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Mike Scopa

Hidden Mickeys at Walt Disney World

Steve Barrett liked them so much he wrote a book

Friday, April 16, 2004
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

When you bring your family to Walt Disney World and first enter a theme park, I'm sure that attractions are right at the top of your list, as they should be. For Steve Barrett, however, his top priority is looking for something that you may not notice at first—He's looking for a Hidden Mickey.

In this session, we look at the world of Hidden Mickeys at Walt Disney World, and visit with Barrett, who has single-handedly enlightened us with the joy of looking for those special images that appear to resemble the shape of a very popular mouse.

For years, Barrett was an academic emergency medicine professor and researcher at the University of Oklahoma. During that time he published articles, letters, book chapters, and did original research in medical literature. Regarding Walt Disney World, Barrett says, “Initially, WDW was a great stress relief for me from the rigors of emergency room work. 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.”

Barrett's fascination with Walt Disney World began in the late 1980s. “I lived in Oklahoma at the time, and I would travel to WDW to medical conferences whenever I could,” said Barrett. “For casual reading at home, I would read every book I could find about WDW.”

Barrett would visit WDW twice a year, but that wasn't enough for him. In 1998, Barrett moved to Florida and found employment near Orlando. “I was in heaven!” he said. “Since my magical move to Florida, I visit WDW almost weekly. My publisher asked me recently 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.”

Pretty soon, the frequent visits to WDW added not only to Barrett's love for WDW, but also to his knowledge of the resort. And he was becoming quite the expert. Barrett said, “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.” He says he is still dismayed when he notices a visitor who is not having a good time at WDW, and notes that it's often because they have made some wrong decisions.

Birth of a book

Barrett decided that he wanted to help the visitor experience. “I decided to write a book that would serve as a personal touring guide,” he said. Such a book could be studied or picked up on the way to the resort without any preparation, guiding visitors through various touring plans that provided steps around the parks with minimal waits in lines. Barrett said he wanted to write the most detailed touring plans in print. “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,” he said.

The book Barrett wrote is The Hassle-Free Walt Disney World Vacation, 2003 (Intrepid Traveler:2003. ISBN: 1-887140-43-3). 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.

Book II: Hidden Mickeys

Hidden Mickeys had been around for a while. Barrett first discovered them in the mid-'90s thanks to a few cast members. "Two of the early Hidden Mickeys 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 Magic Kingdom. 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 Hidden Mickey.

Before he knew it, Barrett had the makings of another book, Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets (Intrepid Traveler: 2003. ISBN: 1887140441). “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,” said Barrett. “I researched and wrote the Hidden Mickeys book over a seven-month period in early 2002.”

Barrett accumulates information about potential Hidden Mickey sightings from the Internet and from official Disney material, especially the Disney Magazine. He also tries to spot new Hidden Mickeys whenever he visits WDW, either by himself or with family or friends. Even his neighbor, son, and sister have all discovered new Hidden Mickeys.

Barrett frequently ask cast members about Hidden Mickeys in their areas, and they don't always know. He also often rides attractions many times to verify the sightings. “It took many runs through the Jungle Cruise in the Magic Kingdom for me to accept the Hidden Mickey chipped out of the brick toward the end of the dark temple section),” he said.

When Barrett discovers a new Hidden Mickey, Disney does not validate his findings.

According to Barrett, the official Disney Hidden Mickey list is sketchy and incomplete, with Hidden Mickey lore filtering up from the public, and Disney participating benevolently from the sidelines.

“The placement and cataloguing of Hidden Mickeys is not an exact science, so some latitude, and confusion, exists,” Barrett said. “For example, some cast members in the Haunted Mansion and on the Magic Kingdom Backstage Tours have claimed for years that the Hidden Mickey plate and saucers on the ghostly banquet table is not 'official,' that the Imagineers' original design for the table settings did not include this Hidden Mickey, and that cast members place it there whenever they feel the urge—which is almost always, thank goodness.” It is thus interesting, Barrett says, that it is listed on the “official” Disney Hidden Mickey list.

“The bottom line is that Disney probably didn't predict the surge of interest in Hidden Mickeys and so didn't apply its considerable prowess to define and catalogue the little gems,” Barrett said. He noted that Disney benefits from the sport because it brings more interest (and more people) to WDW. “So Disney gently encourages our interest in Hidden Mickeys, and I appreciate the absence of Disney heavy-handedness in this wonderful game,” he said.

The unofficial official history of Hidden Mickeys

“The Disney official history goes like this: Hidden Mickeys started in the late 1980s in Epcot as an inside joke among the Imagineers. Hiding Mickey around WDW was just plain fun,” Barrett said. “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 Hidden Mickeys, Imagineers are encouraged to place them in new construction.”

Some of Barrett's more memorable Hidden Mickeys include:

  • In the riverboat scene near the end of the Splash Mountain ride is the cloud Hidden Mickey (lying on his back) on the wall to the right. “This was one of the first Hidden Mickeys that made a big impression on me, and it's quite unique,” Barrett said.
  • In the large mural at the Maelstrom loading dock in the Norway pavilion is 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 Hidden Mickey 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. Barrett calls this one awesome.

Barrett has a Top Ten list and an Honorable Mention list in the book for his 20 favorite Hidden Mickeys at WDW. His favorite Hidden Mickey 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,” he said.

Barrett said that most debates about Hidden Mickeys involve the classic three-circle forms. Barrett's definition of a “true” three-circle Hidden Mickey 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 Hidden Mickeys,” he said. “For example, the Hidden Mickey gear wheels on the ground to the right near the end of the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad track in the Magic Kingdom and the various lock Hidden Mickeys, such as the lock on the jail cell door near the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride. Neither of the above Hidden Mickeys is proportioned quite right.”

Barrett said that he has never come across any information about the oldest Hidden Mickey. “The story goes that Hidden Mickeys began in Epcot in the late 1980s,” he said. “I believe that is when the term 'Hidden Mickey' was accepted.” According to Barrett, however, Mickey images existed before the late 1980s. One example, according to Disney cast members, is the movie Impressions de France, which has not been updated since it premiered in 1982 in the France pavilion at Epcot. Barrett notes that the film contains a head-and-ears Hidden Mickey, on the center screen in a second-floor window of the house in the background of the outdoor wedding scene. “The answer to the 'oldest Hidden Mickey' question may be lost in antiquity,” he said.

When it comes to such things as rehabs, there may be something brewing. According to Barrett, Hidden Mickeys are definitely added during some rehabs (“like when the high-tech living room and kitchen were added, along with some Hidden Mickeys, to the Carousel of Progress attraction in the Magic Kingdom”). Hidden Mickeys are also lost during rehabs, such as when three Hidden Mickeys disappeared from Old Port Royale in the Caribbean Beach Resort when the food court area was remodeled. “I mourn lost Hidden Mickeys the same way some folks mourn discontinued attractions,” he said.

Although there is no master list, Barrett said there is an official list of sorts. “No one kept a master list of Hidden Mickeys. Sightings began to accumulate in the late 1980s, and interested guests posted on Hidden Mickey 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 Magic Kingdom is not mentioned by Disney,” he said. Consider that this list includes only 21 Hidden Mickeys in the Magic Kingdom, while Barrett has documented 76 in the Magic Kingdom for his book.

According to Barrett, the only way to know that a Hidden Mickey is purposeful is if an Imagineer admits to it, such as whenan Imagineer recently showed him a Hidden Mickey in the post-show area of Mission: SPACE, or if the Hidden Mickey is clearly not accidental, such as with the Hidden Mickey in the mural behind the fern at the Garden Grill restaurant at Epcot. “No way is that Mickey accidental,” he said. Only a few Imagineers have admitted to placing specific Hidden Mickeys, however. “I think it makes the Hidden Mickey game more challenging, don't you think?” he said.

Barrett continues to search for new Hidden Mickeys, and says that he is constantly busy scouting for new Hidden Mickeys and verifying Hidden Mickey sightings that people question him about.

For more information on Hidden Mickeys visit Steve Barrett at The Other Orlando.

Next time

Howie's Angels.

Class dismissed.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.


Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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