They say that part of the magic of Disney is in the discovering of the details because it is in those details that the storytelling comes alive.
It’s in the hidden Mickeys that we love to find or in the hand-beading of the costumes for the Festival of the Lion King or the fact that no matter where you meet Mickey Mouse when you look back through your autograph book, his signature is, well, his signature. But even if you’re the most dedicated and devoted to Disney fanatics, part of the magic of Disney is that no matter how many times you visit the most magical place on earth, there’s always something new to be discovered and the best way to do that is by taking the Behind The Scenes Magic Tour through Adventures By Disney. For me, my love of Disney started almost at birth with my first visit to Disneyland in 1955 at the ripe old age of 9 months old and I can still remember parts of that magical visit to this very day. In my mind I can picture the colors, the smells, and the joy that captured my heart and is the legacy I have handed down to my own children and now grandchildren so when I was invited to take the tour that had been a part of my Wish List for as long as I can remember, of course, I jumped at the chance.
It lived up to everything I dreamed it would be and so much more and even though some would say knowing how the magician does their magic tricks stands the chance of spoiling the show for next time, for me the Backstage Magic Tour not only opened my eyes to so many things that had been right in front of them the entire time but made me see Walt Disney World in a whole new and even better way.
Here’s a look at what awaits you when you spend the day behind the scenes and get an up close and personal look at what brings the storytelling of Disney to life which as we all know was once started by the many who believed himself to be an innovator; the man who once said “We believed in our idea – a family park where parents and children could have fun- together,” and from that the dream became a reality that has lived on for generations to come. Here’s a look back at my day with the Behind The Magic Tour with Adventures By Disney.
The day starts bright and early with check-in at Epcot and the meeting of your incomparable guides who will be your best friends by the end of the day. Each with their own story and Disney history to share, Pieter and Amber epitomize what Walt believed, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world.
But it takes people to make the dream a reality,” and our two adventure guides truly made our dreams a reality that day. From hearing their stories of how they first came to be a Cast Member at Walt Disney World to hearing them share their favorite Disney memories throughout the day and gaining insights into just who they were and their personal connections to all of the places we visited throughout the day, this is why Disney is Disney-it’s all in the storytelling and the people that tell the stories.
We were loaded into a private motor coach and as the name implies, this tour is all about the Backstage Magic, and we were whisked away through the offstage areas behind area heading to our first stop, The American Adventure in the World Showcase Area of Epcot. One of the best parts of this particular tour is that it is ever evolving and changes over time so that you can take it again. But because you are learning first-hand about the inner workings of what goes into putting on this show that we know as Walt Disney World, photography, for the most part, is not allowed and just one of the many reasons why you need to experience this tour for yourself.
The American Adventure at Epcot
It seemed only fitting that The American Adventure was the first stop on our tour. Here we learned more of the backstory of Epcot itself, which was first conceived by Walt Disney to leave as a legacy by creating a prototype model city as it were which as we all know, Walt never lived long enough to see his dream become a reality. After the death of Walt, it was Roy Disney that came out of retirement for what was then known only as “The Florida Project” with the dream finally coming to fruition with the opening of the Magic Kingdom in 1971 followed by the opening of Epcot 35 years ago on October 1, 1982.
Once again knowing that the magic in the storytelling starts in the details, it is through the use of forced perspective that helps to create the illusion of a multistory American Pavillion which after you take this tour will have you look at Disney buildings with a whole new point of view. The theater geek in me could have stayed backstage all day learning all about the intricate system of pulleys and ever-changing sets and animatronic that bring this beloved show to life. Hearing the opening strands of this show just never gets old, whether you are seeing it from the front, or taking in a whole new view from the back. Next, it was back on the bus for stop two.
When you walk into the Creative Costuming Building, you suddenly know that you’ve stepped back in time and into Disney history. Here we observed first-hand the talented professionals who design costumes for Character, show and parade performers and enable the magic of Disney to come to life. Seeing up close and personal every swatch of fabric from every costume that had ever been created on the swatch wall will give any person, Disney fanatic or not, goosebumps and when we then walked into the costuming room itself where costumes were being created before our eyes, there may or may not have been a tear or two shed, especially being a mom as an entertainer at Walt Disney World.
There are actually four divisions of costuming that happen including costumes for the Operational Cast members which would include everyone from the Resort workers to the Cast Members at every attraction to the popcorn vendors and beyond because the philosophy of Walt is that every member of the Disney family is on stage bringing the show to life. In addition, their are specific teams for the Character and Entertainer Costumes, the Equity performers which have custom made costumes designed exclusively for them and the fourth, and one that I would have never guessed, costumes for the animatronic performers. There was a hum throughout the room as pattern makers, pattern cutters, designers, seamstresses all worked side-by-side bringing the show to life. The wall of threads alone was beyond belief and there truly a color to match any and all materials.
Again, with that focus on no detail is too small, we learned that when costumes are conceptualized and created, Disney will quite often design their own fabrics and colors to bring the vision to life. Never is that more apparent than in the costumes for the Festival of the Lion King. Being able to see the beading that is individually hand sewn into each and every costume will never have me complaining about sewing a button again. There is an entire repair department whose job it is to make sure that every costume is show ready. But of course, with thousands of Cast Members all in costume, they all need to be cleaned and maintained somewhere which led us to our next stop.
Did you know that each week 2 1/2 MILLION pounds of laundry is done on property at Walt Disney World? From bedding to linens to towels, to costumes they all have to be cleaned and that distinction falls upon the team that mans Textile Services where we were able to see it all unfold right before our eyes within one of the world’s largest laundry facilities. Made up of endless rows of washers, dryers, bins to sort and the people that make it all happen, our visit to Textile Services brought to light that much of what we have all come to know, love and expect in a visit to Disney, all happen behind the scenes to meticulous perfection and there ones that even I never thought about how do the clean sheets and towels and bedding magically appear in my room each night, or the thousands of towels awaiting me at the pool or the spotless costumes of the Cast Members? It is all through the dedicated services of the team that calls Textile Services home.
One of the most interesting things that we learned on our visit here was that Disney truly does find a way to recycle everything and the textiles are no exception. All textiles that come through here are hand-sorted-yes hand-sorted, and those that are not considered usable any longer will either find it’s way recycled into new materials, into a landfill that is turned into dirt and earth or my favorite, used to create costumes for stuffed animals that are given to needy children through one of the many charities that Disney supports.
With Disney, it is always about giving back. We also learned that the ultimate goal of the Disney corporation was to recycle 100% of everything that is used and they are rapidly reaching that goal. Now with all this learning about what happens behind the scenes, one tends to work up quite an appetite so it was time to board the bus with a lunch stop at the famous Whispering Canyon Cafe’ and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Lodge and Resort.
Whispering Canyon Cafe’ Lunch Stop
Now if you’ve never been to the Whispering Canyon Cafe’, put it on your list of absolutely, positively must-do stops on your next visit to Walt Disney World as it is more than just one of the best meals you will ever have, it is a show unto itself. This Old Western eatery is all about good eatin’ served with attitude.
Take your seat and get into some finger-lickin’ vittles. There’s plenty to go around! Just be careful what you wish for, especially if it’s ketchup or in my case, ice tea! Come hungry because here at the Whispering Canyon Cafe’ they serve bottomless platters and chuck wagon favorites will please the whole gang.
For lunch, we were treated to St. Louis-style pork ribs, Applewood-smoked turkey sandwich and more. And can we just talk about dessert for a moment-never before have I experienced something so melt-in-my-mouth good as their Granny Smith apple-caramel pie with gelato and Mason jar cheesecake. There’s nothing like a helping of bread pudding to put a little hitch in your giddy-up! Leaving there with filled and happy bellies, it was off to the next part of the adventure.
Ever wonder how the attractions at Disney always look so pristine and in prime working order? Look no further than Central shops, home to the attractions that bring Disney to life. From seeing Dumbo getting touch-up to the cars of the Wildest Ride In the Wilderness, Big Thunder Mountain come in for a tune-up, you never know what you’ll see when you take a stroll through the Central Shops. Here you are treated to a once in a lifetime up close and personal view of the the artisans whose skill and craftsmanship make dreams come true all around the park— from the tiniest details to elaborate stage sets whose all work under the motto “Central Shop-Home of the Can Do People…Home of Excellence” and it is all of that and so much more. Here under one roof, you can find anyone and everyone that go into the making of each of the attractions that we all love so much.
From welders, to electricians, to sheet metal workers, to painters, paint shops, sign shops and inspectors, it is in Central Shops that you once again find yourself in awe of all the things we would never think of and will never again having me taking for granted the animals that I see on my beloved World Famous Jungle Cruise again.
It is also in this attraction and props haven that will be able to catch a glimpse of attractions from days gone by, but that still live on in the memories of those of us that still miss them to this day. Maelstrom may be gone, but it will never be forgotten thanks to the team at Central Shops. With all this magic, it was hard to believe that anything could top what we had already seen, but one last stop awaited us.
Magic Kingdom Park
It seemed only fitting that the place where the magic all started back in Orlando in 1971 would be our last stop of the day and we suddenly found ourselves walking through the gates of the most magical place on earth, Disney’s Magic Kingdom where we would become immersed in the story that started with Walt himself on Main Street, U.S.A.
Here we were taking through a set of very top secret magical doors and entered the world not often seen to the outside world where we navigated the “utilidor” tunnels, a network of underground passageways constructed beneath the theme park so Disney Cast Members and delivery vehicles can move around undetected. We learned that the utilidor system was first created because Walt Disney believed that guests should see a cowboy walking through California Disneyland’s Tomorrowland en route to his post in Frontierland. He felt that such a sight was jarring, and detracted from the guest experience. The largest system of utilidors is beneath Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, but they are not a basement. Because of an elevated water table, most of these tunnels were actually built at ground level, and the Magic Kingdom was built above that.
The utilidors are built on 9 acres, and the floor plan is a circle with a path down the middle; thankfully the tunnel walls are color-coded to make it simple for cast members to determine their location because even with guides, I may or may not have gotten lost more than a few times. Cast members navigate the tunnels on foot or in battery-powered vehicles that resemble golf carts. Gasoline-powered vehicles are not allowed in the utilidors, with the exception of armored cash pickup trucks and, in extreme emergencies, ambulances. Again it is this attention to detail, with no detail too small, that truly makes all of the Disney Parks the magical places that they are and why no one does it like Disney.
It was so hard to believe that seven hours could fly by so quickly and all too soon it was time to bid adieu to our illustrious guides Amber and Pieter but on this day, for me, the dream of a lifetime came true as I got a small glimpse and a newfound appreciation to the Backstage Magic that makes Walt Disney World indeed, the most magical place on earth. Now I will forever look at Disney through a whole new set of eyes, and fondly look back on the day that I got a small glimpse inside of the wizardry and hard work going on backstage—and saw how they bring the magic to life! Special thanks to Adventures By Disney and the Walt Disney World Media Department for including me in this once in a lifetime opportunity. Whether you’re looking to give that special Disney fan in your life the gift of a lifetime, or you’re that ultimate Disney fanatic that wants to learn what it’s like to go behind the scenes at Walt Disney World, be sure to out the Backstage Magic Tour on the top of your list!
“Magic Happens In The Details…”
Disclosure: I was invited and hosted by Walt Disney World to experience the Backstage Magic Tour however the thoughts and opinions expressed here are 100% my own