Planning our Tour
Having already been to Disney twice this year, we decided to take this trip a little more slowly. We wanted to take advantage of some of the less traditional activities that we don’t normally have time for when we’re busy jumping to all four parks in a day. Kenny booked two activities, and I requested to be surprised for both of them. The first was the Keys to the Kingdom tour at Magic Kingdom.
We arrived at Magic Kingdom around 8:30, which is 15 minutes before they let the first guests into the park at 8:45 (the park actually opens 15 minutes before their stated open time of 9 AM – makes total sense, right?). The park has a “Reservations & Tours” entrance (located at the opposite end of the gate from the bus entrance) which grants even earlier entrance for anyone with – you guessed it – reservations or tours in the morning at or before the time the park opens. None of the attractions or shops open until after rope-drop, but Photopass photographers are out which means you have a great chance of scoring a castle photo with no one in the background.
When we checked in at the Town Square Theater, they provided headsets, offered complimentary bottled water (“complimentary” as in baked into the $100 price tag) and took our lunch order. I didn’t expect lunch (but I was surprised by the activity and hadn’t done any research), but the 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 probably 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 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, I am going to intentionally leave out the specific content that was shared.
“On Stage” (The park as you know it)
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 (I also didn’t expect this, but again, no research). We then took a seat and were given a detailed history of Walt and Roy Disney, Disneyland and 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)
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 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.
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, and our group was pretty much rapid firing them. 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. But 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. 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 (okay just one fact spoiler – the utilidor is not actually underground at all. The park is actually built above the tunnels and is technically on the 2nd floor above ground level.). This really was as amazing as I thought it would be. Now don’t get me wrong, 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 is baffling to even our guide. And that was it!