A couple of years ago after going through a particularly difficult time, I decided I needed to get away to my happy place. Where else? Walt Disney World.
Since this was an adults only trip, I decided to do something that we could not have attempted with the kids. I decided this trip would be the perfect time for the “Backstage Magic Tour.” I researched some of the tours offered and it really was a toss-up between the “Keys to the Kingdom” and the “Backstage Magic” Tours.
DIStracted Tip: Most of the tours require admission to the park, so make sure that you take this into consideration when choosing what type of Park Tickets you will purchase and how you will be using them.
The “Backstage Magic Tour” was approximately 7 hours in duration and it did not require a park admission. You must be 16 years of age or older to partake in this experience. You will visit all 4 parks, and will be shuttled in an air-conditioned Disney Bus. Walt Disney World is constantly changing and evolving so I would imagine no 2 tours will be exactly the same, but here is some of our experience that will give you an idea of what you can expect to do and see on this adventure.
We started our tour outside the front gates of Epcot where we briefly go to know each other, and our tour guide Walt (How fitting is that??) from the Disney Institute. We were each given a special lanyard and audio listening devices and headphones.
DIStracted Tip: You may want to bring your own headphones as the ones they provided were not the most comfortable.
Walt explained to us because of the nature of this tour that we would have an opportunity to take only a few photos. In most of the areas we visited, photography and videography were prohibited. After a few minutes of introducing ourselves, our first stop was a behind the scenes look at how the animatronics work in The American Adventure Experience at the American pavilion in World Showcase at Epcot. Before we entered the building however we stopped on the front steps. From building placement to building size and building materials each aspect are painstakingly planned and executed. Did you know that the American Adventure has more than 100,000 handmade Georgia Red Clay Bricks in its façade? The building was constructed using techniques used in the 1700’s to achieve a truly authentic result.
Seeing the show from behind the scenes in the American Adventure was terrific. There is a lot going on back there and you will be given a lot of information about how the animatronic figures are used in each vignette and how they are set up and changed.
We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and entered the park between the Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror. After a quick bathroom break, we were escorted off-stage, behind the scenes of the Tower of Terror. Here we were given a quick lesson on the safety features of the cars and the sequencing that makes each drop unique. We also learned that the cars are actually battery powered and move themselves independently throughout the attraction.
From the Tower of Terror we hopped back on the bus and went to Central Costuming. Once our group was announced, we were led through different areas of the Costuming department. Throughout the building we saw various sketches and designs of costumes both current and from the past. The recurring theme with Disney is details, details, details. There really is no detail too small, which is what makes all the difference. We saw costumes for Mickey for the “Celebrate a Dream Come True” parade being cut and embroidered. The whole process truly fascinated me. Walt Disney World has over 65,000 Cast Members. They house over 6.5 million different costumes and annually use over 450,000 yards of fabric! As we walked through the department we could pick out costumes from resort hotels, Disney Cruise Line as well as your favourite princes and princesses.
I have always been absolutely fascinated by the beautiful flower displays and topiaries that are created at Walt Disney World. I was so thrilled that the Backstage Magic tour included a stop at the Walt Disney World Nursery and Tree Farm! Did you know that each year WDW plants over 3 million bedding plants across their resorts and parks? There are more than 175,000 trees across the property and 4 million shrubs. 13,000 Rose bushes alone! There are even 30 year old trees on site that are ready to use in case more mature trees need replacing.
There are three main types of topiaries used at WDW. Free Form Topiaries are where the shape is formed by using sharp shears from an existing shrub. A Shrub Topiary takes between 3 – 10 years to produce. It also is made from an existing shrub with the assistance of guiding frames that help the shrub to grow taking on the shape of the form. The final type of topiary is the Sphagnum Topiary. A heavy steel form is used (must be heavy because it is the only support for the figure) the forms are then filled with un-milled sphagnum moss and then close growing vine plants or compact plants are planted to suit the character that is being created. It really is unbelievable to see what can be created from living plants. Food and Garden Festival time is the ultimate time at Epcot see for yourself what these amazing artists create! (Although the nursery may be a little barren during this time) Please also be sure to check our article on Magical Distractions by our Guest Writer Bruce to learn more about the Walt Disney World Nursery by clicking here.
After the Nursery and Tree Farm, we were off to the Animal Kingdom, where we were able to get an up close look at the parade floats for Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. It was very interesting to see the beautiful details that went into the costumes that the performers wore during this parade and how they used their body parts to work them (for example using their arms as wings or to extend arms of animals.) All the parade vehicles were show ready and in pristine condition. Once again the vehicles are battery operated and are checked prior to show time to ensure that they are in working condition. As I mentioned at the start of my report, my tour was actually 2 years ago. This part of the tour has now been replaced with a visit with a guide from the Wild Africa Trek Tour. Some recent feedback I’ve heard about this part of the tour is that the group entered the rear of Animal Kingdom, and shared that from the Backstage parking area they were able to see the metal framework of the new water ride that will be one of the major attractions in Avatar Land. They entered through a back gate almost at Kilimanjaro Safaris where they met with their Wild Africa Trek guide who told them a little bit about the tour. The Wild Africa Trek is a 3.5 hour tour that lets you get up close and personal with the animals and is inclusive of a “snack” that is more like a meal.
From here we headed to Wilderness Lodge where we were treated to a “Rootin’ Tootin” good time at the Whispering Canyon Café. Our group table was waiting when we arrived and moments later the food started arriving! We enjoyed a family style meal of BBQ Ribs, Chicken and Sausage along with Mashed Potatoes, Corn on the Cob, Baked Beans and Corn Bread. Our servers were a hoot and kept us all in stitches and on our toes! We finished off our meal with a delicious Berry Cobbler with Ice Cream, and waddled our way back to the bus to continue our tour.
Distracted Tip- When you dine at Whispering Canyon Café, be sure to ask for Ketchup and see what happens!
Our last stop for the day was to be at Magic Kingdom, but en route we stopped at the Disney Central Shops. This collection of buildings consists of warehouses, workshops and offices. It is where Disney creations such as props and ride cars are maintained. We were able to walk through the Paint Shop where we saw a car from “The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” getting paint touch up. We also saw a log from “Splash Mountain” waiting to get some work done on it. We walked through the Sign Department and Engraving Department. Disney prides itself on being a “first name basis” company. Nametags are a must. You will never find a cast member without his/her nametag. In the event that a replacement tag cannot be made in time for a cast member, they would be required to wear a generic name tag.
The real magic for me came when we were able to tour the famous Utilidors. The Utilidors are a series of underground passageways that Cast Members use. The Utilidors are used for several support operations like trash removal, so that it doesn’t take away from the illusion being created for guests. The legend is that while at Disneyland one day, Walt was upset to see a cowboy from Adventureland walking through Tomorrowland. He felt that this detracted from the magic and the guest experience, so wanted to create a way to protect the magic that we as guests see “on-stage”. I learned so many interesting things about how the utilidors are used, including the fact that they are colour-coded to make it easy for Cast Members to determine their location. I don’t want to spoil too much of the magic of this special place for you by revealing all the secrets that I’ve learned. You’ll have to take this tour and learn for yourself!
We finished our time at Magic Kingdom with reserved seating to watch the Celebrate a Dream Come True Parade (Now replaced by the Festival of Fantasy Parade). As we watched the parade, I reflected on the day and all of the Disney Secrets I had learned. Being a self-proclaimed Disney Geek, it was a truly awesome experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.
We loaded back onto the bus for the final time, while our driver made his way back to Epcot. Before our tour ended, we were presented with a couple of parting gifts, which I again won’t divulge here so that I don’t spoil the magic for you when you decide to explore the “Backstage Magic.” The cost of the tour is $249.00 per person including lunch. Disney Visa cardholder and Disney Vacation Club Members are entitled to a discounted rate.