I went on the Backstage Disney tour with my 16 year old son. I went on the tour with my partner last year and enjoyed it enough to want to share it with my son this year. The minimum age for the tour is 16. (This requirement makes sense as the tour very quickly begins to pull back the curtains on Disney's magic.)
It is a seven-hour tour and begins at 8:45 am sharp. There were twenty-six total on the tour. There were two guides. The travel between the four parks and other stops takes place on a plush Disney Cruise tour bus. We met the group at the Customer Relations office in front of Epcot. We were quickly outfitted with badges and lanyards, safety glasses, and listening devices.
The tour begins at Epcot, but on the other side of the park, behind the American Pavilion. Because the largest part of the charm of this tour is in the "reveal" of the backstage magic, I choose not to go into detail about what is shared. However, I will touch upon a few highlights of our tour that seem to vary from the negative experiences of some of the other reviewers.
The backstage tour of the American Adventure was absolutely cool. We were led into the rear of the building as the morning "practice-run" was taking place. We were shown some intimate details of the audio-animatronics and as we were viewing the mechanics and technology, several of the stage pieces moved (mechanically) into our immediate area...needless to say-we were rubbing elbows with Mark Twain and Ben Franklin. Another reviewer mentioned repeatedly how few people/workers were visible...that was one of the most interesting elements of the tour--that most of Disney can run with very little intervention. In fact, we were told from the beginning, that the American Adventure show required exactly one person to operate. It is amazing that a "spectacular" like that show can be run with the push of a button.
Our tour did a condensed trip through Disney's horticultural area (we had an individual in a wheel chair that required an inordinate amount of time in boarding/disembarking the bus). But still got to see some amazing topiaries and full-grown trees all available for immediate placement into the parks. We had a terrific tour through "Costuming." Even my son was taken with the process and view of costuming thousands of characters in the parks. There were tons of very pleasant workers in this building and the things that they were cutting and sewing were quite interesting. We chatted with an actual castmember in Animal Kingdom and got some real insight into both working and enjoying Disney from her.
Our lunch was at Whispering Canyon and it was DELICIOUS. The food is served family style and comes to the table on large serving platters. Lots of meat (which my son loved) from pulled pork, to fried chicken, to beef sausages, to barbecued ribs. Mashed potatoes, baked beans, and the fixin's rounded out the meal. The wait staff at this restaurant is quite amusing and the place clearly caters to families. Dessert was a fruit cobbler in a giant skillet, topped with scoops and scoops of vanilla ice cream. As this restaurant would not normally be part of my Disney trip, it was great to experience it.
Then we were off to Central Shops where almost all of the Disney magic is manufactured. We saw parts to rides everywhere. My son loved this part of the tour. We saw the entire Astro Orbiter in pieces. We saw ridecars from virtually every section of the park being rehabbed. We saw animatronic animals from small deer to elephants to hippos being repaired and painted. We also saw a couple of the dwarfs from the new Mine ride being put together. There were two new boulders being fabricated for the Indiana Jones experience (you know the gigantic boulder that rolls down the hill just behind him...). Then off to the Magic Kingdom. Lots of cool stuff. Before we left Main Street, we caught the condensed "rain" version of the 3:00pm parade. It's the parade with all of the characters on a double-decker bus, and in covered vehicles. As the parade ended, we left Main Street, using a hidden utilidoor. The weather was very warm and it was quite humid as the tour guides gave us a bit of information about the underground tunnels that we were about to enter. As the guide spoke, all of the vehicles from the parade came around the corner. As they did, all of the characters were disrobing. I have NEVER seen anything comparable in my life. As the character heads were handed off to be stored in the backs of vans, the characters began to disrobe all about us. In just a few minutes every Disney character from Mickey to Chip n' Dale were regular folks dressed in shorts and t-shirts. It was surreal. Then we visited the "tunnels" learning that they are actually at ground level and that everything in the Magic Kingdom is above them. I won't share any of the details from the tunnels, but it was enough to keep my son and I enchanted for almost an hour.
Our tour guides were very seasoned Disney professionals and could answer almost any question. They explained from the get-go that they work from scripts, but that it was more fun to work from our interests and questions. They also advise that they can answer questions in three ways--"good question, I can answer that for you now....," "great question, I will try and find an answer for you before we finish...," and "excellent question, look at that topiary...," meaning that the answers to those questions concerned proprietary or secret information. The guides shared interesting personal experiences and internal company information.
I would love to go on this tour again. My second tour compared well to the first, but my son and I definitely got to see some things that one would NEVER get to see otherwise!
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