The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation guidebook and Hidden Mickeys a Field Guide to Disney’s Best-Kept Secrets tells us a little bit about himself, and how and why “Hidden Mickeys” came to be…
Have you had a lifelong interest in WDW? If not, when did you first get interested in WDW? How often have you been to WDW?
STEVE: I became a Walt Disney World zealot in the late 1980’s. I lived in Oklahoma at the time, and I would travel to WDW to medical conferences whenever I could. For casual reading at home, I would read every book I could find about WDW. Trips twice yearly weren’t enough. In early 1998, I found a job near WDW and voila! I was in heaven! Since my magical move to Florida, I visit WDW almost weekly. My publisher asked me if I ever tire of WDW. I answered a resounding “No!” In fact, whenever I’m on Disney World property, I feel recharged, like I never want to leave.
You’re a medical doctor – what made you decide to write books on a subject so different from your field?
STEVE: For eleven years, I was an academic emergency medicine professor and researcher at the University of Oklahoma. I published 20 articles, letters, book chapters, and original research in the medical literature. Initially, WDW was a great stress relief for me from the rigors of emergency room work. (I’m sure many WDW fans have stressful lives and jobs and feel that pressure relief at WDW as I do.) Eventually, my love of writing, research, and WDW merged into a desire to write about the place I enjoy the most. Not to mention the fun of it; experiencing and writing about WDW is much more fun for me than working in emergency rooms!
What prompted you to write the Hassle-Free Guide to WDW and the Hidden Mickeys book? How long did it take to research and write these books? When did you first get interested in Hidden Mickeys?
STEVE: Because of my fervent interest in WDW, my family and friends began turning to me for advice about the attractions, restaurants, and touring the parks. I still get dismayed when I notice a visitor who is not having a good time at WDW; it’s often because wrong decisions have been made. I decided to write a book that would serve as a “personal touring guide”. A guest could study the book for preparation or pick up the book on the way to WDW without any preparation. Either way, a guest could turn to the appropriate touring plan, which would guide him or her step by step around the parks with minimal waits in lines. I wanted to write the most detailed touring plans in print to assure as much as I could a fun experience at WDW for anyone. WDW presents the visitor with an overwhelming number of options. The key to a magical vacation is making the right decisions at any given time. (The “Hassle-Free” book took form in 1998, and after constant research and revision it was first published in 2001 and has had updates every year.)
Hidden Mickeys have long been an interest of mine. I learned about them in the mid 1990’s, probably from a Disney cast member in the parks. Two of the early HM’s I recall marveling over (pointed out to me by cast members): the one in the mural above the entrance to Body Wars in the Wonders of Life Pavilion at Epcot and the one in the hanging vine above the giraffes in the Africa room of the It’s a Small World ride in the MK. I decided to write about Hidden Mickeys that I could find and that I expect others could find as well, with help from Clues (sketchy descriptions for a challenge) and Hints (more complete descriptions if you need help) for each HM. The Hidden Mickeys book was a natural follow-up to the Hassle-Free Guide, since the touring plans I developed for the attractions were easily transformed into efficient Hidden Mickey scavenger hunts. I researched and wrote the “Hidden Mickeys” book over a seven month period in early 2002.
How do you research the Hidden Mickeys book? Does Disney validate whether a Hidden Mickey is a true Hidden Mickey for you?
STEVE: I accumulate potential HM sightings from the internet and from official Disney material (especially the Disney Magazine). I try to spot new HM’s whenever I’m at WDW, either by myself or with family or friends. My neighbor, son, and sister have all discovered new HM’s. I ask cast members frequently about HM’s in their areas (they don’t always know!). I often ride attractions many times to verify the sightings (it took many runs through the Jungle Cruise in the MK for me to accept the HM chipped out of the brick toward the end of the dark temple section).
Currently, Disney doesn’t validate what I publish. The official Disney HM list is sketchy and incomplete. Hidden Mickey lore filters up from the public, with Disney participating benevolently from the sidelines. The placement and cataloguing of HM’s is not an exact science, so some latitude (and confusion) exists. For example, some cast members in the Haunted Mansion and on the MK Backstage Tours have claimed for years that the HM plate and saucers on the ghostly banquet table is not “official”, that the Imagineers’ original design for the table settings did not include this HM, and that cast members place it there whenever they feel the urge (which is almost always, thank goodness). But there it is on the “official” Disney HM list! The bottom line is that Disney probably didn’t predict the surge of interest in HM’s and so didn’t apply its considerable prowess to define and catalogue the little gems. However, Disney benefits from the sport because it brings more interest (and more people) to WDW. So Disney gently encourages our interest in HM’s, and I appreciate the absence of Disney heavy-handedness in this wonderful game.
How did Hidden Mickeys start? Are there any backstage HM’s only viewable by Cast Members? What about underwater HM’s?
STEVE: The Disney official history (confirmed by Dave Smith, Disney’s Archives Director) goes like this: Hidden Mickeys started in the late 1980’s in Epcot as an inside joke among the Imagineers. Hiding Mickey around WDW was just plain fun! I suspect that Mickey Mouse designs that were previously in place in WDW (and Disneyland) also became known as Hidden Mickeys. Because of the popularity of HM’s, Imagineers are encouraged to place them in new construction.
Backstage Hidden Mickeys do exist that are only viewable by cast members. I’ve not been able to find any underwater HM’s (yet).
What’s the most unusual HM you’ve come across (e.g. – a fireworks burst, a flower, one created by a reflection, etc.)?
STEVE: Several unusual ones come to mind:
- In the riverboat scene near the end of the Splash Mountain ride, the cloud Hidden Mickey (lying on his back) on the wall to the right. This was one of the first HM’s that made a big impression on me, and it’s quite unique.
- In the large mural at the Maelstrom loading dock (Norway pavilion), the side profile of Mickey’s face in the creases of the woman flight attendant’s shirt to the left of the top of her clipboard (this HM is slightly distorted, but it’s there and it’s really unusual).
- The stretched out Mickey Mouse watchband on the ground among the conical-shaped trees in front of the Contemporary Resort, easily spotted from the upper floors and from the window of the California Grill restaurant on the top floor (awesome!).
What is your favorite HM? Which one surprised you the most? Is there a generally accepted HM that is not truly a HM?
STEVE: I have a Top Ten list and an Honorable Mention list in the book for my 20 favorite HM’s at WDW. My number one favorite HM is the full body image of Mickey painted in the mural (in the green “broccoli-like” tissue) above the entrance to Body Wars at Epcot. The one that surprised me the most is number three of the Top Ten: the amazing sight of the top part of Mickey’s head and his fingers as he peeks over the wall behind the D-Zertz shop at Pleasure Island.
Most debate about HM’s involves the classic three-circle forms. My definition of a “true” three-circle HM is rather strict: the circles must touch and be in the right position and proportions. However, there are distorted three-circle Mickeys that are not positioned or proportioned correctly but are so accepted among cast members and the public that I include them as HM’s; for example, the HM gear wheels on the ground to the right near the end of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad track in the MK and the various lock HM’s, such as the lock on the jail cell door near the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride. Neither of the above HM’s is proportioned quite right.
It seems that the more recent attractions have far more Hidden Mickeys than the older ones. What’s the oldest documented (intentional) hidden Mickey in the Park? Also, are Hidden Mickeys added during rehabs (e.g., Pirates, Snow White)?
STEVE: I have never come across any information about the oldest HM. The story goes that HM’s began in Epcot in the late 1980’s. I believe that is when the term “Hidden Mickey” was accepted. However, Mickey images existed before the late 1980’s. For example, according to Disney cast members, the beautiful movie “Impressions de France” has not been updated since it premiered in 1982 in the France pavilion at Epcot. Yet a wonderful “Hidden Mickey” (head and ears) is in the film, in a second floor window (center screen) of the house in the background of the outdoor wedding scene. Therefore, the answer to the “oldest Hidden Mickey” question may be lost in antiquity, so to speak.
HM’s are definitely added during some rehabs (like when the high-tech living room and kitchen were added, along with some HM’s, to the Carousel of Progress attraction in the Magic Kingdom). HM’s are also lost during rehabs; for instance, three HM’s disappeared from Old Port Royale in the Caribbean Beach Resort when the food court area was remodeled. (I mourn lost HM’s the same way some folks mourn discontinued attractions.)
I picked up Disney’s “Official” list of Hidden Mickeys from guest services on last trip. How many of the Hidden Mickeys that you and other web sites have reported match Disney’s list?
STEVE: No one kept a master list of HM’s. Sightings began to accumulate in the late 1980’s, and interested guests posted on HM web sites, waiting for verification. Disney has an “official” list, but it’s incomplete. For example, the wonderful “grim reaper” Hidden Mickey in the Haunted Mansion at the MK is not mentioned by Disney! The “official” Disney list includes only 21 HM’s in the Magic Kingdom; I describe 76 HM’s in the MK in my book (although a few of them have been lost already). Indeed, some of the HM’s on the Disney list have been lost.
Also, we know that in many cases Imagineers have “admitted” Hidden Mickeys were done intentionally, but of the many Hidden Mickeys, do we know how many were purposeful and how many accidental? How many Imagineers have said “yep, I put that there”?
The only way we know that a HM is purposeful is if an Imagineer admits to it (an Imagineer recently showed me a HM in the post-show area of Mission: SPACE) or if the HM is clearly not accidental (like the incredible HM in the mural behind the fern at the Garden Grill restaurant at Epcot; no way is that Mickey accidental). Only a few Imagineers have admitted to placing specific HM’s. I think it makes the HM game more challenging, don’t you think?
Currently, I stay busy scouting for new HM’s and verifying HM sightings that folks question me about.
I post new and lost Hidden Mickeys on my publishers web site: www.theotherorlando.com.<!- DONOT EDIT BELOW –>