I was fortunate enough to go on the Backstage Magic Tour at Disney.
My advice: You NEED to go on this tour once in your life.
Yes, it's expensive. Yes, you have to wake up early. Yes, it lasts all day. But it is so worth it! It gives you a completely new perspective, and I learned more in this one day than at all 20+ combined over the past 2 years.
I don't want to give away any of the Disney Magic, but here's a quick run-down of the day:
EPCOT: You start the day at EPCOT before the park opens. Hours before World Showcase opens. It was great to walk through W.S. when it was a ghost town. The only people we saw were maintenance staff, who were using a sledgehammer to fix a section of the sidewalk. Not something you ever see when the park is awake. Then we were told stories about the American Adventure and how it came to be. We learned about how some of the plants and trees are taken care of, and how the aesthetics of the park quickly die once you go backstage. The best part of the stop (and the entire day) was going behind the scenes at A.A. and seeing how it works- the technology that is used, the machinery, the animatronics. Truly a one-of a kind experience.
Magic Kingdom: We took a quick loop through Main Street USA and caught the Move it! Shake it! Celebrate it! Street Party. As we watched, we learned about how the music is played throughout the park during the parade. Then, we went into the world famous Utilidor, which sits underneath the park. This is a side of Disney that you NEVER see. The best part was seeing cast members pushing little black bags on a cart, and knowing that one of the character costumes is inside. Were we seeing Mickey? Donald? Stitch? It reaffirmed the notion that 95% of the Disney characters are played by small women. FYI- yes, they actually pump scents of cookies, popcorn, etc. into the park- Disney Deceit! I think my favorite part of the Utilidor was seeing a slideshow of photos taken throughout the park. We were told that the purpose was to motivate the cast members as they walk by- sometimes, after long days, monotonous shifts, day after day, you might lose some of that drive- some of the magic. But seeing the pictures of smiling faces throughout the park is really inspiring- that is why the whole thing was done. The entire reason of why Disney World exists. So seeing the joy on peoples' faces, who have traveled from all over the world to have an amazing time and create memories, is enough to remind anyone that everyone plays a part in making a magical experience.
Central Shops: One of the favorite stops of the day was to the place where just about everything is created. Everything from the attractions to the signs. From roller coasters to the animatronics. The teacups. The animals of jungle cruise. The seats on Spaceship Earth. All of these were created here (and so much more). It was like walking through a Disney junkyard. A hippo from Jungle Cruise sitting next to a giraffe from Animal Kingdom. A seat from Spaceship Earth next to a flying carpet from Aladdin next to a car from Dinosaur. All in for some sort of repairs or maintenance.
Lunch: We had an AMAZING lunch at Wilderness Lodge. Family style ribs, chicken, sausage, corn, mashed potatoes, etc. and an incredible strawberry/apple cobbler to finish the meal. Then back on the road.
Hollywood Studios: We made 2 cool stops here: Tower of Terror and Creative Costuming. We went into a room and learned about how Tower of Terror was created- the story, the concept, and even the collaboration with OTIS elevators to develop the technology. This part would have been a million times better if we could have seen the control room, but I am assuming that's impossible while the ride is operating. But it was great learning more about it. Creative Costuming was great! We learned about how some of the costumes are created, and saw some of the team hard at work. A few of them were working on a brand new Tinkerbell costume (shh! you didn't hear that from me!). It was incredible hearing about how everything is imagined, ideas are created, then how those ideas are turned into actual costumes.
Tree Farm: We made a quick stop where they grow and maintain the plants that are seen throughout the parks and where they grow some of the food for the animals. When one of the plants goes bad in the parks, someone is called, then they simply switch them out. Crazy! It was also cool being there while Flower & Garden Festival was going on at EPCOT. We learned about how the topiaries are created, and saw a few of the works-in-progress. A whole Lion King crew was ready to go to EPCOT!
Animal Kingdom: Right before the tree farm, we made a very quick stop to the storage building where the parade floats are kept when not in use. Cast members were in checking on the floats and the equipment, and a few were arriving and getting into costume for the big show. The last stop of the day was back to A.K. for a viewing of the Jammin' Jungle Parade. It was great seeing the show come to life after we saw everything behind the scenes.
Sometimes, the more you know about something, the less you are able to appreciate it. The magic gets taken away. When you learn how a magician did the trick that just blew your mind, you suddenly become unimpressed. With Disney, it is the complete opposite! I have come to appreciate everything so much more. People don't realize the hard work that goes into everything at Disney. From the Imagineer that had an idea, to the countless people that help create it, to the people that maintain it, it is truly an incredible process that I can't even comprehend. On our tour, we learned that out of the 60,000 Disney cast members working at Walt Disney World, only about a third of them are on the front lines- that people see. The rest are the ones behind the scenes ensuring that everything goes off without a hitch. It's believing in something enough to make it a way of life- to dedicate yourself to something that isn't for yourself. It's for the smiling faces that you will never see. All to tell a story. A story that will live on forever.
To me, that's the Disney magic.
It all started with a mouse. And that mouse has gone on to change the world, one story at a time. And he will continue to do so for many generations to come.
Thanks to Brian and Mickey, our 2 amazing tour guides (who both said I should look into working for Disney).