Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Keys to the Kingdom Tour

So in our annual February trip to Walt Disney World in 2010, we decided we'd do something fun that we hadn't done before... take a tour.  We looked up several and since it was my last few months as a Cast Member, and decided that we could take the Keys To the Kingdom Tour... it starts out early in the morning in front of City Hall in Magic Kingdom, and with a discount, was about $70 per person (down from the $99).  Its a five or six hour walking tour that started us out at City Hall, and ended up backstage, where the Magic happens.

The first time we took the tour, our guide was Claire, a short woman who asked questions of our group and, upon hearing a good answer, would say things like, "That's valid.  That's a valid answer..." and kept drilling in our heads that, when referring to Walt Disney, brother Roy Disney, Joe Fowler and Card Walker, "if any of these men were not here, if any of these men were not involved in the building of Magic Kingdom... we would not be here today..."

The tour started at 830 that morning, so we were let into the park around 8 or so, which was great, as we were able to take a great number of photographs on Main Street, with the castle in the distance, with no one else around.  The park was nearly empty at that time, except for the few others on the tour already there, and the PhotoPass photographers.

Ron Logan worked for Disney beginning in the 60s, and
in 1978 became the full-time music director for WDW.
Eventually, he became EVP of Disney Entertainment
before retirement in 2001.  Thus, he was honored for
his contribution.   
We began by walking down Main Street, a slow walk as Claire pointed out the windows and the names on the windows.  The names are real, as a "window" is a selective award given to someone for contributions to the company and to the park.  Other "company" names are inside jokes, many of them being names used for dummy corporations when Walt was buying land in Orlando in the 60s.  Names like "Eye-Four Realty" (named for the nearby interstate), and Reedy Creek Realty have "offices" in the windows of Main Street.

We wound our way through the hub and then into Adventure Land, where we sat for a few and peppered Claire with questions about Disney's history, about Walt and other things we could think of.  We then took a trip on the Jungle Cruise on our own private boat.  Claire was the captain as she pointed out various bits of trivia and facts as we went along--things like, the back half of the downed plane on the right side of the boat has its other half located in Hollywood Studio's Great Movie Ride, in the Casablanca scene.

After the Jungle Cruise, we made our way around to Frontier Land, then finally went backstage.  I saw Woody... well, someone dressed as Woody, though he had a human head, holding Woody's head in his hands, then I saw Brer Rabbit pointing to a zipper on his back, telling the Cast Member helping out that the zipper was stuck... in a female voice.  It was kinda weird.  

We also went into the warehouse of some of the floats, and perhaps I missed it, but it seems Claire was ecstatic about seeing the Electrical Light Parade floats there.  I feel as if we should have been more excited because, while it was cool and all, I didn't think it was one of the greatest moments of my entire life.  She also went nuts over a float frame outside, as she said, "This is amazing.  This is the beginning of one of the floats right here.  How lucky we are to see this."  

The group walked to the backside of Splash Mountain where the water holding tank was.  At this particular time, and all week, Splash Mountain was in a refurbish, so it was closed, leaving the holding tank empty.  But we learned that the water from the ride is drained every night into the holding tank, and the ride is walked several times--and this is a whole lotta watta... I mean, a lot. 

Along the way, we saw one of the garbage chutes at work... a chute with three or four baskets at the bottom, and a Cast Member wearing what had to be thick gloves sorting through it.  Walt Disney World recycles, and someone goes through the garbage and sorts it out, all day long.  Algore would be proud.

As we walked from Frontierland to Liberty Square, she pointed out the little antenna looking instruments all over the roofs of buildings all through Magic Kingdom... they are lightning rods.  You won't see them until you see them.  Then you can't help but notice them.

She also pointed out the designs of the buildings from land to land.  The Pecos Bill Cafe, sitting right in the middle of Frontierland, is styled after the old West, with the building facade representing such, while The Hall of Presidents, in Liberty Square, looks like the 1800s Americana.  As you walk from one to the other, you'll see a gradual change in the brick, the windows, the facing, the lettering on the signs, as it morphs from the Old West to Americana.   Quite cool.

After a great lunch at The Columbia Harbour House, the group was treated to a ride on The Haunted Mansion.  Claire talked us through the entire ride, shared secrets, told us things to look for, and what to expect.   One of my favorite facts is that the ride was created by Marc Davis and Claude Coats.   While Davis wanted a zany, gag filled ride that would make you laugh, Coats wanted a more serious, scary tour through the mansion.  A third creator, X Atencio, pulled them together... the first half of the ride is a little creepy, with doors banging and things moving and haunts and spiders and such... when you 'round the bend with Madame Rosetta's orb floating, you start seeing the ghosts and the more slapstick part of the mansion, especially during the graveyard scene.

Marc Davis loved chess, and in the inter-office pranks that went around the Imagineer's areas, someone loving placed chess pieces--rooks, knights, bishops--on the model of the Mansion (which had not been built at that time).  Marc came in and loved it... and added the pieces to the design in the form of columns and turrets.  Great stuff for Disney History enthusiasts like me.

This is how Mickey gets to work.  He parks, and works his way
across the park to where he needs to be.
Finally, we were able to take the stairs down to Magic Kingdom's first floor... didja know that what you see when you walk through Magic Kingdom is actually the 2nd floor?  The first floor is Roy Disney's creation, the Utilidors.  An underground system of tunnels that allows Cast Members to go from one side of the park to the other dressed in appropriate attire (so someone working Space Mountain wouldn't be seen in Fantasyland wearing their space age grey suit), allows food and merchandise to be brought into stores without pushing carts through the open, and allows Cast Members to have places to go for breaks and other things.

However, the Utilidors aren't really all that special.  Yes, its kinda cool to see how the magic happens behind the scenes, and maybe I was imagining this long, white hallway lit with fluorescent bulbs, with gleaming white tile shining from the floor, clean and beautiful, like some hallway to Eden... and it was a drab grey concrete floor, with concrete brick walls, and a regular, plaster tiled ceiling.  While it was neat being down there, it wasn't anything mind-blowing. 

We ended up behind Main Street, and Claire pointed out the rooftop to which Tinkerbell lands from the castle.  The cable went from the topmost spire at Cinderella's castle to a rooftop, where there are Cast Members stationed to break her slide when she hits the rooftop.  She told us that on windy days, she zips down that line at a rapid, rapid pace and can knock those "catching" CMs over.  On some days with no wind, she sometimes stops in the middle of the line, and has to use her hands to get the rest of the way. 

It was things like this that made this tour so awesome.  Full of information, lots of chances to ask questions and some great behind the scenes stuff.   Matter of fact, we liked it so much that we wanted to do it again, so when I was going with Angie (sis-in-law), Mama Ruthless and The Lovely Steph Leann for a weekend (actually, I went for one day, they went for four), we decided to talk them into going.

The second time we took it, our guide was a tall, stocky guy who's name eclipses me, though he was from Hoover, Alabama.  The tour was just as good the second time, but from a different perspective.

They have several different guides that lead the tour, and all concentrate on different things... Claire was a historical buff.  She talked alot about the efforts it took to get the park built, and had a deep admiration for Walt Disney and his partners.  The Other Guy was more current, talked about the day to day operations of the park, telling us "Don't ever come here on July 4th or the week after Christmas.  Just don't."  He also walked us through what it was like on 9/11, and told us stories of the parks, some crazy park guests and some of the ride anecdotes.  

All in all, it was a great tour, one that I wouldn't even mind doing again, once we knock out some of the other things we haven't done yet (Wilderness Lodge Segway, I'm talkin' to you!).   It is a bit pricey, around $100 or so for one person, but if you've been a lot and you want to see something you haven't seen, and you have to money to spend on it, then go for it.

The Summer of Blogging Day Sixty


  1. Did anyone ask about deaths that happen on park property?

  2. I do not recall anyone ever asking about that. Would have been a good one though. One of the "4 Keys" is Safety. However, once you introduce the human element, be it a guest or even a cast member, accdents still occur. But, the goal is always Zero. :)


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