Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Keys to the Kingdom

Amanda, as a Christmas present, promised me a trip to the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Not just any trip, though, but a special one that would take me underground into the famed tunnels under the park that employees use and other behind the scenes stuff. Essentially, a factory tour of the house of the mouse.

The tour is called Keys of the Kingdom, and is available for anyone who is 16 and over with $60 burning a hole in their pocket. Amanda made a reservation for us the week before.

On the appointed day, we drove into the park and parked close to the entrance in the second row. It's always neat to arrive before the park opens and end up almost at the front row of an enormous parking lot. (The parking lot, we would later learn, is larger than all of Disneyland!)

Amanda purchased our entrance tickets (that, alas, is not included in the cost of the $60 Keys of the Kingdom tour), then we waited about a half hour for the doors to open.

A few minutes before the doors offically opened, several excessively happy folks came out and sang and danced for us, kind of like the opening credits of a movie welcoming us to the park. It's kind of sappy, but I enjoyed watching it. The theatrical extravegance seemed so incredibly Disney, building the experience for everyone even before we entered the park.

The doors officially opened when Mickey Mouse arrived on the Disney railroad. Most people, at this time, rush to their favorite ride to jump on before any lines have formed, and normally Amanda and I would do the same.

Not today, however. No, this time, we headed to City Hall where we reported in for our tour. We were handed menus and told to select a lunch, which we did, and were handed name tags we could keep forever and forever, and a guest badge which we could keep "for about five hours."

Our tour started at 9:30, which left Amanda with about 20 minutes to explore the gift shops before we had to go to our tour's starting point next to City Hall.

At 9:30, we were given headphones so everyone in our group--about 20 of us--could hear the tour guide easily without having to crowd in close.

Then we were off to learn the Magic Kingdom's deepest, darkest secrets.

Most of the tour, honestly, wasn't that exciting. Our tour guide, Jamie, led us around the 'on stage' (i.e. public) areas of the park, pointing out a couple of hidden Mickeys and telling us stories behind some of the details built into the park. Everything has a story, some quite elaborate, and is part of Disney's attention to detail that you don't find in other parks.

But let's face it--we wanted to see behind the scenes. It took a couple of hours before we finally got to that point, however.

We did go on a few rides, which is kind of fun to do since we were allowed to walk into the exit and cut in front of the line. With line waits of about five minutes, however, it's not like we saved a lot of time doing so.

The first ride we went on was the Jungle Cruise. Our group hijacked our own boat, then our tour guide told us things about the ride most tourists won't ever hear, such as the hippos are only completed above the waterline because the blue water hides the bottom half of them. The animals get cleaned about once each week to keep the mold down, and that sort of stuff. The waterfall is where the blue dye is added to the water, which is done to hide the track underneath the water that guides the boats. (No, those 'drivers' aren't actually driving the boats.)

And there's a hidden Mickey on the side of an airplane on the ride. Look for it the next time you ride it. =)

We also hijacked our own boat from Pirates of the Caribbean, and Amanda was thrilled to see Johnny Depp not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES on the ride.

And we went through a secret side door on the Haunted House ride that fed directly into the stretching room. We didn't hijack our own boats there, however, since that ride isn't really set up for that type of thing.

It wasn't until shortly before lunch where we finally got to see some behind the scenes stuff. Jamie led us around the left side of Splash Mountain, up the road, around a fence, and into the offstage area of the park.

But we were sworn to secrecy and I can't tell you about anything I saw. Oh, what the heck. We saw floats, without their lights flashing. We saw characters like Woody (from Toy Story) without his head on. We saw the no-see green building that houses Splash Mountain.

It started raining then, hard, and we took cover under an overhang that employees can use to wait it out. The rain passed by very quickly.

Speaking of which, Amanda picked an ideal time to take me off the trail, because a terrific storm passed through the night before and even a tornado took off a roof of a building not too far away. Glad I didn't have to spend the night in THAT weather!

Then it was time for lunch at the Columbia Harbour House, I think it was. Lunch was already set out for everyone on the tables, with name tags by each of our meals. They set Amanda and I at a table to ourselves, and the food was good. In the name tags marking our lunch was the official Keys to the Kingdom pin. Look for it coming to eBay soon. ;o)

After lunch, we finally headed underground and into the famed tunnels.

Admittedly, it's not much to look at. They piped non-Disney music through the sound system (they hear enough Disney music above ground!). But the tunnels are long, boring, concrete structures that lead all around but under the park.

We never really saw much except the tunnels themselves. Many doors led off to all sorts of rooms, but we were never taken into any of them. I did see far enough into one to see a break room with video games and vending machines.

Then it was back in the sunlight and the end of our tour.

We returned our guest badges and headphones then had the rest of the day left to our own devices. We road a few rides, but having already done 'the big three'--Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted House--there wasn't much left we wanted to do.

We left then wandered out to Downtown Disney to see if we could find Sits N Knits so Amanda could do some exchanging with her.

And that was our day. We went out to Chili's for dinner and called it a night. I spent the rest of the evening working on Atlas Quest. =)


StarSAELS said...

I spent the rest of the evening working on Atlas Quest.

You're not serious!!! Amanda?

jjjaker said...

Woody...with no head?? I'll have nightmares for a week. LOL....being someone who grew up going to WDW, I'm a little disappointed with what I'm hearing about the tour. No matter though...it's still magical place.

Kaaren said...

No Space Mountain?

Anonymous said...

But you didn't tip over any more canoes? You left Pirates and the Jungle without getting wet?

Anonymous said...

Disney or Exchange? Good Choice.

Glad to hear you missed the weather. Trail Magic is working for you.

DC Stones

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

I must say, even though it doesn't sound that exciting, I am still jealous. I have never been to any Disney park. My parents believed in educational vacations when I was a kid, and I can't afford it now.

Anonymous said...

We did Space Mountain and It's a Small World (which I hate by the way) and we rode the train all the way around the park. It rained quite a bit all day long while we were in and out of buildings. One thing Ryan forgot to mention was that when you go into the tunnels underneath Disney World, you are actually on the first floor of all of the buildings! The floor that you see when you walk down Main Street etc is actually the second floor of all those buildings! They used the dirt that they dredged up when they created the lake to fill in and built Disney World on top of the Utilidor system, which was the first thing built at ground level. Sort of like Downtown Seattle, if any of you have been on the underground Seattle tour! :-)
I spent the rest of the evening working on Atlas Quest

Sometimes I think you guys are waaaay too interested in our life off the trail :-)

Ryan edits out lots of stuff that goes on....for example: When I hurt my neck and we took the canoe ride. Not only could I not turn my head, I woke up that morning and could not raise my arms above my head. So I could not wash my hair and I could not get dressed. Ryan had to help me with all that stuff. And he trusted me when I told him I would be well enough to row a canoe after a couple of hours. Of course, we all know how that turned out! :-)

-Amanda from Seattle

Anonymous said...

Since I am a former Disney cast member, I thought I would pipe in about a day in the life of a Disney Cast Member. When I would arrive in the morning, I would park about 1/2 mile from the Magic Kingdom, directly behind Fantasyland. I would take a DIsney bus (the same ones that guests take between the resorts and the parks) to the entrance to the underground. Just on the right hand side of the underground entrance was the cast member dining hall, where we could buy and eat our lunch. However, I would rarely do that, since I worked on Main Street USA and simply didn't have the time to hike underneath the entire Magic Kingdom for lunch most days.
Then, on the left are the cast member dressing rooms, and on the right, the costume department. We all had a locker in the dressing room, which housed our costume. Most of the time, I would get my costume at the end of my shift for the next day, but if they didn't have my size because they were out being washed, I would have to put my dirty costume in the locker and get my new costume the next day.
After changing into my costume, I would start the hike to Main Street USA. Now keep in mind, that they did put a cut-through tunned underneath the castle, but still, it's long (of course, now that I'm a hiker, which I wasn't then, I would probably think it's a short distance....) I would see Disney Characters without there heads a lot on the cut through tunnel, since their costume department is on this stretch. It was a little wierd at first, but you get used to it. BTW... my roommate in FL was Goofy :-)
I wore the Main Street USA costume, which, at the time, was a cream colored ruffled blouse with purple/pink bow tie, plaid skirt, and petticoat (think about THAT when you're standing outside in 100 degree weather doing pole patrol for the three o'clock parade!). NOT FUN!
Anyway, most of those doors you probably saw were simply stairways to different shops/rides in the various Lands. Our stairway was used for the Confectionary, Camera Shop, and Uptown Jewelers. We were allowed to walk on the main street ONLY on Main Street USA and were never allowed to go to other Lands in our costume. That would ruin the fantasy of it all.
BTW. For those who don't know what Pole Patrol is, it's just monitoring the parade, making sure that no one is climbing up on the lamp posts, trees etc..... to get a better view of the parade.

I hope Disney doesn't get mad at me for giving up secrets!