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If you've seen my other Disney World posts, you know that I am a BIG fan of taking tours. From The Ultimate Day of Thrills to Ultimate Nights of Adventure, I love tours! That said, this was my first foray into a tour that was not specifically designed with riding rides in mind. (read more)
DISNEY KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR REVIEW
Back in April, a few girlfriends and I planned a trip to Disney World. They were coming in on Thursday night, I was coming in on Wednesday morning, and another friend was coming in on Thursday morning. This meant I'd have a day of park fun by myself, and then a morning of park fun with my friend Missy (who is also my TA, so if you need a TA, feel free to check out her Facebook page),
Since Missy and I both love all things Disney, she thought it might be fun to take a different sort of tour than the type I was used to. I'd only done the ones that let you ride fun rides, and had just finished up Ultimate Nights of Adventure the night before (for the third time).
This tour would be more about the history of Magic Kingdom, the planning, the layout, and the magic (and true dedication to service) that takes place behind the scenes.
Please Note - I'm not sure how much you want to read about here, so if you're not wanting spoilers, please don't read this post. I would hate to reveal something to you that you want to experience for the first time in person.
All good? Okay! Let's get going!
READ OUR ULTIMATE DAY OF THRILLS REVIEW
DISNEY KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR PRICE AND BOOKING
Let's start here! Before I tell you how wonderful the tour was, I want to tell you how much it costs. Honestly I think this is one of the most "bang for your buck" tours ever.
It's $99 per person (plus tax), and is a five hour walking tour complete with lunch and a couple of rides.
If you want to book the tour, you'll need to call Disney directly at (407) 939-8687, or just let your Disney Travel Agent know that you'd like to take the tour and they can book it for you.
If you are an Annual Passholder, a Chase Visa holder, or a DVC member, you do get an additional 15% off the tour, so don't forget to mention it when you book or have your TA book.
Here's the blurb on the Disney World site.
KEYS TO THE KINGDOM MEET UP PLACE
Be sure to read the email confirmation you receive because this might change, but according to our confirmation (and according to the information on the site right now) the meet up place is Town Square Theater 15 minutes before your tour.
If you're not sure where this is, it's the first grand looking entrance on your right after you walk into the park under the railroad tracks.
If you still can't find it, ask a cast member, they are there to help! I remember the second time I took the Ultimate Day of Thrills tour, the meeting place was new, I was hopelessly lost, and I actually stumbled into a group taking this tour. The tour guide was so nice, she stopped the tour and directed me to the place I needed to be.
My point is, don't be afraid to ask!
Here are Missy and I inside of Town Square Theater.
READ OUR PRIVATE DISNEY VIP TOUR REVIEW
DISNEY KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR SPOILERS
I'm going to take you through our five hour tour, so please be aware that anything you read after this point might be a spoiler.
Once you meet up at Town Square Theater you are going to approach the large bar on the right hand side (or it was the right from where we walked in) and give them your names and the TIME you have booked for the tour.
I mention this specifically because the tour runs every half hour or so for the first part of the day. If you are booked at 9 a.m., just tell them that. They'll have a name tag and listening set ready for you. They'll also ask you to give them your lunch preferences. Now is the time to mention allergies.
The listening set is very cool because it means you can hear your tour guide telling you everything without her (or him) having to yell. It also means you can turn the volume up and down as you need to, and that you don't have to glue yourselves to the other group members to make sure you can hear.
Of course you do want to stick close so you don't get lost. Also, if you get too far away, your headset will start to crackle and static.
Speaking from experience there.
Your tour guide will have extra batteries on hand, so if you have any issues with your headset at all, don't hesitate to ask. Really, don't be shy, they want you to have a great time, so speak up and let them help you.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU RUN AN HOUR LATE TO A DISNEY DINING RESERVATION? HERE'S WHAT HAPPENED TO US.
Our tour guide (YaYa) gathered all of us on the patio of Town Square Theater, gave us a few tips on proper use of the headsets, asked us to stay in a group, and then stepped off the steps and began our tour.
You start right at the front of Magic Kingdom, passing by the small green post office box affixed to a pole (you really can mail letters from it) and heading toward the statue of Roy Disney with Minnie Mouse (on the bench in the center courtyard).
From this point you will be directed to look toward Cinderella's Castle and you'll learn things like the exact height of the castle and the reasoning for its height. She also told us why Tower of Terror isn't the same height, though the reasoning for the height on both remains the same.
This is just the beginning of the moment where I went, "Oh my gosh, these people put some serious thought into this park!"
You will then walk up Main Street with your attention being directed toward the windows of the buildings (we're rolling the credits here), the ratio of bottom floors to floors on second and third stories, how close to the curb the building canopies are erected, and even the reasoning you cannot see Cinderella's Castle until you actually walk under the railroad tracks into the park.
Imagine a theater, then imagine a theatrical production. This is what the creators of Magic Kingdom intended for you to feel and see as you walk in.
It's truly incredible.
This part of the tour took quite awhile, probably the longest single piece of talking, walking, and learning throughout the entire five hours. And with good reason. After all, this is your introduction to the production you're about to experience.
This is where you meet the cast, the producers, and this is where Disney sets the stage for everything else you will experience in the park.
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MAIN STREET USA SPOILERS
* - You don't see the Castle until you walk under the railroad tracks because Disney wanted it to be like a curtain opening on a stage production. You enter the park and.....ta da, the Castle, the focal point of the best day ever!
* - The buildings along Main Street use force perspective to make your eyes think the buildings are taller and the street is longer than it actually is. This means the first level of buildings are full size, the level above is 7/8th the size of the first, and any third stories are 5/8th the size of the second story. It gets smaller as your eye goes up, so you think they're taller than they are.
* - The canopies over the buildings along Main Street move progressively out toward the curb. They begin far from the curb where you enter, and are over the curb by the time you reach the end of Main Street. This gradual inward motion again makes your eye think the street is longer than it actually is.
* - Cinderella's Castle is precisely 189 feet tall, simply because at the time of building, the codes stated that anything over 190 feet had to have blinking red lights on it to be visible to aircraft. Could you imagine a Castle with blinking red lights on the top?
* - Tower of Terror is precisely 199 feet tall, for the same reasons as above, only the codes had changed by the time it was built, and the new height requiring lights was 200 feet.
* - The windows along Main Street feature names of people who played a prominent role in the concept and design of Magic Kingdom. Think of these as rolling credits before your show starts.
SHOULD YOU GET THE DISNEY DINING PLAN OR NOT? OUR THOUGHTS AND EXPERIENCES.
MOVING FROM ONE LAND TO ANOTHER
Your mind is already blown and you're not even into the lands yet! Hang on to that thought because you're going to leave this tour with so much information, it's going to be hard to keep it all in your head.
This was a real issue for me, especially with writing a blog post about the tour. I want to tell you everything (or at least hint at everything), but I keep going, "Oh! I forgot this!"
I can see myself going back and editing this post for months to come.
Anyhow, we move up through Main Street and to the left, heading toward Adventureland. We hold here for a few minutes, right between Adventureland and Main Street USA.
Notice the large tree behind you and to the right, notice how it blocks your view of the Castle. Keep walking, hear the music, the drums coming up from the log bridge in front of you? By the time you get to the center of that bridge, you're out of Main Street USA and into Adventureland. You haven't just walked there, Disney has taken you there, making sure it's the only thing you can see (unless you try really hard to look behind you).
The ground changes, the street changes.
Do you feel a bit confused? If you're like me, Adventureland is the one part of the park that can really get you turned around.
They planned it that way. After all, you're now on an adventure! Look at a map of Magic Kingdom, none of the layouts are as wonky as Adventureland!
Let's head over to Jungle Cruise, because that's where we'll ride the first ride of the day.
IS RENTING DVC POINTS BETTER THAN BOOKING THROUGH DISNEY?
One thing I came away from this tour thinking was that Walt Disney (and Roy Disney) had a lot of ideas about educational experiences that turned into the rides we know and love today.
Jungle Cruise was one of these rides.
It was originally intended to have real, live animals. No kidding!
Once the brothers realized they wouldn't have the space to house these animals, they decided on animatronics.
The information doesn't stop there, though. The jungle of bad puns and terrible jokes we enjoy today originally ran as a cruise that would inform the rider about the animals, the land, the habitat, etc. This ride was meant to TEACH!
Can you believe it?
Apparently one of the tour guides decided to start making jokes, and it caught on with the other guides.
Walt Disney learned of this...change, and decided to go ride the ride himself, just to see.
What do you think happened when Walt Disney got on the ride in a suit and tie?
Of course the guide went back to the regular script, no joking, just education.
Walt was baffled, the ride was the same, what was everyone talking about, what jokes?
Someone kindly explained to him that OF COURSE they weren't going to joke when Walt was on board, so Walt got out of his corporate suit and tie, put on some every day clothes, and rode the ride again.
He heard the jokes, and he loved them.
He met with that Cast Member and recruited that person to train the "Skippers" with this new, funny material.
And that's how we got the ride we all know and love.
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JUNGLE CRUISE LITTLE KNOWN FACTS
Here are a few other things we learned while on the Jungle Cruise:
* - The animatronics in Jungle Cruise are not the same as the animatronics used in other parts of the park. Since the animals are in the water, Walt and Roy didn't want to use oil animatronics because they didn't want to risk oil leaking into the water. This is why the range of motion on the animals (and people) is much less than what you might see in something like The Hall of Presidents.
* - The Skippers do not drive the boats. You probably already knew this, but the boats are actually attached to a beam that's attached to a track.
* - The boats do not float.
* - The water is actually clear. The folks at Disney add a dye to the water to keep it brown. Otherwise you'd see the mechanics of those animatronics.
* - The animatronics are only half built. As you can derive from the statement above, the animatronics are only built up as far as just below the water line to all you see above the water. Since Disney had to cover the mechanics (the boat track, etc.), there was no reason to build the entire animal, you don't see it anyway.
* - The water that squirts from the animal's mouths is different than the water in the river. If you can get squirted with it, it's drinking water.
* - The dye used in the river is added at Schweitzer Falls. It's the perfect place to have the dye mix and churn.
* - The river water feeds many other water features at Magic Kingdom, so the coloring remains the same and only has to be added and dyed at one point in the park.
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DISNEY KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR LUNCH AND FRONTIERLAND
Now, this may be out of order, but it's been a few months since I took the tour.
Once we finish our adventures in Adventureland, we cross over into Frontierland. We pay attention once again to the screening behind us, keeping us focused on the new land.
The land changes, the ground turns brown, mimicking the ground we'd have seen if we were really in the frontier all those years ago.
We eat lunch here (at Pecos Bill Cafe) and also take a bathroom break. The lunch is good, very filling, and there's a lot of dishes to choose from, which you'll have already done when you got to Town Square Theater and signed in.
This is also where you get a fun little keepsake to add to the collection you surely must already have on a lanyard. :)
After lunch, you get more information, most specifically about Pirates of the Caribbean. This is another ride that was supposed to be an educational attraction. Originally designed to be walked through, a wax museum of sorts.
We also learn why there's a downhill run in Pirates. It's because Walt and Roy needed a way to go under the railroad tracks! So, when you have that thrilling rush downhill, thank the Main Street Railroad. :)
Sadly, we do not get to ride Pirates, but I thought we were lucky to ride any rides on this tour, so it's okay.
REVAMPING MY KID'S ALLOWANCE WITH THE GREENLIGHT DEBIT CARD FOR KIDS
DISNEY'S KEYS TO THE KINGDOM TOUR KEEPSAKE
Every tour I've done since 2018 has given us some type of keepsake at the end of the tour. Keys To The Kingdom is no different.
These little key pins were placed on our lunch tables inside a small card with our name on it. In this manner they served not only as place settings, letting you know where to find your meal, but also a cute way to remember all the fun you had learning how the Disney magic is made.
AFTER LUNCH - BEHIND THE SCENES
Once we finished lunch, we got a real treat! We walked through Frontierland and stopped just before Splash Mountain.
If you look to your left, you'll see a guard rail sectioning off a road that seems to lead to nowhere. This might be a place you've seen a parade enter or exit, or perhaps you've seen a high school marching band come in or out.
This is backstage, and from this point on (for a long while), we were asked to put our phones away, no pictures, please.
Once a marching band exited, our guide opened a small door to the side of the gate and ushered us through. We walked along the road for a bit, marveling at how "backstage" looked just like Frontierland.
Right up until we got to the yellow line painted on the road.
This line marks the end of Magic Kingdom and the beginning of backstage. It is the first point in this part of the park where no one in the park, no matter where they are in the vicinity, can see you backstage.
Parades continue dancing and waving until they pass this line. Marching bands continue playing, twirlers keep twirling, and smiles remain bright, wide, and joyful!
Until you get past the yellow line, you are on display, and you need to make Disney proud with your behavior.
It was awesome to see the line, and to see just how far it extended away from the park. Disney is taking no chances that the magic ends where a customer can see.
We walked past the line, got up on a sidewalk, and then proceeded to a large green gate (it made me think of Jurassic park) that was decorated on our side with spiked logs, fitting in perfectly with the Frontierland theme, even though no one could see it.
From there we walked through another small door, officially backstage!
You may experience something different back here, depending on the time of year or the time of day, but we were treated to up close encounters of floats from some of my favorite parades. It was April and they were already prepping the Christmas floats, after all, it does start (for Disney) in just a few months!
We entered a large warehouse with scrim fabric covering the door. You could not see inside, but you could see outside perfectly. This scrim was found on almost all of the floats, which are indeed driven by humans, and not remote control.
The floats have different levels of proficiency needed in order to drive them and even dance or march by them. Some only have outside visibility via fish eye camera lenses. The driver has to see the outside through a camera, and then what they see is a fish eye, so they really have to know what they're doing.
We got to see the emergency stop buttons all over the floats, and we learned that the people walking by the floats are able to reach over and smack any of the buttons to stop things.
This comes in very handy when you have so many small children in the park. Children who get excited about seeing their favorite characters and might dart out to say hello.
I witnessed this once at Disneyland, a child running out to see one of the large birds from UP. Thankfully a watchful Cast Member was there and plucked him up before he got stepped on by wayward bird feet.
Disney takes no chances.
* - Fun Fact! Disney has benches backstage that are extra tall, just for those Cast Members walking on stilts in parades!
WALT LIFE IS THE DISNEY SUBSCRIPTION BOX FOR DISNEY LOVERS
HEADING BACK INTO THE PARK
Once we finished backstage, we headed back out the way we came in. The back of the large gate was simply green on this side and had a large sign on it letting Cast Members know that they were entering Frontierland.
Before we exited the door our guide pointed out a mirror off to one side. It's there so Cast Members can double check how they look before heading out into areas where customers can see them.
After our backstage adventure we walked over to Liberty Square. Notice the ground, the darkness in the middle and the lightness on the outer edge. This is to mimic the effect of things that happened back in those times. Namely people flinging buckets of waste out the windows, thus causing a river of refuse.
MY FAMILY'S FAVORITE SUBSCRIPTION SNACK BOX IS DEFINITELY UNIVERSAL YUMS!
From Liberty Square we walked toward Haunted Mansion. Our tour guide talked a lot about the Mansion itself, the names on the walls, the busts who sing (one of them is the guy who voiced Tony The Tiger), and I was certain we were going to ride the ride.
The trouble was, it was down. However, if you take the tour, I truly believe this is the second ride you'll be riding that day.
Finally we passed Haunted Mansion and followed the road into Fantasyland. Be sure to look in Rapunzel's area for hidden Pascals! And don't miss the little "Maximus" stamped hoof prints mixed in with the other hoof prints near Rapunzel's tower.
During this time our tour guide told us about the time Disney decorated the castle for the 25th anniversary of Magic Kingdom.
They decorated the entire castle to look like a gigantic cake.
This resulted in more than 200 weddings being cancelled.
You can see why. I mean, would you want your elegant wedding pictures in front of this?
It would be a great story later on, but in the moment, you might not be feeling it.
CHECK OUT MY FAVORITE PRIDE AND PREJUDICE FAN FICTION NOVELS
In Fantasyland we talked briefly about how Disney changes rides based on customer feedback, which is the reason they no longer have Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.
This makes me sad because I LOVE that ride at Disneyland.
I'll get over it.
This is also how your little princess loving children can visit all of their favorite princesses. That used to be a ride, but customers spoke, and Disney listened.
We also learned about the walls that have become hash tag icons. Go to Twitter and search #purplewall or #bubblegumwall. These are just walls that have become social media sensations. There's even one in the Rapunzel bathroom. Be sure to take a picture in front of it!
Now, let's go have some real fun!
Let's go to the FIRST FLOOR!
CHECK OUT OUR REVIEW OF TOY STORY EARLY MORNING MAGIC
MAGIC KINGDOM IS THE SECOND STORY OF A BUILDING
You read that right!
Let me repeat it, just so you know it's not a typo.
Magic Kingdom is the second story of a building. No, it's not that there's a basement below. There is a first story, from which you can see outside, and into which vehicles are driven, deliveries are made, Cast Members make themselves ready, and Princesses get ready for their closeups.
We walked into a door in one of the shops in Fantasyland (Cast Members Only), then down some stairs and through a set of metal doors. Once there, you're in a utilidoor that goes all the way around Magic Kingdom!
I have zero pictures of this, I'm a rule follower through and through, but there might be some floating around on the internet. I didn't look.
Everyone back stage is different. This is their off time, they're not performing yet. It's weird at first when a fully dressed Cast Member walks by and doesn't say, "Hello princess!" or something.
Our tour guide told us to expect this, but it was still a little odd. :)
The tunnel connects all of the lands, making deliveries very easy, and making moving princesses around even easier. You'll never see a cowboy in Tomorrowland.
There are posters recognizing specific employees, doors that advertise specific training areas, we even walked through a small trade show showing the latest in sound and light technology, it was cool.
I really wanted to take some freebies, but those are for Cast Members, so...
The entire area is clean as a whistle. You can imagine Disney has some very high standards, this doesn't stop when you get backstage. I'm pretty sure I couldn't have eaten off those floors, it was flawless.
We walked all the way around the circle, ending up near Tomorrowland, where we got to ask questions.
Of course I wanted to ask about the princesses!
HAVE YOU HEARD OF PONY O HAIR TIES?
I really don't want to take away any of the magic for you, so please, I implore you, if you don't want to hear about how a princess gets ready, stop reading, skip down.
First off, if you know someone who is a Disney princess, the correct way to talk about her is to say, "she is friends with." For example, I had a friend on Facebook who was friends with Ariel.
This way you never slip up in front of the littles who just do not need to know that their favorite princess might not be all she seems to be, all the time.
The princesses all wear wigs, which is funny because the animatronics (the people anyway) all wear human hair. Wigs stand up better in the heat and humidity. No one wants a limp haired princess.
Princesses go through training to perfect their hair and makeup, and they do it themselves each day. This is different than what I thought was going on, someone doing all of this for them each day.
You'll never see two of the same princesses together. This goes without saying, but really, that's some serious planning, especially considering how many of one princess might be doing this or that in the park at a given time.
Our time in the utilidoor was done, and sadly so was our tour, just about.
PONY O BUN BARZ MIGHT BE THE PERFECT WAY TO PUT YOUR HAIR UP FOR YOUR DAY AT DISNEY
ENDING THE TOUR