On Monday, August 28, 1995, I took the Backstage Magic Tour. At 8:15 am, we met our guide and group in the Lobby of the Beach Club. We had a great 20 seater bus/van which drove us around. On the way to the Grand Floridian (the other stop for tour members), the guide, Fred, gave us the history of how Walt Disney World came to be. Driving by the parking lot for the Magic Kingdom, you can see the construction going on for Walt Disney World Indy 200 which debuts in January '96. Fred also explained to us that Walt Disney World is trying out a new system for tickets, whereby a fingerprint type system will be their new way of not allowing one to sell unused tickets. This is suppose to go into effect in 1996.
Our first stop was the Parade Production Site at Magic Kingdom. We looked at the floats for the Lagoon Water Parade and had explained how the whole thing works. We then went into the warehouse that stores the Spectromagic Parade and got to view several floats. Also, here was explained how the music for the parades work. Next stop was outdoors to see the Mickey Mania parade floats and had a special visit from Tiggr. Then we walked behind Splash Mountain where we learned how Walt Disney World makes Mountains! The same principal is used throughout the parks for buildings such as the Canadian Pavilion at Epcot. Also explained at this point was the AVAC system. AVAC is the trash removal system -- a complex system all to itself.
We left backstage and walked into Frontierland and then over to Liberty Square, along the way having "theming" described. We entered the Columbia House Restaurant and went upstairs for muffins/coffee/water. A nice break given that it was early and already 90 degrees outside. From here we went down-downstairs in to the Magic Kingdom Tunnel System! We spent quite a long time down here and had the workings explained to us. Everywhere were signs about customer service and also a large board with survey results posted for attractions/merchandise/food/maintenance Cast Members, which is updated monthly. Walking further thru the tunnels we entered a secure area -- DACS -- Digital Automated Computer System....which runs the entire park complex! Explained was the evolution of how the attractions were run from the early days to today, where everything is on it's own computer board and or digital disk. An overwhelming display and explanation of how the magic works! After this, we got back on our bus ...
When asked about new attractions at the Magic Kingdom, it was explained that "something" was in the works for 20,000 Leagues...perhaps a little Mermaid attraction....but it was still undecided.
Next stop Central Shops...here is where everything is made for the parks. There are metal/wood/welding/ shops, assemble areas (saw a popcorn stand being made), disassemble areas, garbage cans made...etc. Next stop Alligator Alley to see how the animatronic animals are made/refurbished/programmed. We even saw a Jungle Cruise Elephant being refurbished. The Character Head Shop was next where all the heads for all the Walt Disney World parks are made. Disneyland makes the bodies for all the parks. After surveying all of this, we got back on the bus and headed to Disney/MGM. Disney has built a facility just for washing the Trams used on the BackStage Tour at Disney/MGM.
By now it was noon and our bus proceeded down the backlot streets where the fronts of the famous houses are that are used for filming. During lunch, we were introduced to one of the "street-mosphere" street-tainers who talked with us about working at Walt Disney World -- I think this was one of the best parts of the whole tour! After lunch, we were taken to Disney/MGM Creative Costuming. Walt Disney World is planning to expand the Soundstage Studios to add 3 new state of the art facilities.
From costuming to animation where the whole creative process was explained by one of the Walt Disney World animation instructors. One million pieces of artwork went into Pocohantis... the Disney/MGM Studios only did 10 minutes. There are over 125 animators in Florida and over 400 in California. The Florida studios are planned to greatly expand over the next few years. We were taken into a classroom and shown how to actually paint cels and then were given a Mickey Mouse Cel to paint! It was great fun!
As for new Disney/MGM Studios attractions, the only thing on the drawing board is the Virtual Reality ride that is being tested in Epcot's Innoventions....scheduled at this time to open around 1998.
Following a break, we went to the Reedy Creek Emergency Services building (a brand new facility) for an extensive tour. Here Reedy Creek Cast Members track weather, crowds, and have their own "911" center.
Next stop on the bus tour was Epcot! We learned IllumiNations is made up of 4 Lasers, 11 Search Lights, 50,000 total lights on the Pavilions. Although Walt Disney World would love to have new countries, they need sponsors and none have reached agreement at this time. Ideas include a Mt. Fugi roller coaster or the Matahorn...but unless someone comes up with the money, don't look for any new countries in Epcot in the future. Money is also the reason Horizons has closed. GE decided they didn't want to continue sponsorship....although Horizons will reopen in January when World of Motion closes for a complete redo. The new attraction will take up 3 times as much space as the current one.
The Living Seas was the next stop...an unbelievable complex of water filtration and animal support facilities. There is 5.7 million gallons of water here, with over 3,000 different types of fish for a total of 8,000 fish. There was even a food kitchen for the fish. We toured the indoor and outdoor facilities here. It was an overwhelmingly impressive system which cost millions to build!
The last stop on the wonderful tour was the Wonders of Life Pavilion, where we entered another secured area to visit Body Wars. We stood underneath the ride and watch it cycle several times.
Well, there you have it. Would I recommend it? Yes! But, with a caveat. If this is one of your first time to Walt Disney World, I would skip this tour and enjoy all the attractions! There is a lot to see and appreciate before stepping "backstage." If you are that curious, take one of the half day tours. Also, keep in mind this is very long day with a ton of information to process both visually and mentally! I was tired at the end! I had a great time and perhaps may do it again sometime!