It’s often said that you should never forget to look up when walking around the Disney parks. The Imagineers fill every space with so much meaning throughout the parks that you can miss so much if you only look straight ahead.
But did you know that you should be looking down too?? Because in Disney’s parks, the places where every last detail speaks, even the ground that you walk on contributes to the story. It’s a detail that’s a bit funny, given that the ground was such a last minute thing before Disneyland’s opening that there are stories of women’s heels sinking into the not-yet-solid asphalt that had been poured only a day before. But we’ve come a long way since then, and Disney has had many a decade to make up for that day.
And so today I give you 10 very, very good reasons to look down as you roam the Magic Kingdom.
10. Main Street, U.S.A.
Much of the Magic Kingdom’s pavement is painted a brownish-red – both to tell a story and because apparently the color geniuses at Disney, working with Kodak, figured out that everyone’s pictures look better with that color backdrop – but Main Street, U.S.A. is plain old asphalt. Some say that this is to keep things plain and people moving. (Of course if they really wanted to keep people moving they probably shouldn’t have put that big castle at the end…but details details.)
You’ll also find some lovely details along the way – the grates throughout Main Street and the Hub are full of gorgeous scrollwork and even the bases of the trees lining the street will proudly tell you exactly where you are.
And if you feel a little less strain on your feet and a little more secure in your step as you walk down Main Street and throughout the rest of Magic Kingdom, you can thank the Imagineers for that too. They are said to have used a special cement that’s a bit softer than regular concrete to be easier on your hard working feet. The pavement throughout the park is also often painted with non-skid paint to make your steps a little more secure along the way.
And while we’re talking brownish-red pavement, there’s no better example than Frontierland. As we wander past Main Street and into the back of the park, we leave the black asphalt behind in favor of this deep brownish-red that both calls up thoughts of the red earth of the old Wild West and, according to the makers of Disney magic, somehow makes us and our pictures all the more vibrant and appealing.
But wander over to Tomorrowland and you’ll say goodbye to that red in favor of the grays of this futuristic area – where the ground is the color of asphalt and adorned at the main entrance with giant cogs and gears.
7. The Compass Rose
It’s so easy to miss this detail since we’re so often looking up at the castle from behind – but as you close in on the back of the castle from Fantasyland you’ll come upon this gorgeous compass rose that almost subliminally centers you as you emerge from the castle and move toward the carousel.
6. Journey of the Little Mermaid
As we wander back into Fantasyland and meander to Journey of the Little Mermaid, we might sense something new is under foot – or under fin – because the ground, still the reddish-brown of beach sand, is now littered with embedded shells as a nod to our favorite mer-princess. Take a moment to explore with your kids and let them point out their favorites.
5. Storybook Circus
Then we journey deeper into Fantasyland and into Storybook Circus, where there has definitely been mischief underfoot.
From the discarded peanut shells near Dumbo…
To the multitude of different animal footprints…
It’s easy to wonder what goes on here after the park closes at night.
4. Horses Everywhere…
As you roam through Fantasyland, it’s impossible not to notice just how you’re supposed to be traveling around as you’ve gone back in time. Everywhere you turn the ground is littered with carriage wheel treads and horseshoe prints. And then when you round the corner into the Tangled restrooms, you see the prints of a very special horse…
Then as you continue on past Memento Mori into Liberty Square, we’re still traveling by horse and carriage…but the horses are a much ghostlier sort.
That’s right. We might not see the ghostly horses that pull the Haunted Mansion hearse. But we can still see their footprints.
3. The Haunted Mansion Ring
Now that we’ve entered the queue area of the Haunted Mansion in Liberty Square, we can talk about the bit of guest-created lore there. Years ago when an old turnstile was removed from the exit area of the Mansion, a ring was left behind that came to have its own story. Because the ring was a fan created bit of lore, there was no official story behind it – but many thought it was perhaps the discarded ring of Master Gracey’s bride. That old bit of metal has since been removed – but Disney embraced the stories and, when the Haunted Mansion queue was reimagined some years ago, they included a “real” ring in the cement. You can search it out yourself – or see if a Cast Member is willing to direct you to it.
2. Adventureland Treasure
As you skip over to Adventureland, you’ll first pass another lovely compass.
And then as you make your way to Aladdin’s Magic Carpets near Zanzibar Trading Company, you’ll be treated to perhaps the most beautiful paved areas in all of Magic Kingdom.
The ground is littered with broken tiles, jewels, colored stones, and discarded jewelry. You can get lost in looking at it all – and as you look you’ll often have the pleasure of seeing guests around you stop hurrying past and start looking down too. There’s so much to see under your feet here.
1. The River of Poo
And on that lovely, jeweled note…we make our way back to Liberty Square for what is perhaps my favorite paved detail in all of the Magic Kingdom. So far we’ve enjoyed seashells. Oohed and ahhed together over jewelry and tiles. Enjoyed animal footprints and peanuts. And yet all of this pales in comparison to the river of poo.
Perhaps Magic Kingdom’s best known paved detail and most accurate historical tidbit – Liberty Square, which technically lacks bathrooms like its historical counterpart, includes a brown paved river down its center that is meant to channel the river of sewage that was poured out of people’s homes and flowed freely down the streets during that time.
So don’t be like that guy in the green shirt that I blurred out just above. Keep your feet out of the poop river.
Bonus: Custodial Cast Member Art
We’ve gone over 10 wonderful permanent ground details that help to tell the story throughout Magic Kingdom, the land where every last detail speaks. But I wouldn’t be doing this post justice if I didn’t mention some of the most wonderful Cast Member gifts that we receive under our feet in the Magic Kingdom.
Some of the custodial Cast Members in the parks are so incredibly skilled and creative that sometimes we’re lucky enough to stumble on the most ephemeral of treats in the parks: custodial water paintings. They are as perfect in their execution as they are fleeting in their nature – and the speed with which they evaporate makes me feel all the more lucky when I happen upon one.
Now that I’ve shared my favorite underfoot details in the Magic Kingdom, I’d love to hear your favorite details on the ground on property – whether it’s one of these, the fiberoptics in Epcot, the hand prints in Hollywood Studios, or anything else!