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Disney Geocaching: A New Way to Explroe Disney Parks

by Patty Winter, Guest Columnist

During your Disney vacations, you've probably spent some time looking for "Hidden Mickeys," those images of Mr. Mouse that Disney designers have worked into everything from bedspreads to golf courses. But did you know that there's another type of treasure hunt you can play - one that combines high-tech tools with good old fashioned detective work?

The game is called "Geocaching," and although it started only five years ago, it's already a popular sport in more than 200 countries. In the most basic version of geocaching, one person hides a small container filled with prizes, then posts its geographic coordinates where other people can see them (usually on the web site). When you want to look for a cache, you enter its coordinates into a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, and then watch the receiver's display as you move around to zero in on the cache's location. When you discover the cache, you prove that you found it by signing a logbook. If you have something appropriate to exchange, you can also trade for one of the items left by the original cache owner or by other finders.

Sounds simple, doesn't it? Not always! Sometimes you have to solve a puzzle to determine the coordinates, or find information at one place that helps you calculate the final location. Even when you do have the correct coordinates, the cache container may be very tiny. Or it may be disguised as something else, such as a piece of wood, a sprinkler, or a rock. Sometimes even reaching the cache location requires specialized skills, such as technical climbing or SCUBA diving. However, most caches are easily accessible, which makes geocaching a wonderful activity for everyone from kids to grandparents.

In places where placing a physical geocache isn't appropriate, a variation known as "virtual geocaching" is used. A virtual geocache is a place of particular interest or importance. Because there's no logbook, you prove your visit to a virtual cache by taking a photo of yourself at it, or by sending the cache owner certain information that can only be obtained at the cache site.

How did geocaching get started? GPS receivers get their location information from a fleet of satellites developed by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). DoD built into the system a way to make civilian GPS receivers less accurate than military receivers. When that "fuzzing" technique was in use, someone using a civilian receiver might see latitude and longitude readouts that were off by as much as 300 feet. Obviously, that didn't make for precise location-finding!

Many years ago, the Department of Defense determined that it could maintain military effectiveness without fuzzing the entire GPS system. (They came up with other ways to degrade GPS signals in selected regions as needed.) DoD realized that allowing civilian GPS receivers to be more accurate would have tremendous benefits to emergency responders, transportation companies, and the general public.

In May of 2000, two days after President Bill Clinton signed an order for DoD to stop signal degradation, a GPS user who was grateful for the improved accuracy of the system hid a container of goodies near Portland, Oregon. He then posted the container's coordinates to a GPS users' group on the Internet. Within days, two people had found the cache, and the "GPS Stash Hunt" - now commonly called geocaching - was off and running. There are now more than 150,000 active geocaches in over 200 countries.

Many geocachers create caches that are themed to their interests. For example, there are caches based on the Lord of the Rings books, the solar system, and train stations. So it isn't surprising that Disney fans who took up geocaching started looking for ways to combine those two passions. That's why there are now geocaches (mostly virtual) at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris. (As of this writing, there are none at Tokyo Disneyland.) In fact, one of those caches makes use of a publicly accessible GPS unit at a Disney park. We aren't telling where that is; you'll have to pick the right geocache to find out!

So, are you ready to try some geocaching, Disney-style? It's easy to get started. Go to, click on "Hide & Seek a Cache," then use one of the search fields to search for caches in the Disney location you plan to visit. For example, you could enter "Disneyland" in the keyword field, or "32830" in the ZIP code field. Be sure to check the Getting Started section of the website, too. It provides the rules for the game, and also offers helpful suggestions for choosing a GPS receiver for geocaching, if you don't already own one.

Interested in creating your own Disney-themed geocache? You don't need to leave your own hometown to do that! There are currently Disney-themed caches in Quebec, Texas, Arizona, New York, and Denmark, among other places. All you have to do is think up a fun theme (maybe Disneyana in general, or your favorite Disney movie), put a few inexpensive Disney souvenirs in the cache to get things started, and you're on your way. Under the right circumstances, you may even be able to establish a virtual cache at one of the Disney locations. Check the relevant regional discussion board for more information on this. (For example, the best place to ask questions about Walt Disney World would be the "South and Southeast" forum.)

Next time you take a vacation to a Disney destination, why not try a little geocaching while you're at it? Hunting for the caches will be fun, and you might learn something in the process. Happy caching!

This article originally appeared in our May 2, 2005 newsletter -- subscribe to our popular newsletter today for free!

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Updated 04/06/07 

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