This was our last day at Walt Disney World. Our flight was at 7:30 pm so we still most of the day. In keeping with the theme of doing things we have never done before, we had reservations to do the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour in the Magic Kingdom. The tour is about 5 hours and ours started at 8:30 am.
We were up early, packed up and then did airline check in so that we had our boarding passes and our checked bags were taken care of. We left the rest of our bags in bell services, had a quick breakfast and then got a taxi to take us over the Magic Kingdom.
Our check in for the tour was from 8 – 8:15 am. The buses were not running early enough so we took a cab. I didn’t think about the fact that you can’t take a taxi directly the Magic Kingdom but instead to the TTC (ticket and transportation center). And from there we would have to take a monorail over to the Magic Kingdom. At that time of the morning, the express monorail to the MK wasn’t open yet so we had to take the resort line which added some more time to our travels. We ended up getting to the MK around 8:10 am.
The Magic Kingdom wasn’t open yet but there was a special check in area and gate entrance for people with early tours or breakfast reservations. They checked our name off and we were in! We then went to Town Hall to check in for our specific tour. There was a name tag and lanyard with a headset device waiting for us. There was also a menu for us to choose our lunch which would be at Columbia Harbor House. After that, we were told to help ourselves to bottled water and then wait around the hub area until our tour would start at 8:30 am.
Once again we were in a park before it opened! Another great chance for some more pictures without crowds, especially of all the Christmas decorations.
Promptly at 8:30, our tour guide gathered us and got us set up for the day. We had headsets to wear so we could hear him at all times which worked great (Adventures by Disney should invest in the same set up). We were also told that there were no photos or use of cell phones allowed on the entire tour. He said that if anyone broke that rule, the entire tour would end immediately for everyone! He seemed pretty serious about that and thankfully no one tested out if he really meant it or not. He also said that we would be “on stage” at times and “back stage” at times. While “on stage” anything that is said could potential be heard by other guests in the park so his answers to certain questions may be different “on stage” as opposed to “backstage.” For example, if we were “on stage” and someone asked “How do you become a Disney princess?” his answer would be “you would marry a prince.” But if that same question was asked “backstage” there would be a different answer. I really loved the way he explained that and how important it is for the magic to be preserved all the time “on stage.”
After all the housekeeping was done, our guide walked us to the being on Main Street. The rope drop was about to happen and he wanted us to observe what he called the “Running of the Guests.” But actually he really wanted us to observe how the cast members control the situation of park opening to keep everyone safe.
We then headed down Main Street into a side area and our guide explained the “Keys to the Kingdom.” I know that is the name of the tour but I never really gave it much more thought than the tour being a “key” to backstage of the park. But actually there are 4 Keys to Magic Kingdom and all Disney parks. They are Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. Our guide took time explaining each key and we talked about examples of each in the parks. He also said that the order is important. Safety is always the number one concern. So a procedure may be in place that could be more efficient or provide a better show but it is done in a way that is the safest for the cast members and guests. It was very interesting to hear this all explained and fun to talk about examples throughout the parks.
Our tour then moved down Main Street. Our guide spoke a lot about various details along Main Street, especially the names on the windows and who they were names for. We then moved into Adventureland for some more details and then a ride on the Jungle Cruise. We were moved through the exit and onto a boat that was just for us. Instead of the Jungle Cruise skipper doing his script, our guide took the mike and gave us details and background information about the ride itself. Having been on the Jungle Cruise many times it was great to get more details and stories about the creation of the ride.
We came off of Jungle Cruise and headed towards our first backstage experience. We went through a gate to the left of Splash Mountain and immediately I thought this looks familiar. Yes, it did… the route for the half marathon goes through that gate as you exit the Magic Kingdom part of the course. In this backstage area, we were able to see the float storage area for the all the parades and the back side of Splash Mountain and were all the water is recycled through. There was a yellow line just beyond the gate that is a “guest sight line.” That is the dividing line between “on stage” and “backstage.” We would get a better example of this line in action later in the tour.
As we came back into the park, it was time to go to Columbia Harbor House for lunch. We had all ordered our lunch earlier, so we were taken to an upstairs area and the tables were already set with name cards and our lunch waiting for us. Very efficient! Inside our name cards was our special “Keys to the Kingdom” pin that you can only get from doing the tour. Our lunch stop was about 30 minutes and then we were back out in the park.
We moved over to a side area outside the Haunted Mansion. We were about to ride the attraction but first our guide gave us some background information and things to look and listen for inside the ride. We then got to go through the exit and straight into the stretching room. Having been on the Haunted Mansion so many times, it was really fun to have new things to notice and look for.
We then headed back down Main Street, which was a bit of a challenge as the park was quite crowded. We stopped just passed the Crystal Palace and once again went backstage. There was a parade about to launch and we could see the dancers and floats getting ready. It was very funny to see Woody and Jessie on the float just standing around waiting. And as the gate open and the parade started, we got to see the full effect of the “yellow line.” All the characters and dancers would be just standing / walking or talking to each other but as soon as they hit the “yellow line” it was game on! They would go right into their dance routine or movement routine on the floats. Very fun to watch!
From there it was time to go down to the Utiladors!! The utiladors are the tunnel system underneath the park for cast members. It was quite a maze. I’m sure it isn’t too hard once you get used to it, but there is even a map for the cast members so they can see where they are and where they need to go. There was also a lot of memorabilia down there. Sets of pins throughout the years and photos from Walt Disney World history were along the walls. We didn’t really see very much.. but it was cool to be down there and see how things work.
As we came up from there, we were back to Town Hall where we started. Our guide said that we had talked about all the Keys of the Kingdom but we hadn’t yet talked about Disney magic. He then shared a story. I cannot write it as well as he told it but I wanted to share it anyway. Several years ago, his mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. When she was undergoing her treatments, she was told that she could listen to whatever she wanted with headphones. She always chose the music to Wishes. When her treatment was finished and she was awaiting results, her doctors encouraged her to go on vacation and relax. Of course, she chose Walt Disney World. And of course she had to see Wishes. When she returned home, her doctor informed her that the success of her treatment was unlike anything he had ever seen before. She and her son (our guide) of course know that was because of Wishes and Disney magic. I just loved that story and it was the perfect way to end our tour.
I would highly recommend the tour. Especially for folks who have been to the Magic Kingdom many times and want to experience a different side of things. We ate lunch with a mother and son. The mother explained to us that with all of their children, taking the Keys to the Kingdom tour was a rite of passage for them on the 16th birthday (the minimum age for the tour). So this was her son’s 16th birthday and his chance to experience the tour. Sounds like a great way to turn 16 to me!
It was not only the end of the tour but pretty much the end of our trip. We went back to the resort and had some time to grab a snack and relax a bit until the Magical Express bus arrived to take us to the airport. It was a great trip and, of course, I can’t wait to go back!
I have been a huge Disney and travel fan since childhood. I love going to new places and, of course, heading to Disney as often as I can.