19 Disney World secrets that can add 'pixie dust' to your vacation
Sometimes, it can feel like you need to know some sort of secret handshake to maximize a visit to Disney World.
You have to purchase a ticket and make a theme park reservation, you have to navigate the Disney app to skip the lines with Genie+ or join the virtual queue for popular rides. Then there's MagicBands and now MagicBand+ and the list goes on.
While we at TPG love sharing practical tips to help you uncover the secrets to a successful Disney World vacation, we also enjoy letting you in on some lesser-known tips and secrets that can make your trip much more interesting and enjoyable.
Related: It’s a changed world after all: 9 things you must know if you’re heading to Disney World
Here are 14 Easter eggs, hidden spots and insider secrets to make your next visit to Mickey's Magic Kingdom even more magical.
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There are Hidden Mickeys everywhere
A Hidden Mickey is a subtle image of Mickey Mouse that Disney Imagineers snuck into rides, walls, carpeting, wallpaper and other design elements across Disney World. There are hundreds – probably thousands – of Hidden Mickeys around the parks.
Related: Hidden Mickey: Secrets Hiding in Plain Sight at Disney World
Some are so small, you've probably walked right past (or even stepped on) them without noticing they were there. I am notoriously bad at spotting Hidden Mickeys, but, luckily, some are easier to spot than others ... and there are Hidden Mickey guide books to help you find them.
A few of the more obvious ones I've found include:
- Mickey-shaped plants on Living With the Land at Epcot.
- A Mickey-shaped place setting in the dinner party scene on the Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom.
- A Mickey-shaped rock display at the bottom of one of the tanks at The Seas With Nemo and Friends at Epcot.
You can go it alone and search for Hidden Mickeys on your next trip, or you pick up one of many helpful guides, such as this 'Hidden Mickey' book on Amazon by Keven Neary, who is featured in the TPG video below.
You can go on scavenger hunts
If you visit Disney World on a regular basis and you're looking to shake things up a bit, try a fun (and often free) scavenger hunt.
There are some scavenger hunts that are free and available year-round. In Magic Kingdom's Fantasyland, you can search for Pascal, the chameleon from "Tangled," near the Rapunzel-themed restrooms (there are ten in total).
Also in Magic Kingdom, you can become a real-life swashbuckler at A Pirate's Adventure ~ Treasures of the Seven Seas in Adventureland.
At Disney's Animal Kingdom, there are stands located around the park where kids can complete tasks and earn badges to become Wilderness Explorers à la Russell from "Up." If you happen to be staying in a Disney hotel, there are often scavenger hunts that send you running around the hotel grounds. You earn a prize (we've gotten buttons or a sweet treat) when you complete the hunt, and the clues are sometimes themed to holidays and special events.
Related: How to save your Disney vacation when the parks are absurdly crowded
There are also paid scavenger hunts that take your search to the next level.
During Epcot's limited-time festivals, you can purchase a map for about $10 that leads you around the park finding clues. When you complete the hunt, you turn in your map for a prize. During the Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, for example, you can take part in Remy's Ratatouille Hide & Squeak and earn a fun prize like a themed cup or character spork (it's cuter than it sounds).
You can mail a letter with a Disney postmark
The turn-of-the-century mailboxes on Magic Kingdom's Main Street, U.S.A., are more than just well-themed decorations. They are real, working mailboxes and the mail is collected daily by Disney cast members, who pass them off to the United States Postal Service. You can bring your own postcard and stamp or purchase them from locations around Disney World. Before you drop mail in the box, stop by City Hall (aka Guest Relations) to get your exclusive Disney postmark.
Kids can run around play areas
While Disney is one of the most kid-friendly parks out there when it comes to attractions with low (or no) height requirements, any parent who has taken their kids to Disney World knows that kids can't just go from ride to ride to ride all day without a break.
Kids need a chance to expend pent-up energy, and all four Disney World parks have indoor and outdoor play areas where they can do just that. A few of my favorites include:
- Circus-themed indoor (i.e. air-conditioned) play area in the queue for Dumbo the Flying Elephant at Magic Kingdom.
- Space-themed play area (with video games for older kids) at the exit of Mission: Space in Epcot.
- The Boneyard fossil dig site at Animal Kingdom's DinoLand U.S.A.
- Outdoor playground in Epcot behind the Creations Shop.
- Interactive indoor play area at the exit to Journey Into Imagination With Figment at Epcot.
You can book a private photo session
Whether you want a special memento of your trip or you want that perfect photo without other tourists in the background but your Photoshop skills are lacking, Disney now offers private photo sessions at all four theme parks.
At only $79 for a 20-minute photo session for up to eight guests, it's surprisingly affordable as far as Disney prices go.
You can use it as a chance to commemorate a birthday, family reunion or another special occasion, or book a morning session to get all your vacation photos out of the way before the heat and humidity set in.
Same-day availability is occasionally available, but you'll have better luck reserving your session in advance via Disney's website.
Related: What happens on a $120 Disney tour that takes you into the 'secret' tunnels
You can take home free souvenirs
I haven't cracked the code on how to get a free Disney vacation yet (though using points and miles can help), but I do know where you can find a few free souvenirs to bring home from your trip.
The first you may already know because it's a pretty popular one, but you can pick up free buttons at any guest services location in the parks. There are buttons to celebrate a first visit, birthday, anniversary or generic "I'm Celebrating" buttons where a cast member can write in the details of your special celebration.
Other fun free souvenirs include transportation trading cards you can collect from bus, monorail and ferry drivers and at the Skyliner stations. Kids can also get KidCot postcards from each of the World Showcase pavilions, and they'll receive a bonus postcard for collecting all 11 KidCot cards.
The Animation Experience at Conservation Station in Animal Kingdom has stickers that are freely handed out by cast members (we've received them most often when a crying child needed calming).
You can hop a ride down Main Street, U.S.A.
There are all kinds of magical ways to bop around Walt Disney World – the Skyliner, the Monorail or a red-and-white-polka-dot Minnie Van to name a few.
One of the lesser-known modes of transportation at Disney are the Main Street Vehicles in the Magic Kingdom.
You can hop on a colorful trolley, omnibus, jitney or fire engine and enjoy a whimsical ride between Town Square and Cinderella Castle. It's basically like being in a Disney parade so don't forget to wave at your adoring fans. These are first-come-first-served and typically only run in the early operating hours, though occasionally they make a return late-afternoon.
The Magic Kingdom is actually on the second floor of the park
OK, stick with me on this one. When you walk through the entrance tunnel to the Magic Kingdom and onto Main Street, U.S.A., you are technically on the second floor of the Magic Kingdom.
The first floor is hidden underground and serves as a way for cast members, characters and supplies to move throughout the park while staying out of sight. Dubbed the Utilidor, this tunnel system is often referred to as being underground but it's actually the ground floor of the park.
The tree in Liberty Square was hand-chosen by Walt Disney
Magic Kingdom's Liberty Square is themed after colonial America, complete with a replica Liberty Bell and Liberty Tree, where the colonists' first act of defiance against the British was staged in 1765. Disney's Liberty Tree was hand-chosen by Walt Disney and transplanted about six miles from its original location elsewhere on Disney property.
The tree is so important to the park that acorns from the tree are collected and planted so that they can be used to replace the current tree should misfortune (or lightning) strike.
You can taste test (free) sodas from around the world at Epcot
Club Cool has been an Epcot staple since the late 1990s, though it recently moved into some new digs. The Coca-Cola-sponsored venue lets guests sample sodas from Italy, Korea, the Dominican Republic and other countries from around the world at no extra charge.
Some sodas are tastier than others, but making your way through each flavor to find your favorite is part of the experience. In fact, one of the most well-known flavors is called the Beverly — a bitter nonalcoholic aperitif from Italy — that is almost universally disliked. Drinking it is practically an Epcot rite of passage, as are the sticky sneakers you'll walk out with when you're through.
There are a lot of Easter eggs
From the business names on the windows on Main Street, U.S.A., to numbers painted on a trash can in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, practically every detail in Disney World has a story behind it.
The windows, for example, bear the names of men and women who have been influential to The Walt Disney Company over the years. There are far too many Easter eggs in the park to list here, but I can say that if you see a name, number or character that looks out of place — or anything else that you assume might have a hidden meaning — you are probably right. Ask a cast member or do a quick Google search to find out if your hunch was spot on.
Here are a few of my favorite Easter eggs at Disney World:
- There is a painting of Mr. Toad handing the deed over in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride in Magic Kingdom because Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was closed to build the Winnie the Pooh ride.
- If you look at Cinderella's fountain in Magic Kingdom at the right angle, the crown appears as if she is wearing it on her head (like the princess she is).
- Barnabas T. Bullion, the owner of Big Thunder Mountain Mining Company whose portrait hangs in the queue for the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad coaster, is modeled after Tony Baxter, a Walt Disney Imagineer who worked on the attraction.
- On Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway in Hollywood Studios, the poster for "The Great Moving Ride" is a nod to "The Great Movie Ride," the attraction it replaced. You'll also see a sign for a Flower shop with the address "1401." This is a reference to the location of Walt Disney Imagineering in Glendale, CA, at 1401 Flower Street.
You can watch a daily flag retreat ceremony
Each day in Magic Kingdom's Town Square, Disney pays tribute to our U.S. Military veterans with a patriotic flag retreat ceremony. As part of the ceremony, a veteran is chosen (often at random) to assist with the lowering of the American flag while the Main Street Philharmonic plays the "Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America."
The ceremony usually takes place around 5 p.m. because it is customary only to display the American flag from sunrise to sunset, according to the U.S. flag code. Other flags you see inside the Disney parks are not subject to this code because they are missing a star or stripe and are not technically "real" American flags.
There are grown-up versions of Disney treats
I would never turn down a Dole Whip or Mickey-shaped beignet, but I'd be even more inclined to partake if it had an extra-special adults-only spin. Some of Disney's most popular treats have spiked versions that might be just the treat you deserve after spending a long day at Disney.
You can find these treats at the parks, Disney Springs and at some of Disney's resort hotels, and they are well worth the bus ride. Better yet, take a Minnie Van.
Here are where to find my favorites:
- Frozen margarita made with lime-flavored Dole Whip at Barefoot Pool Bar at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.
- Boozy "Baton Rouge Beignets" at Scat Cat's Club at Disney's Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter.
- Spiked Blue or Green Milk at Stars Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
- Pineapple Dole Whip with a rum floater at Pineapple Lanai at Disney's Polynesian Village Resort.
- Boozy caramel flight from Karamell-Küche in Epcot's Germany pavilion.
You can personalize your souvenirs on the cheap
If you take our advice and pick up free souvenir buttons when you walk into Magic Kingdom, you can pay just a few dollars to have it personalized by a Disney artist at Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe in Liberty Square.
You can choose from a variety of fonts, colors and illustrations to jazz up your souvenir and they also sell a variety of customizable holiday ornaments in the shop. Pricing starts at $3, such as for the TPG button we made on a recent trip.
One land in Magic Kingdom has no bathrooms
You are never too far from a bathroom (or trash can) at Disney World, but there is one land in the Magic Kingdom where you won't find a single public restroom – Liberty Square.
Liberty Square is set in colonial times when indoor plumbing did not exist. Disney, ever the masters of theming, chose to stick to the timeline and build the land without public restrooms.
No need to worry, though. There are restrooms nearby in Frontierland and Fantasyland or, if you are dining at Columbia Harbor House or Liberty Tree Tavern, you can use the restroom there.
There are "hidden" spots to take a break
Disney World can get quite busy and crowded at times, but there are hidden spots throughout the parks where you can escape the crowds without sacrificing one single, solitary ounce of Disney magic.
One that I'll admit I skipped over for years was Tom Sawyer's Island in Magic Kingdom. You do have to take a somewhat crowded boat from Frontierland to the island, but once you are there, you often feel as if you have the place to yourself. There are caves and bridges and trails you can explore until you are all explored out.
Another often empty spot in the Magic Kingdom is behind Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe. There, more often than not, you'll find shade and even empty picnic benches, some with a castle view.
The various trails at Disney's Animal Kingdom are usually fairly quiet and provide a great way to see the animals if they weren't out and about when you took the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride. Check out the Tree of Life Garden, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail, the Maharajah Jungle Trek and the Discovery Island Trails for the ultimate animal-viewing experience.
Kids can get a magical haircut
Even everyday things at Disney World are just a bit more magical than they are at home, including haircuts. Kids (and adults) can get their hair cut at Harmony Barber Shop in Magic Kingdom for a reasonable price starting at around $20 (or half that for a beard trim).
They offer a special "first haircut" package that comes with a commemorative Mickey Ears hat, a keepsake lock of hair and a certificate, but even standard haircuts come with the option to add a sprinkle of "pixie dust" to finish off your new 'do.
Advance reservations are highly recommended and pricing does not include gratuity, which must be paid in cash.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is full of secrets
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge is by far the most immersive land at any Disney theme park (made even more immersive by the addition of the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser). So much thought and care went into every small detail of the land and its rife with Easter eggs and easy-to-miss callouts to the "Star Wars" films.
Not only is the Millennium Falcon the first full-size version ever created, but there is also a tiny Millennium Falcon hidden in the ship's undercarriage. Look for it under the vented part of the cockpit near the entrance to Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.
You'll also probably see the numbers 77, 80 and 83 throughout the land (an easy one to spot is inside the Docking Bay 7 eatery). These are references to the years the three original "Star Wars" films were released.
One of my favorite things about the land is how seamlessly it interacts with the "datapad" in the Play Disney Parks app.
You can translate signs written in the Star Wars language of Aurebesh, decrypt secret messages and hack into droids. Playing with the datapad feature unlocks another level of fun in the land, which comes in especially handy if the lines are long.
There are surprise character meetings
Most Disney character meet-and-greet times and locations are displayed in the Disney World app, but Disney wouldn't be Disney without a few surprises. Don't bank on it, but here are times when you may happen upon a rare character meeting or a whole slew of characters making their way through the park together.
Occasionally, Disney will do "test runs" before bringing characters out for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. If you visit in the weeks leading up to these events, you may get lucky and spot them practicing for their upcoming appearances. Or, even if you don't spot them, you may get tapped on the shoulder by a cast member and asked if you want a special meet-and-greet that happens just backstage.
Some lucky Disney guests have also gotten caught up in what Disney fans refer to as "Character Palooza" — a group of characters who all come out at the same time for photos and autographs. Sometimes rare characters like the penguin from "Mary Poppins" and Gepetto from "Pinocchio" will show up with the usual cast of characters.
There's no real way to plan these happy surprises into your vacation, but consider yourself lucky if it happens.
One thing I've noticed over the years is that vacationers hear about "magical moments" that sometimes happen at Disney World and hope for their own little bit of pixie dust like a free Mickey-shaped ice cream, skip-the-line pass or another surprise perk. If they don't get a magical moment, they are sometimes disappointed.
The best way to avoid that disappointment is to make your own magic.
You can search for Hidden Mickeys, stop in for a confetti-topped haircut or pick up a free souvenir ... and maybe even add an extra artist's touch to it for a few dollars. You'll come home with countless happy memories and newfound Disney knowledge to share with friends and family.