Trip Report

Disney Backstage Magic Tour

July 20-22, 2014

Walt Disney World offers a number of behind the scenes tours. Here are links to information on the tours:
https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/
http://www.wdwinfo.com/wdwinfo/tours.htm

Most of the tours require park admission in addition to the tour cost. There are just a few that do not require admission. One of those is the Backstage Magic tour. It lasts 7 hours, includes lunch at the Whispering Canyon Café in the Wilderness Lodge, and includes stops at all 4 theme parks and two support areas.

I had taken 4 of the tours,

I would do any of them again.

Some people are worried that if they see what happens behind the scenes, it will spoil the "magic". However, I am even more impressed when I see the ingenuity and attention to detail of Disney.

We had charged cruises on our Disney VISA card and had Disney Dollar rewards. By using the Disney VISA, we got 20% off the tour cost, then using the Disney Dollars paid for most of the rest.

Rather than risk problems driving up on the day of the tour, we decided to go up the day before the tour and stay in the All Star Sports Resort. Conveniently, Florida resident rates went into effect that day. We also booked the All Star Resort for the following evening. We left home Sunday afternoon and drove to Walt Disney World.

From our house, it is about a 2 hour drive (plus rest stops).

All Star Sports Resort

All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort
All Star Sports Resort All Star Sports Resort

We checked in to the All Start Sports Resort and received our Disney Magic Bands. The Magic Bands are durable wrist bands which contain a computer chip for near field communications. The commands are used for:

They are reusable, so they can be set up for future trips as well.

The only disappointment is that the information indicates that the wristbands are color coded. However, both of our bands were simply gray. I did see other bands that were colored, so I don’t know if the colored bands were issued at different resorts or parks, or if they realized that a single plain color would be cheaper. The bands were simple to use.

Disney Magic Band

Universal City Walk – Hard Rock Café and Hard Rock Hotel

Universal City Walk

Sunday evening, we drove over to Universal City Walk (parking is free for Florida residents after 6:00 pm).

Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe

We ate at the Hard Rock Café. I picked up a couple of magnets.

Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe Hard Rock Orlando Cafe

The, I walked over to the Hard Rock Hotel (path to the hotel is to the right of the park entrance) and got a magnet from the hotel also.

Hard Rock Orlando Logo Magnet Hard Rock Cafe Orlando Guitar Magnet Hard Rock Hotel Orlando Magnet

We returned to the All Star Resort.

Monday

Monday morning we had a light breakfast at the resort and drove over to EPCOT. . Parking in the parks is free for resort guests. We met outside Guest Services (past the bag check, but before entering EPCOT). Our hosts, Cami and Frank met us and handed out lanyards and tags. We wrote our own names on the tags. (I am a little surprised that they weren’t preprinted by Disney). Sorry, no photos allowed in backstage areas.

Tour meeting location outside EPCOT Backstage Magic nametag and lanyard

EPCOT – The American Adventure

We boarded a bus (Disney Cruise Line bus) and were taken to the back entrance to EPCOT. A security guard boarded the bus and did a bag check. When asked what he was looking for, he said “Mouse traps and poison apples.” We then went to the back of The American Adventure. The upper floors of the building have fake windows because it is visible from other parts of the park. We broke into 2 groups. Frank took us around the front of the building while Cami took the other group into the building. Frank pointed out that the American Adventure building is constructed to look smaller than it actually is. He had one of the taller guests stand in a doorway of the small building across from the American Adventure building. He almost reached the top of the doorway. Then he walked over to the American Adventure building and stood in a doorway. He came up to about the middle of the doorway. The building appears to be a 3 story building, but it is actually 5 stories. Frank pointed out the Eiffel Tower in the France pavilion and explained that it is 1/10 scale. The tower is painted brown because birds don’t like it. If a bird landed on the tower, it would look enormous. Disney does details. He also pointed out another building that is painted blue and lightens up toward the top so that it will blend into the sky.

Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States of America. Decorations on the Morocco pavilion do not portray living things – people, animals, or plants – due to religious requirements. The decorations are geometric designs. Also, the decorations are deliberately imperfect because only Allah is perfect.

After that, we passed the other group leaving the building and we went in the back. Originally, they build a projection room behind and above the audience. But they discovered that the presidents cast shadows on the screens. So they build a new projection room at the back of the building and used rear projection.

The stage area is open and there are 3 trolleys below the stage, one in the center and one on each side. Each trolley contains the audio animatronic figures. The figures are raised into position along with any furniture of other set pieces for their parts. After their part is complete, they lower into the trolley again and the trolley moves back to bring another scene into position. After the show is complete, the trolley moves back to the starting position ready to begin the next performance. The master controller is an old desktop computer.

President figures look like the President did when they were inaugurated for their first term. Disney is happy when a President is reelected because they don’t have to build a new figure and redo the presentation.

The animatronic figures have wigs and beards made from human hair. (Live characters in performances and parades wear synthetic hair.)

We the boarded the bus again and were off to the next destination

Disney Animal Kingdom

We entered the back lot of Disney Animal Kingdom and had another security bag check.

They led us into the park to meet with a cast member who told us about her job and the park. One of the more interesting items was about elephants and bees. Farmers are a bigger danger to elephants than poachers. The elephants invade farms for food and eat and trample the plants. Farmers kill the elephants to protect their crops. It turns out that elephants don’t like bees. I suppose if they get one of those up their trunk it isn’t fun. Especially if the bee stings. They also found that elephants have a specific trumpet call to warn other elephants of bees. So farmers are encouraged to position bee hives around their crops. Also, the elephant warning call is played on speaker systems. So the elephants stay away from the crops and don’t get killed. The bees provide honey for the farmer and also pollinate the plants. Win – win – win.

We had a bathroom break in the park, then went backstage and boarded the bus.

There is a cellular tower in the backstage lot. The top is covered with what appears to be tree branches to make it less obvious from a distance. Details. The tower is known as the AT&Tree, or the Verizon spruce.

Off to the next stop – the horticulture area.

Horticulture area

The horticulture is where the plants for Walt Disney Word are prepared.

The topiaries used to be grown by trimming a plant as it grew. However, that could take up to 7 years and if the plant were damaged, all that work would be lost. The next step was to grow the plants around a wire frame and trim the plant. That reduced the growing time. Now, they build wire frames and put irrigation pipes in the framework. The framework is filled with sphagnum moss and the plants are inserted into the moss. It reduced the growing time to months.

Understudy plants (duplicates) are maintained in the horticulture area. If a plant in a park or resort is damaged, it can be replaced overnight with a new plant.

Plants are used to set the scene. In the winter, white plants are planted around the Norway pavilion to give a wintery feel. The Wilderness Lodge area is planted with pines and evergreens – no palms. They actually imported plans from the northwest, but the plants did not do well in Florida heat. So similar trees were used.

The horticulture area also has a lawn area where landscape crews can practice cutting grass and cutting around obstacles. We passed a field of banana plants. The bananas are not served to guests. They are food for the animals in Animal Kingdom. Details.

Back on the bus and off to the next stop. This time, the bag check was made when we left the horticulture area.

Disney Hollywood Studios

In Disney Hollywood Studios, we visited the costuming area where costumes are designed and made. This is the area that you see from the trams on the back lot tour. We saw trams go by as we toured the area. Patterns for all costumes are saved so that a costume can be recreated at any time if necessary. The costuming area creates the individual costumes for performers. Costumes for staff such as resort workers, park cast, food service, etc. are designed by Disney but contracted out. This part of the tour was sew-sew.

After leaving the costuming area we went to an area to see one of the vehicles used in the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. I was disappointed that we didn’t actually go into the tower. The car basically confirmed the way that I thought the ride worked. Guests sit in the car which is in a cage in an elevator. The car is raised with stops at several floors. When the top of the building is reached, the car moves out of the cage and to a new cage in an elevator in the front of the building. For the ride, cars are not dropped to free fall. The cage are actually pulled down faster than a free fall. The cables are inspected daily and replaced every 2 years whether they need it or not.

When they decided to create the ride, they visited an elevator company that had been in business for over 100 years (Otis). They went to a tall building and asked to be taken all the way to the top and then all the way to the bottom. At the end:
Disney: That wasn’t very exciting.
Otis: That’s why we’ve been in business for 100 years.

Elevator rides were not new when Tower of Terror was created. But Disney builds an entire story about the lightning strike and the family in the elevator.

What is the stuffed figure the little girl is holding?

Look for a jar of pickles on a desk in the hotel lobby. One of the cast was given a jar of pickles. He didn’t particularly care for them, so he put it on someone else’s desk. As a joke, the jar moved around to various desks. One night it was left on a desk in the hotel lobby. That night the crew came in to glue down all of the set pieces. The pickle jar was glued to a desk and it is still there.

When standing at the Mexico pavilion in EPCOT and looking across the lake to Morocco, one of the buildings in Disney Hollywood Studios is visible. That building has been painted to blend into the Morocco pavilion.

Then back on the bus and off to lunch!

Lunch at Whispering Pines Café in Wilderness Lodge.

Lunch was included on the tour and was served at the Whispering Canyon Café.

As soon as we walked in, one of the servers started crying out “They’re here, they’re here!” We were seated at 3 tables and drink orders were taken. Corn bread was on the table. When they brought out the drinks were brought to our table (in 8 oz Ball jars), they were one drink short. They had to go back for my Coca-Cola. When she brought out the Coke, it was in a 64 oz Ball jar. I was thrilled. I did ask if refills were included.

The food was brought out and served family style. The platter contained pulled pork, pork ribs, pork sausage, chicken, mashed potatoes, baked beans, and corn on the cob. It was delicious.

We were talking down the table to our host when the waitress came to pick up the dirty dishes. To get our attention, she threw straws at us.

Dessert was brought out and served family style. It was blueberry pie covered with vanilla ice cream.

After lunch we had a little time for a restroom stop and to look around the hotel lobby. Then, back on the bus and off to the next stop.

By the way, I did finish the Coke. Because we were on a tour, we had fixed restroom breaks. If we had been on our own schedule, I would have asked for a refill.

Whispering Canyon Cafe Whispering Canyon Cafe Whispering Canyon Cafe Wilderness Lodge Wilderness Lodge Wilderness Lodge Wilderness Lodge

Central Shops

Central shops is where they build or repair whatever is needed. We saw parts of rides in various states of assembly/disassembly, the insides of audio animatronic animals, paint shops, etc. Actually, whenever anything is needed, the Central Shops bid on the job and compete with outside businesses. Across the street from Central Shops is a Pittsburgh Paints shop that provides paint needed by Central Shops. Also across the street is the warehouse holding the Christmas decorations for all 4 parks, the Vero Beach resort, and Disney Cruise lines. We did not go in that building, but had been in it when we did the Yuletide Fantasy tour several years ago.

Back on the bus to the next stop.

The Magic Kingdom.

We left the bus at the transportation area and went into the Magic Kingdom through the main entrance.

Our host told us that the layout is planned so that you cannot see the castle from the outside. You enter through tunnels to the right and left under the railroad. Walt Disney’s original idea was that the entrances would have curtains. As guests entered, there would be trumpets and they would be announced by name. However, it was determined that would cause wait problems.

Once inside, you still cannot see the castle. You must go to the center and look down Main Street to see the castle.

Forced perspective is used to make the castle look farther away. The sides of main street are not parallel. The far end of the street is narrower than the closer end. The awnings on the building are set back on the near end and stick out farther on the far end.

We walked along main street and turned at Casey’s. We went behind some partitions and were backstage. We entered a building, went down a flight of stairs and were in the Utilidor – the service area below the Magic Kingdom. This area is often referred to as tunnels and underground.

Actually, they are the first floor of the Magic Kingdom. The buildings are built on top. The underground area contains storage areas, cast changing areas, etc. Looking up, you can see large tubes running along. These are the trash collection system for the Magic Kingdom. When the trash bins fill up, the trans falls down into the tube and is pushed along by air pressure to the garbage collection area backstage. We walked around a square area underneath Main Street before going back upstairs.

This was only a small section of the Utilidor. It runs in a large circle around the entire Magic Kingdom park. It allows cast members to move to their assigned area without walking through other areas while in costume.

I was in the back part of the Utilidor a few years ago on the Keys to the Kingdom tour. The back part of the Utilidor was much wider and higher that the area we visited this time. It also contained a cafeteria, costume repair and cleaning, and other services. After coming back up, we walked back to the Magic Kingdom and back along Main Street to the area near the train station.

While we waited for the parade to arrive, our host, Frank, told us more trivia about Walt Disney World and Disneyland (see below)

Soon, the parade arrived and we had a good view of the performers and floats.

Magic Kingdom Castle Magic Kingdom Castle Magic Kingdom Parade

That pretty much ended the tour. We left the Magic Kingdom and headed back to the bus. The bus took us back to EPCOT to the starting point of the tour. We left the tour and said good-bye to our driver and hosts. We received a souvenir of the tour.

Backstage Magic Pin

Other Disney trivia or information.

Walt Disney moved to California to work with his brother Roy, a banker. It is said that Roy’s job was to tell Walt to stop because they were out of money.

Originally, animated films were about 3 minutes in length. Walt decided to create a feature film with sound and color – Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. Supposedly, several of the animators quit. The multi-plane camera was developed to give depth to animated movies. Rumor has it that there are 7 dwarfs because the camera had 7 planes.

When Disneyland was being built, they needed trees for landscaping, but did not have the funds to buy trees. Walt Disney found that Interstate 5 was being built and would pass near Anaheim. He went to the California Highway Department and offered to clear the area for the highway for free. They removed the trees and used them for Disneyland.

Walt needed funding for Disneyland, so he went to New York to find financial backers. CBS (Columbia Broadcasting System) declined. NBC (National Broadcasting Company owned by RCA) took a long time to make up their minds. ABC (American Broadcasting Company) was receptive. As part of the deal, ABC took a 35% ownership share of Disneyland and was entitled to all of the profits from food service for 10 years. Disney was also contracted to provide an hour television show for 3 seasons. The TV shows were often focused on Disneyland.

Note: today, the Walt Disney Companies own ABC.

Sharks are never fed in the Seas aquarium. They are fed in other tanks, never by hand, and they must do some action such as swimming to a spot. This is done so that the sharks will not associate a human with food. Divers can enter the aquarium tank and sharks will not bother them.

An automobile racing track was built near the Magic Kingdom parking lot. An IndyCar open-wheel race was held one year. Although the race was successful and pleased the drivers and teams, the races were discontinued due to complaints about the noise from guests.

The Seven Seas Lagoon ferry boats are named for:

The canals at Walt Disney World are interconnected except for one canal. One canal runs around the Magic Kingdom parking area. Since rain will wash oil and other pollutants off the lot, the runoff is captured in the one canal and treated. Waste water is treated and used for irrigation. Solid waste is compressed to remove water and set out to compost for 6 months. The resulting compost is used for fertilizer and is available to cast members. It is called Vista Green. Names which were rejected include Zip-i-de-do-do, and Winnie’s Poo.

Back to the All Star Sports Resort

As we returned to the All Star Sports Resort, we arrived just before the sky let loose with heavy rain. There was also a severe warning for the area. During a lull in the rain, we went from building to building to get to the End Zone Food Court for dinner. I had the London Broil dinner. It was pretty good, but it was a little difficult to cut the meat with a plastic knife, and the mashed potatoes were a bit runny. We went from building to building again to return to the room.

Tuesday

We had a quick breakfast at the All Star Sports End Zone food court. Our room bill was emailed to us and since there were no issues, we did not need to check out. We drove over to Downtown Disney and I tried to leave a resume at Casting. However, they accept only electronic applications. I need to check the jobs web site, WaltDisneyWorld.jobs, frequently to see if any casual positions open. Part time work requires availability for a minimum of 3 days a week.

After leaving downtown Disney, we went to Fort Wilderness. I walked from the parking area to the Meadows Trading Post (about ½ mile each way) to get a totem pole note holder. We have one already, but it has been knocked over, broken, glued back together so many times, I wanted to get an “understudy” totem pole in case the original cannot be repaired in future.

Fort Wilderness Meadows Recreation Fort Wilderness Meadows Recreation Fort Wilderness Meadows Recreation Totem Pole Note Holder

We left Walt Disney World and drove out US 192 towards Kissimmee.

We stopped at the Krispy Kreme store. Unfortunately, the Hot Donuts light was not on. However, they did have the cinnamon rolls which are our favorites.

The Stuart newspaper had a story about the possibility of a Wawa gas station in Stuart. We checked Gas Buddy and found that the cheapest gas (3.299 per gallon) was at a Wawa station that was on our way from Krispy Kreme to Osceola Expressway. We still had enough gas to get home, but decided to top off the tank anyway. Gas prices in Stuart were about 3.399 per gallon.

We stopped at our daughter’s house in Port St. Lucie to drop off half of the Krispy Kreme doughnuts and spend a little time with Aiden, Conner, Bennett and Delayni. It was difficult to believe that we had been gone just about 48 hours and had done so much.