We always try and do something new and different on every trip to WDW. (Realizing that this isn’t easy now that we’ve both worked as cast members at Disney World for a year!)
We booked a Keys to the Kingdom tour this summer while Caroline was working as a cast member at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The tour fills up fast and we were lucky to get three slots for our trip planned for November.
Our friend Ricky, a current CP, was able to join us at the last minute. The tour is limited to 20 people and, fortunately, there had been a cancellation that morning. The tour lasts five hours and is normally $79, but CPs get a ½ price discount.
We planned on getting to the Magic Kingdom in time to see the Park Opening Welcome Show with all the Disney characters arriving at the train station waving and singing. But, the traffic from our hotel didn’t cooperate and we had to stop and pick up Ricky at his apartment. We got there five minutes after the show ended!
Our tour time was 9:30am, with a check-in time of 9am. We went over to the Chamber of Commerce next to City Hall, near Mickey’s Theater where you can meet Mickey, and checked in. Our name tags were all ready for us. The tour guide handed us a menu from the Columbia House to select our lunch entrée and beverage, and also offered us a bottle of chilled water while we were waiting.
At 9:30 sharp, everyone was checked in and we got our ‘WhisperEars’, the ear pieces to hear what our guide was saying as she talked into a microphone during the tour. (Just like after Traditions during our first DCP program when we did our group’s walking tour of MK!)
The headset is very necessary. Our tour guide talked constantly throughout the 5 hour tour even on attractions (Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion), while on the busy sidewalks of the Magic Kingdom, during the morning parade, and on the behind the scenes (backstage) areas where there is a lot of activity going on. Without the headsets, there would be no way of hearing much of what she said.
We started off by walking down Main Street USA while our tour guide noted the names on the 2nd floor windows and who the people were, with many of them being Disney Legends. Then, a street parade came by at 9:45am that was very loud and made it very hard to hear what she was saying.
Interestingly, she pointed out all the lightning rods on every building (Orlando is the lightning capital of the US), and how the US flags flying on top of the buildings aren’t actually the US flag, but ‘pennants’ or ‘banners’.
By making them with one less star or one less stripe, the pennants don’t have to be taken down at sunset or illuminated at night.
From Main Street USA, we went over to Adventureland. A lot of good behind the scenes info was pointed out, like what the Tiki House roof “grass” is made out of (aluminum strips).
We went on the Jungle Cruise, cutting the line and getting an “insider” tour, led by our guide talking the whole time and not the boat captain telling the usual jokes. That was OK because she gave a lot of info on the ride and we were able to go back later on in the day and ride it with the normal captain’s chatter.
Next up was the Tiki Room. She didn’t talk at all during the performance, which was nice.
From there, we walked over to Pirates of the Caribbean and joined the Fast Pass line. That attraction was closed for six months this year to replace all the boats and refurbish the attraction. All the characters got new costumes and wigs.
Side comment: There are obviously still problems with the ride’s boats! You never used to get wet on POC. Never. Maybe a tiny splash or two. But, no longer! Sit in the first two rows or anywhere along the sides and you will get unpleasantly wet! Stepping into our boat, I noticed that the water was 2” deep in my row, row 5. And, me wearing mesh sneakers! And the seat was wet too. Ugh.
Our tour guide talked the whole ride pointing out new things, Hidden Mickeys, and telling backstory tales.
(Note, you could remove your WhisperEars at any time if you wanted to focus on the attractions.)
Afterwards, we walked over to Liberty Square and she had a lot of tidbits to share about that part of the park.
By then, we had been on the walking tour almost 3 hours and it was finally time for lunch. We were escorted up to a private area on the second floor of the Columbia Harbour House restaurant where the tables were set with our lunch.
There was a place card at each dish to let everyone know where to sit for the lunch they had ordered earlier. Inside the place card was our Keys to the Kingdom golden pin!
After lunch, we went on the Haunted Mansion ride, sneaking in the cast member’s side door to avoid the line out front. She talked on this ride too with more backstage info.
From there, we walked back towards Main Street and entered the “Utilidors”, the under-the-park utility corridors.
Most people know that the Magic Kingdom park – the part you see and walk on – is actually the second story of the park. They put in the utility corridors during the first phase of construction, then covered it with dirt and built the Magic Kingdom on top of that. So all the trees, etc. had to be brought in and put in huge planters of soil.
There are some great pictures on the wall which she talked about, but by then we had been on tour 4.5 hours and we thought she was getting a little snotty with the guests. She talked some more about the construction and opening of the park, and noted some photos of the castle with different paint jobs.
Nobody seemed to like the look of the Cinderella Castle in 1996/1997 when it was very pink! (We saw it in November 1996!)
What interested us the most – and that we hadn’t noticed before while we were working – were the large Disney pin display boards by year starting in 2002. OMG, we own so many of these great pins!!
It was a little emotional hearing about Roy making the 1971 opening day speech with Mickey at his side instead of Walt, who had died of lung cancer in 1966 and never lived to see his enormous dream be built.
Back outside, we walked down Main Street, but from the backstage side. Guests who walk down Main Street USA with the Cinderella Castle in view think that it must be several city blocks long. Untrue! It’s the forced perspective at work again! From the backside, Main Street USA is very short, only about 300 feet long!
And, from the front, the buildings look like they are three stories tall, but in reality because of forced perspective, they are really only two stories. From the backstage area, Main Street looked so small and short!
Some important information to know before you take this tour:
- Disney’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour is a mostly outdoor walking tour, so check the weather and dress appropriately. On our day, it was sunny and in the low 80s. I’m pretty sure we would not have enjoyed doing this tour in the rain!
- No cameras, video equipment or cellphones may be used throughout the duration of the tour. Photography is strictly prohibited behind the scenes as well as out and about in the Magic Kingdom.
- Guests must be 16 years of age or older and have a valid photo ID.
- Please check in at the Chamber of Commerce building adjacent to City Hall 15 minutes prior to the start of your tour. You will forfeit the entire price of your tour if you no-show or cancel within 2 days of your reservation.
- Same-day bookings are on a walk-up basis only, based on availability. (This is how Ricky was able to come on the tour with us.)
Some highlights of the tour will include:
- Riding at least 2 classic Magic Kingdom attractions while hearing about their hidden secrets. We rode Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Haunted Mansion.
- Access the famed underground “Utilidor” tunnels that allow cast members and supplies to travel beneath the park unseen. (Since Elly worked at MK, this wasn’t special for her, but our mom wanted to really see it.)
- Learn little-known trivia about each of the “lands” of the park. (Only went to Adventureland.)
- Visit the special backstage area where parade floats are stored and serviced. (We did not do this.)
- Enjoy your choice of lunch entrée at Columbia Harbour House, included with your tour.
- Receive a surprise gift. (Keys to the Kingdom pin.)
Two Girls and a Mouse Tale
by Elly Collins & Caroline Collins
Ever wonder what it’s like to work for Disney???
We worked at WDW for a year in the Disney College Program and have written a book about what it’s like to be a cast member working for Disney.
We’ve included advice on how to successfully get into the DCP program, including some of the actual phone interview questions, how to have a successful internship, and how not self-term before your program ends. Our book is filled with lots of behind-the-scene stories of the magic of Disney.
Available now at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle formats. Published by Theme Park Press.
Book link on Amazon.com: Two Girls and a Mouse Tale