By Sarah Sekula, published in the Where Orlando Guestbook
Hard-core Disney fans may indeed feel like they’ve covered every nook and cranny of Walt Disney World. But thanks to a slew of personalized experiences, it turns out, there may still be some surprises left. Of course, these premiums tours can be pricey, but more often than not, it is well worth it.
Hands down, the most popular one of all is the Keys to the Kingdom tour (ages 16+ $99.00 plus tax) where guests get a behind-the-scenes look at extravagant parade floats, the chance to hop on a few rides (without standing in line) and the pièce de résistance: time to stroll through the famous utilidor tunnels below the park.
First things first: Put on your comfiest shoes and slather on the sunscreen. This is a 5-hour walking tour. Don’t worry, though, there are plenty of breaks where you’ll sit in the shade, usually in a quiet little corner, while your guide gives you the lowdown on all things Disney.
Throughout the tour, guests learn about the legendary Walt Disney and some interesting bits about how the Magic Kingdom manages to operate so magically. Starting near Main Street, U.S.A. you’ll pick up a headset and as your group of 20 begins walking, the guide entertains you with stories behind some of the names on the Main Street windows, how Disney bought the land in Central Florida and how Cinderella Castle was built.
Then, it’s on to Adventureland, Frontierland and the utilidor, an impressive network of passageways that allow Cast Members to easily move goods throughout the park. It’s a cool way to see the daily life of employees as they go on break, get hair cuts and drop off costumes to be cleaned. Every once in a while you’ll even hear the rumbling of rubbish scooting its way through the massive HVAC system.
During lunch, tour guests swap stories. It’s also a great time to ask any lingering questions you may have forgotten to ask earlier. You know, for example: I heard Disney has a nuclear power plant. Is it true? Or did Disney really ban chewing gum from being sold in its shops? Or did the Beatles really break up at the Polynesian Resort?
The sky’s the limit. There are six decades worth of history to learn about, after all. For example, who knew that more than 250,000 pounds of clothing is washed daily? Or that Disney has it’s own department that focuses solely on handcrafting Christmas lights? Or that when Disneyland opened in 1955, the asphalt on Main Street U.S.A. had not dried yet and ended up sticking to guests’ shoes? (They made sure not to repeat that mistake when Walt Disney World opened in 1971.)
And throughout the tour, if you’d like some help spotting the ever elusive hidden Mickeys, just ask.
“No one does it like Disney, ” says Lou Mongello, Disney expert and WDW Radio podcast host. “And their premium experiences are no exception. There’s often an added element of surprise, as well. They always continue to go beyond what I had expected; I find myself laughing and smiling like a 7-year-old boy.”
It’s easy to see why these oh-so-special excursions appeal to many, even if they do cause you to dole out some extra moolah.
“People like to feel like they are doing something that others may not have done before,” Mongello adds. “At Disney everyone is made to feel special. Premium experiences like these take those feelings to a new level.”
Warning: You may get a wee bit spoiled with all the pampered treatment, and it might be tough to visit the parks any other way from this point on. And, chances are, you’ll want to sign up for other premium tours.
The most difficult part is choosing which one. For starters, there’s the Wild Africa Trek (starts at $189 plus tax per person) where guests cross a suspension-bridge (above dozens of crocs), dine on the deck of a savannah hut and get an up-close look at hippos (so close, in fact, you could count the hippos’ whiskers if you weren’t so busy snapping photos).
Or opt for surf lessons at Typhoon Lagoon ($165 includes tax ages 8+), the Epcot DiveQuest ($179 plus tax) where you explore a 5.7 million-gallon saltwater tank or even set sail on a Grand 1 yacht ($850 per night) on the Seven Seas Lagoon where you are treated to a private butler and a gourmet five-course meal.
Whatever you decide on, there is no doubt you will bump up your Disney experience big time. You can read all about Disney for years, but it doesn’t compare to walking through the park and getting the stories firsthand from an engaging tour guide. Ultimately, you’ll be glad to know that seeing behind the scenes doesn’t ruin the magic, it does quite the opposite. It makes you appreciate the park that much more.