Go to Walt Disney World enough times and you’re bound to be accosted at some point by Disney survey takers, usually right when you’re leaving the park. The questions they ask are usually pretty innocuous for most guests (“Did you visit American Idol Experience?” “Did you take advantage of our picnic lunch program?” “If Ariel was an Aristocat, how many Dwarfs were going to St. Ives?”). They don’t really want to hear about anything bad, unless it specifically relates to the target of their question. No, for some real complaining, you have to go to City Hall. That’s where the famed Guests Relations folks beat you over the head with their riding crop until you admit that Disney is perfect.
Guest Relations are the people that are responsible for turning that frown upside down. True story: Several years ago, I went to Disneyland. One day, as I walked from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland, this is what I passed:
- Space Mountain – Up and running, but no onboard audio (it was a new feature at the time)
- Rocket Rods – Broken Down (perpetually)
- Submarine Voyage – Closed Forever (unless some fish movie does well at the box office)
- Matterhorn – Down for Seasonal Rehab
- it’s a small world – Down for Seasonal Rehab
- Storybookland – Broken Down (How the heck does Storybookland break down??)
In self-righteous indignation, I complained at City Hall that I had worked 12 long years in a salt mine to pay for this trip, driven across the country twice because I got lost in Denver, and this was my last chance to see Disneyland before I died of some horrible disease that I would probably contract within the next several decades.
They gave me four “Express Passes” (basically baby-swap passes, since this was before FastPass). My wife and I rode Indy and Rocket Rods (miraculously back up) with no wait. Best day ever.
So what’s my point? Nothing, I guess, except to show how easily I can be bought. But I also wanted to tell you about a secret complaint box that most people never see. Even if they did, they probably don’t know what it is, unless they’ve been to Europe or can read ancient languages.
First you need to find Italy’s secret alleyway. It’s not really hard to find. It’s off to the left, between the replica of the Doges’ Palace and the restaurant. The alley has a set of open stairs on the right (not accessible to guests), and a door on the left leading into the Il Bel Cristallo shop. On the outer wall near the shop door is a strange leering gargoyle face.
What is this thing, and why does it look like it wants my ice cream? The technical term for it is bocca di leone (“Lion’s Mouth). This thing doesn’t look at all like Simba, but apparently there are real Lion’s Mouths scattered throughout the actual city of Venice. Basically they are government complaint boxes called denontie secrete (“secret denunciations”). Each box had specific denunciations, much like those Disney survey takers. Basically, you ratted out your neighbors to Big Brother by dropping a note in the mouth, and a council would later investigate your denunciation. There was a Mouth for complaining about people who were fouling up the water, one for neighbors who weren’t paying their taxes, and several devoted to Brazilian tour groups.
The particular Lion’s Mouth in Epcot isn’t actually a mail slot. I suspect anything you leave there will be cleaned out overnight by an uninterested janitor. What I find most interesting about it is that there is almost no information on this thing. Google seems completely devoid of any info about the Epcot Mouth, aside from a couple random pictures. The best I could find was some thread mistaking this for the Mouth of Truth, which is a similar type of Gargoyle Mouth in Rome (featured in the the movie Roman Holiday), in which if a liar sticks their hand in, the gargoyle will bite it off.
I have tried several translators online to decipher the message, which is apparently in an ancient Venetian dialect, a precursor to modern Italian. The inscription reads:
DENONTIE SECRETE CONTRO CONTRABANDIERI ET TRASGRESSORIO IN OGNI SORTE DI OGLI
The best translation I can come up with (I dropped out of Ancient Venetian Dialects 101 in college) is:
Secret denunciations against smuggling offenders in all parts of the eyes.
Which of course makes no sense at all.
It’s possible that this is an exact copy of a real Lion’s Mouth in Venice, and I just couldn’t find the necessary info about the real thing. Or maybe it’s a denunciation against shoplifters of some kind, since it’s right next to a shop. I kind of hope that it’s an inside joke, maybe something to do with how offensive all these tourists are to the naked eye. But unless someone steps forward and translates, I’m afraid this is just another unsolved Walt Disney World mystery, along the lines of why you can’t walk from the Grand Floridian to the Magic Kingdom.