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Keys to the Kingdom: A Backstage Tour of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Today while the kids were in school, we took advantage of some all-adult time to do the Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour. This 5-hour long adults only (16+ age requirement) tour takes you through Magic Kingdom, offering insight and trivia along the way and a rare look at many backstage areas, including the Utilidors that operate below the surface to keep the show seamless for visiting guests.

As of the date of this article, Keys to the Kingdom costs $99 with discounts available to annual passholders and DVC members. This price includes the tour itself, a souvenir pin, and lunch. Our lunch was in a roped off area of Pecos Bill with menu items that we pre-ordered that morning. They also gave us bottled water at the start to help stay hydrated along the way.

The tour is adults only for many reasons – not the least of which being that this look behind the scenes might “ruin the magic” for children. But while I think that might be a valid concern for the Disney seen through a child’s eyes – after all we did see Jack Sparrow in a robe and Snow White in a romper and carrying her dress along the way – I’d challenge any adult to leave this particular tour not feeling the magic more than ever before.

The tour starts at the Town Square Theater, past Roy and Minnie’s “Sharing the Magic” bench, along Main Street and its many windows – last but not least being Walt’s above the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor. We then turned left past Crystal Palace into Adventureland, and then on to Frontierland, where we went backstage to see the workings of the parade floats and behind the scenes of Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean. We continued on to Liberty Square before turning into Fantasyland and entering the Utilidors – the “below the surface” cast member-only network of tunnels that allows the Magic Kingdom to operate seamlessly in the eyes of visiting guests.

In addition to walking through the various lands and going backstage, we rode Jungle Cruise with our guide and a skipper, getting lots of insight into the history and detail of the ride, and rode Haunted Mansion with the chance to hear countless little known facts before and after.

I love Disney trivia and history as much as the next Disney-obsessed girl and like to think I’m pretty well versed – but I learned so, so much along the way. I don’t want to give you more than a handful of tidbits lest I ruin the KTTK experience for you – but, for example, did you know that:

  • Walt Disney World’s property of course consists of approximately 27,000 acres, with about 1/3 developed so far, 1/3 dedicated to conservation, and 1/3 still available for development. But did you know that, while Disney was initially able to purchase the first 95% of this undeveloped swampland under various pseudonym entities for about $150/acre, once it got out that it was Disney acquiring the land the last acres cost them $80,000 each??? And the very last $80,000 acre that Walt convinced Roy to buy is now Disney Springs!! (All hail Roy for agreeing to buy the future home of Boathouse and Morimoto!)
  • The “cobwebs” on the chandeliers in the Haunted Mansion were actually made by the original Imagineers with gluestick guns and hair dryers – and no one has been able to replicate the effect as well since, so they’re very careful not to mess up the original work.

  • The water that the elephant might squirt you with on the Jungle Cruise doesn’t come from the river water – but from a purified, drinkable source – so that you won’t get sick if it gets you.
  • Walt hand picked the oak tree known as the Liberty Tree in Liberty Square from elsewhere on the acquired Florida property. When they went to move it into place after his death, it was so heavy that it broke into two. Rather than scrap the project, they honored Walt’s wishes by grafting another oak onto the remaining half. The grafted parts have since grown together over the years. Now, in honor of Walt and to spread his touch throughout Walt Disney World, fallen acorns from the tree are planted throughout property to sprout new seedlings.

We were also given the opportunity to ask behind-the-scenes questions while we were backstage and the answers were fascinating. I won’t share them here as I’ll give you your own opportunity to find out what you do and don’t want to know, but this opportunity was so cool and I was wracking my brain for every detail that I’d ever wondered about.

But beyond these details, and an even deeper understanding of the degree to which “everything speaks” in Disney, was a dual storyline that let me leave the Keys to the Kingdom tour with an even greater sense of the magic of Walt Disney World.

First were the keys themselves. We learned that the Kingdom has four underlying keys – a concept that made sense but that I’d never thought of quite so clearly. They are safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency, and they exist on stage at Disney in that order of priority. The safety of guests, the courtesy shown to them, the consistency of the “on stage” show of the lands, and the efficiency of the system guide every detail and decision in that order of priority. The doors of the shops on Main Street are, for example, left open with the air conditioning pumping into the street as a courtesy to guests and to maintain the show, because they would have been open when the shops were open in Main Street’s day – and this is at the cost of the efficiency of closing doors to keep the air conditioning in. These are just a few examples that we explored as to how Walt Disney World abides by and prioritizes the keys.

The other storyline was, to my intense joy, Roy. And family. And gratitude – even when the recipient doesn’t ask for it. The tour began with a deep dive into what Roy did for Walt as we stood by Roy’s bench with Minnie on Main Street. We talked about his contribution to Walt’s dream throughout the tour – and ended it in the Utilidors talking our way through a series of pictures and photographs on a corridor wall that told the story of the brothers, Walt’s death, and how Roy worked tirelessly to make Walt’s dream of the Florida park – which Roy named *Walt* Disney World – a reality after losing his baby brother to lung cancer.

At the dedication to Magic Kingdom on October 25, 1971, Roy was convinced to speak despite being a behind the scenes character that was not comfortable in the spotlight. At the set hour of 2 p.m., Roy took to the podium and stood there, silently, appearing unable to speak.

He left the podium and whispered something to a cast member, who returned to Roy soon after with Mickey, who stood by Roy’s side and gave him the strength to deliver the dedication. He needed his baby brother with him in that moment.

Roy Disney passed away just 2 months later. He’d lived just long enough to bring Walt’s dream to life.

Since that day, Mickey has been present at every dedication of every new Disney park throughout the world. He brings Walt’s presence to the event.

To me, Disney is one of those subjects that pulls you in more with every detail. Every time I learn something new, my mind is blown again and I want to dive even deeper into the details surrounding the Disney family, the Disney company, the parks, the intellectual property…. And so while I understand why people talk about how KTTK could “spoil the magic” for a child, I challenge any adult to take the tour and leave not feeling all the more inspired and all the more in love with the parks and their history.

Huge, huge shout out to our amazing tour guide Jami. She was the perfect mix of passionate about the subject and just plain funny.

Have you done the Keys to the Kingdom Tour? Did it make you feel the magic that much more?

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  • Reply
    October 20, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    Wow! That story about Roy seriously made me tear up. It sounds like such an incredible experience.

  • Reply
    November 1, 2018 at 10:22 pm

    I did this tour on my second trip to WDW in 2006. My daughter was six at the time, already a Disney addict, and jealous she couldn’t go. Ten years later when we asked what she wanted for her sweet sixteenth birthday, she said this tour on the first day she was allowed to do it!

    Your tour, my daughter’s, and mine sound like they differed in several ways. Might be cool to retake this every few years!

  • Reply
    November 9, 2018 at 6:27 pm

    On my list for the next visit! Thanks for the insight. I listen to you on the WDW radio when you are a guest. Congrats on following your path!

    • Reply
      November 10, 2018 at 9:30 am

      Thank you so much!!! Let me know what you think when you do it!

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