Why is it that I start humming the score from Soarin’ when peeling an orange? Why does a peculiar smell of ‘burning wood’ put a smile on my face? What makes shampoo remind me of Disney? Am I just a Disney-obsessed lunatic, or is there something psychological at play here?!
While I wouldn’t rule out the “lunatic” possibility, it turns out this is due to “scent-evoked nostalgia,” a hot topic among scholars right now. For Disney fans, this might seem like old news. Triggering emotions via scent is something Disney perfected years ago. In fact, I’d argue that there’s no better real world case study of scent-evoked nostalgia than exists in Disney fans, and that’s in large part due to the concerted efforts of WDI’s division of Smellagineers. (I don’t think that’s an actual type of Imagineer, but it totally should be.)
Nostalgia is something I contemplate regularly when it comes to Disney. How it keeps pulling me back, causes me to view the parks from a certain perspective, and ultimately, gives me certain biases. From a sensory perspective, nostalgia is undoubtedly strong, too. We covered how the sounds of the parks have this impact a while ago, and virtually every other post covers the visual and culinary feast the parks are for our nostalgia. This is the first time we’ve taken an in-depth look at the role played by scents.
While scents are probably less obvious, their role is no less vital–and they are just as compelling. (Heck–there’s an entire brand of candles that exists to evoke memories of Walt Disney World scents!) For me, there here are the 10 most memorable scents of Walt Disney World…
10. Pirates of Caribbean Water
Try explaining to a non-Disney fans that one of the scents that puts a smile on your face is, essentially, dirty water that boats float around in all day. Seriously, try it. If your friends and family didn’t already think you’re crazy, this could be what pushes them over the top. Yet, despite the reality of what this water is, I’m betting many of you were nodding in agreement as you read this entry on the list. I’m guessing/hoping that it’s some cleansing agent treating the stagnant, slightly musty water that gives it that “special” smell I love. Regardless, I have no shame in admitting that the smell of dirty boat water puts a smile on my face.
9. Main Street, USA
If you’ve ever read one of the myriad “37 Unbelievable Disney Secrets!” sorts of lists on the various clickbait sites, you’ve undoubtedly read about the “piped in” scents outside the Confectionary and Main Street Bakery that lure guests into those shops. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure this is a true fact, or another urban legend that’s permeated the internet and become accepted as fact by virtue of repetition. It is true that Disney pioneered the use of “Smellitzers” in attractions (some of which are discussed below), but it’s possible the scents outside these shops are accomplished via ventilation of the kitchens used to prepare the treats on-site. Either way, these shops evoke strong memories of wandering Main Street at night, and the Main Street Bakery Anthology Candle that sits by my computer has me constantly questioning whether candles are edible, and just how closely to cookies they might taste. (I mean, it looks sorta like cookie dough…)
8. PhilharMagic Pie
PhilharMagic makes me nostalgic for the “Disney Renaissance” animated classics with which I grew up, and the smell of apple pie makes me nostalgic for PhilharMagic, and for Magic Kingdom. (This Glade apple pie spray–a dead ringer for the PhilharMagic smell–in turn makes me nostalgic for college, because Sarah and I used to spray it heavily in our dumpy apartment back in the day. Phew, that’s a lot of nostalgia!)
7. Prehistoric Swamp
Possibly along the same lines of Pirates of the Caribbean, Universe of Energy has a musty, possibly prehistoric swamp smell to it. I say “possibly” because I’m not sure whether this is by design, a result of its age, or its location on certain Florida swampland. Maybe my memory deceives me, but I feel like it has always smelled this way, even in the early years of EPCOT Center. It’s possibly just the smell of old age, or maybe some sort of fluid used in the ride system. Regardless of whether it’s an intentionally piped-in fragrance or some weird byproduct of something about the attraction, I love it. Someone really ought to bottle this and market it as the “EPCOT Center cologne de dur à cuire.” If that’s not a cologne with serious sex appeal, then my whole life is a lie.
I think we can all agree that Soarin’ proves definitively that California is not only the most geographically diverse state, but also the best smelling. From the orange groves of Camarillo to the pines of Lake Tahoe to the ocean mist of Malibu, California takes the olfactory cake. (Rest of the globe, you better bring your A-game with Soarin’ Around the World.) The most distinct of these is the orange groves, which is an especially memorable scent for old school EPCOT Center fans as the defining smell of Horizons.
5. H20 Soaps
I’ll be honest with you: I can’t remember the last time I bought shampoo. Every time we travel to Walt Disney World (or any Disney destination), I stock up on shampoo from our room. The exact scents vary (from resort tier to tier, and they’ve also changed over time), but each of the scents is a distinct reminder of Disney. It’s probably because that’s how I remember smelling from particular trips (much the way that certain sunscreen still reminds me of childhood visits to Typhoon Lagoon), and I love the memories the soaps can trigger. (It’s the same idea as bringing a ScentSicles I recommend in our Unique Packing List for Disney to give a scent to the trip). There are certain bottles of shampoo that are more treasured that others that I only use on special occasions, such as my Hotel MiraCosta shampoos that I’ve been rationing for the last 2 years. While my collection might seem large in the photo above, this is actually the lowest I’ve been on H20 products in a while. Yeah, I might have a slight problem. If you aren’t a cheapskate like me, you can purchase H20 shampoo in larger bottles.
4. Norway, World Showcase
My fatal flaw when I tried to convince Sarah that she should buy the perfume Laila was saying that it reminded me of my grandma’s house. Apparently, wives do not want to smell like grandmas. (Who knew?) That was an unfortunate choice of words on my part, as Laila is probably my all-time favorite perfume, and not just for its inextricable association with Norway and Maelstrom it has for me. Basically, Laila is the smell of freshly-bathed angels prancing around Norwegian mountain lily fields while playing the 0terfløyte. That’s about the best way to describe its divine smell, but I suppose calling it a classic blend of crisp, clean scents with a subtle floral scent would also suffice. (Pro tip: you can buy Laila for significantly less on Amazon than it costs in Epcot.)
3. Burning Rome, Spaceship Earth
Nature enthusiasts love the smell of burning timber because it reminds them of fun times spent camping; Disney enthusiasts love the smell of burning books because it reminds them of fun times spent dark ridin’. Ever since I became an active member of the Disney fan community, I’ve been hearing about efforts to re-create this scent and different methods of replicating it (Anthology now has it in candle form). It’s another one that would be odd to the uninitiated, but for Disney fans, this is arguably the most distinct and memorable scent in all of Walt Disney World. If I weren’t a married man, this is another one I’d wear in cologne form; I fear such a cologne would contain a dangerous number of seductive pheromones, making it a wear at your own risk kinda thing.
2. Deluxe Resort Lobbies
As I’m writing this, I am seeing this slowly devolve into “Tom’s Disney Scent Fetishes,” but whatever. In addition to dirty water, shampoo, and the smell of burning, the smell of cleaning products–or whatever makes the resort lobbies smell as nicely as they do–also make me nostalgic. The two resorts with the most memorable smells for me are Yacht Club and Grand Floridian. Wilderness Lodge and Contemporary follow close behind those, with the rest of the Deluxes also represented. I can’t pinpoint what, exactly any of these smells are, but I know Yacht Club and Wilderness Lodge have a sharp, masculine edge, while Grand Floridian smells floral and elegant, and Contemporary’s smell reminds me of “modern” (somehow). I’m not saying I’d hang out in the lobby of any of these hotels for hours just to smell them, but I’m not not saying that, either.
1. Journey Into Imagination
I know what you might be thinking, and to quash that: no, the skunk scene is about as far from this list as possible. I’m talking about the original Journey into Imagination. Every once in a while, I catch a whiff of something (to this day I can’t figure out what…I’m thinking a specific cleaning product or perfume), and I am swept back to the Art Room in Journey into Imagination, where a flowery scent is sprayed into the air. This happens about once a year, and is always a fleeting moment. I get goosebumps as I try to savor and inhale as much of the smell as possible, holding onto the moment back in time. This #1 is a very personal one, and I doubt anyone(?) else will remember it, but it’s my far and away top scent ever at Walt Disney World. (Update: the name of the perfume that was sprayed into the air was “Morning Mist.” Not sure if that’s the actual name of the fragrance, but if anyone knows, please let me know!)
As a bit of an aside, the skunk stench versus the perfume fragrance is a perfectly succinct summation of the new attraction as compared to the original. While the entries on this list demonstrate just how powerful scent is as a nostalgic tool that can be harnessed to tug at our emotional heartstrings, some uses (that skunk smell, Stitch’s burp, etc.) demonstrate its potential for misuse in creating a negative experience, too. Fortunately, examples of this are few and far between, and most of the scents of Walt Disney World trigger happy memories…even if those scents are a bit weird to non-fans. But, you know what’s even more weird? Not being a Disney fan.
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What Disney scents are most memorable to you? Any favorites you recreate around your house? Any that you don’t like? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!