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.
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.
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
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.
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
You 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
As 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
My 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
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.
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.
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:
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.