Spreading ashes at a Disney park could be a serious mood killer

Some Disney park guests have taken to spreading the ashes of loved ones amid the rides but there are good reasons why Disney wants to kill this trend fast

Haunted Mansion - Courtesy Walt Disney
Haunted Mansion - Courtesy Walt Disney /

There is a growing issue with Disney theme parks, one that may seem offbeat, and some may agree with it. However, a recent incident has only highlighted one of the most unusual problems Disney workers have: cleaning up the ashes of people that guests leave behind.

For years, it was one of those classic "urban legends" in the theme park world. The idea grew from how folks riding the Haunted Mansion would take time during the ride to toss out the ashes of loved ones as if hoping that would secure them a place in the afterlife. With so much dust in the Mansion already, it seemed logical no one would notice. 

It was joked about for a while afterward but in 2018, a Wall Street Journal story confirmed that in fact, spreading ashes at Disney World was true. And it wasn't some isolated incident but something happening so often on a monthly basis that it has its own code: "HEPA cleanup," standing for high-efficiency particulate filter, which is used to pick up the thinnest of particles. 

This has come up a few times and most recently by reports over the St. Patrick's Day weekend of the Rise of the Resistance ride at Disneyland having to be stopped due to a substance claimed to be ashes. That required a long shutdown to clean it up. 

It shows the issues with this rather strange practice so why do people do it?

The reasoning behind spreading ashes at a Disney park. 

In a way, it's understandable why people would want to do this. Nine times out of ten, it's one of the final requests of the deceased, a Disney fanatic who wanted to become a permanent part of the parks. It's also cathartic, with many who do it explaining that it feels like a last visit with that beloved friend or family member and that they're more at peace being part of a Disney park. 

It's surprisingly easy to sneak ashes in as security won't notice one more ziplock bag stuffed at the bottom of a carry-on, and some guests might sneak them on their person or in a bottle of pills. All it takes after that is finding the right spot to do it. 

While it's tempting to pick a river or waterway, some guests will choose a flower bed or one of the famous statues. Just pouring them in front of a favorite ride can be good too. The most popular, however, is on a ride itself. The smarter ones slip them on a boat ride like Pirates of the Caribbean while the Haunted Mansion is probably the most notable target. 

To the guests, this isn't that big of a deal, and surely Disney can't be too upset about following someone's final wishes to be part of the magic, right? Wrong.

Why spreading ashes is a horrible idea

As much as the deceased may have wanted their ashes spread in Disney World, doing it without permission is more than frowned upon. There are several problems, the biggest being that the scores of other guests may not want to risk accidentally breathing in someone's remains on a ride. There are stories of folks who underestimate how pouring out these ashes can cause a huge cloud that often leaves them covered. 

There's also the same reason throwing any sort of substance out of a ride is a bad idea as the RotS shutdown shows that these dust clouds can harm the ride vehicles. At times, the Haunted Mansion's effects can be ruined by dust covering some screens, which otherwise mars the experience. 

Florida has no state laws preventing the spread of ashes, but Disney takes this very seriously. Anyone caught spreading ashes on the property will be escorted out of the parks at once and possibly a lifetime ban. That's already hinting it's not worth it but there's also the blunt and brutal truth that this is for nothing. Disney's cleanliness processes are legendary, so they don't keep the dust where it's dropped, and the constant cleanings and makeovers eliminate it within a day. 

Some fans have proposed Disney create special areas in each park for fans to do this. This is pretty unlikely as the last thing some guests would want is to see a cemetery of any sort marked on a Disney park map and be a tad too morbid for folks. 

In short, as fun as it may sound to honor someone's desire to leave their remains in Walt Disney World, it's not worth ruining the days of other guests and risking being banned from the parks when said remains are destined to end up in a trash heap. There are far better ways to honor a loved one at a Disney park than tossing a bag of ashes and just hoping it lands right. 

It may sound warm to those doing it, but bringing a touch of morbidity to the Happiest Place on Earth could end up ruining the days of many.