I used to work at Disney World & these are the secrets guests never notice – from a ban on tan to underground world

IT'S known as the 'most magical place on earth' so it's not surprising there's always an air of excitement around Disney resorts.

Throughout the world, there are six Disney resorts, attracting a staggering 16 million guests each year, and of course an operation this size can't rely on magic alone to run smoothly.

But what goes on behind the scenes to ensure the world's biggest theme parks runs like clockwork and guests have the most extraordinary time?

Here, two former employees lift the lid on what it's really like backstage at the magical theme park…

A secret underground city

31-year-old Danny Hayes-Lissack, Cardiff, worked on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Florida's Magic Kingdom in 2009, and discovered Disney World has a whole other hidden world guests never ever see, underground.

Speaking to Fabulous he says: "People may know this already, but Magic Kingdom has tunnels underneath the park – known as ‘utilidors’.

"If anybody’s lucky enough to go to Magic Kingdom in future, remember that as you’re walking about the park, you’re actually on the first floor – with the cast members who aren’t ‘onstage’ underneath you.

"The utilidors are there so each area of the park remains authentic – for example, you’d never see somebody working as a pirate in Adventureland mingling with the princesses in Fantasyland!

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"It's like an underground city, with vehicles driving around, plenty of people walking to and from their shifts – there’s even a Subway under there in the cafeteria."

A ban on tan & always 'uphold the magic'

To ensure guests have the most authentic Disney experience possible, staff members have to ensure their appearance and demeanour match strict park rules.

Dorothy and Theodore founder Sally Hall, 45, from Stratford upon Avon, was formerly a Disney Performer at MGM Studios in Orlando and Paris.

Speaking to Fabulous, Sally says: "There were lots of rules if you worked as a performer.

"Only approved make up, nail polish colours, no tanning, and always uphold the magic – which I kind of love… smiling was mandatory."

No beards – but Walt Disney moustaches accepted

Every tiny detail is taken into consideration at the park.

Sally says: "Disney even paid for me to have coloured contact lenses so my eyes were the colour they wanted them to be.

"I once got asked out whilst I was on set by a guy, who, when he saw me in a club that evening, did not even recognise me!

"I looked so different in make up and show wigs that the reality did not match up – he clearly wanted a blue-eyed blonde and not the brown eyed brunette I am!"

Danny agrees appearances are important, saying: "Rules have relaxed in recent years, but when I worked there, you had to comply to strict ‘Disney Look’ standards.

"This meant men had to have certain well-kept hairstyles, you had to be clean shaven, although a moustache was OK – because Walt Disney had one, and you weren’t allowed visible tattoos.

"Even your shoes and sunglasses had to be approved Disney look. For example, guests still had to be able to see your eyes so you could maintain eye contact and give the level of guest experience expected at Disney.

"Obviously, the weirdest thing to get your head around is seeing well-known Disney characters outside of their usual dress.

"Take the princesses for example, they’d be made from the neck up and look just like Snow White or Ariel – but might be snacking on lunch in a tracksuit in the cafeteria!"

Military operation

The meticulous planning that goes on every single day to ensure guests have the best experience is unfathomable unless you're a staff member.

Sally says: "Every moment of the day is scheduled and checked, every detail thought about.

"In Florida, they have walk through mist showers so that performers can walk through them at the end of a parade to cool them down having performed in that heat.

"Also, they hold rehearsals by spotlight after the park has closed which can be quite magical.

"In some parks they use golf carts to get everyone where they need to be and even the routes and speed of driving was planned so that there could be no chance of people or characters being in the wrong place at the wrong time." 

Disney diploma & free entry

Before the cast and crew are unleashed on the public they must first get a proper education – at Disney University.

Danny says: "When you first arrive, you don’t know exactly where you’ll be working for the first few days – only which park you’ll be working in.

"You go through ‘Disney Traditions’ first, which is run at Disney University – yep, Disney has its own university on property.

"This is your chance to learn all about the company, get your Disney ID, which gives you free entry to the parks, and your name tag.

Only after that will you undergo orientation at the park you’ll be in (a first chance to go behind the scene and even jump the queue on some rides as you learn more about it."

Clean living

Cleanliness is also hugely important, in all areas.

Danny says: "You never have to wash your own uniforms – though these are called costumes, whatever your role.

"You can go and check out fresh clean ones, however often you need them – as long as you’ve returned the dirty ones to the laundry."

You won’t see piles of bin bags backstage at Disney either.

Danny adds: "Obviously, they’re really critical about keeping the parks looking immaculate.

"Janitors take rubbish to one of a number of collection points backstage.

"There’s a system of underground vacuum tubes that then suck it to a compactor where it can be compressed and taken away.

"While walking through the utilidors, you’d often hear the rubbish whizzing above your head."

For some employees, it seems the magical memories of working there really do last a lifetime.

Sally adds: "I made friendships for life.

"There is a wonderful spirit amongst co-workers – people genuinely care about making the magic."

Still want to know more? Here are the secret signals Disney cast members use to communicate with each other while staying in character.

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