Booking and Arrival
We booked by calling 407-WDW-TOUR about two weeks before our trip, and we were fortunate to get our first date. The only note about this experience is that the call was a total of 45 minutes, about 35 of which were spent on hold (but that Disney hold music is great). The price for two came out to $191.70. We should have booked with our Chase Disney Visa card to save 15%, but we forgot.
Our tour started at 7:30 AM and it was suggested we arrive at Animal Kingdom at 7:15. The Animal Kingdom Lodge club level concierge suggested we leave between 6:45 and 7AM to be safe. They also gave us a taxi voucher for the ride from Animal Kingdom Lodge. We left at about 6:55 and arrived at about 7:05AM.
The area outside the park was pretty empty, so the staff quickly identified us as tour guests and asked us to wait. Nothing really happened until about 7:25 when we got our earpieces and name tags and signed the waivers.
The Backstage Tales Tour
We don't want to spoil too much, but the tour comprises three main chunks: Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and the Aviary, Animal Care and GRACE, and Close Encounters.
Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail & The Aviary
You start with walking through the park, primarily Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail. Your guide provides a variety of factoids along the way.
We were able to get a good amount of time seeing the gorillas. This segment also includes a stop in the aviary to feed the birds. At the aviary, you'll be able to speak with one of the cast members assigned to care for the birds. It's actually pretty crazy to hear how much attention goes into maintaining the aviary. You don't think about it, but it's pretty hard to lose track of rhinos. Birds in an aviary are tougher to track.
Animal Care & GRACE
The second segment takes you backstage to see some of the operational aspects of animal care like food preparation and the vet. The diversity of these services is pretty impressive. Disney cares for a wide range of animals, more than many zoos. This requires a wide range of experts whose sole mission is to care for these animals. It's an interesting change of pace for a company usually known for being focused on (human) customer service.
We had a snack while a cast member gave a presentation on Disney's partnership with GRACE. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education) is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An underrated (vastly underrated, in our opinion) aspect of Disney's Animal Kingdom is the work they put into conservation. As part of that work, Disney sends staff to GRACE to help train and assist staff working to care for gorilla populations.
Our final segment involved some closer encounters, with backstage looks at the invertebrates and the white rhinos.
We absolutely loved the passion of the invertebrates' keeper. Honestly, we can't give a kind enough description of those bugs/critters/creatures that would match her love for them. Seeing the invertebrates themselves wasn't our favorite (but we get that some people would love it), but the keeper's passion was really unparalleled.
The rhinos were really great, and our favorite part of the tour. It was interesting to see them interacting with each other and their keeper. It's easy to forget that animals other than household pets have personalities too. The keeper was very aware of the animals and their behaviors, and she shared a great deal of information about who hangs out with who, when they're out on the safari, and what life is like for them both onstage and backstage.
The tour ends after about 4 hours. While it wasn't as good as Keys to the Kingdom, we found Backstage Tales to be worth the cost. If you haven't seen backstage Disney, you're really in for a treat.
Backstage Tales is heavily focused on the animals and their care. If you're looking for a wealth of information about Disney's Animal Kingdom and it's design, you'll need to look elsewhere.
What Backstage Tales really brings to life is another side of Disney. These are people whose number one concern actually isn't that guests have the most enjoyable time. Their number one concern is the health, safety, and conservation of these animals and their populations. In that regards, Backstage Tales is maybe better than Keys, because is shows you an entirely new layer of the Disney experience.
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
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Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.