Backstage Magic TourKim Inman
written by Ben Williams
My Backstage Magic Tour
Walt Disney World has several “Behind the Scenes” tours that are available, but on Friday, October 10, 2014, I was privileged to take part in the most comprehensive tour that Walt Disney World offers, the “Backstage Magic” tour. This tour visits all four parks, as well as a few other interesting locales, and includes a wonderful meal at the Whispering Canyon Café at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. It lasts a little over 7 hours. According to the Disney website, this tour is “…a perfect chance to pull back the curtain and discover the heritage, secrets and daily operations that bring Walt Disney World Resort to life.” I couldn’t agree more. I would highly recommend this tour to avid Disney fans. Here is how my day went.
I started off at Epcot at 8:45 AM. We met on the far right as you enter Epcot near the Guest Relations building. There is a little sign there where tours meet up. There were 40 of us in all, which I believe is on the large size for a typical Walt Disney World tour. We had two great tour guides. Due to our size we often split up into 2 groups throughout the day so to better fit in some cramped backstage areas. Hearing was never a problem as we were all provided with listening devices that had ear pieces so we could easily hear everything our guides said. After some introductions, we were given our backstage passes and boarded a Disney Cruise Line bus. Because most of this tour takes place in areas that Disney does not consider “show ready” photos and video were very limited.
Our first stop was in the Backstage area of Epcot’s World Showcase. We learned how Walt and Roy believed in spending their money on the “Show” and this principle was very evident throughout the day. As soon as a World Showcase Building reaches a point where guests can no longer see it, it transforms from ornate detail to plain brown building. In this backstage area, everything was an easier walk. You could get from Test Track to Mexico to Norway in a much shorter time than onstage. We then went onstage in the World Showcase (before it opened) and entered the American Adventure building. We got to see behind and below the curtain here at all of those wonderful Audio-Animatronics from the show and how they all moved around to make their scenes.
Our next stop was the Walt Disney World Nursery and Tree Farm. Here we got to see several of the famous Disney topiaries in different stages of development such as Miss Piggy, Mickey, and a giant Tow Mater. We learned about the different ways that Disney has made their topiaries throughout the years.
Next we went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. After entering in a backstage area, we went onstage to meet with a Wild Africa Trek guide. The Wild Africa Trek is another tour that gets more in-depth with animals from the popular Kilimanjaro Safari attraction. Our guide told us about the tour as well as about some of the conservation success stories that have come from Animal Kingdom. The most memorable one involves the study of Elephants’ vocalizations at Animal Kingdom. Through this study they learned that when bees were near, elephants communicated a “Run Away!” noise to each other. This knowledge allowed farmers in Africa whose crops were being destroyed by elephants (and leading to elephants’ deaths) to construct bee hives on their borders which has been very successful in keeping elephants out of their crops and safe.
Next, we went to Creative Costuming which was backstage at Hollywood Studios. We had to be announced over intercom so that various “secrets” could be hidden before we entered the area. We got an up-close look at Disney seamstresses and costumes. Fabric and cool technology was everywhere. Concept art for costumes through the years was hung on the walls.
On our way out of Hollywood Studios, our guides discussed the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and its development. The creators of the ride watched every episode of the Twilight Zone twice (and got paid for it!). We learned how the safety harnesses had to be tweaked several times to discourage teens from rigging the seat belts to create more lift and an unsafe ride.
From here we went to the Wilderness Lodge and ate at the Whispering Canyon Café. The lobby of the Wilderness Lodge is stunning. The meal was all-you-can-eat served family style. It included sausages, ribs, barbeque, corn, and a wonderful cobbler for dessert. Our waitress “MT” was very entertaining as she hammed it up while serving us.
Next we went to an area north of the Magic Kingdom called Central Shops. Here is where all of the woodworking, metal working, welding, engraving, etc. takes place. We got to see several different ride vehicles that were under maintenance, as well as a monorail being serviced. We learned how each Audio-Animatronic runs for 48 hours straight before being put back into an attraction. We got to witness this by watching a Hippo from the Jungle Cruise constantly move up and down and wiggle its ears at us.
Our last stop was the Magic Kingdom. After entering onstage, we went to a backstage area behind Casey’s Corner and entered the famed “Utilidors.” The Magic Kingdom we all know and love is actually on the 2nd floor. The 1st floor is a system of tunnels that runs all over the Magic Kingdom allowing Cast Members to easily travel from one place to the other without being seen by guests. There were maps all over the walls showing us where we were in the Magic Kingdom. There are 29 different points of entry that allow Cast Members to re-enter the Onstage Area of the Magic Kingdom. This area was fascinating. Tons of Cast Members from Custodial Staff to partially-ready Snow Whites and Sleeping Beauty’s passed by as we roamed the halls.
After our time in the Utilidors we came back upstairs in time to watch the Festival of Fantasy Parade. I had seen this parade before, but with my tour guide in my ear describing all sorts of facts (some of the girls’ hairpieces contained 160 yards of horse hair!), the viewing experience was completely different.
From here we boarded our bus and were dropped off back at Epcot. We were all given a very cool “Backstage Magic” pin as gifts along with our “Backstage Passes” lanyard and card. I would highly recommend this tour to anyone interested in the inner workings of The Most Magical Place on Earth.
There is a lot of walking involved in this tour, but ECV’s can be accommodated in some areas. The Backstage Magic Tour currently costs $249 per person plus tax.