Designing the "Happiest Place on Earth"

By popular demand, I've been asked to write about a place very special to my heart - Disneyland. 

Walking through the gates and taking those first steps onto Main Street, USA, I am assaulted by the joyous sights, sounds and smells indicating to my brain that I'm at the happiest place on earth. How much of that is nostalgia factor I wonder? And how much of it is the magic and mystery of the park itself? As a creative mastermind and a personal perfectionist, Walt Disney didn't leave much in his park up to chance. Here are a few secret (and not so secret) ways that Walt Disney turned an orange orchard in Anaheim, California into the place we all know and love. 

Early Disneyland

Teetotaling Walt

Disney was appalled by the state of amusement parks in America in the 1950’s and wanted to ensure his park would be family friendly. So he prohibited the drinking of alcohol on the Disneyland campus. To this day, there is only one place at Disneyland that serves alcohol - the elite "Club 33." This secret hideaway is rumored to have a wait list of 14 years and was designed as a lavish lounge to entertain potential investors. Only a small sign off New Orleans square hints where this gem is tucked away. 

Forced Perspective

As I walk around the park, I have noticed myself starting to feel like a kid again…and it's not just my intense sense of nostalgia coming back. Many of the buildings are built on a diminishing scale (the first level built at 3/4 scale, the second at 5/8, and so on) taking advantage of angles to create the optical illusion that structures appear smaller or taller than they really are. The Matterhorn, for example, is only 147 feet tall but to most, especially children, it looks like a small mountain!

Meet me at the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn Mountain is one of the most iconic symbols in the park but takes up a fair amount of unusable space underneath its conical structure, particularly at the top third. Rather than waste that space, Disney polled his cast members to see what they wanted as an amenity. According to legend, they requested a basketball court but since there was only enough space for a half court, only half was installed. Rumor has it, now there is a ping pong table in the Matterhorn where employees on a break can go and play during their breaks. 

Mickey Mickey Everywhere

You may have heard "veteran" Disney goers whisper as they travel around the park about the "Hidden Mickeys" scattered around Disneyland. Hidden in the architecture and landscaping of the entire park, Disney's "Imagineers" (the official title for his engineers) camouflaged this three-circled symbol on rides, wall paper and in food venues. No one knows exactly how many are hidden in the park - but it's a fun activity and once you start looking you'll see them everywhere! 

Next time you’re at Disneyland, keep your eyes peeled. I think you’ll find that Disney crafted magic and mystery into every corner of the park – if you just know where to look. 


Sarah Hakes