State health departments in various parts of the United States are reporting cases of West Nile Virus, according to a report over the weekend.
West Nile Virus is one of the leading causes of mosquito-borne illnesses in the U. S. and is most often spread by the bite of infected mosquitoes. The threat of the virus exists during mosquito season, which runs from early summer to late fall. But Guests visiting the Walt Disney World Resort don’t have to worry about West Nile Virus because they don’t have to worry about mosquitoes.
After a full day at the parks at the , Guests return to their Resort Hotel rooms to rest, relax, unwind, and recount the memories that another day at the Most Magical Place on Earth has afforded them. But it’s not necessarily all Mickey bars and Dole Whips because a long day in the parks can make for very exhausted and sometimes cranky Guests. And those exhausted Guests often return to their hotel rooms with many things in tow.
Some Guests get back to their rooms with more spirit jerseys and Loungefly backpacks than they have room to pack, while others return with cellophane bags of half-eaten candied apples, Mickey pretzels with one ear bitten off, and the remains of a ginormous cinnamon roll from Gaston’s Tavern. Some return with diaper bags in need of refills, light-up necklaces, plush Mickeys, and mangled autograph books. And most Guests end their days in the parks with tired feet, sunburns of varying shades of pink, and upset tummies from too much EPCOT Festival food (or World Showcase drinks).
But Guests never return to their rooms with mosquito bites. That’s because Guests have a hard time finding any mosquitoes at the Central Florida Disney Parks. Like , mosquitoes simply are not permitted inside the gates at Disney World.
As a native North Texan, the concept of a place where mosquitoes don’t make their presence obnoxiously known every few seconds sounds like the stuff of fantasies. After all, in the Lone Star State, an unsupervised milliliter of condensation on a patio chair conjures up mosquitoes almost instantly. Like the 999 happy haunts at Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion, the darn things begin to materialize. Seriously. It’s really kind of unsettling.
But a magical place, devoid of the blood-sucking little villains, situated in the swamplands of Central Florida, where the humidity is 350% (give or take), sounds a bit like a fever dream and a lot like an outright lie used in marketing collateral to lure Guests to the parks in the hottest, most humid months of the year.
But it’s true. Disney World is a no-fly zone for mosquitoes. It sounds crazy, but it’s 100% true.
Season in Florida & Walt’s Unique Problem
season in the Sunshine State runs from around early January to late December. (That’s not a typo.) Every season is mosquito season in Florida, but spring and summer win for “Seasons Most Likely to See a Plague.” During those seasons, temperatures soar. Add that to the fact that the most frequent rainfall takes place during these seasons in Florida, and conditions are perfect for a mosquito population explosion.
Walt Disney was no idiot. Once he purchased land in Florida for his second theme park resort, Walt went to work tackling problems he knew he’d face in the Sunshine State. As he was a visionary, he was able to look ahead and nearly visualize things before they came to be. He visualized a giant family theme park resort on a 47-square-mile tract of land that had only ever been a maze of Florida swampland, and he was able to visualize the awful pests and pestilences that inhabited that swampland–gators, snakes, and mosquitoes, to name just a few. Walt knew he had to have a plan of attack for all of them, especially mosquitoes.
But Walt knew such an undertaking wouldn’t be easy. So he ventured off to the 1964 World’s Fair in New York.
The New York World’s Fair, 1964 & a Retired Army General
General Potter was an MIT graduate and an engineering savant. He had spent a number of years in the Panama Canal Zone–an area known for its malaria-harboring mosquitoes–and he had hands-on experience in developing and testing techniques and practices aimed at controlling mosquitoes. The stakes were high, and Potter’s training was the best, as his motivation was the greatest; he had to learn how to control the flying pests or risk losing many of his servicemen to encephalitis, should they contract malaria from a mosquito bite. Walt was impressed and offered Potter a job on the spot. His role would largely center around mosquito control–this time, in Central Florida.
Mosquito Control in Florida = The Impossible Feat?
Walt’s new Central Florida property was a veritable steaming cesspool of humidity inundated with snakes, cloudy, stagnant water, alligators, and mosquitoes. Had Walt tasked Potter with an unattainable goal? Perhaps. But General Joe Potter proved himself, devising techniques to keep mosquitoes at bay and away. Former Walt Disney Attractions President Dick Nunis once credited General Potter with the very existence of the Walt Disney World Resort, saying, “Joe was a man Walt Disney was very fond of; without Joe Potter there would be no Walt Disney World today.”
The development process took copious amounts of time and money, as well as an unrelenting commitment to stay the course until the desired outcome was achieved. Their goal was finally realized, but it began with Walt’s very unique approach.
Walt’s Backward Approach to Defeating the Blood Suckers
Walt was never one to follow trends. He set them because his perspective on the task at hand was always unique. That was evident in his animated feature-length films, his live-action films, and at Disneyland. While many facing a mosquito problem would have focus their efforts on killing the mosquitoes, Walt and General Potter instead targeted their larvae. The goal was to make Disney World inhospitable for mosquitoes so they wouldn’t lay their eggs anywhere on Disney’s property. Walt knew that the key to success in this endeavor would be to prevent the presence of mosquitoes altogether, rather than responding to their presence. And it all started with water.
Water on the Go
General Potter’s first job was to obliterate standing, stagnant water–the only place mosquitoes lay their eggs. Eliminating any and all standing water would deter the pests from raising their families inside the parks. So Potter set out to make Disney World the most terrible, awful place for mosquitoes, ensuring no space on the Resort’s property could double as a mosquito nursery. Ever-moving, never stagnant water was the gold standard, so Potter oversaw crews who dug ditches that served as continual drains for the park grounds. The right drains would move water out of the parks before it could pool and grow stagnant.
These ditches were known as “Joe’s ditches,” and they’re still in place throughout the Walt Disney World Resort today.
The Design of Structures in the Parks
General Potter was a talented engineer and understood that the design of the structures at the
The designs were imperative since the Orlando, Florida, area receives more than 50 inches of rain per year.
Only Anti-Mosquito Plants and Fish
Potter even had a plan for the collection of water droplets on plants and flowers in the parks. The natural shape and design of many plants fosters the pooling of water, so Potter instructed team members to choose plants, trees, shrubs, and foliage based on their ability to collect water. As such, plants and trees at the Central Florida Disney parks don’t feature leaves that harbor water. Instead, foliage in the parks have leaves that force water droplets to roll off of them and quickly run off into the safe haven of Joe’s ditches so that they can congregate with other water droplets in larger collections of water that is constantly on the move (i.e., fountains and water rides).
Guests will never see water lilies at EPCOT’s World Showcase Lagoon–or near any other body of water at Disney World. Water lilies provide the perfect place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs–underneath them, where water is stagnant. Disney World’s bodies of water are even stocked with fish that eat mosquito larvae, such as goldfish, minnows, and mosquito fish.
Honoring Walt’s Wishes with Garlic
Walt was distinctly opposed to the use of pesticides in the parks, so General Potter used only natural pest repellents that deter mosquitoes. His favorite repellent was garlic spray. Mosquitoes detest the smell of garlic and avoid it like the plague. Potter used garlic extract more than 50 years ago at Disney World, and today, garlic is still used as a natural mosquito repellent throughout the Disney World theme parks.
Though they weren’t elaborate or technologically advanced, General Potter’s brilliant mosquito control methods proved nearly infallible–so nearly infallible that those methods are still in use at Disney World to this day, making General Joe Potter an invaluable part of the history of the Florida parks.
Whether because of his friendship with Walt or his amazing success in keeping mosquitoes from trespassing on Disney property–or a combination of the two–Disney chose to permanently honor Potter in the parks, following his death in December 1988. Guests visiting the original Disney World park can witness this as they board a ferry to journey from the Transporation and Ticket Center to the gates at the park.
There are three ferries on which Guests can ride–the Richard F. Irvine, the Admiral Joe Fowler, and the General . Over the years, many Guests have boarded the General Joe Potter ferry boat–named for the pest control wizard himself; they just didn’t know it. Thanks to General Potter, West Nile Virus may be found around the country, but it won’t be discovered at Disney World because the awful virus-carrying fiends simply don’t visit the parks.