Wanting to try something extra special in Walt Disney World this trip, we looked into the backstage tours Disney offers. Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour, the popular tour of the Magic Kingdom, seemed a perfect activity. It turned out to be a great time.
Read on to see why we recommend this tour for Disney newbies and veterans alike!
|Review Summary: Keys to the Kingdom is an amazing tour, featuring both backstage magic and some amazing things that have been hiding in plain sight.|
Good For: Anyone 16 and above (no little ones allowed), from Disney veterans to first-timers.
Also Consider: Backstage Tales at Disney's Animal Kingdom
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Booking Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour
Booking Disney's Keys to the Kingdom tour is a simple, but time consuming affair. We called Disney's tour line at (407) WDW-TOUR to book. You'll want to call as early as you can, but availability may open up as people's plans change.
The Disney agents are very helpful and understand your plans are likely really complicated. They'll go through the dates and times with you until you find one that works. You may wind up on hold for quite a while (20+ minutes) before you get to speak with an agent, though.
You can pay via credit card once you've booked. Disney's Keys to the Kingdom tour is offered four times daily: 8AM, 8:30AM, 9AM, and 9:30AM. It costs $99 per person, and you must be at least 16 years old to go on the tour.
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Checking In To Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour
We arrived about 30 minutes before our tour time and entered through the special reservations entrance (this was before rope drop was in the park). When we checked in at the Town Square Theater, they provided headsets, offered complimentary bottled water and took our lunch order.
The lunch options were your typical meat/bun options or a salad. They did have a veggie burger (not on the menu), which was a pleasant surprise for these vegetarians who struggle more than you’d expect to find great vegetarian options.
Our group included about ten people spanning ages of 16 to 80. What we all had in common was that this was not our first time at Magic Kingdom, and we had a LOT of pent up questions about how, exactly, Disney is just so freaking perfect. The tour kicked off pretty much right on time.
They warn you on the Keys to the Kingdom tour that some of the things you’ll see and hear on the tour may change (and potentially ruin) part of the magic of the Disney World experience. So out of respect to the magic and/or any future tour goers, we are going to intentionally leave out most specific content that was shared. However, we do still have a lot more to say about the tour.
Starting “On Stage”
When people think of the Keys to the Kingdom tour, they usually think of seeing behind the scenes. But really, the "on stage" aspect of the tour, which points out things that have been in front of your face this entire time, is just as amazing. We started outside Town Square Theater where we were introduced to the concept of the Disney's four Keys to a great guest experience: Safety, Courtesy, Show, Efficiency. These continued to come up the rest of the day as features were pointed out, and we tour-goers would say dutifully, “Safety!”
The Four Keys and Disney Magic
As you might expect from the name, these keys are the crux of Disney's Keys to the Kingdom tour. They're listed in this very specific order because that is the order in which Disney (and its cast members) prioritize them. It's easy to get swept up in the Disney experience and think they just have one key: "Magic." But there is no magic key.
Part of what makes Keys to the Kingdom a special tour is that it gives both a physical and conceptual "backstage" look at what's behind the magic. Disney "Magic" really boils down to safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency.
We continued down Main Street learning about the hidden details and design decisions that take guests through a very intentional story and experience.
"Show" And the Disney You Never Notice
It's in these details that you'll discover an entirely new park. These are the "show" details, and they define the park. Safety is essential, but best hidden (so as to not worry us). Courtesy will make our day, but it is limited to the human interactions. And efficiency is...well...boring to most. But show is all around you inside a Disney park, even when you don't realize it.
Learning about how much thought went into Magic Kingdom will not only change how you see that park, it will change how you experience all of Disney. All Disney parks will be viewed through a different lens once you have taken Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour. All Disney experiences, from cruises to bars and restaurants, will be held to a higher standard.
A VIP Ride Experience and Some History
When we got to the castle, we turned to head into Adventureland where we got to go on our first VIP ride experience, Jungle Cruise. Unlike our second ride, our guide actually commandeered the Jungle Cruise ride to discuss it with us as we rode through it.
We then took a seat and were given a detailed history of Walt and Roy Disney, Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Having seen the Disney exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Science & Industry and a proud regular of Hollywood Studios’ One Man’s Dream, I thought I knew the Disney origin story, but this section was full of new details and information I hadn’t heard before and was really quite fascinating.
“Off Stage” (Backstage) - No Spoilers!
We then ventured behind the scenes for the first time where we were treated to a wealth of information and spoilers that will never allow me to go to a Disney park again the same. But it was worth it. The backstage part of the Keys to the Kingdom tour was just as impressive as you’d expect. I can’t say it was my favorite part, though, because I really enjoyed a lot of the on-stage part.
If there's a reason the backstage part underwhelms, it's because the on-stage segment is just that good. It turns out that we actually knew less about what was in front of us all these years than what was behind the scenes. Behind the scenes, Magic Kingdom looks pretty much like you'd expect a theme park to look. It's the details that are on stage that really set it apart. In hindsight, this sounds really obvious, but most people probably go in expecting the backstage to be the real game-changer.
Lunch and Our Second VIP Ride
We then headed to lunch at Terrace Restaurant in Tomorrowland. Our meal wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, so we got to grill our tour guide for about 10 minutes while we waited. I truly enjoyed how receptive our guide was to questions. Disney's Keys to the Kingdom toour is guided by seasoned cast members. These are people who have worked in the park on different rides and at different levels for a number of years.
When we got the word, we entered the restaurant where we had a section reserved with our preselected meals prepared and waiting for us. We also received a small trinket to commemorate our day, which was a nice touch. You could sit at your own table or gather up and chat.
After lunch, we moved on to our second VIP ride experience at Haunted Mansion. Now, I like Haunted Mansion, but it’s not my favorite. Hearing about the backstory, the voices, the characters, and how the ghosts in the ballroom are made really gave me a whole new appreciation for it.
Keys to the Kingdom Tour Highlight - The Utilidor
We then wound back through Fantasyland where were we were taken backstage again and treated to the holy grail of Disney lore – the utilidor. This is the underground tunnel system that runs beneath the park.
This really was as amazing as I thought it would be. Nothing about the actual tunnels are particularly impressive, they’re not made of glitter or anything, but how it functions is quite fascinating. The amount of effort that is required to preserve the magic that takes place above is nothing short of amazing.
After the utilidor, we finished our tour behind Main Street where we had our last chance to ask questions. In case you were wondering, I did ask about how they can make a mechanical dragon that breathes fire but still use masking tape to mark off the parade route, and there is not a reason, and it baffles even our guide. And that was it!
Should You Do The Keys to the Kingdom Tour?
In a word: Absolutely! The Keys to the Kingdom tour is an amazing tour. Honestly, it's probably one you could repeat every five years (we will) and learn something new. It stinks that you'll need to have park admission already, but if you're an annual passholder or on a longer Disney ticket, it is definitely worth doing!