Are Disney’s Magic Kingdom Google Maps images fake?

What’s the deal with these bird’s-eye photos of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida? They appear on Google Maps when you zoom in and click “Satellite.” They seem fabricated. Why?

1. Parades don’t do that.


Check out the configuration of the parade. Normally, the enter the Hub from the bridge at 10 o’clock, travel clockwise, and exit at 6 o’clock. Here, the floats go round and round the entire Hub as if it’s a carousel. In real life, floats pack together, with lots of dancers between them, and with no large gaps. But look:


Here, there are no further floats on Main Street, USA until you get down to Town Square. That may be because the images were taken at different moments and the grafted together, but there is still a big problem, because of other oddities. (Update: One commenter, below, has a suggestion for how this float configuration, at least, might have occurred.)

2) Crowds don’t do that.

There is practically no one at the park, and a thin bare line of people watching the floats. Anyone who has been to Disney World knows the crowds at the parade can be six deep. You often have to line up nearly an hour ahead of time to get a decent view. What’s more, the people have been allowed to block the entrance to Main Street, USA. Disney’s razor-precise crowd control measures would never permit it. It’s a visual lie.

3) Figures don’t do that.


The people are too big and unlike most places on Google’s Satellite View, they lack shadows. Check out the smudge standing in the street in the upper right detail of this image. It looks like a clumsy artist’s attempt at a princess in a dress.

Now compare it to the images in Epcot (some of which were taken, as @Epcyclopedia pointed out to me on Twitter, during a marathon). They look appropriately ant-like, with shadows. What’s more, you can see crowd-control barriers that don’t exist in the Magic Kingdom stills.


So why would MK’s park map be faked? To make it look more festive? Less unpleasantly crowded?

Google Maps has two sets of aerial images for the Magic Kingdom. One appears for long-distance images and one appears, with the floats I detail above, once you zoom in. If the detailed images were doctored to be more idealized, it could be an anti-terrorism measure. Gas plants and military installations have their details fudged to keep bad guys from plotting things. That sounds plausible at first — the park has admitted to implementing all kinds of undisclosed safety measures.

But that’s not likely, either, because here’s the same Magic Kingdom view on Google Earth, not Google Maps. Here, the image appears to be more accurate, so you can’t say that Disney has clamped down on all Google aerial images of its parks. (Apple Maps, too — not shown here — has an image that looks a lot more authentic, with floats and crowds of the correct placement and proportions.)



There is no disclosure stating these images have been doctored, but Google has been known to publish Photoshopped images on its aerial maps, and it is brazen about returning results that show what its algorithms think you want reality to be. Here’s an iMediaEthics story and images about a Dutch golf course that was turned from dusty grown to verdant green.

As that story reveals, Google licenses its aerial images. Anything could happen to them before they reach the company’s servers.

In 2008, Disney worked with Google to create a “3D” (actually 2-D but modelled) explorable version of its attractions.

But did anyone at Disney doctor its satellite images to pass on to Google, the gateway to so much of our reference material? Was the objective to appear more action-packed, less crowded — more “magical”?

Can you explain the lack of shadows, the size of the people? Did you know Google satellite images are sometimes doctored without leaving an obvious trace? Does it bother you? Can you find fakery at other major tourist attractions?

Do you expect perfect accuracy when you search for something on Google?

14 Responses to “Are Disney’s Magic Kingdom Google Maps images fake?”

  1. Tom

    Actually that is the several times daily (and awful) “Move It, Shake It, Celebrate It” show that just consists of those five present shaped floats that travel up Main Street to the Hub where they do a stop and perform, and then return back down Main Street. The current batch of Google Maps images are from just after Christmas in early 2012 based on the state of construction in New Fantasyland.

    • Jason Cochran

      Tom, those are certainly not crowds from just after Christmas. At that time of year, the park is so mobbed that sometimes the front gates must be closed. And where are the shadows?

  2. Tom

    No, this is more like the first week or two of January. The garland is already down from Main Street.

    • Jason Cochran

      Maybe it was just a very, very, very unpopular day at the Magic Kingdom. Not sure I have ever seen it that uncrowded, and I often go in January. And when I go, I usually cast a shadow…. I’m not saying this image is wholly fake for sure. But there are lots of red flags that make it look markedly less “real” than most of the other aerial images.

  3. Dan Sinclair

    First photos do indeed show “Move it, Shake it, Celebrate it! Street Party” parade at the Magic Kingdom, and while it goes on, crowds are not allowed on the streets, except when the floats stop and for some songs, guests are invited to join the fun and dance along with the characters in the street around the Hub. The “clumsy artist attempt in a princess dress is in fact a performer on stilts. The parade then makes another circle around the hub and departs the same way it came, back through Main Street and exiting through the Fire Department door. There is a slight decrease in attendance at the parks in between seasons, for instance right after Christmas/New Years, and before Spring Break.

  4. Bryan

    Have you ever been to the parks on a day with fewer than 8,000 guests?

    I have.

    It makes those pictures look really crowded in comparison.

    Oh, I probably don’t know what I am talking about; after all, I only worked in the parks and in transportation for a combined five years.