Sunday, 18 December 2011

Platnium Plan: Extreme Touring - Backstage Magic

"Theme park holidays?! eerrgghh! I'd rather stick pins in my eyes"

The person who said that to me could've worn this to Universal's Halloween Horror Nights. If only, she was more open minded!
You don't have to wander around the parks doing park things. For a more interesting angle on WDW you can go on backstage tours and see what it takes to produce the magic on stage. Back here I promised you that I was up for the Extreme Touring Challenge - how much high priced stuff can I jam into my Platnium Plan 41 hours?

And the answer?

Not as much as I wanted. But it wan't my fault!! Disney wouldn't let me!!

So let's see what they did let me do.

First up I promised you all that I was going swimming with the dolphins.

Santa, please bring good photo editing software
It didn't happen. Disney cancelled on me. They closed the tank to all tours due to unexpected repairs needed to the filtration system. So no fake coral for me.

Instead I went on the 7 hour Backstage Magic tour. This was a coach tour that took our group (about 16) to some backstage areas of the theme parks, and some of the operational areas.

Disney ban photography in the backstage areas so there are limited photos in this trip report - and mostly what I have scrounged from other sources.

The tour started in Epcot in the Amercian Adventure Pavillion. The tour guide discussed the architecture of the building, how they use big tree plantings to block the views of other things to not jar the fantasy, how they sourced original style bricks etc.
The American Adventure theatre contains an audio animatronic show of the history of America. The way it works is that there a bunch of little set stages and these stages are on tracks and they roll on and off stage. The tour goes back stage to show the mechanism - a very traditional mechanical track system driven by a high tech computer program. This was big grindy cogs and mechanics and stuff - and was really interesting.

Back on the bus and over to the Magic Kingdom where we were taken down into the famous "utilidors". These are the utility corridor tunnels that run underneath the park to allow for invisible servicing of the park. I'll let Oprah be your guide. Everything she saw 20 years ago (and as many dress sizes ago) is still the same today - including the appearance standards. I reckon I saw the same shoes display.

Back on the bus and staying backstage we visited the maintenance workshops. These are big functional workshops - like you'd see anywhere - where they do repairs, mechanics, signwriting, painting etc. Here we saw the cast members fixing a viking ship carriage from Epcot's Maelstrom ride, working on a car from Hollywood Studio's stunt car show and they gave us a short demo on how the animatronics work using that one dog that appears in Pirates of the Caribbean, Carosel of Progress and Spaceship Earth.

Back on the bus and off to lunch at Wilderness (Squirrel Lodge). Yes it's mini food porn time!

Whispering Canyon cafe does a "skillet family style all you can eat" lunch - a buffet laid out on the table: corn cobs, pork ribs, pork sausage, chicken, potato mash, coleslaw, cowboy beans, and cornbread. Dessert was fruit cobbler with ice cream.

I never knew the old American wild west was this bountiful! (
The Cast Members all get into the old wild west act and even though we were a very quiet audience our server worked hard with her banter and jokes. A couple of things they do are fun and silly. Drinks are served in jam jars and if you keep asking for refills she'll just bring out the large size - much to everyone's amusement.

Can you show me the way to the bathroom?
Sometimes if you are after the ketchup you might score more than you were hoping for.

If kids are in the restaurant they'll have wooden horse racing and lots of singing etc. Whilst loud and enthusiastic it is all done gently and no-one is too embarrassed.

Fruit cobbler with ice cream (source:
Yee Haa!! (

I'll give it 2 spoons cause I kinda like bbq and there was plenty for everyone and I could avoid the beans.

and 3 Mr Creasotes - it is too hard to restrain oneself and it is all protein and carbs!

After lunch, back on the bus and off to Horticulture. Finally a chance to take photos! Here we saw the glass houses where they grow all the plants for display - hundreds ferns and philadendrons and poinsettas. We also saw all the frames for the topiaries used in the annual Garden Festival each May.

now we know what mickey has under those shorts

toparies are made by covering the frame with birdnetting, stuffing the netting with sphagnum moss and planting squillions of small plants all over
Back on the bus ... and off to Hollywood Studios Park.
First we stopped off at costuming. We went into the same room which is visible to the public, through glass, from the Backlot Tour ride in the park. And we saw those trolleys rumbling by every few minutes.
Looking into the costuming room from the trolley. Imagine me standing inside

I cannot tell how many different types of costumes exist at WDW. Every hotel, restaurant, ride, shop, show, parade, meet and greet - all have different costumes. Mickey himself has hundreds. Although Pocahontas has only one. Tough luck sister - no ball gown for you!

In here they are all designing and cutting and sewing and basically looking like a costuming area is supposed to look. After about 15 mins it was .....

Back on the bus and we're going backstage to see the Tower of Terror Ride. On the ride over they talked about the story behind the ride, how terrifying it was, the amazing technology to control the ride, then took note for everyone who wanted to ride and who didn't. We all piled off the bus, they separated us into 2 groups - the riders and the non riders, led us into a garage and showed us a ride vehicle. 5 minutes later, turned around and .....

Back on the bus - yep - nobody got a free ride.

Off to Animal Kingdom Park and here we went into the parade shed to see the floats for the Jungle Jamming 3pm Parade.
official disney photo - my tour group was not this photogenic
We didn't get a reserved spot for the parade - we just mingled in with the existing crowd - well - the existing cluster of people  - park numbers were pretty low.

Minnies float ... competing with Hello Kitty for worst taste.
Back on the bus and back to Epcot. It was here that the tour ended at 4pm - some 7 hours later. Getting off the bus everyone was given a special tour pin.

Hmmm - thanks Disney .... I think

Pros: got a quick coverage of something from all 4 parks including those back areas such as horticulture and maintenance; lunch was great; getting on and off the bus helped break up all the walking and standing on concrete (how do Disney staff stand all day long?), provide little electronic head sets so it is easy to hear the guide, tour guides are great - friendly and plenty of jokes. Good way to learn about what it takes to run the place esp as they stayed mostly out of the parks. If you don't know the trivia, you'll learn things. No kids!

Cons: didn't get to ride anything, a bit staid and plodding at times, the guides have a set routine and it becomes obvious at times - sometimes they won't answer more pointed questions - in fact they never actually asked if people had questions - one had to thrust oneself upon them in the few presenting opportunities, very few photo opportunities; if you do know the trivia - there's nothing new. The tour is limited to 16 years plus - so if you have kids - no can do.

The price seems steep. At over $200/hd and they don't really give you anything but lunch and a pin - that's an expensive bus ride.

So as an experienced park person I would not put this tour above swimming with the fishies. And if you are a 1st timer to WDW it may be way interesting for you - as long as you can afford a whole day out.

Still, I prefer this tour over sticking pins in my eyes.

No comments:

Post a Comment