Why People Won't Ever See Mosquitoes At Disney World

If you visit the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, you’ll likely notice something strange: mosquitoes don’t buzz around the park. And this is particularly odd as the state is famous for its sticky weather and swampland — factors that normally attract hordes of unpleasant insects. But there’s a surprising reason why buzzy, bitey creatures stay well away from guests.

A lot of guests

By putting these special hidden mosquito-repelling features in place, Walt Disney has ended up protecting a lot of people. An average of over 52 million people flock to Disney World each year. And in 2019 all four of the parks within the resort earned their spots among the top nine most-visited theme parks on the globe. The Magic Kingdom actually topped the list at number one, as nearly 30 million holidaymakers stopped off to have some fun at the park. Mosquitoes would have a field day if they were able to make it inside!

What about the others?

And the guests aren’t the only people who are in the resorts. To keep things ticking over, Disney World relies on over 74,000 so-called “cast members” — making it the biggest single-site employer in the country. To keep their many employees happy, each year the company shells out over $1.2 billion in wages as well as $474 million on additional perks. As if working at Disney World wouldn't be a bit of a dream come true anyway!

Hotels galore

Given the sheer numbers that Disney World attracts, then, running the resort is apparently a massive operation. There are 34 hotels on the site alone, for example! To put that into perspective, if you wanted to stay over in every hotel room in the park, it would take you 68 years! Though, to be honest, we can think of worse ways to spend your life.

More room to build

And in order to house and entertain so many guests, Disney World itself is huge. Yes, comprising almost 25,000 acres of land, it’s actually as big as San Francisco and twice as large as Manhattan! But only 50 percent of the land is currently being used. That’s because Disney himself was eager to preserve the area where the park was built, so a third of the property is protected for conservation — a factor you may think would also attract mosquitoes.

Getting around

But the guests don’t necessarily need to walk through these parts of the park. Yep, Disney World has a complex travel infrastructure to ferry people to and from different sections. In fact, getting around the resort is arguably easier than traipsing around a number of American cities. And as Disney World boasts close to 400 buses, it has a more impressive fleet than the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

30 steps to garbage

Walt Disney even had a brilliant way to ensure his parks weren’t full of litter! Next time you go, look around. You should find that you are never more than 30 steps from a garbage can. But why 30 steps? Well, Disney himself apparently visited other amusement parks and monitored how long people would keep their trash — for about 30 paces — before discarding it on the floor.

No gum

And given that so much effort goes into keeping Disney World garbage-free, it’s quite understandable that some items aren’t allowed in Disney’s stores. That’s right: Disney himself reportedly decreed that all the parks were banned from selling chewing gum in a bid to keep them — and visitors’ footwear — as clean as possible. So if you can’t go a day or two without that minty fresh feeling, you’ll have to bring your own gum supplies.

Underground tunnels

This level of detail continues underneath the resort, too. Did you know that Magic Kingdom is built on top of a warren of tunnels? The tunnels that service the Magic Kingdom are known as “Utilidors.” And it’s here that cast members grab their costumes and take their breaks. The complex system of passages was reportedly Disney’s idea, as he didn’t want any characters walking through other areas of the park to get to their places of work. Nothing can break the magic, and pesky insects such as mosquitoes are included in that!

Lots of green

Part of Disney World’s magic also lies in its beauty. And one of the ways that the staff make the resort look so pretty is by planting more than three million — yes, three million! — flowering shrubs in the park each year. Gardeners are also responsible for caring for 13,000 roses, over 200 topiaries, and two million plants. Anyone visiting the park would agree it’s a feast for all the senses — even the nose!

Do you smell that?

Dotted around the park are devices called “Smellitizers,” and they’re another way that Disney tries to preserve the magic. They are placed in every corner of the resort and release scents relating to the areas in which they sit. The Main Street Smellitizers smell like vanilla and cookies, for example, whereas the ones situated by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride are reminiscent of fresh sea air. Clever, eh? And, no, it's not these scents that are helping to keep the mosquitoes away. That’s something else entirely...

The bug deterrent

The mission to banish mosquitoes at Disney World apparently began with a meeting between Walt Disney and Major General William “Joe” Potter at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Potter was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and an engineering expert. And before meeting Disney, he was the Governor of the Panama Canal Zone.

Governor of pest control

The Panama Canal Zone was an unincorporated U.S. territory from 1903 to 1979. The region was also a hotspot for malaria — a disease that’s transmitted by mosquitoes. But to build the Panama Canal, the authorities had to control the spread of the pathogen. It was here that Potter reportedly picked up his vast pest control knowledge. And Disney wanted his help to come up with a solution.

Getting to work

Apparently, when Disney heard about Potter’s work as an engineer helping to control mosquito swarms in the Panama Canal Zone, he offered him a job there and then. And once Potter had accepted, he began putting his insect-fighting expertise to good use on Disney’s “Florida Project” — which would later become the Disney World that we know and love today.

Range of techniques

So thanks, in part, to Potter’s legacy, it’s now pretty unlikely that guests will be bothered by mosquitoes during their visit to Disney World. While, yes, it is practically impossible to eliminate the pesky bugs altogether, the staff at the park use a range of techniques to keep the bloodsuckers at bay. And they seem to work well!

No babies

Firstly, rather than killing adult bugs, the resort tries to make itself seem as unpleasant as possible for any insects that need to lay their eggs. So by following a policy of prevention, Disney World can keep the population down permanently — and help ensure that guests aren’t bothered by the bloodsuckers while they get their snaps with Mickey and Minnie! But there’s much more to it than that.

Still water is a no go

One way that Disney tries to keep the mosquitoes at bay is by ensuring that there’s no still water at Disney World at all. Usually, the insects are attracted to standing water, as it’s the perfect place to lay their eggs. So by removing any potential mosquito breeding grounds, Disney drastically reduces the number of larvae that it needs to deal with on the site.

Massive drainage system

Ridding Disney World of all standing water might sound like a simple enough solution — until you find out that the resort was built on a swamp. So, after Potter was first employed by Disney, he started work on the construction of a vast drainage system to transform the boggy land into something better suited to construction.

Keeping the flow

The original drainage gutters that Potter installed — affectionately known as “Joe’s ditches” — are still in use at Disney World today. And as you might have gathered, their primary purpose is to keep all water flowing through the park at all times — without ever coming to a standstill.

Everything is moving

“The guests usually don’t notice it, but the water is constantly flowing,” explained Disney expert Christopher Lucas to Reader’s Digest magazine in 2021. “Whenever you walk by a body of water, there’s usually a fountain in the middle of it, or they’re doing something to keep it flowing.” Something to look out for next time!

Second line of defense

And the system has seemingly proven so successful that whenever Disney is in the process of planning a new development, it purchases extra land close by in order to build more drainage ditches. But water doesn’t always pool on the ground, now, does it? Luckily, Disney’s architects had another trick up their sleeves to solve this problem.

Water-shedding structures

That’s right: Disney also designs its buildings to ensure that water cannot collect anywhere on the parks’ structures. Lucas told Reader’s Digest, “All of the buildings are built so that water flows right off of [them]... With all the rainstorms, if water got caught on the buildings… it would form a pool, and then mosquitoes would hatch their eggs, and you’d have thousands of mosquitoes.”

Not welcome

And the way that Disney achieves this is by ensuring that any water runs straight off the buildings. According to Lucas, “They made every building there curved, or designed in a way so there’d be no place for the water to catch and sit there… The architecture is really appealing to the eye, but it also serves a purpose: it makes it less conducive to mosquitoes.”

Even the plants are in on it

Standing water, as you can tell, is very much seen as the enemy when it comes to Disney’s mission against mosquitoes. Even the plants that are dotted around Disney World are part of the fight against the critters! To prevent any puddles from forming in the foliage, only certain species are planted at the resort.

Mosquito-feasting critters

Plus, all of the water features in Disney World — including fountains — don't have any flora such as water lilies that can disguise mosquito eggs. And “they also stock-fill those places with minnows, goldfish, and a type of fish called mosquito fish that eat the larvae,” Lucas revealed to Reader’s Digest.

Natural solution

As well as going to great lengths to avoid creating standing pools of water, Disney also uses sprays to combat mosquitoes. However, at Walt Disney’s own request, it stays away from nasty pesticides. Lucas explained, “[He] did not want to ruin the environment at all, so they couldn’t use pesticides... It’d be easy to just spray the whole thing, but he wanted it to be something natural.”

Garlic spray

So in keeping with the filmmaker’s wish, the staff at Disney World use garlic spray. The insects apparently dislike the strong-smelling plant, so as well as the smells coming from the Smellitizers, the resort diffuses a garlicky scent all around the park. “The amount that they use is so small that humans can’t smell it, but mosquitoes are very susceptible to it,” said Lucas. And that's not even the most surprising method the park has for fighting mosquitoes!

Test chickens

Disney also uses chickens. Yep, chickens! The birds are kept in coops all around the resort and live pretty ordinary lives, eating, sleeping, and laying their eggs. But they do also undergo frequent blood checks to determine if they’ve been exposed to any mosquito-transmitted pathogens. Some of the diseases that mosquitoes spread include Zika and West Nile. 

Check the chickens

And while hens are not susceptible to such viruses, evidence of these pathogens will be present in their blood. Staff can then see where any affected birds live in the park, helping them to determine which area of the resort needs more mosquito-beating attention. The experts really haven’t left any stone unturned!

Examining the intruders

While Potter’s legacy is still the backbone of Disney’s mosquito-busting efforts, the park continues to improve its Mosquito Surveillance Program. And one way it goes about this is by scientifically testing the mosquitoes that do make it into Disney World so that it can better understand how to tackle the critters in the future.

Not possible without Joe

But even as technology progresses, Potter’s influence will certainly not be forgotten. Following the engineer’s death in 1988, Walt Disney Attractions’ former president Dick Nunis said, according to an extract on The Official Disney Fan Club website, “Joe was a man [whom] Walt Disney was very fond of. Without Joe Potter, there would be no [Disney World] today.”

The bug deterrent

The engineer’s legacy is made all the more amazing when you realize that much of the site is actually built on a former swampland. In fact, many Southerners would probably say that the blood-sucking insects are an inevitable part of life in a hot place surrounded by marshy lowlands. But Disney was determined that these pesky critters wouldn’t ruin guests’ fun in the parks, and Potter pulled it out of the bag.

A Disney legend

It's hardly surprising, then, that in 1997 Potter was touchingly dubbed a Disney Legend and that one of the ferries operating on Seven Seas Lagoon was renamed General Joe Potter. It’s one of the few reminders of the work he did at the resort. Otherwise, most people would have no idea of the part that the engineer played in preventing them from getting pesky mosquito bites.

Bringing Disney to the people

But why was there a need for Potter in the first place? If Florida is such an insect-riddled state, then why build Disney World there? The decision actually came after the success of Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Market surveys from the 1950s had shown that only 5 percent of visitors to the West Coast attraction traveled from beyond the Mississippi River — despite the fact that this area was home to 75 percent of Americans. So, in October 1971, Disney World first opened its gates to the public.

Happiest place

Disney was eager to tap into that huge potential market on the eastern side of the United States. So the filmmaker chose a site situated in the Florida city of Bay Lake — close to Kissimmee and Orlando. It was here that Disney sought to build an attraction that was to become styled as “the Happiest Place on Earth.” And he wasn’t going to let mosquitoes ruin his vision.

The Florida project

So Disney began designing the park in earnest, planning it mostly in secret throughout the 1960s under his special code name “The Florida Project.” And the filmmaker envisaged that the project would be much more than a simple amusement park and dreamt up a varied series of attractions. He masterminded the area of Disney World that is now known as Epcot, for instance.

Experimental community

Epcot — standing for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow” — was meant to be an urban community that would serve as the backdrop for the latest developments in city living. It was spearheaded by Disney himself, but following his death in December 1966, the experimental plans were in time abandoned. Instead, Disney World became more like Disneyland than the filmmaker had apparently intended.

Coming together

Sadly, Disney didn’t live to see his dreams for Disney World realized. In fact, the first part of the park to open – the Magic Kingdom – wasn’t accessible to the public until 1971. Epcot followed 11 years later, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1989 and 1998, respectively. Guests can now enjoy all corners of the park — with a very small risk of getting bitten by a mosquito.