**This article originally appeared on the Yahoo Voices content network on July 1, 2014. It has been republished here due to the shutdown of Voices and YCN.**
It’s no secret that Walt Disney World is a place where magic happens, but a good deal of that magic takes place backstage, or behind-the-scenes of the theme parks. You may be familiar with the parks themselves, but have you ever wondered what goes on behind the curtain, so to speak? Many visitors to the Walt Disney World Resort are not even aware of the experiences available to them through a wide variety of backstage tours.
What you need to know about touring Disney:
Advance reservations are generally required for most tours, and always a good idea! Make your reservations by calling 407-WDW-TOUR.
Most of the tours have minimum age requirements. Inquire about all potential restrictions on the tour of your choice when making reservations.
All guests must present photo ID upon tour check-in.
All backstage areas are strictly “no photograph” zones, and they do mean it!
Tours are almost always separately priced from your park ticket. Prices vary by tour, and discounts are available for Disney Vacation Club members, Annual Passholders, and more. The rule of thumb at Disney is – always ask about potential discounts!
There are four main parks within the Walt Disney World Resort. While some tours focus on features at individual parks, others provide cross-park itineraries. Topics and themes of the tours vary, so there is certainly an option for every interest.
Magic Kingdom tours:
Family Magic Experience ($34) – A series of clues will lead your group through highlight areas of the park as you try to foil the plans of a dastardly Disney villain. No age restrictions on this one. In fact, it’s best suited for families with younger children. Set aside two hours, starting at 10:00 AM.
Keys to the Kingdom Tour ($79) – Become a Disney trivia pro as you learn facts and legends dating all the way back to the birth of Walt Disney’s Florida vision. This guided tour grants you access to the “utilidors” and legendary underground tunnels of the Magic Kingdom, as well as the Production Center housing the park’s parade floats. You’ll certainly enjoy the front-of-line privileges at some of Magic Kingdom’s most beloved attractions. As an added bonus, lunch is included! This five hour walking tour departs early in the morning, in three separate, small groups. This tour is limited to guests 16 years and up.
The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains ($54) – Join the opening crew of engineers as you explore one of Walt Disney’s greatest passions – the world of steam trains. This three hour tour allows you early entry into the Magic Kingdom park, and access to backstage storage and maintenance areas. Minimum required age for this tour is 10 years.
Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom ($30) – Paying homage to the man behind the mouse, this tour serves to explain Walt’s vision for the Magic Kingdom. Your guide will share facts and history demonstrating how the park represents a timeline of Walt’s life. This three hour tour allows early entry to the park, and is limited to guests aged 12 and up.
Behind the Seeds ($20) – This one hour tour takes you behind-the-scenes of The Land. Here, you’ll explore the Epcot greenhouses, labs, and fish farms, while learning the techniques of the Disney masters. Tours run throughout the day, and can often be joined with short notice. Open to all ages, this tour is an interactive, educational experience.
Dolphins in Depth ($199) – This remarkable experience provides an opportunity to swim with the resident dolphins of The Living Seas. Limited to only eight guests per day, Dolphins in Depth also explores the research, training, and care procedures Disney employs for routine care of marine mammals during a backstage (dry) portion of the three hour encounter. A souvenir photograph is included. This tour is limited to guests 13 and over.
DiveQuest ($175) – Dive amongst coral creations and over 65 species of marine life in this unique tour through the vast saltwater aquariums of The Living Seas. Guests will also discover what is involved with the operation and maintenance of the attraction itself through a guided backstage circuit. This three hour tour is limited to certified SCUBA divers aged 10 and up. Equipment is provided to participants (excluding bathing suits). The Epcot Seas Aqua Tour ($140) is a close alternative experience that utilizes snorkeling rather than SCUBA methods, so certification is not required.
The UnDISCOVERed Future World ($64) – This four hour guided tour leads guests throughout the various areas of Future World, as well as select backstage and VIP areas, while examining Walt Disney’s original plan for EPCOT, the “Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow”. Participants must be at least 16 years old.
Animal Kingdom tours:
Backstage Safari ($72) – This three hour backstage tour provides insight behind the care and study of Animal Kingdom’s over 1500 animal inhabitants, and the depth of Disney’s conservation efforts. Guests are guided through the Animal Nutrition Center, animal housing areas, veterinary hospital, and more, before embarking on a VIP version of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Guests 16 and older are welcome.
Wild Africa Trek ($189-$249) – This expertly-guided adventure tour takes you up-close-and-personal with the animal residents of Kilimanjaro Safaris. Limited to twelve guests per tour, this experience includes a hiking trek, rope bridge, VIP vehicle tour, and a cliffhanging stop over hippos and crocodiles before settling in to a private safari camp for African culinary delights. Participants must be at least 8 years old, and over 48″ tall.
Wild By Design ($60) – This three hour tour, open to ages 14 and up, offers a rare opportunity to view a Disney park through the perspectives of the Imagineers responsible for creating it. You’ll explore brilliantly re-created villages of Asia and Africa, as well as DinoLand U.S.A. while learning details about the authentic history and detail behind them. Along the way, you’ll encounter the park’s animal keepers and learn about the care and conservation of a variety of wildlife species. A light breakfast is included.
Backstage Magic ($249) – This seven hour, behind-the-scenes excursion takes you through a whirlwind tour of all four parks, and then some. At various stops (including many restricted, backstage locations), observe Disney’s innovative procedures in technology, costuming, horticulture, and landscaping. Participants must be at least 16 years old.
There are even more tours that are specifically associated with holidays, resort hotels, or special events. For a complete and current listing of tours at the Walt Disney World Resort, visit their tours and events page. You may have already visited the Disney parks, but perhaps now is the time to see them a bit differently!
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