A New Location at Disney World Can Stop a Decades-Long Problem & Comfort Grieving Guests All at Once

bridge to adventureland at magic kingdom
Credit: Becky Burkett

Guests are routinely doing something at Disney World and Disneyland that’s not only a violation of park rules but also illegal in some cases. But with just a spark of imagination (thank you, Figment), Disney World can not only change the situation but also comfort grieving Guests at the same time.

bridge to adventureland at magic kingdom in disney world

The bridge to Adventureland at Magic Kingdom/Credit: Becky Burkett

The majority of Guests who frequent the Southern California and Central Florida Disney Parks really look forward to their time in the parks. They might not all consider themselves “Disney Adults,” but anyone spending that kind of money with any kind of frequency obviously enjoys the experience of spending a day or ten in the parks with friends, family members, or even by themselves. And some Guests love Disney Parks so much that they get engaged in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle or Cinderella Castle. Some go so far as to fork over tens of thousands of dollars for the prestige, honor, and opportunity of saying “I do” with Mickey and Minnie in the background as Cinderella’s royal carriage awaits.

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So it should come as no surprise that there are also those who love Disneyland and Disney World so much that they want to stay there forever, and we’re not talking, “I never want this vacation to end;” we’re talking “when I die, I want my ashes spread at Disney World.” And you might be surprised to learn how many Guests ignore Disney’s rules, take their loved one’s final wishes to heart, and find that perfect moment to spread the ashes of their loved ones inside a favorite attraction, outside Cinderella Castle, near the entrance to the theme parks, and other locations around the Walt Disney World property.

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While the practice may sound like something out of the pages of a book about Disney Parks urban legends, just after the chapter about Walt being cryogenically frozen in 1966, a post from The Wall Street Journal says it’s not only a real occurrence but also makes up part of the routine work of Disney World’s custodial staff members.

“Current and former custodians at Disney Parks say identifying and vacuuming up human ashes is a signature and secret part of working [at the parks]. It is grisly work for them, but a cathartic release for the bereaved, who say treating Disney Parks as a final resting place is the ultimate tribute to ardent fans.

Human ashes have been spread in flower beds, on bushes, and on Magic Kingdom lawns; outside the park gates and during fireworks displays; on Pirates of the Caribbean and in the moat underneath the flying elephants of the Dumbo ride. Most frequently of all, according to custodians and park workers, they’ve been dispersed throughout the Haunted Mansion, the [more-than-50-year-old] attraction featuring an eerie old estate full of imaginary ghosts.”

“The Haunted Mansion probably has so [many] human ashes in it that it’s not even funny,” said one Disney Parks custodian.

disney world haunted mansion

Credit: Becky Burkett

According to a spokesperson for Disney, the scattering of ashes inside the parks is strictly prohibited and even illegal. Guests can even be banned from the parks for attempting to do it. But when Guests access Disney World’s website, the list of prohibited items in the parks doesn’t include “the cremated ashes of a loved one.”

At Disneyland Resort in California, Guests who attempt to scatter the cremated remains of their loved ones are not only defying Disney’s rules, they’re also breaking the law. According to a post in The Los Angeles Times, “without written permission, it’s a misdemeanor violation of the state Health and Safety Code to scatter human ashes on private property,” though enforcing such laws can be difficult for local authorities. (This writer is still tracking down local laws related to the practice in Florida’s Orange and Osceola Counties.)

disneyland resort entrance to disneyland park

Credit: Disney Parks

Not every Guest who scatters the cremated remains of a loved one in the parks gets caught, so there’s really no way of knowing how common the practice is with any certainty. But custodial staff say they’re aware of it being at least a monthly occurrence. And when it does happen, these invaluable but underappreciated Cast Members spring into action, taking on the grim work of removing the ashes from inside the attractions.

When ashes or ash residue are discovered on a ride or when a Guest is seen dispersing ashes, Cast Members immediately close the ride, explaining to Guests that the sudden closure is due to “technical difficulties.” Once the ride is evacuated, managers have to ride through the attraction and look for anything resembling ashes so that members of the custodial staff can use high-powered vacuums made to remove ultrafine material to clean up the ashes. The entire process has to be completed before Guests can return and the ride can resume operation.

it's a small world ride at disney world

The “it’s a small world” ride at Disney World is a popular spot for scattering ashes/Credit: Becky Burkett

Guests usually know that scattering ashes is against park rules, but they do it anyway. At Disney World, they can even be escorted off Disney property for doing it, but they do it anyway. They know it can disrupt park operations, but they do it anyway. Why? Either it’s something their loved ones specifically requested before their deaths, or it’s cathartic for the Guest to do so, or a combination of both.

New Jersey resident Kym DeBarth visited Disney World and dumped some of her mother’s ashes in the water at the “it’s a small world” attraction at Fantasyland inside Magic Kingdom. But she explained how that scattering her mother’s ashes at the parks gives her an alternative to visiting a cemetery to pay her respects.

“Instead of going to a grave,” she said, “I go to Disney World.”

Guests have been scattering the ashes of loved ones at Disney World for decades, and with no end in sight–and the difficulty in seeing it when it happens anyway–shouldn’t Disney World appease the situation? Instead of creating a brand-new ride, attraction, show, or themed land at the Most Magical Place on Earth, perhaps Imagineers should look into the prospect of creating scattering gardens in secluded areas at each of the four theme parks–one inside Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Scattering gardens could even be incorporated into the landscape at some of Disney World’s larger resort hotels.

bridge to adventureland at magic kingdom

Credit: Becky Burkett

Florida currently has no state laws restricting the scattering of ashes, but when it comes to private property, such as the 47 square miles of Central Florida owned by the Walt Disney World Resort, permission must be granted for such an exercise to take place on the property. So if Disney’s Imagineers construct gardens and grounds inside the parks where ashes can be dispersed, that’s all the permission Guests would need.

Some might balk at the thought of such a place inside the parks at Disney World. But years of Guests’ determination to spread their loved one’s ashes throughout the theme parks indicates that the practice won’t end any time soon. And even though there are rules against it, Guests are unmoved in their determination to carry out a loved one’s wishes, even if it means being banned from the parks. To that end, it just makes sense for Disney to find a creative and compassionate way to address the situation that has been in place for decades.

Developing scattering gardens in specified locations at the Walt Disney World Resort could be that answer–an answer that serves to bring peace and closure to Guests who are grieving while ensuring that Cast Members aren’t put into the uncomfortable position of resolving the situation when the incident occurs. It would certainly be a compassionate and kind move on Disney’s part and one that would no doubt be met with gratitude and appreciation from Guests for whom the memorial practice is so important.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!