When people return home after visiting Disneyland or Walt Disney World, they’re likely to remember the sites, the sounds and the thrills they’ve experienced. Whether they realize it or not, they’ll also remember the smells.
That’s because there are portions of each and every Disney park worldwide that, quite literally, stink. And for the most part, that’s a good thing.
When folks walk down Main Street USA in Disneyland or Walt Disney World, they MIGHT notice the turn-of-the-20th-century architecture of the buildings along the way or the unmistakable lure of the fairytale castle up ahead.
But what they will always notice is the tantalizing odors emanating from the restaurants, coffee shops and snack stands.
The tempting smells of sweet treats, hot coffee and fresh popcorn are pumped out from those shops in the direction of unsuspecting park guests as they stroll by. And who among those guests hasn’t stopped, turned to members of their traveling party, and said: “Who’s in the mood for a [fill in the tasty blank]?”
It’s a subtle, yet effective way to get guests’ attention. And it’s worked for decades.
Indeed, for better or worse, smells permeate Disney theme parks and many of their attractions.
Take the stink bug smell during the middle of the It’s Tough to be a Bug! show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The stink bug’s release of the rather offensive smell is one of the highlights of the show. Believe it or not, that five-second burst of odoriferous fumes took months to create.
In the beginning of the process, the special-effects crew at Walt Disney Imagineering put an actual stink bug in a sandwich bag and asked the attraction’s creative team, which included now-retired Imagineering creative director Kevin Rafferty, if that was the smell they were looking for.
“No, no. We want it to be something less pungent,” was Rafferty’s response after sticking his nose in the bug bag.
After much trial and error, the choices were narrowed down to the top three smells. It was then up to Animal Kingdom creative leader Joe Rohde to decide. When he made his selection, he said: “This is great. This is earthy!”
And that stinky release from Claire the Stink Bug has been invading guests’ noses in the It’s Tough to be a Bug! theater ever since.
Rafferty also was a member of the creative team that gave us Mickey’s PhilharMagic in the Magic Kingdom … and the delightfully delicious smell of warm pie tickling guests’ olfactory senses.
“I must say I like the apple pie much better than the ‘earthy’ stink bug,” Rafferty said.
The various permutations of the Soarin’ attraction at Disney’s California Adventure and EPCOT [Soarin’ Over California and Soarin’ Around the World] have used smells to enhance your virtual hang-gliding experience.
In the original Soarin’, guests were treated to hints of orange blossoms and pine trees as they soared above California landscapes.
The updated version features salty sea breeze aromas, as well as jasmine and dirt during your jaunt around the world.
Speaking of dirt, that’s one of the smells guests take in during their trip atop a banshee in the Flight of Passage attraction in Pandora: The World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
But it’s inaccurate to call the smell “earthy,” since we’re supposed to be on Pandora, the fictional orb located millions of miles away from Earth. Perhaps that smell should be labeled “Pandora-y”?
It’s hard to miss the musty odor in the air as you walk along the queue inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. And there’s a reason for it.
What your smelling is the chemical bromine, used to sanitize the water during the boat ride through the many pirate-themed scenes. Bromine is similar to chlorine, but less harsh when it comes in contact with skin.
Over at EPCOT, there are three attractions that feature very distinctive odors.
During the “Rome is burning” scene inside Spaceship Earth, the Imagineers managed to create the distinctive and very realistic scent of smoldering wood embers.
And while riding on Journey Into Imagination With Figment, it’s hard to miss the foul odor of skunk thrust upon guests during one of Dr. Nigel Channing’s lab experiments. In fact, the overall theme of the attraction is based on the five human senses: Sound, Sight, Touch, Taste and (wait for it!) Smell.
The relatively new Ratatouille attraction in EPCOT gives guests a whiff of traditional French cuisine … the aroma of a warm baguette hits guests as they careen through the restaurant’s kitchen.
And speaking of aromas and France, the now shuttered Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Disneyland Paris was famous – or infamous – for the overwhelming foul smell of live animals which hit you as you entered the arena. Thankfully, guests usually became oblivious to the offensive odors after a few minutes.
According to Rafferty, there are several attractions where the infusion of smells was proposed, but quickly dismissed.
For example, on Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, the Imagineers discussed putting the smell of popcorn into the carnival scene, which would have made scents … uh, sense.
“But that didn’t pan out because we were afraid the scent would permeate through to the other neighboring scenes (you know, like the popcorn smell in the Old West!).”
Two other attractions that had just a whiff of a chance of incorporating smells into them are in Disney’s California Adventure.
“We thought about putting a paint smell into Ramone’s on Radiator Springs Racers,” Rafferty said, “but that idea lasted all of two seconds. And we almost put a watermelon scent on Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, but we never did.”
AN EXPERT ON DISNEY PARKS SMELLS
Indeed, Rafferty fancies himself an expert on the subject of Disney Parks smells.
“Having traveled to Disney parks all around the world, I made the keen observation that all of the backstage Disney park trash Dumpsters smell exactly the same no matter what country they’re in. That has always amazed me.
“And I do consider myself a trash Dumpster aficionado, having made countless trips to the Dumpster behind the Plaza Inn in my youth. I would bet you a dollar to a donut that the Dumpster smells exactly the same today as it did back in 1974.
“And that’s my two scents.”
Chuck Schmidt is an award-winning journalist who has covered all things Disney since 1984 in both print and on-line. He has authored or co-authored seven books on Disney, including his latest, The Beat Goes On, for Theme Park Press, which features an afterword by none other than Kevin Rafferty. He also has written a regular blog for AllEars.Net, called Still Goofy About Disney, since 2015.