DISNEY WORLD Orlando
MAGIC'S NOT A MYSTERY
Discovering the secrets of Disney's magic is easy with behind-the-scenes tours at its theme parks. Here are three tours and a sampling of what you'll see. — Kelly Stefani, Times staff writer
Tour: Behind the Magic of Our Steam Trains
What you get: Walt Disney loved trains, and they are one of the driving forces Disney World and the Magic Kingdom were built on. You can throw the switch to send the train backward to the roundhouse, where you can climb aboard the steam engine, examine the huge wheels and braking system and see the lighting of the firebox.
Did you know? Magic Kingdom trains only make right turns. Running the 1.5-mile loop around the park in the same direction every day wears down one side of the wheels and suspension system twice as fast as the other.
Wow moments: Standing in front of the Main Street train station at 7 a.m. with nobody between you and the castle. Tour guests are the only ones in the park. Second, leaning against the front of a train for a photo while it's refilling with water at Toon Town Station.
Details: Three hours. $52.19.
Tour: Keys to the Kingdom
A better name might be "How Disney Does Everything." This is probably the coolest, most informative tour for Disney junkies, but be forewarned: It will change the way that you look at the Magic Kingdom.
What you get: Wearing badges and headsets to hear the guide, groups go through a gated area to the inner workings of Disney. Here you'll see things like the parade float maintenance building and the giant holding tank that filters all the water for Splash Mountain. (Divers are periodically sent into the tank's dark water to retrieve cameras, hats and glasses people lose during the ride.)
What's that smell? Every 20 minutes, the Disney AVAC garbage disposal system sucks all the Magic Kingdom's garbage through pipes at 60 mph using compressed air. The final dumping station is a trash compactor only feet from where you stand. It can get pretty rank on hot days, cast members say.
Wow moment NO. 1: Each night before the fireworks, Tinker Bell suits up with about 50 pounds of gear and climbs to the top of Cinderella's Castle. A "thrower" shoves her out of the tower and she zips through the air as if in flight. How does she stop? Our guide points to a tower hidden backstage, where cast members and a mat cushion the impact.
Wow moment NO. 2: The "underground" is really above ground. About 5 million square feet of soil excavated from the Seven Seas Lagoon were heaped on top of the ground-level passageways to form the Magic Kingdom's surface. The 9-acre network of tunnels hides most water and sewer pipes, provides walkways for cast members and is wide enough for an armored truck or ambulance to pass through unseen by guests.
Did you know? Cast members were so sad when Mr. Toad's Wild Ride was removed in 1998 that they purchased and put up a tombstone marking his "burial." You'll see it in the pet cemetery to the left of the Haunted Mansion's exit.
Details: About five hours and includes lunch. $78.81.
Tour: Backstage Safari
What you get: A closeup view of how the cast members at Disney's Animal Kingdom care for 250 species of animals. You'll go through giraffe and elephant stalls, dietary labs and even see dental and surgical procedures at the veterinary hospital.
Wow moment: The animals have healthier diets than we do! Food is brought in from around the world to meet each animal's specific needs. We spotted everything from shrimp and oysters to carrots and grains. Each day more than 3 tons of food is prepared and distributed.
Tip: The tour ends with a visit to Kilimanjaro Safari. Don't skip it! This is definitely not what it appears to be on the park ride. Tour facts reveal how Disney used a lot of concrete and Florida native trees on this faux 100-acre savanna.
Details: About three hours. $76.68.