I had read about Walt Disney World’s “Backstage Magic” tour many years ago, but have never taken it because of its length (7 hour) and its price ($200.00 per person). For this trip though, I made a point of allowing time for it and the 20% discount from the Disney Visa card was also very helpful.
*** Warning: This report is very detailed, so don't read further if you want to take the tour yourself and be surprised, or if you feel it might "spoil the magic." ***
My partner and I took the tour on Friday, June 2nd and here's my report.
Epcot had not yet opened, and a fair size queue was gathering to be the first ones in the park. After passing through the bag check, we went over to the guest relations window, only to be told that groups meet just in front, where appropriately enough, there was a “Guided Tours” sign. Shortly before 9:00 AM, our tour guide Nancy came over and told the small group of about 20 people that we should fill out our names and emails on a sheet of paper. We would also get a name tag to wear for the duration of the tour. The name tag had a picture of Mickey Mouse going through a mirror. We all introduced ourselves and stated what our dream Walt Disney World job would be.
As a group, we entered Epcot and walked under Spaceship Earth. Just past the restrooms on the west side, was a blue wall with a “Castmembers Only” sign. This was when Nancy explained to us that we could not take any photographs while we were in any backstage areas. Just like Mickey Mouse walking through the mirror, we walked backstage, where a Disney Cruise Line bus was waiting for us. On board the bus, Nancy introduced the driver and showed us an ice cooler on the front seat filled with Dasani water bottles, which we could help ourselves to at any time. The bus drove counterclockwise around the internal Epcot perimeter road past the Living Seas and the Land pavilions. We continued around behind World Showcase and the tunnel under the waterway leading from the World Showcase lagoon to Crescent Lake. The bus parked behind the American Adventure pavilion, where we got off and went onstage. This part of the park was still closed, however and we could not take pictures of the castmembers pressure cleaning the tables and floors. Here, Nancy explained to us the use of forced perspective – how the American Adventure building shows it is three stories tall, but is actually five stories tall. She also told us about the attention to detail, like the American flag flying above the building with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, accurate to the time when that building represented. We returned backstage and entered the building through a pair of small doors marked “AA.” We went down a flight of steps and saw the back of the huge screen from the American Adventure show. Even more impressive was the mechanism holding most of the show’s audio-animatronics. Nancy explained how the huge structure was located on a train type track that went under the theater’s seating area, with the first scenes then positioned under the stage, ready to be lifted up for the show. As each scene was then used, the mechanism would go forward a few feet to allow the next set of scenes to rise, and this was repeated until every scene was used. Some audio-animatronics also came out from the side and one even from the building’s ceiling. Just as we were ready to leave, two women charged with caring for the audio-animatronics figures came in and showed us how they brushed Ben Franklin’s and Mark Twain’s hair. Mark Twain’s eyelash was also missing, so they quickly fixed that. The attention to detail was indeed amazing, seeing it all up close.
Back on the bus, we continued around behind World Showcase past where the Illuminations barges were located to a huge backstage area with many trailers and warehouse type buildings. We entered one of the larger buildings, where the Disney Learning center, Employee store and many more offices were located. After a quick bathroom break, we saw the huge castmember locker area and the wardrobe department. Nancy explained how all the employee’s clothes are organized with bar codes and how they are permitted to take home a set of clothes and how they return them to be washed and repaired if need be. The locker area is also a very high traffic area, so this is where Disney tests the wear and tear of carpeting for future use.
Back on the bus, we drove under Test Track’s outdoor track and drove over to another backstage area full of warehouses. Here, we toured the Walt Disney World florist. This is where expert florists prepare arrangements for any special events held throughout the resort as well as weddings and anything special a guest might request. Adam and I saw a very cute “Mickey through the Years” vase and they happily sold it to us. Also here was a department that made gift baskets for guests staying on property.
We returned to the bus, which took us to the Disney – MGM Studios. After a brief security bag check on board the bus, we proceeded backstage to the Walt Disney World Costuming, where they designed all the character outfits as well as any needed for any shows. It was interesting to see how they first designed costumes on paper, then made a scale model of the garments, then made the real thing. It was also fun watching the Backlot Tram Tours pass by and watch us every few minutes. From here, we walked onstage onto Mickey Avenue. After a brief bathroom break, we continued on to Mama Melrose’s restaurant, again via a shortcut through a backstage area, just behind “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” playground. In the restaurant, we were escorted to two large tables set up for us. The tour included an all-you-can-eat lunch, which was served family style. Soft drinks and gratuities were also included. Lunch started with a nice green salad, a pizza appetizer, and then bowls of a seafood dish, a pasta dish and a chicken with veggies dish. It was all yummy and they specially made a few cheese-less dishes for me. After the yummy dessert sampler platters, we exited through an unmarked door to another backstage area where the bus was waiting for us. As we boarded, we saw some parade characters drive by.
The bus drove North on World Drive and then past the Polynesian and Grand Floridian resorts to another backstage area off of Cast Drive. This was an industrial area north of the Magic Kingdom. Our first stop was the Holiday Warehouse. This enormous building housed all of Walt Disney World’s Christmas holiday decorations for all the theme parks, resort hotels and all other locations. The amount of trees, garlands, bows and other items were incredible. Nancy explained how the decorations are placed in their locations beginning in October and are all in place by Thanksgiving. After the holidays, everything is returned to this location, where each item is cleaned and repaired if necessary, wrapped in plastic and stored to await use the next year. We also got to see pieces being renovated and cleaned, a huge job. We then crossed the street to the Walt Disney World Central Shops. This was the very first building on the property and where all the attraction vehicles, audio-animatronics and much more are made. Inside, we put on our safety glasses and we saw some Small World boats being repaired, as well as the new vehicles from Epcot’s Living Seas ride. In one of the workshops, we saw a display of how an audio-animatronics bird from the Tiki Room works. In another room, we saw a person working with plastic molds for a character costume. Nearby, we also saw the sign department and much more, which we did not have time to see.
The bus then picked us up and took us past the Walt Disney World Railroad roundhouse, where the Magic Kingdom’s trains and monorails are stored and repaired. We then went South on World Drive and entered the Magic Kingdom’s backstage area just behind Main Street and Tomorrowland. The bus dropped us off next to an employee cafeteria and we walked a few steps past a green wall and we were in the Magic Kingdom! After a brief bathroom break, we returned backstage and then went down a few steps in to the famous Magic Kingdom Utilidors. I had been there a few years ago with Danny, but this was a new area, under Main Street. Here were the photograph labs, castmember pin disbursement area, lockers, and more. Nancy explained the Utilidor color coding system and the AVAC waste system. At one point, we were able to see a few characters partially dressed in their costumes. It really was fascinating to see all this and we definitely spent way too little time here. We returned to the outside and again entered the Magic Kingdom, just east of the Plaza restaurant. We walked on to Main Street and Nancy explained about the use of forced perspective of the castle and how the Castle seems further away. We also saw some of the windows over the main street shops and how they honored the people that worked on the Magic Kingdom. Nancy took us to Town Square so we could watch the 3:00 PM parade from there or under the shade on the other side. The park was not very crowded and we had a great view of the parade. After the parade was over, we returned backstage via an entrance next to the hat shop. The tour was basically over by this time and since a few of us were staying at Magic Kingdom resorts, Nancy was kind enough to ask the bus driver to stop at the Wilderness Lodge and the Polynesian resort, so that we would not have to ride the monorail all the way from Epcot. As we exited the bus, Nancy gave us two special “Backstage Magic” pins – exclusive for tour participants.