10 Almost Unbelievable Facts About Walt Disney World

by | Sep 14, 2023 | Animal Kingdom, Disney's Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, WDW Blog

We’re sharing our favorite – and some of the wildest! – facts about Walt Disney World, from the theme parks to the resorts and everything in between.

Think you know every last detail about Disney World? Even for the most die-hard fans, frequent visitors, and theme park regulars, there’s always a new tidbit to uncover! From intriguing attraction and resort backstories to impressive stats and figures, every detail of Disney World is really a marvel. Below, discover something new about Walt Disney World with these almost unbelievable (yet totally true) facts.

1. Disney’s Hollywood Studios Used to Be One Giant Hidden Mickey

Disney's Hollywood Studios Hidden Mickey

Photo courtesy of Disney

Hidden Mickeys are one of the most fun details to search for in Disney World attraction queues, resorts, restaurants, and of course attractions themselves. But the biggest Hidden Mickey of all is one you likely never noticed before – likely because it’s made up of an entire theme park.

When Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened in 1989, it was laid out with a particular purpose and shape unlike any other Disney World theme park. It was designed as a huge Hidden Mickey that would only be noticeable from above. Aerial photographs showed a clear outline of Mickey’s iconic ears, plus details like eyes and a nose shaped by landscaping on the ground. Even the park’s early guide maps showed off this nicely-hidden Mickey.

However, this Hidden Mickey is no more. When Sunset Boulevard was built and the first expansion came to Hollywood Studios in July 1994, the original shape of the theme park was forever changed. Now, you can still see portions of Mickey (most notably, his eyes and one ear) on the colored concrete beneath your feet and in the shape of Echo Lake.

2. Walt Disney World Briefly Had Its Very Own Airport

If you’ve ever wished you could skip the drive from Orlando International Airport to Disney World and land directly at the resort, here’s a shocker: That was actually possible back in the 1970s!

Walt Disney World had its own airport right near Magic Kingdom Park. Officially named Lake Buena Vista Airport, it was built in 1971 to serve as an STOL (short takeoff and landing) airfield just for Disney World’s visitors and employees. Shawnee Airlines provided passenger airline service from Lake Buena Vista Airport to Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport. It was a tiny airfield, with just enough space to accommodate four aircraft. 

In addition to being uniquely located in the heart of Disney World, this airfield was also special because it featured a “Singing Runway.” A set of grooves was placed in the tarmac that played “When You Wish Upon a Star” when planes rolled over top, delighting passengers onboard, Those grooves actually inspired other “singing roads” and “musical roads,” like those created in the 1990s in Denmark and Japan.

According to Atlas Obscura, the airport’s brief life came to an end when the monorail’s path was extended and approached the end of the runway. This made landing a plane here too dangerous, and even the official Disney plane (which is named Mickey Mouse One, if you were wondering!) couldn’t use the landing strip. All landings, both commercial and private, stopped completely in the early 1980s. 

Today, it looks like nothing more than a side road off in the backstage area by the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot (and it is still visible from the monorail and while you’re driving along World Drive!). However, if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll note that the center stripe looks an awful lot like an airport runway. However, the “Singing Runway” grooves are unfortunately no longer around. Up until 2008, vehicles driving 45 miles per hour or faster could still hear the notes of “When You Wish Upon a Star” play while rolling over those grooves. That year, they were finally removed.

3. You Can Buy a House Close Enough to Magic Kingdom to See the Nightly Fireworks

Think Disney World is so insulated and far from traditional cities and neighborhoods that you can’t see the fireworks spectaculars unless you’re inside the resort grounds? Think again! There’s actually a neighborhood of home close to Magic Kingdom Park – so close, in fact, you can experience the fireworks every night they explode in the sky.

Right behind Magic Kingdom, there are neighborhoods like Windermere and Winter Garden filled with homes of all kinds. And thanks to the proximity of the theme park, residents are able to see the fireworks shows right from their yards, in many cases! So, if you’ve always wanted a touch of Disney magic in your everyday life, this is where you can literally bring it home with you.

4. Spaceship Earth is Smaller Than the Aquarium Inside Sea Base

Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

Photo by Ernie Carr

At first glance, EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth looks bigger than anything else inside EPCOT. After all, it is the theme park’s icon! But when you actually break down the numbers, Spaceship Earth is surprisingly smaller than you might think. In fact, it’s smaller than EPCOT’s own aquarium inside Sea Base.

According to Dr. Mark Penning, @drmarkatdisney on Instagram and Vice President of Disney’s Animals, Science & Environment, the Sea Base aquarium is so big, you can fit Spaceship Earth inside of it and still have enough room to drive a bus around its perimeter. Now that’s a big aquarium!

5. Cinderella Castle Isn’t Made With Any Bricks

The next time you’re near Cinderella Castle inside Magic Kingdom Park, you may want to take a closer look at the gray-hued bricks that make up the bottom half of the structure. Disney World’s iconic princess castle might look like it’s constructed out of bricks, just like traditional castles around the world. But it actually doesn’t use a single brick!

That’s right: Cinderella Castle is made with no bricks at all, per Disney Parks Blog. Instead, it was built with concrete, steel, cement, plaster, and fiberglass. 

6. Space Mountain Was the First Fully Computer-Controlled Ride

Today, computer-controlled rides are the norm. But back in the 1970s, computers were just expanding in their various uses. And the very first place they were used for ride technology just so happened to be at Magic Kingdom Park for Space Mountain.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that when Disney World’s version of Space Mountain originally opened in March 1975, it made history as the first entirely computer-controlled ride. Disneyland’s version, which arrived in Anaheim two years later, followed in its footsteps – but this is one attraction that made Disney World history first.

Thanks to its computerized controls, Space Mountain was able to have some extra-thrilling details, like specific brake zones, a computer that gauges the weight of each ride vehicle, and automation that controls the distance between vehicles, allowing for multiple vehicles to be on the track simultaneously. That technology is now standard today, though it was quite novel in 1975. 

7. Splash Mountain’s Name Came From a Touchstone Pictures Movie 

Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom, Disney World

Photo by Judd Helms

Although Splash Mountain is now part of both Walt Disney World and Disneyland history with the attraction’s 2023 closure at both resorts, it’s still a quite interesting attraction. Featuring characters and a story inspired by the controversial 1946 Disney animated feature Song of the South, its name is something of a confusing detail. There’s nothing in Song of the South that references Splash Mountain.

Well, that’s because the attraction’s name came from a strange, totally unrelated source: the 1984 film Splash

According to MousePlanet, when then-CEO Michael Eisner was presented with the model and idea for the log flume ride that would become Splash Mountain, he wasn’t thrilled with any of the names that were directly tied to Song of the South. Instead, as a big fan of Splash, Eisner suggested working “splash” into the attraction name in hopes of promoting that film.

So, a ride that was almost called “Zip-a-Dee River Run” or “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” wound up becoming Splash Mountain!

8. The Carousel of Progress is the Longest-Running Stage Show in U.S. History

There’s no denying that Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress is a longtime staple of Magic Kingdom Park and Disney World – but few people realize that it’s been around for so long that it’s actually historic! It holds two distinctions within Disney World as both one of the oldest attractions in all of Disney World and the oldest attraction to have been touched by Walt Disney himself.

But even more importantly, the Carousel of Progress is culturally significant. It’s the current record holder for the longest-running stage show in the history of American theater. And yes, that means it’s been playing for audiences for longer than any popular Broadway show (including the long-running Phantom of the Opera!). 

9. Lightning Rods Are Hiding in Plain Sight Throughout the Resort

If you’ve ever visited Walt Disney World Resort during a thunderstorm, you might’ve noticed that the Orlando area sees a surprising amount of lightning. In fact, Central Florida sees more lightning than any other area in the U.S. – more than 50 lightning strikes per square mile every year!

So, to keep Guests safe and redirect those potential lightning strikes, Disney World has a unique design feature. Lightning rods are strategically placed throughout different areas of the resort (and you probably haven’t noticed them before). Here’s a look at some of the lightning rods you can spot:

  • The weathervane on top of the Hall of Presidents at Magic Kingdom Park
  • Mickey’s right ear atop the Crossroads of the World landmark at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • The spikes on the rooftop corners of Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
  • Atop Spaceship Earth at EPCOT

10. Disney World is Home to the World’s Most Expensive Roller Coaster

Expedition Everest

Photo by Brett Svenson

There are plenty of thrilling attractions at each one of Disney World’s theme parks (and even water parks!) – but Disney’s Animal Kingdom is home to one particularly special one. Expedition Everest is actually the most expensive roller coaster in the entire world!

That’s right: Expedition Everest is the current Guinness World Record holder for the most expensive roller coaster ever created. When it was built back in 2006, the attraction was estimated to cost $100 million total and took six years of research, development, and construction to complete. 

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Posts by Heather Adams

Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.

Authored by
Heather Adams

Heather is a lifelong Disney fan who grew up at Disneyland and loves spending as much time as possible in the parks. As WDW Magazine’s Content Operations Manager, Heather is a content creator and strategist with experience at a wide variety of different outlets. She’s written for publications including Clean Eating Magazine, Fatherly, The Drive, Task and Purpose, Healthversed, Nation.com, and Car Bibles. Heather also authored the book Fidget!: 101 Ways to Boost Your Creativity and Decrease Stress.
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