I can't believe what I'm about to post. Trust me, it's not because I took a Mickey oath saying I would never discuss the "behind-the-scenes" stuff at Disney, but just because I'm not really a Disney fan.
I guess I should preface this post with my brief history, and why I'm qualified to even discuss this.
First, I am a native Floridian - one of only four (number might be off slightly). I was born in Miami, but moved to Orlando when I was 6 months old. I was raised on the west side of town, very near Disney - close enough to see the fireworks nightly - actually, as a kid, I just heard them nightly, and they always woke me up. Like almost every Orlando resident, I served my time working for the mouse, spending 7 years on and off, working in Epcot attractions (RIP World of Motion and Horizons - or MOHO for you CMs out there), and various roles in the Magic Kingdom. When I finally turned in my ears, I was one of the 5 Mike Fink Keelboaters that brought the keelboats from Liberty Square to its rightful home in Frontierland, after serving a year in the tunnels as an operations manager.
The reason I'm writing this is because, for some strange reason, my last two clients asked me what I did before becoming a real estate broker. I went through my resume, discussing my experience as a financial planner, licensed stock broker, marketing specialist, teacher, and yep, a little bit of time at Disney during high school and college. Why that's the ONLY job they hear, I'll never know, but it is. Then the conversation turns to Disney stuff. Are there really tunnels under Disney? Are there really hidden Mickeys? Did you see Walt's frozen head? I guess these questions really only come from buyers from outside of Florida, but having 2 clients in the past week get into this discussion prompted me to write about "The Tunnels."
The Tunnels under the Magic Kingdom
When you get hired by Disney, you become a Cast Member (or CM for short). You are required to attend a Traditions class (mine was 4 days long, but I believe they have shortened it to 1 or 2). It's all rah-rah during Traditions. They teach you a very detailed history of Walt, the park, the characters, and how to look and act when you're "on stage." According to the class, Walt was walking through Disneyland and saw a Frontierland character walking through Fantasyland, and thought it killed the perception of the theme for that land. There's a very long, interesting story about how Walt came to Orlando and bought land under the radar, as he planned his new theme park - the Magic Kingdom. He decided he wanted people to be able to escape reality and needed a way to keep cast members in their designated areas. The tunnels were born - and if you really want to sound like you know what you're talking about, they're called the "Utilidor," short for utilities corridor.
Anyone who lives in Orlando knows that if you dig deeper than 6 feet, you'll hit water. So how can there be tunnels UNDER the magic Kingdom? Well, because the park is built on the 2nd floor (technically speaking). the tunnels are at ground level, and the park is built on top of them. They serve many purposes, the main one being the ability to get from wardrobe to your spot, "on stage," without crossing lands. It also gives cast members a much easier way to get to their destination without having to fight crowds.
So what's in the tunnels?
Lot's of stuff. Here's a map:
At the top of the map is the tunnel entrance. As a cast member, you park in a parking lot about 1 mile away from the tunnel entrance, and take a bus to the tunnels. If you're hungry, your first stop with be the "Mouseketeria." Burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and amazing omelettes are available for a fraction of the cost of the park prices. The "mouseketeria is immediatly on your right as you enter the tunnels from the bus (on the left in the map). If you look to the right of the entrance on the map, you will see costuming, and locker rooms. The best part of working in the Magic Kingdom was being able to show up in shorts and a t-shirt. You walk up to a window and say the name of the area or attraction you'll be working for that day, and your measurements, and they hand you a freshly laundered (questionable) costume. You change, and travel the utlilidor to your final destination.
If you look at the map, you'll notice the tunnels are fairly simple. It's a large circle, with a line through it. There are other sections that branch off of the tunnel, but only a few. To make things easier, the tunnels have lines on the ground that are color-coded for the section of the park that is directly above you. To travel the tunnels faster, there are bikes parked at many of the exits to the park - so they say. I often saw people on bikes, but never saw one waiting for me to jump on. From wardrobe to the back of the tunnels is about a 10 minute walk if you travel around the circle.
In the map, each of the park's "Lands" are labeled. Here's a map of the Magic Kigdom to give you some idea of where the tunnels are in relationship.
What Else is down there?
Disney has an amazing trash system called the AVAC system. The trash is sucked through tunnels to a centralized collection area. Walking through the tunnels, you know when trash is flying by you - it's very loud. There are service vehicles driving around all over the place. There is plenty of room for you to walk, and a full-size truck to pass by. They deliver merchandise to each area via the tunnels so you never have to see a delivery truck "on-stage." There are also offices, storage, kitchens, break rooms, two employee cafeterias, including the Fantasyland Dining Room, Kingdom Kutters (a hair salon), a Fire Prevention Center, Studio "D" and many of the support departments for the Magic Kingdom.
So how do you get out of the tunnels?
There are so many unmarked doors in the Magic Kingdom, you would never think that most of them lead to a stairwell that leads to the tunnels. Here is a list of most of the exit doors and their locations from the internal phone book:
- Stairway 1 - to Pinochio Village Haus
- Stairway 4 - to Liberty Square, Columbia harbor House, and Peter Pan
- Stairway 5 - to Fantasyland Theatre (Lion king)
- Stairway 9 - to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland
- Stairway 10 - to theHall of Presidents
- Stairway 12 - to Ye Old Christmas Shoppe
- Stairway 13 - to Liberty Square and Adventureland Veranda
- Stairway 16 - to Adventureland and Frontierland
- Stairway 17 - to Crystal Palace and First Aid
- Stairway 18 - to MO-8
- Stairway 19 - to MO-6 and West Parking Lot
- Stairway 20 - to Town Square Kitchen
- Stairway 21 - to MO-5 and East Parking Lot
- Stairway 22 - to MO-7
- Stairway 24 - to Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe
- Stairway 25 - to Mickey's Star Traders
- Stairway 27 - to Transportarium
- Stairway ? - to Tinkerbell's Treasures
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