Guide to Disneyland’s Best Kept Secrets

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Believe it or not, Disneyland holds a few secrets! It’s true. As millions of guests visit the park annually, most are blissfully unaware of what’s ACTUALLY going on around them. What are they missing? Did you know there are hundreds of “hidden Mickey’s” artfully placed all over Disneyland? Can you guess why it always smells like vanilla when you’re standing outside the Candy Palace on Main Street?

Most Disney fanatics already know the best-kept secrets and intentional inside jokes (known as Easter Eggs) found at the parks. So, for everyone else, let’s unravel a few of the secrets that Disneyland has tried to keep under wraps. Happy finding. 

The next time you’re on Main Street at Disneyland, stop in front of the Fire Station and look up at the window just above the garage. See the light? That’s Walt Disney’s private apartment. When he was alive, he would turn the light on to announce that he was in the park. After Walt passed away, his light remained on permanently (it’s never turned off) as an homage to Walt and the world he created. 

Disney Parks use “Smellitizers” to ensure various areas of the parks have particular smells. They produce everything from the fantastic vanilla smell on Main Street to the dank, musky scent on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Don’t believe it? The next time you’re on Main Street at Disneyland, stand in front of the window at the Candy Palace (where you can watch the candy makers create magical treats). Why does it always smell so good? Ever wonder how the smell permeates the window and wall? Look down. You’ll spot one of the hidden vents. 

Do you know why Disney Cast Member name tags only have their first name? Apparently, Walt Disney despised anyone calling him Mr. Disney. He felt it was too formal and set the wrong tone. 

We’ve all taken a ride on the iconic Disneyland Railroad. Did you know there are five meticulous restored working narrow-gauge engines named after American locomotive legends? The only exception is the Ward Kimball, named after the Disney Animator, who inspired Walt Disney’s passion for the railway. The engines are C.K. Holliday, E.P. Ripley, Ernest Marsh, Fred Gurley, and Ward Kimball. 

Lovely trivia but the real magic is found on the caboose of the C.K Holliday. The Lilly Belle Presidential train. This car was carefully designed and cultivated by Lillian Disney herself to provide an exceptional experience for her personal guests. It runs on a limited schedule with limited availability throughout most of the year.

Ahoy, Real Skull A-HEAD! When the Pirates of the Caribbean ride first opened in 1967, its designers found the fake skeletons placed throughout the ride were too flimsy to withstand the damp setting. After careful research, they discovered real human skeletal remains worked best. With the help of UCLA Medical School, they placed REAL human skeletons throughout the ride. Creepy! 

Have no fear! Since that time, the real bones were replaced with high-end replicas. Except one! The skull above the headboard in the bedchamber is REAL. There have been numerous debates about other real bones throughout the ride. Unfortunately, “dead men tell no tales!” and I can’t prove it. 

Did you know the dog holding the jail keys in Pirates of the Caribbean is molded after Walt’s beloved dog? It’s true. 

Hidden Mickey has become a phenomenon among Disney fans and the Walt Disney Imagineers who design the theme parks. What is it? A silhouette of our favorite mouse ears hidden around the parks. Some are obvious, while others are very well disguised. Need a hint? Look at carpet patterns, rocks in walls, the hieroglyphics on Indiana Ana Jones ride, etc. You’ll find Hidden Mickeys everywhere. 

One of the rarest finds sits atop the Big Ben Clock inside Peter Pan’s Flight in Fantasyland. It’s unique because it includes Mickey’s full silhouette as opposed to just his ears. Happy hunting. 

You can steer the Mark Twain, it’ true! However, it takes a bit of finesse. Here’s what to do: Right before you board, find a cast member and (very nicely) ask them if you can visit the wheelhouse. If the stars and moon align, they’ll direct you to the second floor to a door marked PRIVATE. Knock. The captain will answer. Then with an adorable smile on your face, politely ask the captain if you can drive/steer/take the helm. If luck is on your side, he will guide you up a ladder to the wheelhouse. This is where the magic happens. You can actually take the wheel. If you’re fortunate, they may teach you how to blow Mark Twain’s whistle and ring the bell. 

At the end of your journey, you’ll sign a special guest book which contains names of those who took the helm before you as an honorary captain. The book dates back to the mid-1950s (when Mark Twain was dedicated). Your exciting journey is recorded forever! 

Did you know the original Tomorrowland was created to represent 1986? Did it become Yesterdayland in 1987? 

Open since 1959; the Matterhorn Bobsleds takes guests on a thrilling adventure through a snowy peak modeled after the landmark in the Alps. However, the Matterhorn holds a secret! There is an actual basketball court (half court) located inside. The basketball hoop, complete with backboard and net, was installed in an attic-like space about two-thirds of the way up the mountain. Climbers and Cast Members used the basketball court and staging area to prepare for scheduled climbs or to pass the time when there was inclement weather. 

Stop by the New Orleans Square Train Station, and you’ll hear a mysterious Morse Code message being clacked out from the telegraph office next door. The message is a portion of Walt Disney’s original dedication speech that he delivered on opening day. It reads: “To all who come to Disneyland, welcome. Here age relives fond memories of the past, and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.”

In 2008, Disneyland honored the legendary Julie Andrews with the dedication of a carousel horse, which you can find on King Arthur’s Carousel located in Fantasyland. The horse named “Jingles,” is a replica of the horse she rode in the iconic Mary Poppins movie. Her horse is adorned with bells, umbrellas, and even a silhouette of the world-famous nanny herself. 

While you’re in Fantasyland head over to Snow White’s Scary Adventures: Every few minutes, the Evil Queen (Queen Grimhilde, Snow White’s, not-so-nice stepmother) peers through the curtains and glares ominously out her window at the crowd below. She can be spotted above the Snow White attraction and easily seen from across the courtyard. Have some fun, tell your kids the evil queen is watching them (if they start acting up). 

The next time you take a ride on the Jungle Cruise, take note. Towering way above the other flora is a hundred and twenty-four-year-old Canary Date Palm. 

As the story goes, when Walt Disney Enterprises purchased the land from the Dominguez family, they had only one stipulation before signing on the dotted line. Keep the palm tree initially planted in 1896. The tree was a wedding gift for the Dominguez family and held sentimental value. Walt remained true to his word! When construction began in 1955, the date palm was moved to its current location in Adventureland and never touched again. 

 

Disneyland has secret menu items! These are items not found on the regular menu, and to order, you’ll have to ask a cast member. 

Some secret menu items become so wildly popular they eventually make it to the regular menu like the Mac-n-Chili-Sourdough Bowl at Refreshment Corner on Main Street. One of my personal favorites takes its cue from In-and-Out (a popular So-Cal Burger chain). Head over to Tomorrowland. At the Galactic Grill, order the Galactic Burger, ask for them to make it Animal Style (topped with extra sauce, grilled onions (optional), extra cheese, and french fries on top of a burger). It’s out of this world. 

There are too many secret menu items to list, so I’ll leave you with one more. Tropical Hideaway in Adventureland sells Dole Whip. Up your game by ordering your Dole Whip with candied bacon on top, crazy good! If you like the salty-sweet combination, you’ll get hooked.

 Note: Not all restaurants have a secret menu, ask! Also, the menus continually change throughout the parks. 

If you’ve been to Disneyland, you may have walked right by the entrance of Disney’s ultra-exclusive restaurant, Club 33. Although it’s not much of a secret anymore, the entrance is hiding in plain sight in New Orleans Square behind a simple gray door. Originally envisioned by Walt Disney as a quiet place to personally entertain corporate sponsors and special guests, he, unfortunately, passed away before its opening.

Today the swank, invite-only club is trickier than ever to gain access. A-list members tend to treat Club 33 like Fight Club, “What happens at Club 33, stays at Club 33!” Another little secret the members may not share, unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland does not sell alcohol anywhere in the Magic Kingdomexcept inside the exclusive Club 33. 

Side Note: I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to Club 33! Yes, I’ve been inside! Aside from the lavish decor and incredible service, I was awestruck by the original works of art that adorn the walls — concept drawings of Mickey Mouse, scene sketches from Disney’s most beloved old movies, etc. I’ve only been once, but I will treasure the experience forever. 

 Do you know a few Disney secrets or fun facts? I’d love to hear about them. Please share in the comment section below. 


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Guide to Disneyland’s Best Kept Secrets