Recently Adventures by Disney invited AllEars to experience their newly-launched day tour, "Lights...Camera...Magic!" This trip takes guests from the Disneyland Resort, up through many sightseeing attractions in Hollywood and Beverly Hills, and ends with an exclusive tour of the Walt Disney Studios.
After an early-morning welcome in the lobby of the Grand Californian, our cheerful guides Hanneke and Natalia led us onto the bus, gave us bottles of water, and introduced us to our coach driver, Don Tate.
The guides are well-versed in the Disney Way, as they also work as VIP guides at Disneyland's Guest Services, and lead the week-long Backstage Magic tour as well.
As the bus started the long (often painfully slow) drive to Hollywood, we were entertained by cartoons playing on the overhead monitors, broken up with the guides occasionally pointing out different landmarks and discussing a variety of Hollywood triva.
After about 1 1/4 hr, we arrived in Hollywood. Welcome to the Dream Factory!
We disembarked at the Hollywood and Highland Center (belongings could be left on the bus) and walked through to get a good view of the famed Hollywood sign. In preparation for heading out onto Hollywood Blvd, we were told a little about the Walk of Fame (costs a mere $30k to get your star!) and cautioned about the people selling CDs and photos with off-brand characters.
One of the decorative elements of the Hollywood and Highland Center is the pair of large elephants referencing the DW Griffith film "Intolerance," and whose slightly smaller siblings used to be seen in DCA.
[At various points in the tour, we were treated to some special moments/gifts from the guides that were not mentioned in the official itinerary. In the interests of "keeping the magic" (and not raising expectations in case these change from tour to tour,) I'm glossing over those. Suffice to say, you are likely to take home some special souvenirs of your time in Tinseltown.]
Although we were right across the street from the Disney theater El Capitan, we were not taken over there. I thought this was an unusual choice--on the one hand, it seems likely that people who are at Disneyland and taking a Disney tour might have an interest in going there, and on the other hand, I was somewhat relieved that they were going for a more authentically-grounded tour and not just trying to detour tourists to their own properties.
We had an 11:00 appointment to tour the Dolby Theater (where the Academy Awards are held each year,) so that left us about 10 minutes to walk the half a block down to the Chinese Theater and take a few photos.
Depending on the date, there may be some event happening at the Dolby, in which case I believe they would substitute a tour of Grauman's Chinese Theater instead.
Inside the Dolby Theater, there were no photos or recording allowed. Our tour guide there, Gary, was really good at pointing out interesting design elements of the theater, and regaling us with anecdotes of the stars. I desperately wanted to ask him to say "...this is the perfect job for me, because I LOVE THE MOVIES!" but didn't have the nerve.
We walked through the lobby, saw the VIP lounge where the Dolby Oscar is kept on display, and got to sit in the members' area of the theater (currently being used for Cirque du Solei's show "Iris.") Later, we were shown some of the concept art for the fabulous Governor's Balls that are thrown each year, every time having a different theme.
After that was concluded, we reboarded the bus and Don took us on a narrated tour of Hollywood as we drove down the Sunset Strip to Beverly Hills, pointing out such landmarks as the Chateau Marmont, Whisky a Go-Go, and the Laugh Factory.
We eventually arrived at Beverly Hills. Can you smell the money?
Driving down Rodeo Drive, he pointed out many of the fine shopping establishments available, where a suit might set you back a mere $5k.
Turning down Wilshire, we arrived at the Original Farmer's Market at around 1pm, and were given a $15 gift certificate and 90 minutes to eat lunch. Depending on what sort of food you were looking for, this might easily cover the cost of your food, or be somewhat insufficient, given the wide variety of choices there.
Although the Farmer's Market is attached to the Grove shopping center, the gift certificates were only good at the Farmer's Market side. If you had time, you could of course wander over there, where Extra films each day, to try to catch a glimpse of a star.
The Farmer's Market is, of course, represented with facsimiles in both DCA and DHS.
At about 2:30pm, we met back at the bus and Don then drove us over to the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The drive took about an hour, during which we watched the Leonard Maltin tour of the Studios, as seen on the "Walt Disney Treasures - Behind the Scenes at the Walt Disney Studio" DVD.
Once there, we were given some historical background on the studios, and then shown around the exteriors of a lot of the main buildings.
We were also brought in to see the hallways of the Animation building, and the underground passageway featured in TV's "Alias."
A few minutes were allotted for us to shop in the Studios' store, where they have some merchandise exclusive to this location...
...after which we were able to take a quick look around the interior of Soundstage 2, where they are currently filming "Body of Proof." Note: If they are actually working there, the tour will not be able to go inside. In either case, photos inside are not permitted.
We then zipped inside the Frank Wells building for a quick look at the exterior displays around the Archives.
Following that, we headed over to the Legends Plaza, where there was time to take photos with the beautiful Blaine Gibson statues and have some refreshments.
Adult beverages along with some custom-made cupcakes and hors d'uvres were served as we perused all the handprints of the many extraordinary individuals that combined their efforts and talents to produce all the Disney creations we enjoy.
Finally, about 6pm, it was time for us to regretfully clamber back onto the bus, where Don braved the rush hour traffic to deliver us safely back at the Grand Californian.
Is the tour worth it? Always a subjective judgement, however there's a lot to like about this tour. I hate driving in the Hollywood traffic more than just about anything except paying for parking, so to have someone else deal with that is worth quite a bit. Every time you get on the bus, they have cold bottled water available for you, and virtually every time you get off, they have a restroom stop located nearby. It's not a cheap tour, and is definitely targeted towards the luxury travel market, however they do a great job of making the whole sightseeing affair hassle-free.
There is a fair amount of walking on the tour, particularly up and down staircases in the theater tour and throughout Hollywood and Highland--not strenuous by most people's standards, but considerable if walking is typically a chore for you. There's also a considerable amount of time on the bus, between driving to and from Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Burbank--probably around five hours in total. When the tour started, they included dinner at Gladstone's in Malibu in lieu of the reception in the Legends Plaza, but switched it out because it added probably another couple of hours of driving onto the day.
Another useful aspect to the tour is that, for families considering longer ABD tours, this can be your gateway trip, to see if traveling with Disney is for you. Chances are however, for the Disney lover, the answer will be an expensive "yes."
The pricing on the tours is $199/$189 for Adults and Children, with a $10 AP discount. The tours started this year, in January, and are given three times a week, currently Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
The previous post in this blog was Disneyland Resort Photo Update - 8/03/12.
The next post in this blog is D23′s Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animated Features: Day One.