Can we as a culture, once and for all, stop saying that the Great Wall of China is “the only thing visible from space?” That myth, perpetuated by NASA astronauts who only had a brief porthole view of our little green marble, is easily busted with a quick look at Google Maps. Thanks to their hi-res satellite pictures, knit together to form a global tapestry, we’re able to grab a brand new perspective other generations only dreamed of. So for all my Disney friends, fans, and freaks (you know who you are), I’ve scoured the digital globe to find for you some of the most magical, mind-blowing (and vertigo-inducing) Disney secrets you can see from space!
NOTE: I’ve included screenshots from Google Maps within this article. To zoom in and explore them for yourself, copy and paste the included coordinates into the Google search bar. You’ll then need to change your map view to “satellite” to see the actual satellite views.*
Walt’s Disney’s Personal Plane
Walt Disney owned several private planes he used for business travel. Most famously, he used his planes to scout locations for land where he could build his “Florida Project,” the idea that would eventually become Walt Disney World in Central Florida. One of the planes, a twin turboprop Gulfstream 1, was on display as part of the Studio Backlot Tour at Disney Hollywood Studios theme park. Known by its tail numbers, “November Two Three Four Mickey Mouse,” this unique craft gave Walt Disney wings to pursue his dreams.
After the Backlot Tour was closed, and the back half of the park was demolished to make way for Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, the plane disappeared from public view with many wondering if that treasure of the Disney past is lying in a scrap pile somewhere, never to be seen again.
Directly North of Disney Animal Kingdom, on Bear Island Road is the Reedy Creek Environmental Services facility. This is part of the government agency started by Roy O. Disney that provides services (water, power, emergency services, etc.) to Walt Disney World. In a view from space (via Google Earth), on a small dirt lot on the property’s east side, we can see a twin turboprop Gulfstream 1, nowhere near an airstrip, and surrounded by barricades.
It’s pretty obvious this is Walt’s Gulfstream 1 awaiting its final fate. Incidentally, I have it on decent authority that the plan will not be left here to rot in a Florida swamp. Keep an eye on this post over the next couple I’ll share a hint of where it may be headed next.
To read more about the life of N234MM check out Jim Korkis’ interview on the subject at Yesterland.com.
Captain Nemo’s Sunken Sub
For those who grew up going to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, one of their most beloved memories was a journey beneath the sea, 20,000 leagues to be exact. Based on the Walt Disney Productions film based on the Jules Verne novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Submarine Voyage took guests on an eye-opening, underwater cruise past scenes of shipwrecks, giant squids, mermaids, and sea serpents (Mr. Baxter… you’ve been submerged too long).
Perhaps the most exciting feature of the attraction was the unique design of the subs themselves. Fashioned after Captain Nemo’s submarine, designed for the film by Disney Legend Harper Goff, these steampunky dive ships blended weaponized steel with Victorian grace. The eerily shark-like shape and googly-eyed port holes intrigued young and old alike.
So when the attraction closed in 1994, many mourned the loss of a childhood memory they would never again relive. Until now.
Disney stripped and buried all but three of the original 40-ton subs. One found a home in a backstage area of Disney Hollywood Studios visible on the now-defunct Backlot Studio Tour. The other two were taken to Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay, and sunk in the shallows as an artificial reef habitat for snorkelers to explore.
Today, only one remains, its signature silhouette almost completely unrecognizable as hurricanes have stripped away the fins. But from space, you can still see its long, sinister shape in the protected snorkeling lagoon.
Check out an up close video view of Captain Nemo’s sunken sub HERE.
Hidden Under Foot
Even though these next Disney secrets are not exactly hidden from view to guests, they qualify as Disney secrets because millions of Disney guests will walk over them day by day and never even notice that there’s a story being told literally under their feet!
Back in the 1980s when I worked at Disneyland, there was always a fun fact I liked pointing out to people. In each of the themed lands of the park, the asphalt seal, or “slurry,” was colored to match the design of the land. Adventureland was green, Frontierland was a burnt orange, Tomorrowland was blue, and so on. This was an effort to further theme the lands.
But today, they’re not satisfied with pathways for pathways’ sake. They want to “plus” the experience even further by building design elements into the paving. Perhaps you’ve noticed the detailed hoof prints in the pavement in Frontierland, or the leaves and bio-luminescence pressed into the ground in Pandora. But these next Disney theming secrets are so big you’d need back up, way up, to be able to see them.
Downtown Disney is a Flowering Vine
Back in 2001, when Anaheim’s version of Downtown Disney district opened, it was a new concept of shopping and dining for the Disneyland Resort. Opened in concert with the opening of Disney’s California Adventure park (DCA), the district offered fun and community for vacationers and locals alike to spend an evening within the Disney bubble and without entering the parks.
Designed as a “garden within the city,” the walkways are decorated as a flowering fine with planters shaped like leaves and flower shapes that create seating and dining areas. Even the promenade between Disneyland Park and DCA is designed as a lattice on which the vines can grow. Truly a beautiful Disney secret you’ll only see if you’re looking down.
Right Brain/Left Brain in Epcot’s Future World
When Walt Disney’s original idea for EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was scrapped (because some people tend to enjoy their voting rights), Disney Imagineers pursued instead the idea of a future world that showcased some of the beautiful and upcoming technologies that would feed humankind’s desire for both creativity and technology.
The result was a large area of Epcot called Future World where guests can explore the beauty and creativity inspired by the natural world on one side (Future World West) and the analytical and mechanical wonders of mankind’s creation on the other side (Future World East). Future World West, in theory, speaks to the right hemisphere of the brain with pavilions dedicated to the land, the sea, and human imagination, while Future World East speaks to linear thinking and mathematic thought with pavilions dedicated to energy, motion, and medicine. But these are more than just a grouping of attractions.
From the satellite’s orbit, we can see that Disney Imagineers even designed the walkways, water features, trees, and planters were built with these concepts in mind. In Future World West, the undulating and fluid shapes lead one to meander through and perhaps think more creatively. In Future World East, the hard-line, geometric shapes cause one to take decisive direction when choosing where to adventure next.
Just a short hop across the pond to Disneyland Paris, we’ll find another beautiful feature hidden beneath our feet that’s visible from high above the earth. On your way to Space Mountain in Discoveryland (the European equivalent to the American parks’ Tomorrowland), you’ll walk right over another tribute to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. You probably won’t notice that the paving stones are arranged in the shape of a nautilus, the cephalopod who Captain Nemo’s submarine was named after.
Film Reel Footpath
A few short steps (and another theme park admission price) away at Disney Hollywood Studios in Paris, there’s another big story being told in the pavement. Near the Plaza of Stars, where movie and TV stars have pressed their hand and footprints into soft cement, there is a film reel walk way that only reveals itself from above.
Follow that pathway to an area called Disney Bros. Plaza and you’ll see the pathway change into an argyle pattern, not unlike a sweater vest worn by Hollywood types in the 1920s when Walt and Roy Disney first came to Hollywood – the real one.
DisneySea Plaza Moon Phases
Much further East, at DisneySea in Tokyo, there’s another underfoot secret spotted from satellite cameras, or should I say from the Moon? Within the DisneySea Plaza, a large circular piazza surrounded by what may be the homes of the great oceanic explorers, guests crowd around the beautiful fountain globe to take pictures with the first icon of the park, a gold and alabaster sailing ship.
Little do they know, that under their feet, the Imagineers designed a complete map of the Moon’s phases. Sailors of old had only the sky to guide them, so this map declares from the outset the excitement and wonder of exploration at sea.
Lotus Flower in Shanghai
Entry (31.1419712,121.6587846) & Hub (31.1448829,121.6563605)
Travel West now to Shanghai Disney in China. As you enter the resort, there is another vast plaza welcoming guests to enjoy this newest of the Disney parks. Few guests ever look down to see that they are standing on a gigantic image of lotus blossoms. Deeper in the park, at the hub leading to each of the park’s magical themed lands there is another representation of the lotus.
What’s so special about this is that the lotus symbolizes something beautiful and pure coming out of the murky mud to show us the past, present, and future. Where else but this park could this message be more appropriate?
Massive Hidden Mickeys
Everybody loves noticing a Hidden Mickey. Especially when it’s one nobody has ever noticed before. Imagine the astronauts’ surprise of when they look down to see these humongous Mickey Mouse shapes hidden where nobody would see them, without Google Earth, that is.
I’m not sure if this is actually a lake. It could be a reservoir or water treatment area for all I know. Heck, it might even be an alligator farm. But smack dab in the middle of the massive Walt Disney World property, in an area where guests used to be able to drive real race cars, is this perfectly symmetrical body of water shaped like the famous mouse. It’s located just South of the Mulan parking lot.
Mickey-Shaped Solar Farm
Just down World Drive from the Mickey-shaped lake is a Mickey-shaped solar farm. This massive field of solar panels looks like any other solar farm you’d see in a trip across the country, but when viewed from a space craft, it betrays its true shape. Who knows, when the aliens come from a Mickey-shaped planet, they may think we were speaking to them, offering a peaceful welcome… and churros.
Mickey Shaped Pedestrian Path
If exercise is frustrating to you because you only feel like you’re running around in circles, this next hidden Mickey will validate your feelings. At the Disneyland Resort, straddling Disneyland Drive with Paradise Pier Hotel on one side and DCA on the other, is a pedestrian path with that distinctive mouse shape. During the Run Disney events held right there, the runners usually use the middle of the road technique, but it’s not unusual for those in the know to take an ear or two at the beginning of their 10k.
Now don’t freak out. I know this isn’t a “Hidden Mickey.” In fact it’s probably the most photographed Mickey in the entire world. But since we’re looking down from space, I thought you’d be interested to see how distorted this image of Mickey actually is.
This is the Mickey flower bed in the entry area of Disneyland. Disney’s landscape designers wanted Mickey to look more like himself in from down below where the people are, so they used forced perspective and actually planted his image with a broad upward stretch. It’s not meant to be seen from space. Unless you’re a rocket man, you wouldn’t notice this weird effect.
If you view this location via Google Maps with the 3D effect* on, you’ll see that they went in and fixed the image to make Mickey look more like himself.
What Else Can You See From Space?
I’ve got so much more to share, but this post is getting so long. I may add to it along the way or introduce a part two.
In the meantime, are there any Disney secrets you’d like to share? Write a comment below and I’ll check it out. It might make it into one of my posts in the future.
*From time to time, things on the ground change and, depending on what browsers or devices you use, the images may look different from what I’ve posted here. You can toggle 3D or map labels on and off in Google Maps settings.