The Disney experience is executed so perfectly that it extends well beyond what we see and hear to what we taste, feel, and yes, even smell. Guests who have visited Walt Disney World even once can recall a particular smell from their trip, whether from a resort lobby, hotel room, monorail, bus, attraction, restaurant, or just about anywhere else on property.
Smell is a critical part of the overall Disney experience because the Walt Disney Imagineers know two fundamental truths about smell: (1) it is a powerful memory trigger (we might smell citrus in the parks and then recall our wonderful Disney trip when we smell citrus back at home, or we might smell a waffle cone in the parks and remember happy summer days from our childhood), and (2) it enhances the realism of the experience (the only thing that can make seeing an orange grove more believable is actually smelling the citrus).
There are so many memorable smells at Disney that it was very difficult to narrow the list down to ten. It’s one of the many reasons I plan to record a podcast episode devoted to this subject (it might even be a two-parter). Without further ado, here are my ten favorite Walt Disney World smells in no particular order. [Disclaimer: I intentionally left out food, as that could be a whole article in itself].
Flight of Passage (the cave): Avatar—Flight of Passage at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a multi-sensory experience that leaves many Guests in tears. The combination of brilliant visuals, visceral ride maneuvers, 4D effects (especially wind and mist), realistic sensations (most notably, feeling the banshee breathing), and immersive sounds make for one of the most breathtaking attraction experiences. The attraction also hosts a number of smells, and my favorite has to be the “cave smell”. In the middle of the attraction, the ride takes a brief pause as you take in the surrounding cave environment. The smell is so floral and clean that you’d immediately want to bottle it up and take it home.
Pirates of the Caribbean (the water): Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me, especially if the pirate life means I get to smell that nostalgic combination of bromine and smokey firewood. Without a doubt, the smell from this attraction is one that just about every Disney fan remembers. Just as a note, I left out Splash Mountain and “it’s a small world” because the smell of the water is rather similar (Pirates of the Caribbean just has a little something extra with the dark ride ambience).
Disney’s Polynesian Resort (the lobby): Honestly, every Disney Resort lobby has a particular smell that I love, but the Polynesian smell might be the most iconic for Disney fans. I can just picture walking into that air-conditioned lobby on a hot summer day. The scent isn’t quite as “clean” as some of the other lobbies at Disney, but the floral accents with a dash of ocean breeze give it the perfect South Pacific vibe.
Epcot Japan Pavilion (Mitsukoshi): This one is obscure, but I like to be unpredictable. To be candid, I’m not quite sure what combination of scents amount to the smell of the Japan Pavilion’s gift shop, but I dig it. Most likely, it’s the incense and tea in the shop that give it the edge. There’s a pleasant wood-like smell that makes the shop seem somewhat earthy.
Haunted Mansion/Tower of Terror (ghoulish delight): These smells are so close that I had to bucket them into one category. If you’ve ever walked into an old house (especially from the 18th or 19th century), you’ve encountered some part of this smell. The Walt Disney Imagineers got it right in 1969 when they opened The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland. There’s so much in this aroma that it’s almost too difficult to break apart. That being said, it’s exactly how a dusty attic with old carpeting would smell. The only distinguishing feature of Tower of Terror is the slight burning smell, which plays into the idea that the elevator was struck by lightning back in 1939.
Disney’s Riviera Resort (the lobby): This resort is very new (it opened in late 2019), but I can already tell that the lobby will become a new favorite. Although I was wanting to throw in my personal favorite (Gran Destino Tower), I felt Riviera had a slight edge. The scent was so enchanting when I first visited the resort that I asked a Cast Member about it; he told me it was called “Mediterranean Mist”. Well, that’s exactly what it smells like (not that I’ve spent much time on the Mediterranean). Lisa DiNoto Glassner of The Castle Run astutely describes the smell as “bergamot and mandarin, jasmine, white tea, and chrysanthemum petals”.
Soarin’ (Fiji): While I miss the citrus smell from Soarin’ Over California (and Horizons for you Epcot purists), I love the new smells they added to this ride in 2016, especially the smell of the ocean as you’re flying over Fiji (in the back half of the experience). The combined smell of surf and sand give it a pleasant aroma that evokes a romantic impression of the South Pacific.
Dinosaur (Time Rovers): I’m going obscure again, both because my preferences are eclectic and I really don’t want to recreate the wheel here. For you west-coasters, the smell inside Dinosaur is the same as Indiana Jones Adventure, and I believe that’s by design (they’re the only two EMV—Enhanced Motion Vehicle—attractions in the United States). The aroma is mechanical and somewhat smokey. As I explained in Imagineer Podcast Episode 13, Dinosaur is meant to evoke a cold, distant feeling. That’s exactly what you get with this smell. There’s nothing entirely welcoming about it, but that’s simply because it’s devoid of any colorful personality. Still, the smell is neutral at best (certainly not unpleasant), and it always reminds me of the thrills ahead.
Spaceship Earth (The Dark Ages): I think I’d hear some choice words if I didn’t include this one on the list because it’s truly that iconic. Spaceship Earth is one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World for some many reasons, and one of the things Disney fans love most is that smokey aroma. The smell reaches its peak as you pass the “Dark Ages” scene of the attraction (where you see the Library of Alexandria burning), but it’s a core smell that’s pumped throughout the attraction. The scent falls somewhere between burning firewood and barbecue sauce, which always makes me just a little bit hungry for chicken tenders and fries as I pass by.
Epcot Norway (Stave Church): Just about every pavilion in World Showcase has a distinct smell, but the Norway pavilion’s might be the most unique and memorable. Magic Candle Company describes the smell as “a fresh and floral scent with top notes of watermelon and ozone, middle notes of muguet and a base note of wildflowers”. Whatever the smell is, I love it! Even never having been to Norway, it somehow makes me feel like I’m in a seaside town surrounded by the Norwegian Sea and a lush forest.
I realize this list barely scratches the surface, so I’d love to hear your favorites! Which smells would you add to this list?