Sensory Overload: The Scents and Sounds of WDW

Feature Article

This article appeared in the June 12, 2012 Issue #664 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

Sensory Overload:
The Scents and Sounds of Walt Disney World

by Alice McNutt Miller

Alice MillerI walk through the door and immediately take a whiff of a lovely, light, citrusy, floral — and reassuringly antiseptic — smell. I sigh and know that I am once again in my Happy Place. Is this the perfume shop in France at Epcot? No, I have just entered the Ladies' Room just inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom, next to the Fire Station, on Main Street USA. Yes, I really look forward to the smell of the bathrooms at Disney World. (My children would probably say that that is because I spend so much time in them. Sorry dears, there will be no Space Mountain until Mom has made the obligatory pit stop.)

I love the smell (and smells) of Walt Disney World. You know the ones; they either hit you full force, or they sneak up on you. The scents that make you smile or wrinkle your nose every time you encounter them. The smells that you may have smelled in some other form in some other place, but always either take you back to fond memories of previous visits to a Disney park, or allow you to stop, breathe deeply, and truly BE in the moment.

Disney gets so many things right, finding so many ways to delight their guests, including through the various scents and smells found (smelled?) throughout the parks and resorts. (There are rumors that a Disney Imagineer once invented something called a "Scent Blitzer," which is — or was — used to deliver blasts of some of these "imagineered" scents into attractions, hotels, and other public spaces at the Disney parks. I cannot confirm this, but there has to be some way to get those scents out there, so why not give it a snappy name?) The myriad smells bring forth lots of (real or imagined) memories, and corresponding emotions. There are some smells that, no matter where or under what circumstances we smell them, evoke the same strong memories. At Walt Disney World, the caramel smell from the Main Street Confectionery makes me think about eating boxes of Cracker Jacks at swim meets when I was a kid, and the campfire scent of the fireplace in the lobby of the Wilderness Lodge reminds me of Girl Scout Day Camp.

I am always slightly distracted when I walk into the lobby of Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. It is not because of the soaring ceiling, the captivating artwork, or the bright African colors. It is the smell of the place. I'm not sure if the scents swirling through the lobby are piped in through the Scent Blitzer, or are simply wafting up from Jambo House's restaurants, Boma and Jiko, on the lower floor. It really doesn't matter. The smell is slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and slightly smoky. The smell makes me hungry for a Moroccan tagine and a really good glass of South African syrah. It makes me relax, take a deep breath, and enjoy the fact that I am finally on vacation. And this very particular combination of scents really does remind me of Africa, a continent that I have now been fortunate enough to travel to on numerous occasions. (The other smell that reminds me of Africa is diesel fumes, but that is another story.)

Here are some of the amazing, interesting, overwhelming and subtle scents that I love about, and will always associate with Disney World:

There are the food smells: the slightly maple-y caramel smell wafting out of the open doors of the Magic Kingdom's Main Street Confectionery; the heavenly smell of fresh-popped popcorn from the popcorn stands in the Magic Kingdom hub (ALWAYS smells better than it tastes!); the smoky, greasy smell of turkey legs; the smell of burgers, rotisserie chicken and French fries in Starlight Ray's Cosmic Café in Tomorrowland; the sugary, cinnamony smell of churros, sold out of the cart at the entrance to Harambe Village in the Animal Kingdom; the smell of hot chocolate and cookies at the food booth in the Streets of America at the Hollywood Studios during Christmas Season when the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights is in place.

Then there are the scents woven into various attractions, some of which make you smile, and some of which make you grimace, but all of which make you sit up and take notice: oranges, pine and surf in Soarin'; sweet apple pie in PhilharMagic!; the smell of the great library at Alexandria burning in Spaceship Earth; Stitch's chili dog burp; Claire the stinkbug's gaseous output in It's Tough to Be A Bug!; even the sharp, pungent skunk smell in the Journey into Imagination with Figment.

While many of the scents that are evocative of Disney World have (we can guess) been specifically designed to evoke desired responses, emotions and memories for guests, there are also many scents that I have encountered at Disney World, and pleasantly associate with a visit there, that were created either by Mother Nature or practical necessity. First, there are the myriad natural scents. The shaded pathways of the Animal Kingdom smell green, lush and slightly acidic with freshly-laid mulch and decaying leaves; water rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, the Gran Fiesta tour and Maelstrom smell of algae and wet tourist; the inside of the monorail smells slightly musty; and the horse barn at the Fort Wilderness campground smells of the mixed scents of hay, tanned leather and manure. Then there are the roses. Let's not forget to stop and smell the beautiful roses! The rose-lined path in Epcot that leads from Future World to the World Showcase is a riot of varied colors and sublime smells. If I can slow my family down for just a few moments, a must-do for me on each visit is to take a detour to smell the Epcot roses.

Finally, let us give praise to the not-so-natural, but oh-so-necessary scents. The resort pools and hot tubs smell of chlorine. The resort carpets smell of carpet freshener. Then there is that public restroom just inside the gates of the Magic Kingdom. It is an almost universal truth that any visit to Disney World will involve lots of time spent in public restrooms. There is really no way to avoid it. That Disney has worked to make these necessary visits pleasant experiences through an attractive scent truly demonstrates the attention to detail that they are so well known for.

I read recently that there is a company selling fragrances evoking the smells of different cities around the world. On its website it says: "What if we could take off for Abu Dhabi in a snap, without even having to pack? What if our senses could be so aroused by a trip souvenir that we wouldn't need to subject ourselves to long lines at terminal gates? And what if the smell of the fresh cut grass in Central Park and those strong aromas so prevalent in the Big Apple could be united in one single drop of perfume?" They go on to say that they have crystallized the spirit of world-class cities through a "perfumatory prism" and offer 19 different scents, from "Abu Dhabi" to "Vienna" for 40 Euros (about $50) for a two-ounce bottle of eau de toilette. I really wish they would put "Main Street USA," "Harambe Village," or my favorite — "Walt Disney World Restroom" — through the perfumatory prism as well. Perhaps Disney can find a way to partner with these enterprising folks. Then I could take home a Transportation Security Administration-approved bottle of liquid happiness.

by Jay Grear

Jay GrearMusic stirs our emotions. It can boost our happiness when we feel low, make us feel patriotic, calm us when we're tense, or even bring us to tears because of a poignant memory. Disney music does all of this probably better than any other single entity.

We all have our favorite songs from Disney films. Who hasn't heigh-hoed on the way to work or whistled while we're there? We feel closer to our loved ones when we hear "You've Got A Friend in Me." We may shed a tear with "The Circle of Life." We can't help but dance to "Under The Sea" or "Beauty and the Beast." Then there's the one that always brings a lump to my throat — "When You Wish Upon A Star." The playbook of Disney film music has some emotional connection for everyone.

Sometimes Disney music reminds us of certain rides, attractions or parades at the parks. There's the music from The Tiki Room, Country Bear Jamboree, the "Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros!" in Mexico, or the granddaddy of them all, "It's A Small World." That one will be in your head all day now. I especially love the music from "Tapestry of Nations" and still get tears in my eyes every single time I experience the "Wishes" or "IllumiNations" shows.

Epcot provides many outdoor musical sounds from the various countries, from Mariachi Cobre at Mexico to Matsuriza, the Taiko Drummers, at Japan, The British Airwaves at United Kingdom, Off Kilter at Canada, The Spirit of America Fife and Drum Corps at The American Adventure and MoRockin at Morocco. You can even make your own outdoor music with the drums at The Outpost.

Some people love the background music throughout the parks. We tend to stay at the Beach Club since it's convenient to walk right to Epcot. Between them are two paths that we have come to call "The High Road" and "The Low Road." "The Low Road" is a little more secluded and calmer. It goes along the water and under the bridge of The Boardwalk. On our first stay at the Beach Club when we took this path we were happily surprised to hear Epcot music start to play as soon as we passed under the bridge through speakers magically hidden in the shrubbery. Ever since it's become a tradition after first arriving to take "The Low Road" to Epcot and at the moment of passing under the bridge say, "Cue the music!" We then know we're really there.

My wife and I often listen to several Internet sites that play Disney-specific songs as well as music, that, although not Disney, is used there, and makes us think of being at the parks. There are ragtime, circus, patriotic, and just good old-fashioned songs, such as "Daisy Bell – A Bicycle Built For Two," "Surrey With The Fringe On Top," or "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Who else keeps this type of feel-good music alive, but Disney? Certainly no one is writing these simple, yet happy songs.

Obviously everyone has favorite songs and there are many, many examples that I did not mention. When thinking about the songs, I did, however, discover something else. There are almost as many non-musical sounds that are pretty specific to Disney and when recalled or heard stir just as many emotions as the songs do.

In the Magic Kingdom there's the train whistle of the Walt Disney World Railroad, the horn of the Liberty Belle Riverboat, the gunshots from the Jungle Cruise, or the huge splash from Splash Mountain. The Animal Kingdom has many wonderful bird and animal sounds, as well as the roar of the dinosaurs of DinoLand, USA and the Yeti of Expedition Everest. Hollywood Studios has the explosions of the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular and Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show. There's the screams from The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and the laughter and applause as a result of the cast of the Citizens of Hollywood. In Epcot, there's the splashing of the water at the entrance to The Living Seas, the whoosh of the air-cannons shooting the water of the Innovention Fountains, the whistle of Serveur Amusant at France and our favorite — the "whoof" making the torches go out at the beginning of IllumiNations.

Disney transportation even has its emotional sounds. There's the video while riding the Magical Express buses. The boat horns ferrying excited park visitors to their happy destinations. Even the lapping of the waves from those boats against the sides of the canals where you are walking is very relaxing. Then there are the shrieks of laughter and dinging of bells from guests riding the surreys around the pathways. It will always be Jack Wagner's voice on the monorail saying "Por Favor Manténgase Alejado de las Puertas" that everyone loves.

I'm certain every one of you reading this has their own emotional connections to Disney sounds, but for my wife and me our true favorites are the emotional sounds from the cast members whose voices are just like music to us. It's a joy hearing them call out "Happy Birthday!" or "Happy Anniversary!" when they see a celebration button. We love to hear, "Have a magical day!" But I think our all-time favorite and most emotional Disney sound of all is: "Welcome home!"

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =


Alice McNutt Miller is a lifelong Disney fan whose fondest childhood memories include "The Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights and her first trip to Disneyland when she was 10 years old. Alice and her family are Disney Vacation Club members, and have visited Disney parks all over the world. They live in Vienna, Virginia.

Jay Grear and his wife, Sandy, were hooked on Walt Disney World from the first day of their first visit, 20 years ago, and have many great adventures since. A retired Navy veteran, Grear is a life-long resident of New Jersey and taught Technology Education in middle school for 30 years. We've had and wonderful memories from our trips there.


Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.