Disney’s Backstage Magic Tour: Review

Have you ever wanted to uncover the secrets behind Disney magic? The Backstage Magic tour at Walt Disney World allows guests to do just that. I went on the tour during my last trip to WDW in June 2015.

You will receive a name tag similar to this at the start of your tour.
You will receive a name tag similar to this at the start of your tour.

Is the Backstage Magic tour for everyone? No. Is it perfect for the Disney parks obsessed? Absolutely. Bear in mind that this tour is seven hours long. I would not book this tour on a vacation unless I had at least five full days at the parks. You have to be at least 16 years old to experience the tour, and I think it’s perfect for anyone age 16 and up as long as a passion for the parks exists.

Tour Highlights:

  • Creative Costuming at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where Disney parks costumes are created
  • Central Shops, the storage and building area for ride vehicles, audio-animatronics, and more
  • Backstage at The American Adventure
  • The Utilidor, the underground means of transportation at the Magic Kingdom

Tour Low-points:

  • Animal Kingdom
  • Backstage at the Tower of Terror

Where do you go on the Backstage Magic tour?

You visit all four parks, plus a few extra locations. Below the locations are listed in order of the tour.

Epcot

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This is where you meet for the tour. Here your bus will take you to backstage Epcot, where you will learn that things are much closer backstage to make work easier for cast members. For example, Test Track and Mexico are next-door neighbors backstage. It takes a good 15 minutes to walk between these locations when you are on stage (in the park as a guest).

The highlight of the Epcot visit is going behind-the-scenes at The American Adventure, the audio-animatronics show at World Showcases’ America pavilion. The different scenes of the show are set up like a conveyer belt, sending the next scene up to the stage from down below. You also get to touch an audio-animatronic figure’s head!

After visiting The American Adventure, you’ll discuss forced perspective, a technique used throughout the Disney parks, which makes guests think something is bigger or smaller than it actually is by use of clever architecture. Want to experience forced perspective for yourself? Next time you visit the America pavilion, ask a friend to walk up to the doors of The American Adventure while you stand near the fountain. The door should shrink as your friend gets closer, but it doesn’t. That’s because this colonial, two-story structure is actually three stories due to the need for extra space. However, there were no three-story buildings during the colonial period, so Imagineers had to get creative with window and door sizes.

Walt Disney World Nursery & Tree Farm

1923475_1031278334793_3293_nYou know those beautiful topiaries you see throughout the parks? This is where they are constructed. You will probably see horticultural cast members at work while you visit, stuffing a topiary frame with moss or clipping away unnecessary leaves on a new figure. They also house topiaries that are not currently in use here. Since the Flower and Garden festival had just ended when I visited, we were able to see a lot of those figures. This part of the tour is especially fun for those who like to garden.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

1619503_10204390594977537_7612975963998825587_nAs mentioned above, this was a low point of the tour. You drive in through the backstage area, where you can see some of the animal containment areas, but you can also see these during the train ride to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. We were able to ask a few questions about Avatar Land, which is currently under construction, and Rivers of Light, the new nighttime show for Animal Kingdom. Rivers of Light will be similar to World of Color at Disney’s California Adventure and will feature some beautiful Tibetan-inspired costumes for the dancers (we saw one at Creative Costuming). We didn’t learn much about Avatar Land that we didn’t already know, but when you visit Animal Kingdom right now, you can tell that it’s going to be huge.

At Animal Kingdom, you meet a Wild Africa Trek guide and learn a little about his or her background. If you want to truly go behind the scenes at Animal Kingdom, you have to book the Wild Africa Trek tour. I have yet to experience it, but I hope to soon.

That’s it for Animal Kingdom. I understand that the tour has to pack a lot of experiences in only seven hours, but adding a more special backstage experience to Animal Kingdom would really help.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

10171219_10204386447633856_7258115123146374497_nMy favorite and one of my least favorite parts of the tour happened here. I fell in love with Creative Costuming, and I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the backstage area of Tower of Terror.

If you’ve ever been on the now defunct Backlot Tour at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you may remember seeing Creative Costuming. Designers design and seamstresses create Disney parks costumes here, including costumes for Walt Disney World, Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line. They create the character costumes; for example, I saw Sadness from Inside Out and Olaf in the midst of creation. They create costumes for the parades and shows; we saw a few for Beauty and the Beast in the works and the Tibetan costume for Rivers of Light. Creative Costuming is decorated with design sketches and photos, making it a prettier backstage area than most. As a fashion enthusiast and an amateur on a sewing machine, this was my absolute favorite part of the tour. We also saw someone from Marvel who was waiting to meet with someone at Creative Costuming. Right now, the Marvel characters only appear at Disneyland and on Disney Cruise Line due a deal with Universal Studios. But, we learned, this could be changing as Universal may change their Marvel area to Transformers. Just a rumor, but you never know.

My favorite attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is Tower of Terror, so I was excited to see it behind-the-scenes. You get to see one of the ride vehicles and learn how it operates, but that’s it. I thought we would get to see more inside the actual building, so I was disappointed.

Lunch – The Whispering Canyon Cafe

Disney.com
Disney.com

Lunch is included with your tour at the Whispering Canyon Cafe. It was my first time there, and it’s an experience. The wait staff is rude in order to become the characters they play, and it’s hilarious. As part of the tour, you share an all-you-can-eat barbecue platter with beef, pork and chicken options, as well as cornbread, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. Your dinner ends with cobbler; ours was blueberry. If you are vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, be sure to tell your tour guide at the beginning of the day (they’ll ask), and accommodations will be made for you.

I’m not a huge barbecue person, so I probably will not go back to Whispering Canyon. My husband, who has a huge appetite, enjoyed it thoroughly.

Central Shops

This was my second favorite part of the tour. Central Shops, warehouses and design shops near the Magic Kingdom, create, repair, and store ride vehicles, audio-animatronics, and more. You’ll see some old favorites here, like the polar bear from Maelstrom and Bonnie Appetite from Kitchen Kabaret. In the paint shop, all the colors are created especially for each attraction. Mickey’s shorts aren’t just red; they’re Mickey’s Red Shorts red. Nearby Central Shops, you’ll spot the transportation hub, the service area for the Monorail and other Disney transportation. They even have an entire warehouse devoted to storing their Christmas decorations. I wish we could have gone in there.

Magic Kingdom

Disney.com
Disney.com

You end the tour where the Florida project started at the Magic Kingdom. Your tour guides will point out the offices above Main Street, U.S.A., including the Magic Kingdom’s president’s office. Here you also get to visit the underground utilidor, the means of delivery and transportation throughout the Magic Kingdom. Remember, the utilidor and all other backstage areas are not decorated. This can be shocking when you’re used to the well-themed areas of onstage Disney. You’ll see maps on the walls directing you throughout the utilidor as well as cast member services.

After visiting the utilidor, you will end the day with the parade. I am not a big parade fan, but Magic Kingdom’s Festival of Fantasy is worth it. I wouldn’t use a FastPass for it — the floats are huge and easy to see — but I would make time to watch it once.

Some final points about the tour:

Disney.com
Disney.com

Cost: $249 (includes lunch)

Does it include park admission? No. You will be taken to the Epcot bus loading area when the tour is over. You cannot sneakily stay in the Magic Kingdom following the tour.

Length: 7 hours

How many people are on the tour? There were about 20-25 people on our tour.

Attire: You have to wear closed-toed shoes on this tour for safety purposes backstage. There are no exceptions.

How many tour guides are there? Two. You will be broken up into two groups during parts of the tour. Listening devices make it easy to here your guides when you aren’t close to them.

What about snacks? Bottled water is provided on the tour. If you want a snack, you’ll have to bring it with you. I brought a protein bar along with me.

Pick up and drop off? The tour starts and begins outside the entrance to Epcot.

How do I book it? Call 407-WDW-TOUR. You typically need to book these tours far in advance because they are not usually offered every day.

Can I take pictures? Photography is strictly forbidden in backstage areas. You can take pictures when you are on stage.

Bathroom breaks? You’ll have several opportunities to visit the restroom on the tour. There’s also a restroom on your bus.

Synopsis: If you are Disney Parks obsessed like me and you have at least five full days at the parks during your vacation, this tour is for you. This is not for first-time Disney guests or for people who are not interested in traveling backstage. Remember, the backstage areas are not usually decorated, so it can be a little jarring. However, going behind the scenes made me appreciate the park more. It did not spoil the magic.

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Why you should purchase a Memory Maker at Walt Disney World: Review

Throwing out $169 for pictures may seem like a high price to pay, but purchasing Disney’s Memory Maker (advance purchase price: $169; regular price: $199) is worth it.

What do you get?

1. All photos taken by Disney PhotoPass photographers

11169938_10204386439033641_4243657927817853037_nThis means everywhere you see a Disney PhotoPass photographer, usually wearing a khaki vest and holding a Nikon camera, is up for grabs. When I first used the MemoryMaker in 2014, PhotoPass photographers were usually at the front of the park (near each park’s landmark) and at character meet and greets. When I visited in 2015, I noticed that PhotoPass photographers seem to be in more locations and in those locations for longer periods of time.

Where can I find PhotoPass photographers (usually)?

Magic Kingdom:

  • Main Street, U.S.A. — Leading up to the castle and near the founder’s statue
  • Liberty Square — Side view of castle
  • Tomorrowland Entrance — Side view of castle
  • Frontierland — Exiting Big Thunder Mountain
  • Fantasyland — Near Ariel’s castle

Epcot:

  • Spaceship Earth
  • Fountains at FutureWorld
  • France — Fountains
  • France — Eiffel Tower view

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

  • Park Entrance — Great Movie Ride in the background
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios Archway — near the entrance to Voyage of the Little Mermaid
  • Tower of Terror

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

  • Ticket Kiosks — Before entering the park, many like to snap a picture under the Disney’s Animal Kingdom sign
  • Tree of Life — Various angles
  • Expedition Everest

2. All photos from character meet and greets

10603785_10204386453233996_828113591478815383_nNot only do PhotoPass photographers snap posed pictures at character meet and greets, but they also capture candid shots. These candid shots can be difficult to capture if you don’t have someone else in your party dedicated to snapping pictures.

11181213_10204386274189520_3606817736356252130_nCandid shots are usually my favorites (above). If you don’t have someone in your party taking pictures for you, the blueberry (a term used for Disney character handlers in blue shirts) will take a picture for you. Usually, they do a great job. I’ve also had blueberries take completely out-of-focus pictures that may or may not contain the subjects (ahem…Darth Vader meet and greet last year…ahem). Using the photos from the Disney PhotoPass photographer guarantees the photos will be high-quality shots.

3. All ride photos

11112295_10204386435913563_9037740285948348139_nYes, you will receive every photo from every ride you venture on that takes your picture. Every ride does not take your picture, but many popular attractions do. If you link your MemoryMaker to your Disney MagicBand, then you don’t have to visit the photo kiosk following the ride. Your MagicBand already knows you were on the ride! It’s fun, convenient, and a little creepy.

Rides that take your picture:

Space Mountain
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Seven Dwarves Mine Train (you can’t view these photos following the ride, but they show up on your MemoryMaker…as does a video)
Splash Mountain
Tower of Terror
Rockin’ Rollercoaster
Expedition Everest
Dinosaur
Spaceship Earth (doesn’t show up on your MemoryMaker, but you can email this photo for free)
TestTrack

Did I miss any?

4. Photos with a bit of magic

1467248_10204386484674782_6579620180324435906_nSome of your photos will have some fun effects treated with Disney magic. You don’t know what the effect will be until you look at your photos!

With the MemoryMaker, you get all of your photos digitally for one price. After your trip, you will have about a month to download your photos. You can download the photos once, but you can make as many copies as you would like for your party. One traveling party only needs one MemoryMaker!

If you’re tired of asking strangers to take your picture, it’s time to get MemoryMaker. My husband HATES having pictures made, but knowing that pictures were quick and easy with a PhotoPass photographer made them WAY more manageable. Plus, he liked getting the ride pictures.