Back in October 2010, my husband and I had our first grown-ups only trip to Disney World post-kids, and I must say it was AWESOME! (Murphy’s law, I almost didn’t get to go when my kids both ended up sick that week. Just what I needed-the guilt of leaving behind sick kids to go to Disney World. Thank goodness for medicine!) Of course, we didn’t TELL the kids exactly where we were going-just that it was in Florida for Daddy’s conference.
First on my list of things to do: the Keys to the Kingdom Tour at Magic Kingdom. If you haven’t done a behind the scenes tour, well, you don’t know what you’re missing! (But I’m here to tell you all about it.) One word should compel you to leap from your computer and lunge at the nearest telephone to book your tour…wait for it…. UTILIDORS. Yes, the infamous Disney underground is revealed during this 4-5 hour tour, which includes a stop at Columbia Harbour House for lunch and immediate access to at least 2-3 attractions (ours were Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion).
I had always wanted to do a behind-the-scenes tour, and this one seemed like the perfect first tour to try. And boy, was it ever! From the get-go, our guide Ames immediately impressed. He was energetic, knowledgeable, and just a fun person to hang out with at the park. As we processed down Main Street USA, we learned so much about the layout, design, and theory behind everything. And now my eyes are opened to so many new details and nuances all around me. For instance, did you know that up and down Main Street are a multitude of lightning rods, which are crucial for Disney’s focus on safety? (one of the 4 “keys” to all Disney CM’s: safety, show, courtesy, and efficiency) Or that Disney has their own printer to create those enormous screenprints that cover construction areas?
Of course, even with your eyes wide open, they can still be deceived. Did you know that Cinderella Castle is only 189 feet tall? And the three story buildings along Main Street are actually only 2 stories? Thanks to a concept known as forced perspective, these landmarks seem much bigger than they actually are. And Main Street USA is actually sloped for a reason: to help empty the park quicker at closing. And do my ears deceive me? During the Jungle Cruise, one of the pygmies proclaims: “I love disco.” For real!
We then became Buccaneers with Captain Jack and Barbossa on Pirates of the Caribbean–again, no waiting in line! Once we finished Pirates, we moved to the CM only area to the left of Splash Mountain. As we entered backstage, we were greeted by Woody and Jessie–only they were carrying their Woody and Jessie heads. Now you know why kids under 16 aren’t allowed on this particular tour. One fact I found surprising: I had no idea that 20 minutes before parades, the characters are loaded on the floats! Gives me a newfound respect for those spreading the magic during the parades.
After lunch, we ventured to the Haunted Mansion through the VIP door (aka the handicapped accessible entry). Did you know that upon boarding your Doom Buggies, it checks the weight of its riders so if anyone gets up during the attraction, the ride immediately stops? Or that the lady telling you to “Hurry back” at the end of the attraction was a CM named Leota Toombs who worked in the costume department. Her face was also used for Madame Leota, the psychic medium from the crystal ball? Dear Ms. Toombs’s voice didn’t sound menacing enough, so they enlisted Eleanor Audley, the actress who voiced Maleficent.
Not to be left out, Fantasyland was our next stop, specifically the Sword in the Stone statue. Have you ever tried to lift the sword from the stone before?
Get this, a CM has a clicker that demagnetizes the sword, so perhaps he or she will suddenly push it when your little one is struggling with the sword (or your husband). Who has it? Look for the CM with a hand in their pocket (otherwise a big no-no). Stopping at Cinderella’s fountain, Ames pointed out that everyone has to bow to Cinderella when getting water. Another subtle Disney touch!
And of course, it was surreal to walk into the Utilidors, which were oddly functional. No Disney music down there. We did see Tiana’s costume, tons of Christmas decorations in storage, and halls lined with Disney memorabilia. I think Ames gave us the Platinum tour because we spent a ton of time in the Utilidors, so much so that our tour let out at the same time as the 3:00 parade! Alas, no photos were allowed in this area, so you’ll just have to go on the tour yourself to see!
Since taking the tour, I have a newfound respect for all the effort that goes into making the magic stay in focus and keeping the functionality out of the forefront. So while I didn’t hit maximum VIP platinum status by scoring a stay in Cinderella’s Castle Suite (don’t we all wish!), I DO possess they key to the kingdom. It’s a pin that all of us received during lunch. What a wonderful keepsake! Overall, it was an amazing, entertaining, and educational experience. I HIGHLY recommend it and give it two thumbs up!