a parade
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves during a Disney parade. (Photo Credit: traveljunction via. Wikimedia Commons).

Proudly advertised on Disney’s careers website, the “Disney Look” is a rigid set of guidelines that all employees must follow to fit in with the Disney brand.

According to the site: “The Disney Look… is clean, polished and approachable, and is designed with our costumed and non-costumed cast members in mind.” This includes clean-shaven cast members like this one: “Before I started a shift, I was given a razor and asked to shave because of stubble/5 o’clock shadow.”

Hidden garbage everywhere

Disney employee cleaning litter near an attraction
A park employee cleans up trash at Disney’s California Adventure Park. (Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images)

One common thread among former Disney cast members seems to be Disney’s “out of sight, out of mind” approach to dealing with trash. One former employee explained, “What the light doesn’t touch… you don’t see. Spaceship Earth has whole piles of junk hidden in the center, there’s a random barbecue just sat underneath the launch of the Rock n Roller Coaster.”

No bathroom breaks

Man sitting on an animatronic alligator while drinking a beverage
Taking a break on an alligator. (Photo Credit: Tom Nebbia/Getty Images)

One former Disney employee revealed the company’s strict policies for cast members, even taking it as far as eight-hour shifts without a break: “If you worked at the diners or food service places where someone was at a register that you walked past to order/ charge your food, you didn’t get to drink anything or go to the bathroom for your full 8-10hr shift. That’s when I lost all respect for them; not even 5 minutes to go to the bathroom.”

Gory Goofy

Goofy in a crowd
Goofy at the 1965 World’s Fair. (Photo Credit: Walter Leporati/Getty Images)

Costumed characters in the Disney parks are usually accompanied by cast members who help guide them throughout the park and assist with eager visitors looking to meet their favorite characters. But sometimes things can get out of hand between visitors and characters – take it from this former cast member:

“In one of our classes, they explained how the characters had to have ‘leads’ with them at all times, since Goofy was stabbed by a man who had been arguing with another adult about whether Goofy was a person in a costume or a REAL 6-foot dog in a hat. They also showed us how to pose for photos – both hands had to be visible in all photos, so the guests can’t use the photos as evidence that the characters were touching their butts.”

More from us: 10 Minor Details Brilliantly Hidden in Disney Movies

Regardless of these difficult experiences, Disneyland continues to see millions of visitors every year who are eager to make their own magical memories – hopefully ones without malfunctioning rides or wounded characters.

Elisabeth Edwards

Elisabeth Edwards is a public historian and history content writer. After completing her Master’s in Public History at Western University in Ontario, Canada Elisabeth has shared her passion for history as a researcher, interpreter, and volunteer at local heritage organizations.

She also helps make history fun and accessible with her podcast The Digital Dust Podcast, which covers topics on everything from art history to grad school.

In her spare time, you can find her camping, hiking, and exploring new places. Elisabeth is especially thrilled to share a love of history with readers who enjoy learning something new every day!

The Digital Dust Podcast