Are you a huge Disney fan that has experienced most of what Disney has to offer regular guests? If so, you might have considered their Keys to the Kingdom tour. My friend Doug and his wife were lucky enough to take the tour recently, and even better, he agreed to share their experience with you! Doug has an awesome blog of his own called http://www.learntorv.com, so be sure to check that out as well.
Now on with the tour… Take it away, Doug!
My wife and I went on the Keys to the Kingdom tour on our recent trip to Walt Disney World. I’ll try to summarize my thoughts on it and give some details. There may be a few spoilers, but I’ll try to not delve too much into the details as I won’t do the tour justice even if I tried. Longest story short, this was a lot of fun and very informative.
Our morning started with arriving a 1/2 hour early because we’re not the brightest and forgot what time our tour actually was for. We got there before the park opened. Upon arrival, you checked in with an iPad wearing cast member though tour participants were on printed sheets. Breakfast reservations got a wristband; tours did not. We were directed through the touch points and then corralled before going under the train station. Concerned that we wouldn’t make out 7:45 AM check-in, we asked a cast member, and she assured us that “no matter what time your reservation, you’ll make it.” As we stood there, a crowd filled in behind us. At 7:44, they let people in.
We checked-in inside the theater and were told that our tour was for 8:30 and that we were early. Yay for being early; boo for being early.
But this gave us time to walk up Main Street and head up the train station. We walked up Main Street to where they had a couple of PhotoPass photographers. Sadly, the crane was up painting. Did you know they repaint a lot of the castle twice a year- before and after the Christmas lights? We took a few pics and then headed back to the theater. When we checked in, we made our lunch selections from a sheet and got name tag buttons.
Once inside, we got our headsets for the tour. The tour guide wears a mic and each tour participant wears an ear piece in order to hear him/her better. This was pretty nice as I generally have a really hard time hearing when there’s background noise (and there was a fair amount all day), and having the guide talk directly into my ear was wonderful. I did find the ear piece a little uncomfortable and ended up switching sides with it. It was immersive without losing the outside world. For the most part it worked great, but you got a little bit of static and cross-talk when walking from one location to the next (interestingly, you could randomly hear ride announcements and radios while walking).
We started the tour on the porch of the Theater where we got our earpieces on and the tour guide framed the day. From there, we went out to the flag pole and talked about a lot of little movie-like details that is the Magic Kingdom (building anticipation, a red curtain, a red carpet, leading lady, credits, forced perspective, the whole 9 yards). There was way more to the design than I ever realized.
We made our way down Main St. and talked about a few windows and details. Then we hung a right onto Center St. (back where the artist is and the Pandora shop). We all got to sit while we talked a bit more. The tour did a nice job of finding us places in the shade and seating when possible. You are NOT on your feet for all 5 hours.
From here, we made our way over to Adventureland and made it back to another seating area (right outside of the tree house). We rode the Jungle Cruise with our tour guide narrating about the behind the scenes side of it vs. the skipper’s AWESOME jokes.
And then it happened… we went “backstage.” I won’t lie- I love seeing the dirty details of things. It’s a large reason why I love the Princess 5K at Epcot- because you get to walk into the back of it and arrive in the rear of the World Showcase.
The photography rule for the tour was photos are allowed “on stage” but no photos are allowed “backstage,” so there are no photos of this part. Seeing the Main Street Electrical Parade parade floats, the back of Splash Mountain, and the performers practicing for the Halloween parade were highlights for us. And let me tell you, my body twitched trying to reach for my phone/camera. But rules are rules, and I’m their guest. This part of the tour was a split between standing and sitting. We sat for a while and were able to ask any question that we wanted. My wife specifically had questions about talking Mickey and Talking with Crush- the answers were very neat and not what I expected. We also talked about Cinderella’s suite in the castle and a few more things.
Next up, we headed to Liberty Square where we sat again. We talked about design details and history of who did what and the importance of a tree in that area.
And then it was lunchtime. For that, we headed to the Tomorrowland Terrace. Our food was set out at tables already. There were a couple of attendants who took care of extra needs (for instance, they brought me a cup of ice). Food was decent, but my wife wasn’t crazy about the options. She ended up getting corn dog nuggets, and I got a sausage. Both came with homemade chips. We made a mistake that morning and asked for soda instead of bottles of water- they did trade out one of our unopened sodas for a bottle. The seat assignments were done on cards and on the back of the card was a little pin (not a trading pin, more of button pin).
After lunch, we made our way to the Haunted Mansion where we sat outside of it and talked about a lot of design and building details of it. After talking about it, we went in to ride it. We entered the ride via a servant’s hallway which doubles as a “chicken out” door if you’re too scared to get onto the ride. We entered the room before the stretching room. Don’t tell, but there’s also a break room that I might have pushed open to see inside it. Our guide did NOT narrate on this ride.
Next up was the coup de grâce – the utilidor/tunnel hallway under the MK. This was literally the highlight for most of us on the tour. It seems so dumb because it’s literally just a hallway, but I won’t lie- it was neat to see. It’s accessed by stairways and elevators off of a handful of shops. Down there, we learned about cast parking and access to the park; we got to see some “friends of” the characters in their natural state, and we got to walk from one side of the park to Main Street in a remarkably short amount of time. There’s also a plethora of vehicles driving down there. The downside was that this was the longest amount that we stood without having a place to sit. We could lean on walls but there were no seats. The tour guide covered a lot details of the construction history of the park.
We came out of the utilidor behind the Main Street shops, into the bypass that they open for fireworks and whatnot. Did you know there’s parking behind there? Yes, the executive offices are in the 2nd floor Main Street, and those folks get to park right there. And with that, it started to drizzle while we made our way back to Main Street. We turned our hearing devices back in, had time for a quick last question, and we were set free.
All told, we arrived at Magic Kingdom at 7:30 (45 minutes early). Our tour started right about 8:30am and we wrapped up around 1:30pm. The walking wasn’t at a super quick pace, but it wasn’t a leisurely stroll either. There were plenty of opportunities to sit, and the tour guide tried to find shady places to get us out of the heat (fortunately, it was a bit overcast- so we didn’t suffer). I would think that they could make the tour handicap accessible if needed, but we definitely stepped over a few curbs and used stairs.
One challenge about this tour for families is that the age limit is 16 and above. We have almost always had one or more kids with us and have never had a sitter. Fortunately this time Grandma was with us, and she kept the kids (who we caught up with after the tour!)
The tour costs between $79-99, and park admission is required. For the Disney aficionado, this tour is well worth the money. My wife and I pride ourselves on our Disney trivia (her more than me), but we both learned a lot of new tidbits and definitely a ton of history. She is already eyeing up more Disney tours for future visits.