Tours Archives

April 29, 2018

A Path Less Traveled

Gary Cruise banner

Last week at Walt Disney World I spotted a family wearing matching t-shirts. Mom and the kids all had shirts that read ‘Best Day Ever’ but Dad’s shirt read ‘Most Expensive Day Ever’.

It’s sad, but true; Disney is an expensive vacation destination . . . but last week Carol and I enjoyed a real bargain at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. We went on the ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour that is being offered for a limited time as part of the Animal Kingdom 20th Anniversary celebration.

The tour combined the best elements from a few ‘behind the scenes’ tours we’ve done in the past, so we knew from the moment we booked it that we were in for a good time.

Here’s how Disney described it on their web site:

Disney Web Site Description

That’s a whole lot of entertainment for $59.00; it really is a surprising bargain from Walt Disney World. There’s even a discount available for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club members!

On Wednesday April 18th Carol and I stopped at the Curiosity Tours kiosk at 10:20 and checked in for the first part of the ‘A Path Less Travelled’ tour.

Curiosity Tours kiosk

The cast members on duty gave us our pre-printed lanyards and instructed us to meet at 10:30 near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris. That was just a few minutes away so we hung out and chatted with our tour leader, Heather.

At 10:45 sharp our group was all assembled so Heather led us to the Rafiki’s Planet Watch train.

Heather at the train station

The Elephant barn


After our ride to the Conservation Station she took us backstage to food receiving and preparation area. We were not allowed to take any pictures while we were backstage.

Several cast members in the food preparation building enthusiastically described their jobs. They use three ring binders filled with menus as they prepare specific rations of food, often they have an individual menu for each animal. The daily diet is usually packed into Tupperware dishes and delivered to zookeepers who take it to the animals.

They took time to explain the foods they use as ‘enrichments’ to train the animals or reward them for good behaviour. The elephants really like peanut butter so it is used in their training; tigers like the scent of cinnamon so it is sometimes sprinkled on their food as a reward. Other ‘enrichments’ included Kellogg’s Mini Wheats, honey and a number of other surprising food products you probably have in your home.

When I spotted a box of tea bags I asked about them . . . Did you know that gorillas really enjoy a nice hot cup of tea? Yes, they drink it out of cups!

I immediately developed a mental image of a massive gorilla fist holding a delicate china cup, with the pinkie finger sticking out ever-so daintily! Wouldn’t that be a sight to see!

We left the food building and crossed the parking lot to hear about Disney’s Purple Martin Project. There were three tall posts along side of the cast parking area, each holding a pod of about twenty gourd-shaped nests for Purple Martins and dozens of the birds were swarming around the nests.

One of the posts had all the nests lowered and one of the project experts, Jason, explained the program to us as he passed around one of the gourds. It was a real nest from the lowered pod and it had some martin eggs in it.

As each of us looked at the nest and passed it on, Jason shared some interesting statistics about the Purple Martin project; it all began as part of the Flower & Garden Festival when people were urged to ‘make your home a habitat’ for martins.

Sample Purple Martin houses

The project took a huge step forward in 2005 when it moved to Animal Kingdom under the watchful eyes of the zoologists.

There are now eleven towers in five locations around Walt Disney World. There are Purple Martin houses backstage at Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, Port Orleans Riverside, Saratoga Springs and a new one in front of The Magic Kingdom. Each nest is examined regularly, all fledglings are banded and migratory patterns are carefully studied.

An astounding 50% of the Purple Martins born at WDW return there from the rainforests of South America to nest and, of those who return, 50% return to the same nest where they hatched. Jason was enthused by the resounding success of the project, and described how determined they are to expand it across Disney property.

From the martin nests we carried on, across the parking lot, to the Veterinary office, laboratories and clinic. Several of the animal care experts explained the animal’s medical care procedures, the species management projects and breeding programs, and we met a Flemish Giant Rabbit. His name was Fluffywick or Fuzzywig . . . Fluffy-or-Fuzzy something! Fuzzy was plagued with ear infections and his condition was resolved with surgery, his ear canal was removed, leaving him with one floppy and deaf ear. It doesn’t seem to have slowed Fuzzy down at all; he was a great performer, very well trained and cute as a button. Carol wanted to bring him home!

The first part of our tour ended at 12:10 p.m., we hung around talking with Heather for a few minutes then looked at a few of Rafiki’s displays in the Conservation Station.

Carol and a life-sized gorilla image

We met a lizard named Skittles!


After a nice lunch at Yak & Yeti we slowly wandered back to Harambe, Carol shopped a bit while I waited near the Curiosity Tours kiosk to check in for part two of our ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour, the 3:00 p.m. Caring For Giants tour.

This was the third time on the Caring for Giants tour for Carol and the second time for me. Our guide once again whisked us backstage and we boarded a bus to the elephant berm where we met Mel, one of the elephant experts.

Mel explained the elephants habits to us

She told us all about the elephants, their names, traits, habits, personalities and quirks.


Lungelo from South Africa talked about the challenges faced by elephants in their home environment and the steps being taken to ensure their survival.

Caring for Giants.jpg

Caring for Giants

Caring for Giiants

We heard some fascinating information that we hadn’t heard on previous tours and our hour with the giants went by far too quickly. We caught the bus back to Harambe and picked up our treats, a cold drink, Mickey pretzels and cheese.

The third and final part of the package was VIP seating for the 8:00 p.m. Rivers of Light show. It’s a visual feast, an intriguing mix of color, water, animation, live action and music. The need for environmental responsibility is clearly and very powerfully presented in a highly entertaining way.

Rivers of Light

Rivers of Light

What a magnificent way to end a superb day at Disney!

The tour made our day very enjoyable, but we still had time to do a few of our favourite things! In the morning, before we first checked in, we wandered the trails around the Tree of Life to see the creatures that live there.

After our trip back to the Elephant berm we took a trip with Kilimanjaro Safaris, enjoyed a Yeti encounter at Expedition Everest and saw a launch from Cape Canaveral.

Expedition Everest

SpaceX Launch from Cape Canaveral

Yes, it was a very full day for us!

If you want to enjoy the ‘A Path Less Traveled’ tour you will have to act fast, it’s only offered until May 5th. If you’re an Annual Passholder or a Disney Vacation Club member be sure to ask about a discount!

Read about other 'Behind The Scenes' tours HERE.

February 18, 2018

Do Hippos Like Country Music?

Gary Cruise banner

In November 2003 Carol and I were exploring one of the little side trails that surround the Tree of Life on Discovery Island when we spotted a cast member tossing fish to one of the saddle-billed storks. Every time the stork stepped onto a small square of plywood on the ground inside the fence he was rewarded with a tasty herring.

Saddle-Billed Stork

As we watched, the keeper explained that this was a technique that made the stork comfortable with the plywood. Once a month, when it’s time to weigh the bird, they just place a scale under the board and stand by with some herring! Easy for the keeper and non-threatening for the stork!

Just a few days later we went on a Backstage Safari Tour. Our vehicle stopped briefly beside one of the elephant barns; as we watched an elephant play in the big outdoor enclosure beside the barn one of our guides explained how the animal experts use a similar reward and inducement process to train young elephants to lift their legs and push their feet through the fence so that the keepers could examine their soles. Elephants are big beasts and they are tough, but they are prone to foot problems so their feet are checked regularly. It's also a very good area to draw blood in case the veterinary staff need to run tests. Elephants are trained at an early age to present their feet so that regular examinations can be completed using behaviors which seem ‘natural’ to the animals. Sorry, I don’t have a picture, no photos are allowed when you’re backstage!

We heard plenty of other interesting stories as we toured the veterinary building. We watched as they x-rayed the wing of a fruit bat; they held the sedated bat and extended the wings . . . wow! Those bats are huge!

We visited the food preparation area where all of the meals are prepared for each animal, big or small. Cast members have binders full of menus, each page in the binder is the menu for one of the animals, and they carefully pack each item on the menu into a plastic container, or a bucket, or a box. There was an amazing variety of food being packed into those containers, grasses, meats, fish, worms, insects . . . we even watched as they prepared a bucket full of herring which would soon be lunch for that saddle-billed stork.

The guides told us some very interesting stories about the animals, and described a few little tricks they use to keep the animals out in areas where guests in the park can see them. Have you ever wondered why the lions spend so much time on top of those rocks they call the kopje?

Lioness on kopje rock

According to our guide there are two reasons, first there are a couple of ‘climate-controlled’ rocks to make the lions comfortable. If the weather is hot the rocks are cooled, if it’s a cool day the rocks are heated.

The second reason they stay on top – behind one of the rocks, where it cannot be seen by guests, there is a steel post driven into the ground. A frozen treat is chained to the post; as the treat melts the lions can wander over and enjoy a snack. I don’t know exactly what they use as a treat, but our guide referred to it as a ‘bunny-sicle’.

When we returned home after that trip the Winter 2003 issue of Disney Magazine was waiting in the mail. I was really surprised to read an article titled “All Creatures Great and Small” by Lisa Stiepack. I couldn’t believe the coincidental timing of the article, so soon after our tour! Lisa described her experiences as she spent an entire day with Disney Animal Behavior Specialist Chris Breder. The two ladies toured the entire park, interacting with the animals and their keepers and handlers. A lot of the ‘inside stories’ and animal behavior facts we heard on our tour are included in Lisa Stiepack’s article.

Let’s take a closer look. Click on each picture to see a larger version which you can read.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 36

Who would have guessed that the Okapi like their yams cooked with allspice?

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 37

Gorillas like oranges so they are used to help train the animals. When the gorilla goes to a designated spot the trainer tosses him an orange.

Don’t try this at home kids! Please don’t throw things at the gorillas!

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 38

The elephant handler, Bruce, refers to the elephant’s food as browse. I had never heard browse used in that context so I checked the dictionary . . . sure enough . . . NOUN: tender shoots or twigs of shrubs and trees as food for cattle, deer,etc.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 39

Did you know that the Nile Monitor Lizard is named Barney and he loves to play in the waterfall?

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 40

There’s that saddle-billed stork standing on his board while Kim tosses him his lunch. We saw those two just a few days ago!

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 41

“What do you do for a living?” “I brush monkey’s teeth at Walt Disney World.” Yes, that really is a thing!

And the tigers . . . when they curl their lips and stick their tongues out in a very exaggerated fashion they are saying, “I really love your cheap perfume.”

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 42

That cute and cuddly Marabou Stork is named Wallace.

Disney Magazine Winter 2003-04 pg 43

Giraffes don’t like paper clips. I did not know that!

Carol and I have taken many Disney tours over the years and we’ve never been disappointed. They always put a little bit of ‘extra magic’ in our vacations.

I’m not sure the Backstage Safari tour is still offered, I can’t find any reference to it on the Disney web site, but there are plenty of other tours available. Check online or stop at the Curiosity Animal Tours booth near the entrance to Kilimanjaro Safaris and book whatever tour appeals to you!

Curiosity Animal Tours

Oh yes . . . I almost forgot to answer that question. Do hippos like country music? I don’t know for sure, and I’ve never seen one at the Grand Ole Opry, but Jay, who manages Disney’s rhino and hippo barns, says definitively that they do. That’s good enough for me!

December 8, 2015

Review - Holiday DLights Tour

by Guest Blogger Kay Belin

December is the month that draws many guests to Walt Disney World to see their famous holiday decorations and events. This year I decided to take one of their premiere tours, Holiday D-Lights, which takes you into three parks to see some of these amazing sights.

The tour begins and ends in Epcot making it easy to figure out the transportation. Park tickets are not required and you meet outside the Guest Relations window in front of Epcot. The tour has a maximum of 40 guests which is very manageable and transportation from park to park is on one of the Disney cruise/Magical Express buses.

Our guides and tour coordinators appeared and met us singing and in festive moods making everyone excited about the next few hours on tour. Name Tags and paper work were taken care of quickly and we were soon on our way to the Wilderness Lodge for dinner. Our guides for this tour were Donna, Jim, and Nancy and they were all wonderful and informative.

Whispering Canyon was not open to the public yet so we had the entire restaurant for the group. They were ready for us and soon we had amazing barbecue feast platters set on the tables with baskets of cornbread. The food consisted of ribs, pulled pork, chicken, sausage, corn on the cob, baked beans, and yummy mashed potatoes. Guests with dietary restrictions were easily taken care of and offered great alternatives by the chef. Drinks included water, coke, and ice tea and were constantly being refilled by the service staff. We were not given dessert but told we would have a surprise later in the evening.


Time was provided to take pictures of the Wilderness Lodge lobby and a bit of history was given about the tree. We observed,in my opinion, one of the prettiest resort trees on property as it's decorated with canoes, teepees, and Indian drums and obviously very unique for the resort.


Back on the bus and on our way as we headed to the back stage area of the Magic Kingdom. Our next stop was to visit the Event and Decorating Support Team. They work out of a massive warehouse and put together not only the castle lights but also special staging pieces that might be needed or requested for the parks or groups. The main emphasis was learning how they decorate the castle with the lights using LED light strands and special dyed and flame retardant netting.


Every strand of lights are checked at least three times before they are put on the castle and this whole process actually begins in May. Work on the castle cannot begin each night until all guests leave the park so when the Magic Kingdom is open late it just makes it a little more difficult to get it all done on time. But Disney is used to making magic and it always happens and most never know what it took to get the amazing outcome.

After learning about how the castle is lit we hopped back on the bus and headed to the Magic Kingdom to see the castle lighting show. Our guides provided us with listening devices so crowd noise would not be an issue while in the parks. The group was divided into two making the numbers much easier to handle and we were then dropped off back stage and walked a short distance to the Castle hub where we then observed the great lighting of the beautiful castle. With a theming from Frozen the castle went from a lighted structure to a magical sparkling icicle wonder. This is probably the most magnificent piece of holiday magic Disney offers its guests.


Time to head to Hollywood Studios! We were given a Rice Krispie holiday treat as we entered the bus and were shown a short video of how all the Disney castles worldwide are decorated for the holidays. The actual castle lighting idea began at the Paris Disney park and only the Tokyo Disney castle is not lit as it is actually not a Disney owned park. It was very interesting to learn facts about not only Walt Disney World but about the parks around the world.

Our next spectacle of Disney lights was the Osborne Family lights in the Studios. It was bittersweet to visit this amazing street filled with millions of LED lights as it is the last year for this display at Disney. We kept to our two smaller groups and were led down the street listening to more amazing facts from our guide Jim. Some of the great trivia he shared include that at the far end of the lights you will see many blue angels flying overhead. Look for a white one and that is representing Jennings Osborne, the patriarch of the Osborne family and who started this light tradition for his daughter. In this same area you will find a large Mickey and Santa shaking hands which is supposed to represent the agreement Jennings Osborne and Disney made to bring the lights to the park. If you look closely you will see they are shaking left hands which is the hand that is closest to the heart.


As we moved down the street we were told to look for over 150 lit Mickeys and also the purple cat.


The story behind the cat is when they shipped the decorations this one Halloween cat got mixed up with the Christmas lights and the Osborne family told Disney to just keep it. So every year the cast enjoys placing the cat in different locations and changes it almost every week so guests can hunt it down.

By the large tree in the center of the street you will see toy soldiers surrounding the bottom. The soldier in the center is a bit different as he proudly wears Mickey ears. This is to honor the cast member, Dan, who was responsible for inventing the different relay lighting systems needed for the show each night. He passed away a few years ago and they found his name tag in his locker and if you look closely this soldier is also wearing a Disney name badge.


Continuing down on the left side you will see what appears to be crossed light sabers in the upper floor window. The story goes that this is now marking the spot where they will begin the dismantling of the Osborne Lights to begin the new construction of the future Star Wars Land. Not sure if this is true but it does make a nice Disney story.


Cross the street here and in the first floor windows you can see photos of the actual Osborne Family light displays from their home in Arkansas.


The last bit of trivia to add is heading back up the street and in a little alcove. Look up and you will find Kermit sitting up high playing a banjo. The word is that he is actually using a banjo pick from the famous Mulch, Sweat, and Shears group that entertained guests in the Studios for years but are now gone. There are many, many more things to see and observe and on this tour it was fun to have someone share some of the more unknown stories and facts.

Once again we were back on the bus and again headed to a backstage area of Epcot. Our last special treat of the evening was the incredible Candlelight Processional. It was fascinating to learn that the Candlelight show was started in Disneyland with Dennis Morgan as the first narrator. Walt met with the USC music director, Dr. Hirt, who suggested the format that is still used today. Guest choirs, full orchestra and guest narrators are brought together for this moving spectacle. It was later moved to Walt Disney World where it held shows for a few years at the train station in the Magic Kingdom. Rock Hudson was the first narrator there and when Epcot was built it found its permanent home in this park where we watch it today.


Watching the Candlelight Processional is always moving and inspirational but I was disappointed in our reserved seats. We were led to the second and third last rows and had a few trees to dodge to get unobstructed views. This was the end of the tour but everyone had the opportunity to stay and watch Illuminations if they chose to do so.

This tour is one of Disney's most expensive tours at $269 plus tax per person so one needs to think hard about what they hope to see and do for their time and money. I think it is a great choice for the guest who might have a very limited time at Disney and who wants to experience as many of the holiday events as possible. Park tickets are not required which is a savings and you are offered a meal that is included. To be able to see the Magic Kingdom castle lighting, the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights, and the Candlelight Processional (and Illuminations on your own) in one evening is amazing. Plus you get some backstage stops and professional guides who can answer questions and offer information you might otherwise not receive.

The biggest disappointment was the fact that seating for the Candlelight event was in the far back rows. You would hope that paying a large amount of money for a tour would also get you better seats to a show. You would actually get front seats if you chose to do a dinner package instead. We were sitting among guests who had been in the stand-by line. It would also have been nice to offer water on the bus at some point. The tour is five hours long and many of us were needing refreshment. The Rice Krispie treat is cute but not much of a dessert treat, again on what they tout as their premiere holiday tour.

This tour can accommodate guests who use scooters or wheelchairs but they must provide their own. They cannot use Disney park rentals. The minimum age for the tour is 16 as you will be visiting backstage areas. Cameras are welcome but guests must adhere to rules about not using them in backstage areas. Backpacks and bags are allowed but you will be subject to bag inspection at all parks even though you enter through backstage areas. Closed toe and heel shoes are also required as I believe this is also a rule for anyone using backstage areas.

I am not sure what they will do next year when the Osborne Lights will be gone. I would imagine they will reinvent a holiday tour to include possibly something else. If you are planning a several day Disney vacation at this time of year you can easily do the events on your own. This is especially true if you plan on being in the parks to do other things and buying a daily ticket is not an issue. Besides a commemorative pin for the tour and backstage access you are not getting anything special beyond what the normal guest would experience on their own. That was disappointing for the price but as I said before this is a great tour for the guest with one night to see it all.

November 2, 2015

Epcot DiveQuest: Under the Seas


by Randi Briggs
AllEars Guest Blogger

This activity at Disney World’s Epcot has become a favorite for my husband and me. If you scuba dive, then you must try this dive when visiting the World. There are two dives conducted on most days -- one at 4:30 and one at 5:30 (times do vary occasionally). You must be able to produce scuba certification (C-card) and children must be 10 years old or older and in the company of an adult.

Our recent dive was scheduled for 4:30. We met at Epcot's main Guest Relations office inside the park, and then were escorted to the Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion.


We were taken on a short tour of the aquarium facilities, including the manatee habitat and the dolphin facilities. We saw where the tons of food for the animals and fish were prepared each day. They explained how animals in need of medical help were handled and treated. All in all, a very interesting tour.

We were then taken to the locker/shower rooms where we changed into "shorty dive skins." The only items of your own that are allowed are prescription dive masks and dive watches.

When everyone in the group was ready, they escorted us through the building (yes, where the guests are!) and then through another section of the aquarium to the spot where we would enter the water. They take care of everything for you. There is a dive master in charge, and several other dive masters helping in the water and out. Safety for the divers and the aquatic citizens is always first. My husband and I were helped with our tanks, fins and masks, and we slowly swam our way over to a buoy where we waited for the rest of the divers to assemble.

When the dive master called out "Dive, dive, dive!" the magic began. I can’t even begin to explain the excitement as I began to descend into a watery world filled with fish of every kind and shape. This included sharks, manta rays, and turtles (can you say Crush?). A video photographer accompanied the divers, and for a while the dive master led us through a magical world filled only with the sounds of your own breathing and bubbles through your regulator.



We passed the rather good-sized shark (obviously well fed, since he didn’t seem interested in eating the "seals" -- us -- swimming in his habitat) and the photographer made an effort to film as many of us as he could with the shark.

The animals were very unconcerned and curious about the divers. They took one look and then ignored us, as if to say, "Ho hum, more of those creatures with the funny skin that make all that breathing noise in the water."

I am fascinated each time we make this dive. Wonder comes alive again for me and my husband.

One of the more fun activities while in the tank is to go over to the aquarium windows looking into the Coral Reef Restaurant and interact with the guests. Divers can wave, trying to get the children to laugh and ask for a taste of the food. The most fun is when you can get someone to smile. Last time we did the dive, a diver spied a pretty girl with friends through the glass at the restaurant, and pantomimed that he was trying to get her number to ask her for a date. It was pretty amusing to watch her laugh and blush with her friends.

Family and friends that are unable to dive are able to watch you from the windows in the pavilion, so many divers spend a good deal of time there showing off for kids and family members.

The dive lasted about 45 minutes, but felt like 10. There was just so much to see and it was so much fun swimming with the fishes. It was disappointing to hear the dive master start banging two rocks together, which is the signal to begin to ascend and leave the magical water world behind.

As we reached the surface and began the dog paddle to the stairs out of the water, we were exhilarated, sorry the dive was over... and really, really hungry! The dive masters helped everyone with their equipment and handed out towels as they escorted us back through the pavilion (dripping wet, hair sticking out at interesting angles). It is interesting that almost no one noticed us walking through.

After showering and cleaning up, we all met in a room where we watched the video that was made of our dive. The DVD costs $35, which is a bit high, but almost everyone bought one. We also got a great T-shirt to commemorate the dive.

After we left, we had dinner reservations at the Coral Reef, and requested a table next to the aquarium so we could watch the next group of divers and relive all the fun and wonderful moments again.

For those of you who dive, this would not be considered a challenging dive at all. It is easy, relaxing and tons of magical fun. We would do this again in a heartbeat!

EDITOR'S NOTE: DiveQuest costs $179 per person. To make reservations for this tour, call 407-WDW-TOUR. Be sure to ask about any available discounts (DVC, AP, Disney VISA for example). If you've participated in DiveQuest, please share your thoughts in our Rate and Review section HERE.

January 19, 2013

The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour

by Scott Lopes
AllEars.Net Guest Blogger


On December 6, I had the opportunity to go on The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour. This was a fun tour and probably one of the few that allow you to take pictures in a backstage area.

The tour starts much earlier than any of the others -- the official start time is 7:30 a.m. with a meet time of 7:15. (Be sure to double-check the meet location.Unfortunately, I missed part of the beginning of the tour because I was in the wrong spot. I was told later by the tour department that the correct meet location is just outside the turnstiles.)

For me, the tour started in the train station. Our tour guide Gary began by explaining some of the photos that were in the lower level of the train station, as well as some of the facts and history of the trains used at Walt Disney World.


After the official park opening we went up to the upper level of the train station and boarded the show train. The show train has cars similar to the ones normally used for guest transportation, however they do not have the safety panels installed.


We then proceeded toward the Storybook Circus area of Fantasyland, and then backed up onto a spur line that goes back to the train and monorail barn. While we were traveling, our guide explained some of the safety procedures and signals used.

Once we were near the barn we stepped off of the train and were able to watch it back up the rest of the way.

Gary then explained a few more facts and details regarding the trains, and also told a few stories, such as the origin of some common phrases like "the Real McCoy." (Elijah McCoy invented a device to lubricate moving parts on a train, so when engineers would have their trains serviced they would ask for "The Real McCoy".)


Next, in small groups we were brought up into the cab of the locomotive so that Gary could explain some of the controls and safety devices that are on the train.


After a tour of the cab, they fired up the boiler.



And, although not normally part of the tour, they demonstrated the use of a fire extinguisher as well:



We then boarded the train and departed the maintenance area and headed back to the Main Street station. Once there, we were able to take pictures with the engineer, and concluded the tour with a further discussion of Walt Disney and his love of trains.


At the conclusion of the tour we received this exclusive pin.


Overall, this was a great tour that was well worth the cost. The cast member was cheerful and informative, and even spent some additional time talking with us after the tour ended. I definitely look forward to taking this tour again!

See what other readers think about the Magic Behind the Steam Trains Tour and write your review too!

Learn about other tours at Walt Disney World!

July 31, 2011

Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom Tour


In March, Disney World began offering a new tour called Marceline to Magic Kingdom. We had a chance to go on this tour recently and we really enjoyed it.

We went on a Friday morning. Check in is in the building to the left of City Hall. We were given our headsets and name badges. Once everyone was ready, we walked up Main Street. As we went, our guide told us how Walt Disney wanted a place he could take his daughters to have fun. One thing lead to another and the idea for Disneyland was born. Walt wanted more land and from that, the concept for Disney World was born.

As we approached the castle, he called our attention to the coat of arms over the archway. It's the Disney family coat of arms.

Disney family coat of arms

We stopped at the gorgeous mosaics inside the castle. I've seen them countless times but I've never noticed the artists' names are included.


He also pointed out that Disney Legend Herb Ryman (he created the original sketches for Disneyland as well as the concept drawings for numerous attractions) was depicted in this scene.

Herb Ryman

We crossed in to Fantasyland and rode Snow White's Scary Adventures. After the ride, he asked us to think about how some of the effects were created. Some of the realistic effects are actually created through black lighting. Some of the eyes that watch you on the ride are actually Christmas lights.

Next, we headed to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. We went through the new interactive queue and judging by the laughter, everyone enjoyed it.

Pooh queue

After the ride, he asked us to compare Snow White's Scary Adventures and The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. The Many Adventures has more white lighting and has more figures and movement.

We made our way to Tomorrowland and to the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. He told us about the name changes over the years, the different sponsors the attraction has had and the different attractions it has passed through.

After the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, we walked over to Carousel of Progress. We waited so that we could have our own theater. He talked about the sponsorship of this attraction and how things have changed since it was at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Throughout the show, our guide would point out some of the details. I won't share them all but here are a couple of my favorites-

This robin in the first scene of the attraction is the same robin used in Mary Poppins.


Herb Ryman's name is included on this mural.

Herb Ryman

These were not the only detailed pointed out but they were two of my favorites.

After Carousel of Progress, the tour wrapped up. We turned in our headsets outside of Carousel of Progress. The tour was a little over 2.5 hours.

We really enjoyed the tour. It was a great way to spend a summer morning. I really enjoyed hearing some familiar stories and hearing new ones. I would recommend it to others but it wouldn't be on my "do again" list unless I was with someone who wanted to go.

The cost is $32/person. Discounts may be available for this tour. Call (407) WDW-TOUR to book.

April 15, 2011

Nature Inspired Design Tour


On April 2, I went on the Nature Inspired Design tour. For a description of this tour, click here.

The tour began at 8:15 so they directed me to the Character Breakfast turnstile toward the far left. For this tour, I checked in a Guest Relations inside the park. I signed a waiver for use of the Segway.

At 8:15 on the dot, my guide came to get me. He told me that I was the only one who had booked the tour that day! I was stunned. He said it was the first time ever the tour had been for only one person. He took me to the Segway training room and I watched a video about the Segway and began my training. The Segways are surprisingly easy to use. I was a little intimidated at first but quickly got the hang of it thanks to my guide. He was right- it becomes more about feeling than thinking once you're used to it.

Segway training area

Once I had gotten used to the Segway, the tour began. He radioed ahead to let Soarin' know we were on our way. We went through Future World toward the Imagination area. We went through a backstage area and made our way to the backstage entrance to Soarin'. The Cast Members seated us in the center, top row. It had been a while since I'd been seated there so that was a treat for me.

After Soarin', we made our way backstage to The Land. A Cast Member was waiting on us and took us into the greenhouse. They told me that the areas we would visit could also be seen on the Behinds the Seeds tour. I was allowed to take pictures in this area.

The Land

She told me that small, at home herb gardens like this one could be done at one with just one square foot of space. This particular one had chives in it.

Herb garden

Disney has begun using a lot of Hydroponics in their gardening. What it does, on a much larger scale than this fish tank, is hydrate the roots while giving them space to breathe and circulate air around them. This is easy to do at home and you can create a little herb garden this way as well.


She discussed the three different kinds of materials they use around the plants:


We were shown the cucumber plants. She had pieces of a cucumber for me to sample. I don't love cucumbers (but I don't dislike them either) but these were GOOD. They were crisp and had a wonderful, fresh flavor.


The Land is home to a record holding tomato plant.

Record holding tomato plant

We could see this Mickey from where we were standing:


He radioed ahead to The Seas with Nemo & Friends to let them know we were coming. Again, a Cast Member was waiting on us and took us right into the pavilion. He discussed how Disney wanted The Seas to be like looking right into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. They selected fish that lived near the top of the water, in the middle of the water and the bottom to help maintain this. Lighting also helps maintain this effect.

The Seas

The coral at The Seas is not real coral. The fish, however, behave as though the coral is real. They lay their eggs, take naps and swim through just like they would if it was real.

Then, they took me to the 'water' area. This is the command area where they control and monitor the water for The Seas and several other areas of Disney World. He explained how they make sure the water is clean, how they monitor everything and how they add the salt to it if they need to.

The tour wrapped up after this stop. We put our Segways up and talked a little bit more.

I LOVED this tour. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was worth every penny to me. The guide was so enthusiastic and personable. He answered all of my questions and pointed things out to me that I might have missed. He was wonderful about letting me know when I could and couldn't be taking pictures. The Cast Members at Soarin', The Land and The Seas were very enthusastic and extremely knowledgeable. I had never ridden a Segway before so that was a very fun experience for me. If you have the chance to do this tour, I highly recommend it.

Nature Inspired Design is offered Tuesdays and Saturdays during the month of April. For other months, the tour is offered on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It begins at 8:15 AM and lasts three hours. Guests must be 16 or older. It costs $124 person ($132.06 with tax). Annual Passholder, DVC and Disney Visa discounts are available.

To read reviews of Nature Inspired Design, or to post yours, please click here.

April 5, 2011

Gardens of the World Tour


During the Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot, the Gardens of the World tour is offered. I went on this tour on April 1, 2011.

We met in front of Guest Relations at Epcot- this is to the far right of the turnstiles before you enter the park, not the Guest Relations inside the park. Around 8:50 AM, several Cast Members broke us into our tour groups - there was another tour that was meeting at Epcot as well.

We were given name badges to wear for the tour:

Name badge

We were also given a pin that is exclusive to the tour:


Headsets were distributed for everyone to wear. We were glad to have them because the music and noise of the park made it difficult to hear at times.

We got a late start because we had a couple of people who were running late. When everyone got there, we gathered in a group - there were about 20 of us - and he asked us our names, where we were from and why we were interested in the tour. We had several avid gardeners in our group.


We went into Epcot around 9:30. The first stop we made was near one of the flower towers. Rickie told us that there were 40 of these in Epcot and they were easy to create. The tower holds the flower pots inside it so it makes assembling and disassembling the towers easy.

Flower Tower

Then, we went over to the area near the stroller rental. This plant (the name of this plant is escaping me) was around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The leaves are thicker than you would have expected.


The theme for Future Wold is the future. Therefore, the design team keeps flowers to a minimum except during Flower & Garden. Several different types of palm trees are used in this area.

Palm trees

When we walked through Pixie Hollow, he pointed out the eco-friendly mulch underneath the play area. This material is actually recycled tires and it won't hurt the kids if they fall. The 'grass' is actually artificial turf with padding under it.


The Pooh topiary area has bloomed nicely. He pointed out the various types of plants that made up Rabbit's garden.


He said that the flower blanket took about a night to plant. They had an entire team that evening. There is a staging area behind the Germany pavilion where it was all set up and then brought in.

Flower Blanket

At Bambi's Butterfly Garden, he talked about how the monarch butterfly tastes bitter to predators because of the nectars they consume.

Monarch butterfly

At the Mexico pavilion, he discussed how the jungle theme was created by using various tree and flower and types.


He said there are some plants/trees that are look-alikes at the pavilions because they won't survive in the Florida climate.

At China, he discussed the Zodiac figures. They are all made out of seeds. But my favorite part was when he discussed the gardens. He said that Chinese gardens are all about tranquility, very little movement and letting the garden be. The grass is longer at this garden because of this.

China garden

In contrast, Japanese gardens are all about movement. The koi pond and waterfall help to create constant movement in this garden.

Japan garden

I never knew that this lantern at the Japan pavilion was a gift to Roy E. Disney from the emperor of Japan.


He said that the Aladdin topiary is one of his favorites because it incorporates so many different plants and textures. Some of the plants are secured to the topiary using hair pins. Aladdin's hair is coconut fiber.


We spent some time at the Victoria Gardens area at the Canada pavilion.

Victoria Gardens

The tour ended with a backstage look at the Canada pavilion. No pictures are allowed backstage. We were given the Flower & Garden poster as a keepsake, which was unexpected and a nice surprise.

Overall, I enjoyed the tour and I'm glad I did it but I didn't love it. The focus was more on how to do similar things at home in your garden and plant types and that wasn't of as much interest to me as hearing about the hows and whys Disney creates things the way they do. We spent a decent amount of time in Future World but made it through World Showcase very quickly because we got going late. Our guide was wonderful about answering questions and making sure our curiosity was satisfied before moving on. He was very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I would do this tour again if someone really wanted to go but it would not be on my 'must-do' list.

The Gardens of the World tour is $60 per person ($63.90 with tax) for guests ages 16 and older. This tour is during Flower & Garden Festival only. Be sure to ask about Annual Passholder, Disney Visa or DVC discounts as well. The tour is offered on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 9 AM. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687) to book.

To read reviews of the Gardens of the World tour, or to post your own, click here.

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