From fantastical shows to thrilling rides, Disney World is a magical fairytale for kids and adults alike. But there’s more to the enchanting playground than meets the eye: secret rules that all employees have to abide by, for one. This is what really goes on behind the scenes at Disney, and some of it doesn’t sound like much fun at all.
20. Never break character
It doesn’t matter what role the employee has, they’re always “on stage” when they’re in the public eye. The Disney rulebook states that no staff are allowed to break character or use their own voice. That whole “be yourself” schtick doesn’t apply here.
19. Tweeting is forbidden
An employee posting updates on Twitter, Facebook or any social media about their character or role is a strict no-no. It’s just as well Tweetie Pie is with Warner Bros. A former Disney princess revealed that staff aren’t allowed to even tell people what character they play.
18. Princesses have a height limit
According to a retired Disney princess who answered questions on Reddit, all the princesses have height restrictions. They have to be between 5’4” and 5’7”. Fairies, meanwhile, all range from 4’11”to 5’2”. If you’re too short or too tall, some dreams can never come true at Disney World.
17. Strict training is required
Some people are born princesses. Most of us are not. Training to become a Disney World character is intensive, involving five days of preparation. One former princess said, “Mostly they just want you to study the film intensely. I can quote the movie from start to finish from memory.”
16. There’s an age limit
If you’re playing a female Disney character, there’s an age limit. Most of the girls range between 18 and 23. “Rarely is a girl over 27 who does princesses or fairies,” said the former princess. Girls who have spent a century or so sleeping in a tower need not apply.
15. No nail varnish allowed
Disney keeps a close watch over the cosmetic habits of its staff. One of the rules for women is that they aren’t permitted to wear multicolored or neon nail polish.
14. Don’t talk about things outside of Disney
Disney staff aren’t allowed to discuss anything that lies outside the boundaries of the Disney universe. A former princess revealed, “We also weren’t supposed to refer to things outside the Disney realm. Snow White does not know Thomas the Tank Engine.” Now there’s a spin-off we don’t need to see.
13. Never refuse photos or autographs
According to a former Disney princess, “Finding a solution to guest problems is a number-one priority. I couldn’t flat out refuse autographs or pictures or answering questions.” Who would have thought being a princess would be such hard work?
12. Smile at all times
Cast members have to smile literally all the time. A previous princess confirmed the rule, and a woman who played Belle said her face was left in pain from all the smiling. Does that mean that even Baloo has to grin and bear it?
11. No mutton chops allowed
Some employers place restrictions on how staff can have their facial hair – but Disney takes this one step farther, dictating how men must style their sideburns. The official rulebook reads, “Sideburns should be neatly trimmed… Flares or muttonchops are not permitted.” Disney’s heroes often have more than their fair share of close shaves, after all.
10. There’s a special code word for… accidents
Sugary food plus rides plus overexcited children equals… a recipe for disaster. And cast members have a secret phrase for when clean-up is needed after kids throw up. It’s known as “Code V” or a “protein spill.”
9. There’s a certain way to pick up trash
All staff are required to pick up trash in order to keep the park clean. Melissa VanDyke, who was part of the Tarzan Rocks show, even said there’s a special way to do it: “You need to swoop it up gracefully.”
8. There’s a secret code for people trying to spread ashes
One of the more bizarre types of incident that happens at Disney is people trying to spread the ashes of their dead loved ones – yet it’s such a regular occurrence that staff have a code word. They must say “white powder alert” to report guests.
7. Never point with one finger
Staff at Disney are under strict instructions to point with two fingers or the entire hand – but never with one finger. A former cast member said this is “so it’s not interpreted as being rude.”
6. Use guests’ names
Disney keeps a close eye on guests’ names, either via their name tag or by checking out your credit card. That’s because all staff members have to thank visitors by name. Some of Donald Duck’s pronunciations should be interesting.
5. Disney workers can’t choose their character
Employees have to stick with their assigned character, said a cast member who played Pocahontas and Mulan. “You do not have any say in what character they fit you in. They do not tell you why you are not chosen for that character.” Although if you were always assigned Beast or Dopey, it might be hard not to take it personally.
4. Don’t get spotted outside your area
Workers can’t be seen by the audience outside of their dedicated area, in case it spoils the magic or blows the tiny minds of visiting children. Staff have to scuttle along underground tunnels when they’re going in and out.
3. Don’t talk about “lost children”
Disney has this weird rule where if a kid gets separated from their parents, it’s the adults who are considered lost, not the children. “How could a child be lost at Disney? It’s the happiest place on earth!” said a former employee.
2. Never ask a celebrity for their autograph
Famous people like to go to Disney world too, but it’s a super strict rule that cast members can’t ask celebrities for their autographs. In fact, you would get fired if you break this rule. Celebrities probably love it here.
1. Stick to the script
From performers to cast members, from retail vendors to attraction hosts, everything is completely scripted, down to the letter. Disney workers have to stick to the official script and not deviate. It doesn’t seem like such a fairytale any more, does it?
These rules all help to make Disney parks places where dreams come true. But there are several dark secrets about the conglomerate that are actually the stuff of nightmares. Yep, be warned: these 20 facts may just ruin your childhood.
20. The mysterious death of Debbie Stone
In 1974, 18-year-old Debbie Stone got the dream side-job as a hostess for “America Sings,” a new musical performance at Disneyland. But during one evening performance after Debbie left the stage, park guests heard a horrifying scream and rushed to find the teenager crushed to death between the rotating wall and stage. Even to this day, no one knows exactly how it happened.
19. Brain-eating parasites at Disney World
Located on Bay Lake in the grounds of Disney World, River Country was Disney’s first ever water park. Now in 1980 a young boy of 11 was killed by a brain-eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, which lived in the semi-fresh waters of River Country that kids used to swim in. The park closed down in 2001 and remains eerily abandoned to this day.
18. Walt Disney was an FBI stooge
Unless you’re a criminal, you can’t really mock someone for working closely with the FBI; they’re there to keep us safe, after all. But in the ’50s, at the height of the Red Scare, things were different. In fact, Walt Disney worked closely with FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover and testified against a number of his own animators as being communists.
17. Sex predators at Disney World
Disney World is the most popular, child-friendly amusement park in the world – so of course sex predators will gravitate towards it. The shocking evidence for this came to light in 2014 when CNN found that 35 Disney employees in the Florida area had been brought into custody for sex crimes with children since 2006.
16. Throwing lemmings off a cliff
Aww, lemmings! Aren’t they silly? Throwing themselves off cliffs like that to their deaths? Actually, no, they’re not. This misconception stems from the 1958 Disney “documentary” White Wilderness, where filmmakers pushed lemmings off a cliff into the water below to make it look like they were jumping. They then claimed that this was simply in the lemming’s nature. Lies! Disney lies!
15. Disney threatened to sue several daycare centers
In 1989 Disney threatened to take legal action against three daycare centers in Florida that had lovingly painted life-sized versions of Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Goofy on their walls. Because… “trademarks.” The nurseries had to remove the paintings, but it all ended happily for them as rival animation studio Hanna-Barbera let them use its characters for free.
14. Cast member run over by Disney float
A Disney flotilla is a familiar site at Disney World, as costumed actors – hopefully non-predatory – dressed as Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and the like stand on ornate, slow-moving vehicles waving at passersby like the Queen of England. But somehow, one of the costumed actors got run over by one of these floats back in 2004. He was playing Pluto at the time.
13. Walt Disney invited Nazis into his studio
Considering Walt Disney’s history of racist cartoons, the fact that he toured Nazi propaganda filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl around his studio in 1938 has raised even more eyebrows. Especially since it was just one month after the anti-Semitic violence of Kristallnacht. However, Disney did go on to make some anti-Nazi propaganda films during the war, so maybe we’ll forgive him… this time.
12. Chef suicides
At Disneyland Paris, two chefs committed suicide in 2010. This was followed in 2013 by an employee who tried to set himself alight. One of the chefs left a note saying, “I don’t want to work for Mickey anymore.” His father said that his son was depressed about the food at the park being switched from freshly-made to frozen – surely the final straw for any Frenchman.
11. Disney cast members love to get high
Pinocchio snorting coke? Dumbo in an orgy? The Seven Dwarves smoking pot? Okay, that last one’s perfectly feasible, but actor Trevor Allen was privy to all these things while working as a cast member at Disneyland. Not afraid to get in on the action, Allen – conveniently dressed as the Mad Hatter – once tripped out on a pot brownie as well.
10. Too racist (even for Disney)
Disney’s 1946 animated/live-action movie Song of the South caused such outrage over its alleged racism that Disney ended up never releasing it on video in the U.S. (though edited versions can be found elsewhere). The main character – a happy-go-lucky black former slave called Uncle Remus – was so divisive that Disney has completely wiped this film from its history.
9. The ashes of the dead at Disney World
Disney World is a decidedly better final resting place than a graveyard, which is probably why the park has to contend with people bringing their loved ones’ ashes onto rides and then sneakily pouring them out. The Haunted Mansion is seemingly a favorite among the recently deceased, and poor park staff are often required to use a special HEPA vacuum to clear them up. Yikes.
8. Disney blocked Snow White’s voice actress from having a career
Adriana Caselotti is best known as the voice of Snow White in the Disney movie. In fact, she’s only known for that role – because Disney banned her from doing future work that entailed using her voice. Why? In order to preserve “the illusion of Snow White.” She was even banned from being interviewed on the radio, effectively ending her career right as it started.
7. The Club 33 speakeasy
There are many nooks and crannies to California’s Disneyland, and this has led people to wonder what mysteries lurk behind some of those innocuous-looking doors. One of these doors, in New Orleans Square, actually leads into Club 33, an exclusive speakeasy and one of only two places that serve alcohol in Disneyland.
6. The Tree of Life is actually an oil rig
The Tree of Life, which represents all nature’s diversity with hundreds of animal carvings, is the centerpiece of Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. It’s ironic, then, that it’s actually made from an oil rig. Just try not to imagine the pretty carved birds coated in the fallout from an oil spill.
5. Ducks being roasted alive
Disneyland is beloved for its pyrotechnics. However, during one of its shows – which involved setting fire to water – a whole paddling of ducks quacked their last when they got burned to death. In fairness to Disney, it has now inserted a bubble machine to scare the ducks away during shows.
4. Subliminal mind tricks at Disney World
Disneyland is full of mind tricks. First up, it uses “smellitizers” all over the park; on Main Street, for example, you inhale the sweet aroma of cookies despite there being no cookies. Cinderella Castle, meanwhile, looks bigger than it actually is thanks to forced perspective; the castle’s bricks actually get smaller the higher they go.
3. Real skull-and-crossbones on Pirates of the Caribbean ride
Most of the skellies on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World are fake – surprise, surprise. But the skull-and-crossbones on the headboard above the skeleton sitting in the bed looks a bit… different – because it’s real. Who knows who it once belonged to?
2. The secret Disney World horror movie
Disney World and Disneyland like to protect their squeaky-clean image; indeed, they would rather you didn’t know that a horror B-movie was once shot at both locations without Disney’s permission. Maybe Escape from Tomorrow director Randy Moore should be expecting a visit from the Seven Dwarves’ hit squad, or perhaps a Dumbo drone, soon.
1. Disney refused to hire an animator because she was female
Today’s all-welcoming Disney would squirm at the way the company turned down a female animator for a job in 1938. Mary Ford’s rejection letter stated that all creative work at the company was “performed entirely by young men.” Worse still, the letter was penned by a female employee.