INFO: DISNEY’S UNDERGROUND MAGIC: “THE UTILIDORS” BY Bill Iadonisi
DISNEY’S UNDERGROUND MAGIC: “THE UTILIDORS” BY Bill Iadonisi
If there is one thing that Disney has its Magic. No matter where you look, no matter where you go, it’s in abundance! Everywhere you can see, and places you can’t see (more on that later) it’s there. But how many people know of an unseen magical place that WDW guests cannot see and most do not even know exists. Well, this magical place is underneath the Magic Kingdom, and the internal Walt Disney World phone book uses the term “Tunnels”, although most Cast Members refer to the underground complex as the “Utilidors”, short for Utility Corridor. But what is the reason for these Utilidors and how did they come about!
Well, most stories about WDW are shrouded in legend, and this one states that one day at Disneyland, Walt Disney was very disturbed when he observed a cast member from Frontier land walking through Tomorrowland in costume. This was unacceptable to Walt who thought that the Magic was broken by this sight. So when plans for Walt Disney World were being developed, the Imagineers designed this system of “Tunnels” under the park so that cast members can travel from land to land without being seen by guests and not destroy the magic! These Utilidors also contain all the major utilities, garbage disposal, wardrobe, costuming, locker rooms, offices, break rooms, two employee cafeterias, and one of the most important rooms, the “DACS” control room. This computer room, the “Digital Animation Control System” controls everything in the park from making sure all the Audio-Animatronics figures are on cue in their respective attractions, to opening stage doors, curtains and park lighting. This invaluable system also monitors fire protection, equipment failure and watches for power losses anywhere in the park. The system is so sophisticated, that just keeping the Audio-Animatronics in sync, it monitors more than 72,000 functions every second!
The amazing aspect of these Utilidors is that they are all on the first floor! Hard to believe that the Magic Kingdom is actually the second and third floors, but it’s true. The next time you arrive at the Magic Kingdom, walk to the dock where the resort launches are and you can see an almost imperceptible rise up to Main St. Station. Parts of Fantasyland and the Castle are actually on the third floor. The main reason for this is that the peninsula of Florida is actually floating on a water surface that is sometimes only a few feet down. That’s why there are no homes with basements here.
When the Magic Kingdom was being built, the natural lake on property was Bay Lake. Disney drained Bay Lake and dug out the man-made Seven Seas lagoon in front of the Kingdom. All the silt and debris from Bay Lake and the material from the Lagoon were used to cover the pre-built Utilidors, which are 15 feet high and raise the Magic Kingdom approximately 14 feet high, using more than seven million cubic yards of earth in the process. So this underground infrastructure is about nine acres, with 392,000 square feet of space, and as stated before, contain all the utilities and mechanical services that the Magic Kingdom requires. And of course, as Walt Disney wanted, a way for Cast Members to get from one part of the park to another out of sight and mind of the guests. This underground complex is in an octagon shape with a central corridor running straight down the middle from Cinderella’s Castle to the security offices at the front of Main St. From this “underground city” there are access points all around the Kingdom; even some of the restaurants kitchens have access points. An example of some of the entrances to the Utilidors, there are stairways under Pinocchio’s Village Haus, Columbia Harbor House, Hall of Presidents, Mickey’s Star Traders the Crystal Palace and many more. Most of these hidden entrances are behind unmarked doors and you can reach all of the themed lands of the Kingdom except Mickey’s Toontown Fair which was built much later. There are three elevators in the Castle. One in the tower, this is the dumbwaiter for Cinderella’s Royal table, the other one is located right behind it, it goes to Walt’s Apartment, you need a special key to access this and the last one is in the restaurant for the handicapped.
These Utilidors are the main reason all the “Magic” runs so seamlessly here. You will never see a delivery truck, maintance crews, or Cast Members practicing for a show or parade. All the parks business can take place in the Utilidors. The Garbage disposal system, made in Sweden is called the “AVAC” (Automated Vacuum Collection System) moves garbage through pneumatic tubes at 60 miles per hour to a central collection point located behind Splash Mountain where it is processed, compressed or recycled. There are access points all over the park and the garbage is actually “sucked” into the tubes. The vacuum is created by two motors and exhausts. The tubes are 20” in diameter. The costuming department contains over 1.2 million items stored, making it the largest in the world.
To get around in the “tunnels”, only electric vehicles resembling golf carts are allowed, no gas powered for safety reasons. The only gas powered vehicles allowed are the Armored Cars that pick up the daily cash generated by the park. They enter by a service road and the truck has only 4 inches on either side of the tunnels to get through. The cash office is under Pinocchio’s Village Haus. Ambulances are the other gas vehicles allowed in an emergency. Cast Members enter the main tunnel entrance which is located under Pinocchio’s Village Haus, after driving on Magic Kingdom Drive, right behind Mickey’s Toontown Fair and arriving at their restricted parking lot. From there a bus will take them the 500 yards to the entrance. So that no Cast Member will get confused or lost while going to their respective posts, all the walls are color-coded for the land they are under and the names of the lands are also posted.
As impressive and “Magical” as these Utilidors are, they can be seen by guests who take the “Keys to the Kingdom Tour”. This fascinating tour will take you into the tunnels and you can see for yourself just how Disney makes the Magic flow and allows Walt’s Kingdom to come alive. This tour is very popular and if you are interested, book several weeks in advance. Also the tour is not given every day, so you will have to call for the schedule. So the next time you come to the Magic Kingdom, you will know that the Magic is everywhere, even underground!