When you live in Central Florida, and you go to the theme parks on a regular basis, you pretty much see it all. On-stage, that is! For all the glitter and fun you see when you walk through the turn styles, Disney has so much more behind the scenes. As a typical day guest, you never see it, and usually don't even think about it. Unless you're a Disney nerd (like me and Michael)
Let me back up here. We didn't do Christmas gifts this year, which I think Michael not so secretly loved. No shopping? No gift wrapping? Excellent. Instead of shopping for 'stuff' we decided to put those pennies toward a behind the scenes Disney tour this year. It wasn't cheap, but it was ridiculously fun.
As if the words backstage behind the scenes tour didn't give it away, there are not many photo opps during the day. You're literally behind the buildings, in utilidors (tunnels under Magic Kingdom), in costume shops, parade barns, etc. With the exception of the nursery photo, all pictures were found via google images and taken by others in public (camera friendly) zones. Highlights of our tour included
EPCOT World Showcase
Forced perspective can make buildings seem larger than life (see: Cinderella's Castle at Magic Kingdom) but can also make huge buildings seem more in line withe their neighbors (see: American Adventure at EPCOT)
Backstage at the American Adventure
We got to view how the different scenes all exist backstage and move in sequence during the show. The scene below is one of the largest, and shows the celebration of 100 years of America
Hollywood Studios Costume Shop
Nearly 200 employees sewing costumes for all sorts of characters in all parks. Mostly parade costumes here, and the tour is magnificent. The bolts of fabric and the size of the sewing machines are grand, and the hundreds of thread colors (some created special for Disney), along with more than 800 (yes 800) styles of buttons, make for an impressive creative zone. Our tour guide told us that this is one of the departments with the least turnover. Once you're in, you never want to leave.
Tower of Terror
No riding today, but we got to see a 360 degree view of the ride vehicle and learn how the batteries charge, how the car moves with magnets and wireless antennae, and all the safety checks that occur as the car goes through the entire ride system
Animal Kingdom Parade Barn
It's less than magical to see parade vehicles lined up in what is essentially an oversized garage, but it's very cool to see how the characters get inside, how the drivers maneuver them, and even how Goofy would make an emergency exit.
Every plant in every theme park, hotel, and resort areas start here. The Disney folks grow 20% extra of each plant so if the third hanging basket on Main Street looks a little peaked on Tuesday afternoon, it can be swapped out that night and look brand new (because it is!) the next day. The cataloging system for each plant is extensive and makes me smile. Plant name, date it was planted, date it reaches maturity, location in park, and the length of the chains it hangs on are all included. Seriously. Topiaries (which you see throughout the parks) start out here, with a huge team of designers planning up to two years in advance.
The afternoon parade is just the beginning, once you start noticing all the names in all the 2nd story windows are real people and an homage to how it all began more than 50 years ago. These names are equivalent to the opening credits of a movie, honoring the folks who worked hard to put on the upcoming show for you. (If you want to learn more, there is even a book about it) The windows of some upper floors even open during parades so the sound system can be optimized.
Have you heard about the tunnels under the Magic Kingdom? They're real, and a great way to get around the park without walking around all the lands, and avoiding strollers to boot!
At the end of the day we decided we were pretty clever to avoid the 'stuff' this past Christmas, and instead share an experience. I have a feeling we might do this sort of thing again, because last week Michael also asked if this sort of gift would be acceptable for my upcoming birthday.