This Disney World trip was a nine-nighter that included New Year's Eve and the RunDisney Dopey Challenge. Rather that fill our extra time park hopping all day, we thought we'd try something new. The Keys to the Kingdom Tour, Disney's 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!
Booking our Keys to the Kingdom Tour
Booking the 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. The 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. If you book with your Chase Disney Visa, you'll get $15 off per person.
Checking In To the 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 10 people spanning ages of 16 to 80. What we all did have in common though was that this was not our first time at Magic Kingdom and that 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.
Disclaimer: 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 the specific content that was shared.
Starting “On Stage” (The park as you know it)
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 is amazing. We started outside Town Square Theater where we were introduced to the concept of the 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!”
We continued down Main Street learning about the hidden details and design decisions that take guests through a very intentional story and experience. When we got to the castle, we turned to head into Adventureland where we got to go on our first VIP ride experience. 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, because I really enjoyed a lot of the on-stage part, but it was pretty great.
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. When we got the word, we entered the restaurant where we had a section reserved with our preselected meals were prepared and waiting for us. As someone who doesn’t really enjoy forced small-talk with strangers, I really appreciated the fact that each party was seated at their own table. We also received a small trinket to commemorate our day, which was a nice touch.
We then 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!