WDW Hints recently reached out to Susan Veness, author of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World and many other Disney and travel-related books, to see if she would answer some questions for our readers. Susan very quickly got back to us and was eager to share some hidden Disney magic.
WDW Hints: When was your first trip to Disney? Susan: My first visit to Walt Disney World was in 1971. I remember the Christmas decorations were up, so it was probably in mid-December. Magic Kingdom was the only park at that time, of course, and if I recall correctly it pretty much ended just beyond Haunted Mansion, the Riverboat, and the main street of Frontierland. There was no Space Mountain yet, and no mountains in Frontierland. The monorail was working, but it wasn’t running that day, and we all said, “How can a train run on just one track?” It was a baffling concept.
WDW Hints: What inspired you to write books about Disney?Susan: My husband, Simon Veness, is the founding author of the Brit Guide to Orlando, and he’s one who really encouraged me. I had always loved the back-stories and the smaller details in the Disney parks, but he is the one who prompted me to turn that passion into a book. I was surprised to find out other people love the little details, too, and completely overwhelmed by how well the book was received.
WDW Hints: Tell us a little about “The Hidden Magic of Disney” and what it means to you. Susan: The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World was, to use an overused phrase, a labor of love for me. I’m so impressed by the level of detail the Imagineers put into their parks and attractions, and they do it so well most guests don’t realize how much is there. The small details all blend into one cohesive story, which is what they are meant to do, but I thought guests would get even more enjoyment out of their visit if they knew what to look for, or what various details represented. For example, the For Rent sign above the dentist’s office in Hollywood Studios represents the office Walt and Roy had; their humble beginnings. Or take the concentric circles in the China pavilion’s Temple of Heaven. People walk right over them all day long and never realize they could stop in the center circle and speak, and their voice would come directly back into their ears so they can hear themselves the way others hear them. It’s a fantastic detail that occurs because the building is acoustically perfect, and it’s a hidden gem that is totally overlooked. I wanted to bring those details to the forefront.
WDW Hints: What one secret would you like to share with us?
Susan: That’s a difficult question, since there are so many! Ok, how about this: did you know many of the attractions have a place where new Cast Members can sign their name after they finish their Traditions training, which is a class they must take after they’re hired? I’ll be adding some of these locations in the next edition of Hidden Magic, but until then, look for the book on the small table on the right hand side of the track, just before you reach the Taste Lab in Journey Into Imagination with Figment in Epcot’s Imagination pavilion. Neat little bit of magic for those hard-working CMs, isn’t it?
WDW Hints: What is your favorite attraction at WDW?
Susan: I love the Disney classics. Pirates of the Caribbean is so beautifully done you could spend hours in there just enjoying the details. Same with Tower of Terror. But I think if I were forced to choose just one, I’m a big fan of the Haunted Mansion. The combination of a little bit funny and a little bit scary is just brilliant, and really speaks to the Imagineers who, in spite of having different ideas about what the attraction should be, came to a very happy compromise. You can really see the original thinking and the fabulous creativity in Haunted Mansion.
WDW Hints: Have any exciting experiences arisen as a result of writing a book?
Susan: I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have met a lot of wonderful people who tell me how much they enjoy the ‘hidden magic’ now that they know where to look. I also get letters from school children who are working on projects that require them to contact an ‘expert’ on their topic. I love receiving readers’ letters, and I save them all. I just wish the kids would write back and tell me what sort of grade they got on their project!
I think one of the most exciting things I’ve done is a recent interview with the History Channel for a show they’re doing on ‘hidden America’, talking about things that are hidden beneath our feet. I was asked to speak about the Utilidors at Magic Kingdom, and it was an incredible experience. I was ridiculously nervous for two weeks before I made the trip to meet them, but they put me completely at ease and now I’m just eager to see the final product.
Simon and I always say we’re the luckiest people on earth because we have a job that helps make people’s time together as a family more fun and less stressful. I think that’s probably the most exciting thing of all.
WDW Hints: What future books (or projects) do you hope to complete?
Susan: Having finished the Hidden Magic Planner guidebook and Hidden Magic Trivia, which was so much fun to write, I am currently working on two books, one of them being a second edition of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World. Things change quickly in the parks, so it’s a book that lends itself to periodic updating.
The other book is a humorous narrative about my travels in Europe. Simon and I have also just completed a travel narrative telling the stories of people we met in the United States over the course of an 18 month road trip. We met some fascinating characters, including the first woman photographer for Life magazine, President Jimmy Carter, a scientist who worked on the Atomic Bomb, and a host of ordinary people with extraordinary stories. I guess in some ways the book is similar to Hidden Magic in that it strives to preserve these wonderful tales before they’re lost, and to point out the interesting things that surround us if we just open our eyes and look.
WDW Hints: A very special thanks to Susan for taking the time to answer some questions. We are looking forward to the second edition of The Hidden Magic of Walt Disney World.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Crissy for conducting and writing this interview! Be sure to check out Susan’s Hidden Magic Facbeook page! Affiliate links are used within this article – purchasing items through them does not increase the price for you, but does enable us to earn a few cents allowing us to bring you more hints about WDW! Thanks!