They say that Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, and many of the guests who have walked in and out of this magical theme park would agree. It’s too bad that mosquitoes can’t say they’ve had the same experience. Have you ever noticed that there are never any of these flying pests buzzing around the park? Well, you’re not imagining things. In fact, there’s a real reason why you’ll never see any mosquitoes at Disney World, like ever.
Since the opening of the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom park back in 1971, the Disney company has put to work some of the smartest scientists to control their pest problem in innovative and creative ways. Because so much of the massive theme park is located on Florida's swamplands, mosquitos are drawn to the park because of its wet and humid climate. But the masterminds at work behind the scenes have always done a good job making sure that pests don't ruin anyone's expensive vacation.
Mosquitoes Used to Reign Supreme
Long before Walt Disney World first opened to the public in 1971, mosquitoes swarmed freely around the site that was destined to become the most popular tourist attraction on the planet. Although the land was bought to build a theme park upon, it was teeming with wildlife that are common to swamplands, like alligators, wild birds and insects. And that’s not exactly surprising given the park’s location.
Florida is Riddled With Insects
Florida may be known as the sunshine state, but in addition to sunlight and beautiful beaches, there are also plenty of swamps in the area, which attract all sorts of reptiles and insects like mosquitoes. The swamps are also extremely hot in the summer months, that is, when it isn't raining. So why did Walt Disney decide to build a theme park there? It was definitely a drastic change from the climate of his previous park that was built in California.
Disneyland Was a Hit
Walt Disney knew right away that Disneyland in Anaheim, California, was a hit when it opened its doors in 1955. The park welcomed millions of visitors per year and quickly became America's most popular theme park. But surveys at the time indicated that only 5 percent of visitors to the Happiest Place on Earth were from the East Coast, and Disney wanted to change that. And his plan for a new park proved to be much bigger than anyone initially imagined.
He Brought the Magic to the East Coast
Walt Disney picked a spot near the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee in the state of Florida to build a new Disney theme park in secret under the code name “The Florida Project” during the 1960s. He bought thousands of acres of land under many different pseudonyms to build his incredible entertainment complex upon. But he wanted this to be more than just a glorified theme park, which is why he came up with Epcot.
He Wanted to Build the Community of Tomorrow
Epcot, which is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was intended to be a blueprint for the most advanced and innovative ways of city living. The theme park was initially intended to be a fully livable city that would showcase the newest home technology and architecture on the market. But tragedy struck and Walt's plans didn’t work out the way he intended.
Disney World Became Like Disneyland
When Walt Disney passed away in December 1966, his vision of Epcot was abandoned and Disney World was built based on a similar concept to Disneyland in California. But it didn’t open until a couple of years later because without Walt to take the reins on the project, his brother Roy had to leave his retirement to step in and make sure that the Magic Kingdom in Florida was completed.
Florida Theme Parks Opened Over Time
Disney’s Magic Kingdom opened to local and international visitors in 1971. 11 years later, a version of Walt's idea of Epcot opened and was followed by Disney’s MGM Studios (now called Hollywood Studios) in 1989 and Animal Kingdom in 1998. With four parks instead of Disneyland's two, more guests from both coasts visited the massive entertainment complex and soon the amount of visitors that came to the park broke records.
All Four Parks Became Top Visited Theme Parks
By 2014, all four Disney theme parks became some of the top 8 most visited theme parks worldwide with the Magic Kingdom getting an average 19,332,000 holiday visitors. With this many people present in one place at one time, it’s no surprise the theme parks required lots of cast members, which is what the company calls its employees. The company practically hired enough employees to popular a small town.
Disney Hired Over 74,000 Employees
Disney is known as the biggest employer in the United States and they provide jobs to more than 74,000 cast members. And to ensure these employees are as happy as the guests who visit the park, they spend over 1.2 billion in wages and an extra $474 million annually in employee perks. But that’s not the most impressive fun fact about Disney and it's incredible business model.
Disney World is Huge
With nearly 25,000 acres collectively, Disney World is twice as big as Manhattan. The entire entertainment complex is over 43 square miles, so getting around the park isn’t as easy as taking a stroll from one park to the next. Fortunately, the powers that be created easy ways to get around the complex that is easier than calling an Uber and there are many choices to choose from.
Traveling Through the Parks is Easy
With four parks, two water parks and over 25 hotels to visit in Disney World, it may seem difficult to get around. To get from one park to the other, visitors have access to monorails and nearly 400 buses that will get them from point A to point B to point C. To put it simply, it’s easier than getting around Manhattan. But there’s a reason why guests will never see the theme parks get as messy as New York City, and that's thanks to the park's founder, Walt.
There are Trash Cans Every 30 Steps
Disney had reportedly paid other amusement parks a visit and studied how long people kept their trash before discarding it. In general, people would toss their trash on the ground after approximately 30 steps. So now all Disney theme parks have trash cans placed every 30 steps. But is this the reason there aren’t any mosquitoes or does the secret lie beneath the Magic Kingdom itself?
The Theme Parks Transport Trash Using Underground Pipes
There are a series of underground pipes in each of the Disney World parks that utilize pressurized air to transport trash at more than 60 miles per hours under the guests. This ensures that trash bins don’t overfill at any point in the day which would undoubtedly attract unwanted pests like mosquitoes and flies. But this isn't the only reason why there are so few bugs and insects at the theme parks.
There Are Tunnels Underneath the Magic Kingdom
Since Florida’s ground is the same level as the ocean, engineers built the Magic Kingdom on top of a series of ground level tunnels, making the park itself actually on the second floor of Disney's complex. This helps keep any threat of flooding away and also helps drain water from the parks during Florida's treacherous hurricane season. But what purpose does this network of tunnels serve the happiest place on Earth?
The Tunnels Were Walt Disney’s Idea
They say Walt Disney didn’t want any of the Disney characters seen walking from one side of the park to the other in costumes that would break the scenery of certain areas, so he had the tunnels designed so cast members could move about secretly. This also gave them the chance to take a much-needed break or change in and out of their costumes. But why does Disney World smell so good?
Disney World Installed Smellitizers
Smellitizers are devices designed to release scents in specific areas of the theme park. For example, smellitizers in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride release sea air scents while the smellitizers on Main Street U.S.A. release vanilla and cookie scents, encouraging people to experience the unique sights of the park and purchase some goodies while they're on vacation. But there are also other ways that Disney imagineers fool your senses.
Flowering Shrubs Are Part of the Magic
In addition to underground tunnels and smellitizers, Disney World also keeps the look of being an enchanted realm by planting over three million flowering shrubs in their parks. That’s two million plants and 13,000 roses that gardeners have to carefully maintain during after-hours. And these plants also play roles in addition to being a beautiful sight, such as keeping pests away and warding off rodents.
Rodents are Pretty Rare
Like mosquitoes, rodents are pretty rare at the parks because Disney takes special precautions to keep their population at bay. To do this, they release a group of feral cats at night to hunt down any rodents in the park. Using natural predators not only solves the rat problem, but it also doesn't create any other problems in the local ecosystem. But this isn’t a new concept for the entertainment complex, and this tactic is mostly used at the older Disneyland resort.
The Area Was Full of Wild Cats
While building an attraction in Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at the Disneyland park in Anaheim, California in the 1950s, Disney Imagineers discovered the area was full of wild cats roaming free. Although they appeared to be a nuisance, the crew decided they would serve to get rid of mice, except for Mickey and Minnie Mouse, of course. Today, approximately 200 cats live in various Disney Parks.
Bubble Gum is Forbidden
Rumor has it that Walt Disney also banned all Disney theme parks from selling chewing gum. This was to deter visitors from tossing their gum on the ground and dirtying the parks. It is small actions like this that make the parks seem like they exist in an alternate world, free of some of the troubles and cares of our reality. But none of these extra rules and procedures are directly responsible for the theme parks being free of mosquitoes.
Some of the Land Remains Swampland
Only 50 percent of the Disney property in the Florida swamplands is actually being utilized and there’s a good reason for that. Walt Disney wanted to protect the area, so a portion of the swampland the theme parks were built on continues to act as a conservation area for animals. So how are visitors spared from swatting flies during their visit? Do the employees of the parks also control the mosquito population in the untouched swampland?
Mosquitoes Are Common in Swamplands
Ask any Southerner and they’ll tell you that mosquitoes are a part of everyday life, especially in swampy areas during the hot and humid summertime. Florida is one of the rainiest states in the U.S., with rainfall reaching over 7 inches on average during the month of August. But Walt Disney didn’t want visitors to have to carry a can of insect repellent with them at all times during their vacation. So, he turned to a Major General for help.
Walt Disney Sought Help Against Mosquitoes
The project to keep mosquitoes out of Disney World reportedly started when Walt Disney met an engineer named Major General William Potter at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Potter was not only the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone, but he was also a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). So, if anyone could help Disney out with his Florida project, it was him.
Major Potter Had Experience with Mosquitoes
The Panama Canal Zone was considered U.S. territory from 1903 to 1979. It was also an area infested with Malaria-carrying mosquitoes. To build the Panama Canal, authorities had to figure out how to keep these pests at bay, and that’s where Potter figured out how to create a mosquito-free zone. Disney knew about Potter's work in the Panama area, so he knew he would be a valuable asset to his team while they were working in Florida.
Walt Disney Hired Major Potter
Walt Disney had heard of Major Potter’s work and so he hired him to implement his insect-fighting techniques on his Florida Project, which eventually became Disney World as we know it today. He figured that if Potter was able to handle the mosquitoes in the Panama Canal, he could do it in Florida as well. But the tactics they used probably can't be used by average people at their homes.
Disney is Virtually Mosquito Free
Although it’s impossible to guarantee a 100 percent mosquito-free zone, Potter's expertise and contribution ensured that Disney World remained free of most of these annoying bloodsucking fiends. But the staff must continue to do their part too, otherwise the parks could still see an infestation of mosquitos today. It takes constant efforts from employees of the park to keep mosquito populations low.
Disney Makes the Environment Mosquito Unfriendly
Instead of hunting down every mosquito and swatting them out of existence, the Disney staff does its best to make the theme park an unpleasant environment for insects to breed. And by following the mosquito prevention policy to the letter, they are able to keep the pesky population down. One of the ways they ensure that mosquitos and other pests can't breed is by always keeping water flowing.
No Still Water is Allowed
Standing water is any water that isn't flowing, moving or being drained. And since insects love to lay their eggs in standing water, Disney does its best to make sure that there is no still water in any of their theme parks. This reduces the mosquito population’s breeding ground significantly. But this was a major undertaking considering how many large bodies of waters and fountains are in the Disney complex in Florida.
Potter Constructed a Huge Drainage System
Getting rid of the standing water throughout the vast region of the Florida landscape bought by the Disney company in the '60s and '70s wasn’t easy. The first thing Potter did was to begin construction on a huge drainage system to turn the swampland into an area where it would be easier to construct the theme park. This included creating the idea of underground tunnels, so the parks would be dry and safe from collecting water.
Joe’s Ditches Are Still in Use
The drainage gutters that Potter built became known as “Joe’s ditches,” and they’re still used today to keep the water flowing through the park. This prevents the risk of ending up with standing water and therefore reduces the number of mosquitoes. Plus, if there is any standing water in the entertainment complex, it is probably on the ground level of the parks, far away from guests, so it can be fixed very easily.
The Water’s Always Flowing
“The guests usually don’t notice it, but the water is constantly flowing,” Disney expert Christopher Lucas explained to Reader’s Digest. “Whenever you walk by a body of water, there’s usually a fountain in the middle of it, or they’re doing something to keep it flowing.” The next time you're in the park, keep an eye out for water that's standing still. You probably won't see any while the parks are open for business!
The Company Develops Close to Disney
Whenever Disney decides to expand its empire with new resorts and theme parks, the company makes sure that it builds close to the original Disney World Theme Park so that they can take advantage of “Joe’s ditches.” But this method of reducing the mosquito population isn’t limited to the theme park’s exterior. Most of the huge structures and building that were built around the resort were made with potential pests in mind.
The Buildings Are Also Mosquito Unfriendly
Disney makes sure that all of their buildings don’t collect water either. “All of the buildings are built so that water flows right off of [them]... With all the rainstorms, if water got caught on the buildings… it would form a pool, and then mosquitoes would hatch their eggs, and you’d have thousands of mosquitoes,” Lucas told Reader’s Digest. But how were these buildings planned better than other works of architecture?
Water Runs Straight Off the Buildings
Lucas continued: “They made every building there curved, or designed in a way so there’d be no place for the water to catch and sit there… The architecture is really appealing to the eye, but it also serves a purpose: it makes it less conducive to mosquitoes.” And while that's one of the biggest reasons that mosquitos don't like calling the world-famous theme parks home, there are other smaller things that help keep the bug situation at bay.
The Plants Also Play an Important Role
In an effort to keep the mosquito population low around the parks, Disney makes sure to only grow certain types of plants in their theme parks and resorts. Most of the flowers and shrubs around the parks have very small leaves, and that's for an important reason. Any plant that might form puddles in the foliage is strictly forbidden, including one very pretty plant that some people are surprised not to see anywhere at the massive resort.
No Water Lilies Are Allowed
Flora like lilies might seem magical enough to earn a place in the happiest place on Earth, but they are able to disguise mosquito eggs. Therefore, Disney focuses on keeping all of their water features like fountains flora free. You'll only see plants growing on land at the parks, not only to keep mosquitos out of the water, but also to make sure that any fish in the area have control of their surroundings.
They Add Larvae-Killing Fish
Although visitors might enjoy the beauty of the fish swimming in some of the man-made lakes and water structures throughout the parks, they actually serve a far greater purpose. “They also stock-fill those places with minnows, goldfish and a type of fish called mosquito fish that eat the larvae,” Lucas shared with Reader’s Digest. All of these tactics used together control the mosquito population year-round.
Disney Also Uses Spray Repellent
In addition to preventing standing water, Disney also sprays the theme park with a special repellent to reduce the number of mosquitoes. Ironically, the spray used doesn’t contain the typical chemical-based pesticides that some might expect them to, and that's to keep the atmosphere of the parks very magical. After all, Disney spends a lot of money to control the smells around the parks, so they don't want too much bug repellant added into the air.
Disney Employees Aren’t Armed With RAID
It would have made perfect sense to simply arm every Disney employee with a can of RAID or its equivalent to spray areas where mosquitoes congregate. But that would have gone against the wishes of the genius that first conceived of the theme park everyone knows and loves. Putting harsh chemicals over a solvable problem wasn't something that Walt would have preferred in his parks.
Walt Disney Didn’t Want Chemical Pesticides
Lucas explained to Reader’s Digest the reason why Walt Disney was against the use of conventional chemical pesticides. “[He] did not want to ruin the environment at all, so they couldn’t use pesticides... It’d be easy to just spray the whole thing, but he wanted it to be something natural.” And the use of natural alternatives to make the environment inhospitable for mosquitos proved to work well over the past few decades.
Garlic Spray is Used
To respect Walt Disney’s wishes, the theme park only uses garlic spray as a chemical means to keep bugs away. It turns out that the garlic smell acts as a natural insect repellent because mosquitos and other critters hate the savory scent. But why haven’t guests ever complained about the strong pungent smell of garlic in the parks? Surely that would be something that would be hard to mask by a smellitizer.
Only a Small Amount is Used
Lucas told Reader’s Digest that a little garlic spray goes a long way when it comes to combating mosquitoes. “The amount that they use is so small that humans can’t smell it, but mosquitoes are very susceptible to it.” Luckily, many environmental professionals are employed by the Disney company, so they can stay at the forefront of research on the topics of keeping pests away and maintaining a welcoming environment.
Guests Can Still Wear Mosquito Repellent
Although Disney banned the use of chemical repellents in their parks out of concern for the environment, people can still put on repellent cream or bring their own spray to apply on their skin and clothes. However, they’re not likely to need it given the other precautions Disney takes against mosquitoes. So if you're ever stuck in a pickle because you forgot to bring your bug spray to a Disney park, don't fret! You can probably go the day without it.
Chickens Also Come in Handy
Chickens are permanent residents of many Disney theme parks, but they’re not there for looks. The chickens actually play an important role in Disney's scientific research. These creatures are constantly undergoing blood tests to see if they’ve caught any type of pathogens commonly transmitted by mosquitoes in the area, so Disney can stay on the forefront of any incoming issues.
Chickens Are Used as Detectors
Mosquitoes often spread Zika and West Nile viruses, and while chickens are immune to these pathogens, they do still show up in their blood after routine lab work. So, if a test detects the presence of a dangerous virus in chickens in the area, the staff will know which area of the park needs more mosquito repellent to keep their human guests safe. And these chicken tests aren't the only way Disney monitors their mosquito situation.
The Mosquito Surveillance Program is Always Improving
Occasionally, mosquitoes do make it into the theme park, so the Mosquito Surveillance Program run by the entertainment company captures and tests them. By doing so, they can understand how they were able to resist the garlic spray and other means of mosquito control. But there are also other means of keeping the buzzing bugs away that Disney is currently testing to keep their guests happy.
They Use Carbon Dioxide Traps
Believe it or not, the Mosquito Surveillance Program is able to capture these mosquitoes by using carbon dioxide traps. Once they have them, they freeze these bugs and analyze them to come up with ways to eradicate them for good. Disney's genius plan of employing people solely to keep their air bug free has proven to work time and time again, and it's one of the biggest reasons why people are so fanatic about the parks.
Disney is Responsible for Protecting Guests
While most guests would say that mosquitoes are a nuisance that they can live with, Disney staff know that in addition to being loud and annoying, mosquitoes put people at risk for the very same pathogens that chickens are immune from. It’s why maintaining vigilance is Disney's top priority. They know that with as many guests as Disney has each and every day, it would be very easy to spread a virus that was carried by mosquitos at the park.
There Would Be No Disney Without Potter
Unfortunately, there’s no way to get Potter’s input in the future as the engineer passed away in 1988. Shortly after his death, Disney attraction’s former president, Dick Nunis, said this about Potter: “Joe was a man [whom] Walt Disney was very fond of. Without Joe Potter, there would be no [Disney World] today.” And his legacy is still seen at the parks thanks to one very special tribute.
A Ferry Was Named After Potter
Potter, who was officially named a Disney legend at a company ceremony in 1997, is celebrated by a ferry that currently sails in the Seven Seas Lagoon named the General Joe Potter. But most park guests don’t know a thing about Potter or how he helped make the theme park a mostly mosquito-free zone, so this piece of Disney trivia goes right over most guests' heads, while mosquitos do not.