Thursday, December 15, 2011

Not All Research Papers are Boring; This Student Researched the Underground Tunnels at Disney World

A Whole New World

By Larissa Wach (A dual-credit student from Hayes Center)

Why would someone tell a child Lightening McQueen can’t talk? It would be a downer to meet Rapunzel without her flowing blonde hair or see any Disney character beside Sleepy the Dwarf taking a snooze.  According to Krevin, Walt Disney decided that some needs would have to be hidden at Disney World.  To hide them, Disney built a nine acre network of tunnels for cast members to move around out of public view (hiddenmickeys). Disney World’s underground tunnels, also called utilidors, were created for costume storage, various transportation, technician commanding, employee necessities, and garbage disposal. 

At Disney World, not only do the characters we all know and love have costumes, but every ticket taker, waitress, greeter, and animatronic character have a costume as well.   Yet tourists never see a Donald Duck with spaghetti stains on his blue jacket or Princess Belle with dirt on the hem of her yellow ball gown.  As Hobbs states, the main wardrobe located in the “underbelly” of Disney World accommodates more than two million costumes, which are cleaned at Disney World’s own plant. It washes 110,000 pounds of laundry a day and every cast member exchanges a used costume for a fresh one daily (n.pag.).  A cast member includes anyone that works at Disney, even those in a business suit.

The most durable fabric can rip, tear, and snag.  It would be disgruntling to see a human knee poking out of Goofy’s leg as he walked the streets of downtown Disney.  These “offending” costumes are replaced daily before visitors arrive (Hobbs n.pag.).  Not only are costumes repaired each day, but new ones are being created.  Hobbs finds that 20 seamstresses work in an average garment type factory, located in the utilidor, designing new costumes for Disney people (n.pag.).   Disney world seamstresses also design costumes for people and parades outside of the Disney gates.   

The Disney World Magic Kingdom is divided into contrasting “lands” including Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and Frontierland.  In Adventureland, visitors explore exotic and tropical places on a Jungle Cruise or meet Tarzan in Tarzan’s Treehouse.  Fantasyland is where young girls admire princesses such as Snow White and Cinderella.  It is home to the most common architecture known to Disney World, Cinderella’s Castle.  Tomorrowland takes visitors to infinity and beyond.  They explore the future, today with Space Mountain and Jedi-Training.  Frontierland takes a trip back in time to celebrate the Old West and is the most likely place to meet Woody, Jesse, and Bull’s Eye.

The underground tunnels were created as a place of safe keeping for the costume varieties.  A visitor would never see Mickey wearing a spacesuit in Frontierland.  Neither would a visitor see Minnie wearing spurs in Cinderella’s castle.  According to Greene, the costume department uses a computer system to manage the costume pieces issued to 41,000 cast members to ensure they have correct garments at the correct time.  Mickey has 175 different costumes and Minnie has 200 (34).  While I visited Disney World I saw Minnie in seven different costumes including a formal blue ball gown, red Santa coat and hat, red and white polka-dot-dress, and a green safari jungle suit. 

Disney World’s underground tunnel is not only needed for costume care and keeping, but also for various types of transportation.   Krevin believes that Walt Disney did not want an Adventureland Cast Member in Fantasyland (  Utilidors allow cast members to easily travel from place to place without walking through other lands.  Krevin states that walls are also color coded and include the names and pictures of each land in which cast members are under.  For example, the walls under Frontierland are colored brown ( Cast members are able to quickly know where they are without confusing the lands around.

Walking is not the only method of transportation in the tunnels.  Electric vehicles called “Pargo’s” are permitted (Wallace They are golf cart like vehicles operated by battery power.  Krevin claims that the daily cash pick-up is the only gas powered vehicle allowed in the underground tunnel.  The truck is driven into the underground tunnels from a service road and collects all of the Magic Kingdom’s daily cash from a secret location.  The truck driver has merely four inches on each side to maneuver (  Picture what damage could be created if the cash truck driver is not cautious enough as he picks up the cash.  In addition, few people are available to direct him because the cash office is in a secret location.

Imagine shopping for a souvenir, perhaps a snow globe of the castle, a spatula inscribed with Mickey Mouse ears, or a stuffed Nemo.  Then a delivery truck backs up to the front door to unload a stock of Mickey’s kitchen items.  According to Wallace, utilidors are needed for deliveries to be received, processed, and stored until use (  This way, visitors never see a delivery truck driving through the park or an employee pushing a cart full of Mr. Potato Heads’ for restocking.

Disney World has underground tunnels for a central command station.  A computer room in the utilidors called the Digital Animation Control System (DACS) controls everything in the park.  Greene finds that this control room ensures that hundreds of audio-animatronic figures appear on cue, “orchestrating” more than 72,000 individual functions every second (34).  Animatronic figures surround each Disney World ride and attraction.  They include famous stars like John Wayne featured on the Great Movie Ride, Aerosmith on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Coaster, and the newest addition, President Obama in the Hall of Presidents exhibit.  Disney engineers and animators studied photographs and video of Obama to create an audio-animatronic Obama that can pronounce its b’s and p’s in a “frighteningly evocative of the real one” (Steinberg 12).  When I toured the Hall of Presidents exhibit, chills crept up on me as each president from George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, and Barack Obama stood life-like on the stage.  For a split second, I thought President Obama was on stage.  It talked, moved, and looked just like him.  Shoulders would shrug, mouths would move, hands would be raised, and heads would nod all on cues sent from the command room below.  As Greene states, this command center controls the singing of birds, speeches of pirates, opening of theatre doors, operation of lighting and curtains, and monitoring of fire protection, security, equipment failure, and power loss (34). Everything appeared to move and run efficiently and effectively while being controlled someplace else.

Fast passes and digital clocks above each attraction and ride informing approximate wait time help control the line length for visitors, but Disney technicians in the underground tunnels find ways to speed up the fun.  “Deep in the bowels of Walt Disney World” the operational command center uses video cameras, computer programs, and digital park maps to stop waiting before it forms and affects real time (Barnes 1). When I visited Disney World on Christmas Day, the park had to lock its gates at noon because it was up to its limit on the number of visitors.  Little did I know technicians in the tunnels were creating small ways to control impatient visitors.  For example, Barnes finds employees watch flat-screen television depicting various attractions in green, yellow, and red outlines representing wait times.  If Pirates of the Caribbean blinks from green to yellow, the center responds by alerting managers to start more boats or contact Captain Jack Sparrow or one of his pals to the line to entertain people while they wait (1).  These minor changes help the entire park.  Barnes also explains that other technicians monitor restaurants, sending requests that additional registers need to be opened or menus need to be handed out to people waiting to order (1).  The park was able to open the gates back up by 4:00 because the flow of people had been controlled.    

Aside from park functions, control, and storage, utilidors were created for a place of relaxation where the employees can be themselves away from the public view.   According to Wallace, utilidors contain all the major utilities: locker rooms, offices, break rooms, lounges, rehearsal rooms, and employee cafeterias (   The utilidor was fashioned as a place where employees peel off fur suits, ridiculous wigs, and phony shoes in the summer heat to find a well-earned rest.

Lastly, Disney World’s underground tunnel system was produced to maintain waste.  Utilidors are “essentially an elaborate basement providing out-of-sight access to sewer lines, pipes, and cables (Greene 34).  At Disney World, I never saw trash cans overflowing.  Wallace finds that at 17 different locations, all the garbage is literally sucked into an AVAC (automated vacuum collection system) that moves garbage at 60 miles an hour through tubes.  The 20” in diameter tubes are located in the utilidors.  The garbage moves to a central collection point where it is processed, compressed, or recycled (   Visitors never see a garbage truck or hear the rattling of waste baskets. 
Just as telling a child Lighting McQueen can’t talk spoils the magic of Cars, seeing Disney characters in anything beside their costume would spoil the magic of Disney.  Disney World’s underground tunnels, like the rest of Disney, are part of the magic behind it all. 

Works Cited
Barnens, Brookes. “Disney Technology Tackles a Theme-Park Headache: Line.” The New York Times 28 Dec. 2010: 1. Lexis-Nexis. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.
Greene, Walter. “Over at Mickey’s Place: Maybe you think you’re too old and too cool for all that Disney Fantasy stuff, but look out.  Heed the tale of a born-again believer.” The Financial Post  17 July 1997: 34. Lexis-Nexis. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.
Hobbs, Pam. “Disney’s Secret World.” The Globe and Mail 5 Sept. 1987: n. pag. Lexis- Nexis. Web. 17 Nov. 2011.
Kremin, Kelley. “Under the Magic Kingdom.” Hidden Mickey 12 July 1999. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.
Steinberg, Jacques. “Going to Disney World with High-Tech Style.” The New York Times 22 May 2009: 12. Lexis-Nexis. Web. 19 Nov. 2011.
Wallace, David. “Magic Under the Park-Walt Disney World’s Utilidors.” Disney-o-Rama 15 June 2009. Web. 18 Nov. 2011.

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