Disney Tours

The Land Pavilion Triple Play: Ride, Tour, Eat at Epcot

by on June 30, 2015

© Sarah Graffam

Epcot’s Behind the Seeds tour (photos by Sarah Graffam)

The Land Pavilion in Epcot’s Future World offers Disney World guests a cornucopia of experiences with its multiple attractions, a fantastic food court, a table service restaurant (that rotates!), and a behind-the-scenes tour. Even better is that many of these experiences are an excellent way to appreciate the original goal of Epcot—for guests to have fun while they learn. For these reasons, my family recently decided to complete a Land Pavilion Triple Play. Come along as we ride, eat, and tour at the Land Pavilion!

Creating a Touring Plan for a Triple Play

TouringPlans logoI decided that creating a personalized Touring Plan would be an excellent way to test the timing of spending an afternoon in Epcot experiencing the Land Pavilion’s attractions, taking its Behind the Seeds tour, and eating dinner at the Garden Grill Restaurant.

This plan would include a FastPass+ reservation at the Land’s Soarin’. To round out our allotment of three FastPass+ reservations per day, we would start our plan with just enough time to use FastPass+ at Spaceship Earth and the Seas with Nemo & Friends before heading to the Land Pavilion.

My first step was to book the Behind the Seeds tour. Booking the last tour of the day—at 4:30 PM—seemed like the best way to maintain a relaxed pace throughout the rest of our day. At the very latest, we would arrive at the Land Pavilion with enough time to experience the Living with the Land attraction before the tour. Living with the Land is a boat cruise through the same greenhouses where the in-depth Behind the Seeds walking tour takes place. This makes it a perfect way to get excited for the tour.

© Sarah Graffam

Guests enjoying Living with the Land boat attraction

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Disney’s Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales Tour Review

by on June 25, 2015

Earlier this year, Disney discontinued two of their behind-the-scenes tours at the Animal Kingdom (Backstage Safari and Wild by Design) and replaced them with a new tour called Backstage Tales. The new tour a mashup of the two, weighted heavily with Backstage Safari experiences. If you’ve previously been on Backstage Safari, consider yourself covered.

Bird food

Bird food

A key difference between the old tours and the new is a change of the participation age limit. Backstage Safari (which, not surprisingly, took place backstage) had an age requirement of 16. Wild By Design (which was an on-stage experience) had an age 14 requirement. The new Backstage Tales allows guests as young as 12 years old to participate. I took the tour with my 15 year old twin daughters.

Disney used standard-sounding boilerplate language when they described why the tour was changed — something along the lines of “due to guest feedback and demand.” While I’m sometimes suspicious of the real motivation behind comments like that, I can assure you that when answering questions on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, we did indeed get many questions from guests requesting behind-the-scenes educational experiences for their younger children. The reduced age requirement is terrific news for budding veterinarians and zoologists who want an early look at the inner workings of animal care at the park.

The tour consists of seven parts:

  • Introductions and Getting to Know You
  • Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)
  • Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats
  • Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist
  • Visit to the animal nutrition center
  • Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room
  • Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

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Introductions and Getting to Know You

This tour starts early, 7:30am. While younger teens will enjoy getting to see the backstage areas, they will almost certainly NOT like the early hour. Theoretically, you should be able to get an “early character meal” bus from your resort to the Animal Kingdom, but I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to take this tour, plan to get to the park with your own car or via a taxi or Uber. Also note that the food cart outside the park gates may not be open when you arrive. You should grab breakfast at your hotel prior to leaving for the tour.

Guest check-in takes place just outside the park gates, toward the left as you face the park. There’s a bit of housekeeping when you arrive. Adults must sign waivers for themselves and any children in their care. Also, IDs are checked for adults. All guests are issued name tags and audio headsets that make it easier to hear the guide’s narration.

Your guide will introduce him or her self, giving a brief synopsis of where they’re from and their history with Disney. They will then ask the guests to introduce themselves, giving their name where they’re from, and some other bit of information. On various tours, I’ve been asked to tell my favorite Disney character, my favorite ride, my favorite animal, or what I’m looking forward to about the tour.

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 11.08.07 AM

Once the business is out of the way, guests pass the park gate touchpoints using their admission media. (I was going to say swipe their tickets at the turnstile, but that’s so 2013.)

Visit to the Aviary (Pangani Forest Trail area)

The first stop on the tour is at the Pangani Forest Trail aviary. Along the way, the guide will share stories about the history of the Animal Kingdom park. Some of these are the same as what I encountered when I took the Wild By Design tour in 2014. Photography is allowed on the AK park paths and in the aviary, which is a public space.

At the aviary, we were greeted by a bird care specialist. He discussed the nesting and feeding habits of many of the species housed at the Animal Kingdom. A highlight for several guests was an opportunity to feed the birds by tossing mealworms to them. Guests who chose to do this were offered gloves, if they wanted to use them. The mealworms made our group extremely popular with the birds, making this a terrific opportunity to get photos. The feeding also made it easier to see that all the birds at the aviary are banded with identification tags. We learned from the keepers that every bird is located and counted every day.

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Visit to the backstage rhino and elephant habitats

After the aviary, we slipped behind the scenes and boarded a van to take us to the rhino and elephant barns. Before getting in the van, we were asked to put away our cameras. Most folks just slipped them into their bag or pocket. I was wearing a large DSLR and just put the lens cap on, which seemed to satisfy the guide that I wasn’t covertly snapping pictures.

At the rhino and elephant barns, we were met by a large mammal specialist who described some of the training the animals receive to facilitate their medical care. We were also welcome to ask as many questions as we wanted about life on the “savannah,” work at the Animal Kingdom, animal breeding, or anything else we could think of. The barns are spartan and much more zoo-like than the wooded areas that guests see inside the park. Backstage it’s mostly iron and concrete. The animals are given some “toys” and distractions, but the barns are primarily a business area. While at the barns, we did see elephants backstage getting cared for, but all the rhinos were out for viewing in public areas. This will vary daily depending on the needs of the animals and the facility.

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Visit to the backstage area of Conservation Station, including an animal operating room

When you visit the public areas of Conservation Station (the building in Rafiki’s Planet Watch at the end of the Wildlife Express train ride), you may see animal care specialists performing procedures on creatures from behind a glass wall. On the Backstage Tales tour, you get to go into one of those rooms and see the medical equipment up close. We learned about the different types of tools used to examine different size species and got an overview of the areas of expertise of the cast members that work at the Animal Kingdom.

During our visit, we happened to see part of an examination of a sedated fennec fox. This is one of my daughter’s favorite animals, so she was in awe. You may or may not see a live animal procedure during your tour, depending on the needs of the facility.

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Visit to the animal nutrition center

After another brief van ride, we stopped at the stop animal nutrition center. This is almost like the kitchen for a large restaurant. There are delivery bays for fruits and vegetables — from the exact same vendors that provide human food for the parks. The produce must meet the same exacting specifications as the food for the guests. We also got to see storage areas for hay and specially prepared pellet-style nutritional supplements for some specials. Additionally, there were freezers for the meat fed to carnivores.

The main room of the nutrition center features several work stations where staff have “recipe books” with precise measurements of food to be delivered to each animal each day. These were “plated” into individual storage containers for transportation to the feeding stations throughout the park.

A particularly interesting area was a shelf full of enhancement items to make the food more interesting for the animals. This included things like jam, peanut butter, and ground spices, which are periodically added to some animal foods to keep them interesting.

Break time and snack, with presentation by animal care specialist

Near the nutrition center, we visited a classroom area in the backstage education building. We were given an opportunity to use the restroom. Then we were provided with snacks (rice krispie treats) and given souvenir metal Animal Kingdom water bottles, which we could fill from a bottled water cooler.

While we snacked, we were visited by a conservation specialist. Our specialist spoke primarily about Disney’s efforts to support the wild sea turtles near the Disney Vacation Club resort in Vero Beach, Florida. We learned about turtle reproduction and migration patterns. This talk didn’t have much to do with the Animal Kingdom park itself, but it was a good opportunity to learn about Disney’s dedication to conservation issues, and to get out of the heat for a few minutes.

Visit to the backstage komodo dragon habitat

Our final stop was the backstage habitat of the Animal Kingdom’s komodo dragons. We watched a dragon trained to be step onto a scale to be weighed. When the dragon performed the desired behavior, he was rewarded with a “fuzzy,” a frozen baby mouse. The behaviors of the dragons, and all the animals, is completely voluntary. They are rewarded for compliant behavior, but they are never punished for non-compliance.

At the dragon habitat, as at every stop, we were allowed to ask as many questions as we wanted about animal care and behavior, Animal Kingdom operations, or staff training. The Backstage Tales tour is particularly nice because it’s one of the few behind-the-scenes opportunities for guests under the age of 16. If you have a child interested in a possible career in animal care, this is a unique chance to see what their future might be like. In my opinion, the price is reasonable for the amount of time and personal attention you get from the professional staff.

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The Details

  • The price is $90.00 per person, plus tax. All ages pay the same price. Disney Vacation Club, Annual Pass Holder, or Disney Visa Holder discounts may be available. Inquire at time of booking.
  • Theme park admission is required and not included in the price of the tour.
  • There is a 48 hour cancellation policy. You will be charged the full price of the tour if you no-show or cancel less than 48 hours before your tour.
  • The tour takes place from 7:30am to about 11:15am daily. The tour may not be conducted during holidays and during special events.
  • The tour takes place substantially outdoors, rain or shine. Come prepared for the weather.
  • Open to guests ages 12 and up. Guests ages 16 and up will need to provide photo ID. Children under age 18 must be accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Reservations must be made in advance, over the phone. Call 407-WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).
  • Photography is not allowed during backstage portions of the tour. You make take photos during the on-stage portions of the tour.
  • Meet outside the gates to the park 15 minutes prior to start time.
  • Guests are given audio headsets to better hear the guide while walking through the park.

Have you been on the Backstage Tales tour? Is this something you’re considering for you or your kids? Are there any questions you have? Let us know in the comments below.

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Fun Facts for Your Next Disney World Vacation

by on April 26, 2015

Castle Concept Art

Castle Concept Art

Do you crave Disney knowledge? Do you spend way too much time online scanning sites for Disney facts and secrets? Is your bookshelf crammed with Disney Imagineering books and guidebooks? If so, then we’re probably kindred spirits because I’m guilty of all the above! I absolutely love discovering new facts about my favorite place on earth that I can use or see for myself when planning my next Disney World trip. So indulge me, if you will, as I share with you some of my favorite fun facts for your next Disney World Vacation.

Did you know that…

12. Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean are Neighbors? Even though the Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean is in Adventureland and Splash Mountain is in Frontierland, things looks a little different backstage than they do when you’re in the park. When backstage, which means behind the scenes, these two water attractions are located next to each other! The layout of the park from inside is a little deceptive; but since both attractions require high volumes of water, it only makes sense to have them located next door. Pretty cool, right?

Look at the Golions!

Look at the Golions!

11. There’s More Than One Beast at the Beast’s Castle? The Disney Animators used different animals to create the Beast we know from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast film. In fact, the Beast is a mixture of buffalo, lion, wolf, bear, and more! But outside of the Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom’s New Fantasyland, there is another beast that’s also a combo of different animals. It’s a Golion! Guarding either side of the castle doors are two stone beasts that Disney invented just for this area; and as they are a combination of both goats and lions, Imagineers decided to name them Golions! Source: Fun Facts: New Fantasyland

10. The Eiffel Tower at Epcot’s France Pavilion is Historically Accurate? Have you ever paid much attention to the Eiffel Tower at Epcot’s France Pavilion? If so, you may have noticed that the tower looks a little different than those photos you see of the one in France and for a really cool reason. You see, the real Eiffel Tower has changed color since it was first constructed in 1887 due to aging and weathering; but since Epcot’s France Pavilion is meant to represent France as it was in the past, the Eiffel Tower we see is beige, just like how it would’ve been in its early years. Talk about attention to detail! Still not impressed? To be even more historically accurate, Imagineers used the blueprints of the original Eiffel Tower when constructing their own.  Source: AllEars.net

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Epcot DiveQuest and Epcot Seas Aqua Tour Review

by on September 28, 2014

Photo Credit - Disney

Photo Credit – Disney

My husband’s aunt and uncle are huge Disney fans. Not only have they made countless trips to the Disney parks, they have been on several in-park tours as well. While chatting with Uncle Keith, he told me all about his experiences with both the Epcot DiveQuest and Epcot Seas Aqua Tour, and I thought I would share his adventures with all of you. If you’d like to read a review of the Dolphins in Depth tour, click here.

Let’s dive right in!

DiveQuest is a three hour experience giving you the opportunity to scuba dive in a 5.7 million gallon tank with over 6,000 sea creatures. In order to take part in this experience, you must be 10 years or older and be SCUBA-certified. (If there are actually any scuba-certified 10-year-olds out there, I applaud you.) To make reservations, call 407-939-8687. The cost is $175.

Keith was told to show up at the main entrance of Epcot about 15 minutes beforehand. The only things he was asked to bring were his swimsuit and scuba-certification card. After arriving at the Seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion, he was brought backstage to a classroom. Here, Cast Members summarized the entire program, told everyone what was going to happen, and noted how long everything would take.

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Why You Should Choose the Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour

by on September 12, 2014

For those of us looking to learn more about the Disney magic, or for a whole new way to experience the parks, Disney offers a variety of tours to enjoy. For example, there’s Epcot’s Behind the Seeds Tour, Animal Kingdom’s Wild Africa Trek, and the big favorite, Backstage Magic, where you enjoy a backstage look of all four parks! However, my personal favorite tour has to be the Magic Kingdom‘s Keys to the Kingdom Tour, a five hour behind-the-scenes peek of the most magical park of them all; and for anyone looking to splurge on a tour, it’s my top pick. Why? Read on to see why you should choose the Magic Kingdom’s Keys to the Kingdom Tour.

Keys to the Kingdom Tour - A Glass Slipper Vacation

Earpiece guests use during the tour in order to hear even in crowded places

1. Utilidors

So this is one of the Keys to the Kingdom’s biggest draws, so I’m starting with it! Yes, the Keys to the Kingdom Tour allows you the opportunity to check out the legendary Utilidors, the Magic Kingdom’s tunnels that run underneath the park. Now before your imagination runs off, let me be clear. These tunnels are not something you would see in an Indiana Jones film. These tunnels are technically the first floor of the park, as the Magic Kingdom is actually built on the second level; and these tunnels are where offices and utilities are located, as well as wardrobe for Cast Members. Also, the purpose of the Utilidors is to allow Cast Members to get from one side of the park to the other without breaking theme. You see, Disney is all about the details and putting on a show, and having a Cast Member dressed in Liberty Square garb wouldn’t look right in Tomorrowland, would it? Also, you should know that you only get to see a small portion of the Utilidors during the tour; but even so, it’s still awesome! Also during the tour, you will get a chance to venture backstage to see some park attractions and buildings from behind the scenes. During my tour, my guide took our group to see the warehouse where they store the parade floats. It was just as memorable as the Utilidors!

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Disneyland Hotel: The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour

by on August 7, 2014

Disney World resort tours are common at Disney Deluxe Resorts, highlighting their immersive themes and design elements. Some feature unique collections of artwork, some thoughtful tributes to architectural movements in history. But none of the Walt Disney World Resort hotels offer such a Disney-specific historical experience as The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour at the Disneyland Hotel.

A tiny selection from the massive case of tags, trinkets, and photos in the Convention Center at Disneyland Hotel.

A tiny selection from the massive case of tags, trinkets, and photos in the Convention Center at Disneyland Hotel.

The Disneyland Hotel, after all, has one simple theme: Disneyland Nostalgia. The Walt Disney Company turned three 1970s-era glass towers into a one-of-a-kind collection space for Disneyland concept art and vintage Disney photos, plus displays filled with maps, tickets, and trinkets. And just like at the theme parks, every design element, from the wallpaper inside to the trees outside, has been specially created to heighten the theme and create total immersion.

The Happiest Hotel on Earth Tour helps guests see the stories being told by the towers and the central pool area. Within and without the Adventure, Fantasy, and Frontier towers, Disney fans will find tributes to three of the four opening-day lands from Disneyland. And out on the pool deck, you’ll find the fourth — Tomorrowland.

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Walk Disney: A Review of the Boardwalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour

by on July 28, 2014

t_logo_fbThe Walk Disney series will provide a description and review of activities that can be done while walking the grounds at Walt Disney World resorts.

Do you know why the ESPN Club on Disney’s BoardWalk is shaped like an octagon? Do you know where the hidden Tinkerbell is near the elevators of Disney’s BoardWalk Villas? By taking the free BoardWalk Ballyhoo Guided Tour, you will learn these and many more interesting details about Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas resort area.

Before describing the experience that my wife and I had on the tour, here are the tour basics:

What does the tour entail? The tour covers many of the design choices that the Imagineers made when constructing Disney’s BoardWalk Resort area. The walking, informational tour begins at the Bellevue Lounge, continues through the main floor of Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, and eventually ends up on the boardwalk outside of the Boardwalk Bakery.

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A Review of Disney World’s Wilderness Lodge Tour

by on July 27, 2014

Our tour guide Ranger!

Our tour guide Ranger!

From the first moment I stepped foot into the Wilderness Lodge just to look around, I fell in love with it. The architecture and ambiance are romantic to me. Both my husband and I are nature lovers. We dream of staying at the Wilderness Lodge someday. But until then, we just visit it often, walking through the lobby and grounds, eating our hearts out. When I learned there were actual free guided tours of this majestic beauty, I couldn’t wait. My husband, on the other hand, was skeptical and thought it would be a waste of valuable park time. What could a tour offer that we hadn’t already seen on our many strolls through? We were about to find out.

On Thursday morning of our trip we had opening breakfast reservations for Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary. As soon as we finished we grabbed a boat over to the Wilderness Lodge, where our tour was about to begin. The meeting spot for the tour is in front of the large fireplace in the lobby of the Lodge. We were a little early, so we sat in the rocking chairs and enjoyed the slower pace. Soon another couple joined us, and we all waited patiently for our tour guide to arrive.

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Wild Africa Trek – An In-Depth Review of the VIP Backstage Tour at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

by on July 9, 2014

Disney describes the Wild Africa Trek as “[a] privately guided VIP expedition offering close encounters with exotic African wildlife in their native habitat.” In other words, the Wild Africa Trek is a tour that builds upon the experience of Kilimanjaro Safaris by taking you to areas of the Harambe Wildlife Reserve that you may have seen on Kilimanjaro Safaris, but only from afar. This article takes an in-depth look at the Wild Africa Trek experience, details the cost associated with the tour, responds to possible FAQs from those considering the tour, and, ultimately, attempts to the answer the question: Is the Wild Africa Trek worth its cost?

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Photo Gallery: Disneyland Cultivating the Magic Tour Part 2 (Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland)

by on February 18, 2014

Welcome back to the happiest horticulture on Earth, as we complete our in-depth photo essay on the Disneyland Cultivating the Magic tour. Hopefully you’ve already enjoyed part one of this series, in which we explored the fascinating flora found in Disneyland Park, from Main Street U.S.A. through Adventureland and New Orleans Square. In this second installment, we’ll examine the lovely landscaping in Frontierland, Fantasyland, and finally Tomorrowland.

Frontierland

We’ll start exactly where we left off, at the rosemary planter that separates Frontierland from New Orleans Square.

This metasequoia, or dawn redwood, has quite a history. Originally thought to be extinct, a living example was rediscovered in central China in 1941.

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