Walt Disney World has it all—four theme parks including Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, two water parks, and 34 hotels and resorts. There’s truly something for everyone at the Florida entertainment complex.
But one thing you won’t find are mosquitoes. While Florida is known for its humidity and swamplands, which the pesky insects are drawn to, you’ll have to look really hard to find any of them at the park.
That is just one of the things that make “The Most Magical Place on Earth” special. Read on to find out how this place came to be and the genius solutions that make it so different from its surroundings.
“The Most Magical Place on Earth” opened its gates in October 1971. Walt Disney World is situated in Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, Florida, near the cities of Orlando and Kissimmee. After the major success of Anaheim, California’s Disneyland, which opened in 1955, Disney decided it was time to build a resort in the Sunshine State.
At the time, according to market research, only 5% of Disneyland’s visitors travelled from east of the Mississippi River, even though 75% of the country’s population lived there.
Walt Disney wasn’t a huge fan of the businesses that had come up around Disneyland and he wanted control over a larger area of land, and so, the idea of Disney World was born.
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With the potential that the eastern side of the United States had, Walt Disney was excited to explore the untapped market. Before deciding on Bay Lake, Florida, Disney flew to potential sites in Orlando to find a central location.
Disney was a fan of the well-developed roads and the planned construction of Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, with McCoy Air Force Base (which later became Orlando International Airport) just east.
This made for the perfect location for what would one day be known as Walt Disney World.
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“The Florida Project”
After finding the ideal location, Disney was ready to start building its resort. But most of the planning was done in secret with the development being referred to in-house as “The Florida Project”. Walt Disney World Company even used a series of dummy corporations to acquire the 30,5000 acres of land.
In fact, the project was so secretive that real estate agents didn’t even know their client’s identity and rumors spread that the land purchases were by NASA, Ford, the Rockefellers, and Howard Hughes.
The plans for “The Florida Project” included a Disneyland-style theme park and resort area, Epcot, an industrial park, airport, and entrance complex.
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Walt Disney’s original plans included Epcot, which stands for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow”. Epcot was supposed to be a test for new city-living innovations, but after Walt’s death, the company passed on this idea in December 1966 during early development of the complex.
It was Walt Disney’s brother Roy who made sure that the complex would happen, coming out of retirement to ensure his brother’s dream came into fruition.
Construction of the project began in 1967, but the experimental concept of a planned community was abandoned. Ultimately, Disney decided to build it as a resort to supplement Magic Kingdom.
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Walt Disney World
While the concept for Disney World was developed by Walt Disney in the 1960s, Disney World didn’t open until October 1971, almost five years after he passed. To ensure that people knew that Disney World was the late Walt Disney’s dream, Roy Disney insisted that the name should be changed from Disney World to Walt Disney World.
The first theme park to open was Magic Kingdom, followed by Epcot in 1982, Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 1989, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1998.
And Walt Disney World became more than Walt could’ve ever imagined—it’s not only the most visited vacation resort in the country, it’s also the most visited in the world!
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No. 1 Theme Park in the World
On average, 58 million people visit the theme park each year. In 2018, Magic Kingdom earned the No. 1 spot on Themed Entertainment Association’s Top 25 Amusement/Theme Parks Worldwide list with 20,859,000 people visiting each year! Also in the top 10 were Animal Kingdom at No. 6, Epcot at No. 7, and Hollywood Studios at No. 9.
Now if that’s not impressive, we don’t know what is. If only Walt Disney could’ve seen his dream come to life.
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The park has come a long way since opening in 1971. When it opened, there were about 5,500 employees, known as “cast members”, which has since grown exponentially. In 2020, Walt Disney World had over 77,000 cast members, making it the largest single-site employer in the country. There are over 3,000 job classifications and in 2019, the total payroll was over $3 billion.
They even sponsor and operate the Walt Disney World College Program and the Walt Disney World International College Program, which are internships that allow college students to live about 15 miles off-site in four Disney-owned apartments and work at the resort.
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Hotels and Resorts
With 58 million people visiting Walt Disney World each year, there had to be places for guests to stay when enjoying their Disney vacation.
When it comes to places to stay overnight, visitors definitely have a lot of choices. On the Walt Disney World property alone, there are 34 hotels and resorts. 28 of these are owned and operated by Walt Disney Parks, Experiences, and Consumer Products. These Disney-owned parks are located in one of the five resort areas: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Wide World of Sports, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs. There are four categories to choose from—Deluxe, Moderate, Value, and Disney Vacation Club Villa.
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Getting Around the Park
Getting around the nearly 25,000-acre park couldn’t be easier and it’s FREE!
Disney Transport, a mass public transport system of the Walt Disney World Resort, provides free services to guests of the resort including 400 buses, 12 monorail trains, a gondola lift system, watercrafts, and parking lot trams.
In addition to these options, there’s a vehicle for hire service in partnership with Lyft that comes at a fee. The Minnie Van Service is super cute, with Chevy Traverses dressed in Minnie Mouse-inspired designs featuring red-and-white polka dots.
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No Detail Overlooked
For a park to run as effortlessly as Walt Disney World, no detail was overlooked.
Like for example the trash cans—while at the park, no trash can is more than 30 steps away from you at all times.
When Walt came up with the idea for the park, he wanted it to be cleaner than any other place he visited, so he sat and observed how far people would walk before they dropped their trash on the ground and found that 30 steps was the magic number.
Now that’s a lot of trash cans!
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And some of the levels of detail can’t even be seen. Like how Magic Kingdom was built on top of a series of tunnels, which allows cast members to move around the park without being spotted.
While Thrillist calls these passageways an “underground city”, they’re not actually underground and are at ground level because of Florida’s high water table. The tunnels were built at the existing grade, with the park being constructed on top.
Epcot’s Future World and Disney Springs’ Pleasure Island have a similar, smaller infrastructure.
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These tunnels are known as utilidors and it’s where the behind-the-scenes magic happens. The utilidors allow Disney cast members to perform park support operations, including picking up the trash, and for costumed characters to reach their destinations without being seen by guests.
Rumor has it that Walt Disney didn’t like seeing cowboys walking through California Disneyland’s Tomorrowland when moving to their spots in Frontierland because it took away from the illusion and guests’ experience. So, when he was planning the Florida Disney park, he kept this in mind and decided to design utilidors.
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Utilidors aren’t the only way Disney keeps the magic alive at the resort. Have you ever noticed that each place at the park has a specific scent?
That’s because “Smellitizers” release scents relating to the areas they’re situated in to tell a story. While walking past Main Street, you’ll be overwhelmed by the smell of fresh sugar cookies and when passing by Pirates of the Caribbean you can smell seawater.
And these scents aren’t just at the parks, they’re also in the resort hotel lobbies to give you a similar experience.
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While Walt Disney World has it all and they’ve done everything to make their visitors’ experience at the parks magical, there’s one thing you won’t see at the resort—mosquitoes.
This wasn’t done by accident—a lot of thought and planning went into making sure that Walt Disney World is free of pesky, buzzy mosquitoes, which can ruin even the best times. There’s nothing worse than standing in lines while being bitten by the blood-hungry insects. Luckily, at Disney World, you don’t have to worry about that.
So, how does Disney manages to make the Florida attraction mosquito free?
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What’s most-impressive is that Disney managed to be free of mosquitoes despite being located in the middle of Florida swampland.
While there’s no doubt that mosquitoes are annoying, what’s worse is they carry tons of diseases, that are mostly harmful for women who might get pregnant. Since most of the visitors to the resort and parents of small children, it’s incredibly important for them not to worry about being bitten.
Which begs the question, how did they keep mosquitoes away?
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Enter Joe Potter
Getting rid of mosquitoes from Walt Disney World started with a meeting between MIT graduate and engineering expert Major General William Joe Potter and Walt Disney at the 1964 World’s Fair, as Christopher Lucas, author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, from the Man to the Mouse and Beyond told Reader’s Digest.
Potter had previously served as governor of the Panama Canal Zone, which was known for having tons of mosquitoes. Because of this, Potter developed knowledge for pest control and was one of the engineers responsible for controlling the swarms.
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From 1903 to 1977, the Panama Canal Zone, an artificial 51-mile waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, was under U.S. control. The area was a breeding ground for deadly pathogens including malaria and yellow fever—diseases transmitted by mosquitoes.
In order to build the Panama Canal, lots of investments were made to try and control the spreading of these diseases including city water systems, spraying of insect-breeding areas, installing mosquito netting and window screens, fumigating the buildings, and eliminating stagnant water.
This is where Potter learned how to control the pest population.
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Hired on the Spot
When Walt Disney heard about Potter’s experience, Walt “hired him on the spot” and put him in charge of making the Florida theme park mosquito-free, Christopher Lucas explained to Reader’s Digest.
Of course, Potter accepted the offer and he started putting his knowledge of controlling insects to good use on Disney’s “The Florida Project”, which would later be known as the Walt Disney World we love today.
So, what did Potter do to keep mosquitoes away?
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Due to the expertise and experience of Potter, it’s unlikely that guests will have to deal with the pesky blood-thirsty insects while visiting Walt Disney World.
While eliminating mosquitoes all together is pretty impossible, Potter came up with a ton of innovative designs and techniques involving many different factors to get rid of the pesky insects at the park. Many of which the staff are still using today. And believe it or not, these methods happen to work really well.
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Rather than killing bugs to prevent them from ending up at the park, Disney makes it unpleasant for mosquitoes by targeting the larvae.
And there isn’t just one method that Disney uses to rid the park of the bloodsucking insects—there are a number of prevention protocols in place to keep mosquitoes far away from Walt Disney World, allowing guests to have a truly special experience, uninterrupted by the pesky insects.
Most of the methods can be traced back to Potter.
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No Standing Water
One of the methods Disney uses to get rid of mosquitoes is making sure there is no standing water at the park as these insects are attracted to water. Water is the ideal environment for mosquitoes to live and lay eggs. By getting rid of the mosquito breeding ground, Disney reduced the larvae that they encounter on the site.
“You [need to] get rid of their breeding ground, which is standing water,” Christopher Lucas explained to Reader’s Digest.
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Getting rid of standing water seems easy enough, right? Well, it’s actually not that simple because Florida has tons of swamps and the resort was built on one.
Swamps are full of standing water, so when Potter started construction on Walt Disney World, his first order of business was to build drainage ditches to get rid of the water. Potter hoped to convert the swampy land into buildable land, better suited for construction.
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In fact, these drainage systems happen to still be used at Disney parks today. The ditches are actually nicknamed “Joe’s ditches”, after the man responsible for them. How cool is that?
As you probably figured out, the purpose behind these ditches is to keep all water flowing through the park at all times, without reaching a standstill.
Controlling the flow of water is an innovative way of keeping mosquitoes at bay. It definitely gives us a new appreciation of drainage systems.
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Cristopher Lucas further explained to Reader’s Digest the concept behind Potter’s drainage systems that are still being used today to keep water constantly flowing and how they usually go unnoticed by guests visiting Disney parks.
“The guests usually don’t notice it … but the water is constantly flowing. 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.”
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Old Technology with New Developments
While the drainage systems were part of Walt Disney World when it opened in 1971, 50 years later they’re still being used. The system was so successful that when Disney builds new developments, they buy a lot more land than just for the property so they can build drainage ditches to allow water to constantly be moving.
But that’s far from the only thing the Disney’s architects designed at the parks to get rid of water pilling up.
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Disney covered all their bases when it came to preventing water from collecting at any area of the park. The buildings are also designed to ensure that water doesn’t collect on the structures.
“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,” Christopher Lucas explained.
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To achieve this, Disney designed all of their buildings to be a certain shape that doesn’t allow for water to buildup. And most guest don’t even realize this fascinating bit of information.
“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,” Lucas further explained to Reader’s Digest.
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Specific Plant Species
Even the plants framing Disney World play a part in getting rid of standing water to prevent mosquitoes. The plants species they have don’t collect water inside of them.
You may have noticed that the bodies of water don’t have plants like water lilies. This is because mosquito larvae can hide underneath them. The bodies of water are also full of goldfish, minnows, and mosquito fish that eat the larvae.
It’s pretty amazing that even the smallest details at the park seem to be well thought out.
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Sprays, But Not Chemicals
From the beginning, Walt Disney was clear that he didn’t want chemicals used at the parks.
“[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,” Christopher Lucas explained to Reader’s Digest.
If pesticides aren’t used at the park, surely there has to be a different repellant Disney uses to keep mosquitoes far away, and of course it would have to be natural like Walt wished for.
So, what do they use?
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Liquid Garlic Sprays
To stay true to Walt’s wishes, instead of pesticides, the park uses an unusual natural alternative—liquid garlic.
Mosquitoes are known for having an aversion to the smell of garlic, so Disney sprays a garlic scent around the park. But wouldn’t visitors smell the pungent scent throughout Walt Disney World?
Well, no. Christopher Lucas told Reader’s Digest. “The amount that they use is so small that humans can’t smell it, but mosquitoes are very susceptible to it.”
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If you think garlic spray was odd, that’s nothing compared to Disney’s next defense against mosquitoes.
According to vlogger Rob Plays, whose YouTube video “Neatorama” gives a behind-the-scenes look into why there aren’t mosquitoes at the resort, Disney uses chickens that are located in coops around the property to fight against the bloodsucking insects.
These chickens are called “sentinel chickens” and although they live pretty normal lives, they’re monitored with blood tests to see if they’ve been exposed to mosquito-transmitted diseases.
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Chickens’ Fight Against Mosquitoes
But don’t worry—the chickens aren’t harmed when they come down with mosquito-transmitted diseases like West Nike and Zika, as they’re not susceptible to them. They just let Disney know that the pathogens are present in their blood work, which lets the staff know where the affected birds are living in the park, in an effort to determine which areas need to be given more attention to fighting mosquitoes.
They’re able to determine the exact location infested by mosquitoes because the chickens stay in designated coops throughout the park.
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Mosquito Surveillance Program
Potter’s legacy continues to live on, especially when you consider Disney’s mosquito-preventing methods. The park’s Mosquito Surveillance Program uses carbon dioxide traps to catch and track the mosquitoes as well as their locations and patterns across the park, as vlogger Rob Plays said in his YouTube video “Neatorama”.
There are over 60 traps across the park to catch he mosquitoes. After they’re caught, the misquotes are brought to a lab where the Disney team freezes and analyzes them to figure out the best way to deal with the pests, including where and when to spray.
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Potter passed away in December 1998, but his influence on Walt Disney World hasn’t been forgotten. After the engineer’s passing, Walt Disney Attractions’ former president Dick Nunis said, “Joe was a man Walt Disney was very fond of. Without Joe Potter there would be no Walt Disney World today,” according to The Official Disney Fan Club website.
In fact, to many Joe was known as “Mister Disney” because of the work he did for the park.
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Prior to his passing, Potter received the highest Disney honor available—he became a Disney Legend in 1997. Disney Legend Awards is a hall of fame program that recognizes individuals who made huge contributions to The Walt Disney Company.
And that wasn’t the only tribute to Joe Potter. Additionally, that same year, one of the ferries that transports guests to and from Magic Kingdom across Seven Seas Lagoon, was renamed “General Joe Potter” in his honor.
Even though most of the people visiting the park don’t know that Potter was integral in keeping mosquitoes out of the park, even today, his influences continue to be seen throughout Walt Disney World.
Next time you visit Disney World, we’re sure you’ll notice that they are no mosquitoes at the park and you can thank Joe Potter for that!
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“Disney After Hours”
Did you know that you can experience Walt Disney World after the park closes to the public? You can extend the magic of Disney into the nighttime during a private event called Disney After Hours, which allows you to enjoy the rides offered during the regular hours without crowds.
Enjoy Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom for three extra hours after the park closes! Some perks include limited wait times for the attractions, Character Greetings, and tasty Disney snacks.
With this experience, you’ll see Disney from a whole new night—or lack thereof.
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Why Adults Can’t Wear Costumes
One of our favorite parts of Disney is the characters and while we enjoy dressing up as them for Halloween, adults can’t dress up like the characters at the Disney parks. Guests over 14 can be refused admission if they wear costumes or masks. While costumes aren’t allowed, adults can wear hats, capes, wigs, wings, and tutus.
So why can’t adults wear costumes?
Only Disney employees can dress in costumes to ensure guests won’t be mistaken for employees. Disney does make an exception to this rule during “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party” and “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party”.
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You Won’t Hear Airplanes at Disney
Even though Walt Disney World is a major tourist attraction, you won’t hear airplanes flying over the parks. Disney has a permanent no-fly zone over its U.S. parks that requests pilots to stay 2,000 feet above the park and try not to fly within about two miles above the park. And there’s an interesting story behind it.
When Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, Disney didn’t want loud airplanes frightening the animals. They also didn’t want aerial advertisement flying over the park because advertising isn’t allowed by guests at the park.
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