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The Underground Secrets of the Magic Kingdom’s Utilidors

If you’re a regular Guest of the Walt Disney World Resort – or even just a Disney fan in general – then you’ve probably heard the word “utilidor.” What’s more, you may know that the utilidors are a central part of park operations at the Magic Kingdom. But what you may not know is that, as a visitor to the Magic Kingdom, you’ve encountered those utilidors yourself.

By walking on their ceiling! (And, if you really got into a show or parade, perhaps dancing on their ceiling – oh, what a feeling!)

If you’re curious to know more about this unique feature of the Magic Kingdom, then read on for a look into the literal Disney World underground.

Credit: Disney

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What is a utilidor?

The dictionary definition of a utilidor is “an aboveground insulated conduit used for general utility service, especially in arctic climates.” What does this have to do with a Disney utilidor?

Absolutely nothing. It’s just a cool word that Disney repurposed, standing in as a portmanteau for “utility corridors,” which are the utility tunnels that run underneath the Magic Kingdom (and through which many of the utility lines are routed).

This massive tunnel system – one of the largest systems of utility tunnels in the world, in fact – makes up the majority of the backstage areas at the Magic Kingdom. Guests are not allowed there unless they’re on a special behind-the-scenes Keys to the Kingdom tour, and the tunnels look like exactly what they are – purpose-built industrial corridors. They lack the theming, immersive design, and “magic” of the on-stage areas of the Magic Kingdom because it would be wasteful to spend money on those things for areas that are not meant to be seen by the public.

Essentially, the utilidor system provides the infrastructure that makes the on-stage magic work.

Credit: Disney

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What functions do the utilidors serve?

After Disneyland was opened, Walt Disney realized several things he would have done differently if he had the chance. In building Walt Disney World, he was finally given that opportunity.

Perhaps apocryphally, one day at Disneyland Walt was dismayed to see a Cast Member dressed as a cowboy walking through Tomorrowland in order to get to Frontierland. Frustrated at the breakage in the immersive environment, he sought a way for Cast Members to travel completely unseen by Guests.

The utilidors provide this opportunity at the Magic Kingdom. A huge number of doors in or near various attractions, stores, and restaurants lead to stairways that go down to the utilidors, allowing Cast Members to duck in and out of various areas of the park as needed, without ever breaking with the theme of each area.

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However, beyond just providing a means for employees to get from place to place, the utilidors serve a number of other functions, including:

  • Waste management – The automated vacuum collection (AVAC) system that is used at the Magic Kingdom to transport trash through pneumatic tubes runs through the utilidors.
  • Computers & electrical systems – The control rooms for the computer systems that run and monitor the Park are housed in the utilidors.
  • Deliveries & storage – When items like merchandise or food (or other necessities) are brought to the Magic Kingdom, they are delivered to – and stored in – the utilidors. That’s why you’ll never see a UPS truck on Main Street!
  • Kitchens – The kitchens for the Magic Kingdom’s restaurants are located underneath them, in the utilidors. So hopefully the only rat you’ll ever find down there is Remy!
  • Employee services – For Cast Members, the Magic Kingdom is a workplace, and thus it requires the sorts of things a modern office complex would have. These can be found in the utilidors, with facilities ranging from restrooms and locker rooms to administrative offices and even a Cast Member hair salon, “Kingdom Kutters!” The utilidors also formerly housed costuming for the Magic Kingdom, but this was moved to a larger facility in 2005.
Disney Cast Members

Credit: SFGATE

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How do the utilidors work?

You might wonder just how something as tremendous as this system of utilidors could exist in what is, essentially, the basement of the Magic Kingdom. What amazing feat of engineering did Walt Disney pull off to build a basement on what was originally swampland?

Well, the truth is that the utilidors aren’t the basement; the Park is just on the second floor!

As historian Richard E. Foglesong explains in Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando, an in-depth history of the political and technical wrangling that went into building Disney World,

Because so much of the property was wet, the park was built on a raised slab that was crisscrossed with tunnels that carried power and water lines and other utilities. The utilidors also let costumed characters like Goofy and Mickey Mouse access their work locations without being seen with their “heads off,” a Disney no-no.

The Magic Kingdom utilidors, then, are actually the ground level of the Park, with the attractions, shops, and restaurants on the second floor directly above those tunnels (which is still a pretty impressive feat of engineering in its own right)!

enchantment-disney

Credit: Disney

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This just goes to show the amount of hard work, forethought, and innovation that the Walt Disney Company and the Imagineers put into the creation and development of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. In order to create a “kingdom” that runs smoothly, provides both efficiency and ease for Cast Members, and prevents any break in the immersive and themed elements for Guests, an entire theme park was built on the second floor of a tremendous tract of swampland, above a giant utility corridor system!

The next time you’re walking down Main Street U.S.A., think about all the work that’s going on beneath your feet so that you can feel inspired to look up and wish upon a star.

About Andrew Friedenthal