Disney Tours

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.


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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The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains: Tour Report

by on March 20, 2013

Our guide introduces himself.

On a recent Walt Disney World visit, I was out the door of my resort at 7:00 a.m., not for a meal with Mickey or for an especially ambitious run at rope drop, but rather for the bright-and-early Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour at the Magic Kingdom. I’ve been making admirable progress on my quest to eventually do everything at Walt Disney World, but this particular tour had been repeatedly pushed to the bottom of my to-do list for years. Two factors finally made it rise to the forefront: first, I was traveling solo and thus had no cranky kids or hubby to complain about the potentially “boring” topic, and second, I was staying at the Bay Lake Tower, which made getting to the tour itself particularly convenient.

First some housekeeping basics and then I’ll give my impressions of the tour.

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10 Questions You May Have About the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps Tour

by on March 11, 2013

Have you done the Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps Tour? Actually the real question is: have you done it since September 9, 2012? Because it changed! For the better! If you haven’t, you may wonder if it’s right for you. I think it’s a great tour, and the answer is probably a resounding, “Yes, it is right for you!” In my opinion, it’s great even for frequent Disneyland visitors. So here are some details that may help you decide. Keep in mind that all of these details are subject to change. The price could change, attractions could change, yada yada yada. There, we got that out of the way. Read on!

1. When to Book? – You can book this tour 30 days in advance at 8 a.m. Pacific Time by calling 714-781-TOUR (8687). The question is: should you book it that early? And the answer is probably yes. This is a very popular tour these days, and it actually does sell out. So when you are sure you want to do it, book it. If you’re not sure of your plans, on the other hand, don’t book it! It’s non-refundable, and you pay when you book!

2. How Much Moolah? – The price for this tour changed in September when the tour, itself, changed. It’s now $109 a person. The good news is that there are some discounts! Disneyland Annual Passholders, DVC Members, AAA Members, and Disney Visa Cardholders all get a discount that takes the cost down to $87.20. You will also need your own admission into Disneyland for the day.

3. When is the tour? – The tour is currently offered every day! That’s good news if you’re only there for a short stay! It’s offered at 9:30 every morning and lasts about 3 hours, sometimes a little longer.

4. Can I hear? – Are you worried it will be hard to walk around a busy theme park in a group of people and hear what the tour guide is saying? Don’t be. Each guest is given a headset to hear what the guide is saying. The guide also uses the headsets for some audio bonuses. Try not getting goose bumps when the guide plays Walt’s Disneyland opening day speech. And walking through the park hearing music and other spiels from attractions is a great touch.

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Dolphins in Depth: Tour Report

by on February 7, 2013

I hugged a dolphin at Epcot. And you can too!

My family of frequent Walt Disney World visitors is always looking for new Disney activities. We were excited when my twin daughters recently turned 13 and thus became old enough for the entire family to experience the Dolphins in Depth tour at Epcot together. During the tour we got to go backstage, enter the giant Living Seas aquarium, and get some quality bonding time in with a real live dolphin.

Our first stop was the meeting area outside the gates of Epcot. We were greeted by two cast members who gave us a little welcome speech and had us sign boilerplate waivers. We introduced ourselves and met the other guests on the tour. There is a limit of eight guests per Dolphins in Depth experience. Our group included my family of five plus a mother and her two adult schoolteacher daughters. This made for a very manageable experience.

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Yuletide Fantasy Tour Review

by on November 21, 2012

The Yuletide Fantasy Tour is about holiday traditions around the world with a little bit of Disney holiday traditions sprinkled in. It is open to guests age 16 and older and is only available select days in November and December. In 2012 it is offered Monday through Saturday at 9am from November 26 to December 29. There are a few exceptions to this schedule: the tour is not offered on 11/30, 12/1, or 12/25. This review is based on the 2011 tour, so some changes may have occurred for the 2012 season.

Guests on Yuletide Fantasy TourLike the Holiday D-Lights tour, Yuletide Fantasy is a multi-park tour offered by the Disney Institute. Since separate park admission is not required, Disney Institute tours usually have higher prices than single park tours such as Keys to the Kingdom.

At $84 (without discounts or tax) for 3.5 hours, the Yuletide Fantasy tour may look like a losing proposition compared with other tour options. For example, the 4.5-5 hour UnDISCOVERed Future World tour is only $54.

When reviewing tours, I place a lot of emphasis on value: not just the cost of the tour or the use of a ticket day, but what you receive in exchange for forfeiting precious vacation hours. As I set out for my Yuletide Fantasy Tour, I kept that in mind since a 9am tour means giving up valuable early morning park time.

Our group met outside Guest Relations to the far right of Epcot’s turnstiles. By the time 9am rolled around, all 34 folks in my group had arrived, signed in, and received name badges. Then we were off to the tour bus. In addition to providing a welcomed seat between stops, the bus also served as our locker.

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Adventures by Disney, Basic Questions Answered

by on July 18, 2012

As much as I absolutely ADORE the Disney theme parks and the Disney Cruise Line, if I were forced to swear upon a cup of Dole Whip, I might have to confess that my favorite part of the Disney Destinations family is now Adventures by Disney. In 2009, I went to Costa Rica with AbD. In 2010, I sent my parents and oldest daughter to Ireland with AbD. In 2011, I saw several European countries with the combined Barcelona Escape and Mediterranean Magic AbD trips. As you’re reading this, I’m off on the AbD Quest for the West to Yellowstone and environs. Next month, I’ll be on an AbD Germany excursion. And in 2013, I’ll being seeing China and Hong Kong with Adventures by Disney.

Um, can you tell I’m hooked?

The view from my hotel bed in Costa Rica.

To date, Touring Plans has not had much coverage of the Adventures by Disney part of Disney travel. And frankly, we’re not sure if Touring Plans readers are interested, so this is little test post. I’m here to answer some of the basic questions about AbD. If you want more, let us know. Or if this seems too far afield from your regularly scheduled Disney parks planning, let us know that too.

And now, on with the show …

What exactly is Adventures by Disney?

AbD is luxury group touring to destinations around the world, with Disney-trained guides. The key words in that sentence are “luxury,” “group,” and “Disney-trained.” Currently there are trips to destinations North, Central, and South America; Asia; Africa; Australia; and Europe.

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Free Tour Series: African-Inspired, Disney-Designed

by on May 15, 2012

Animal Kingdom Villas LobbyTo wrap up our Free Tour Series, we’re back at the Animal Kingdom Villas. That’s right, Kidani Village is home to two free tours! In addition to the Sanaa Cultural Tour, they also offer African-Inspired, Disney-Designed.

The afternoon I took the African-Inspired, Disney-Designed tour, it was just me and a family of four. However, we had three Cultural Representatives leading the tour. The primary Cultural Representative, a young man from South Africa, was training two new tour guides from other areas of the resort. The combination of multiple tour guides, new trainees and fairly strong accents made it very difficult for me to hear/understand all of the information presented on the tour. I’m confident that a normal tour with one guide would be easier to follow, but I still recommend standing as close to the guide as possible to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Kidani Village Quote

Each quote painted throughout the resort is accompanied by bronze butterflies.

We all meet in front of a tour sign outside Johari Treasures, the gift shop inside the Kidani Village lobby.  “Johari” means jewel in Swahili. The tall, arched lobby windows overlooking the savanna form the center jewel of Kidani, which is Swahili for necklace. For those paying attention, the meaning of Kidani was also discussed on the Sanaa Cultural Tour. These two tours have a fair amount of overlapping information.

After quick introductions, we headed outside to the Animal Kingdom Villas lobby entrance, which serves as the beginning of the resort’s story. If you have ever visited Kidani Village, you may have noticed the various proverbs painted on the walls. Outside the lobby, is the opening proverb from Ghana, “Proverbs are like butterflies, some are caught, some fly away.” This quote explains why all of the proverbs throughout the resort are accompanied by little bronze butterflies.

Lost-wax cast bronze clock

Lost-wax cast bronze clock

From there, we reentered the lobby to continue the story. Just like Animal Kingdom Lodge, Animal Kingdom Villas is inspired by many different African cultures. The lost-wax cast Asante Clock that greets guests in the lobby was made in Cameroon. Our Cultural Representatives pointed out several other pieces of art and thematic details in the lobby before we moved on to the library.

The Kidani library features several more African artifacts, including photographs of Cameroon architecture. The signature piece, however, is not actually African. Next to the fireplace, hangs two large robe tapestries embroidered with the names of the Animal Kingdom Villas Founding DVC Members. It is a nice tribute to all those families who bought into the resort before it opened in 2009. These Founding Members also received personal plaques with a framed beaded necklace, paying homage to the name Kidani.

Next, we traveled downstairs to visit the resort’s only restaurant, Sanaa. This portion of the tour was essentially an abbreviated version of the Sanaa Cultural Tour without at any food. I would think there are enough to details in Sanaa that the two tours wouldn’t need to repeat, but I guess most guests don’t take the time to do both. If you are interested in both tours, I will mention that it is not really possible to do them back to back on the same day. While the Sanaa Cultural Tour starts at 4 p.m., you would probably have to skip out on the bread sampler at the end (the best part!) to catch the African-Inspired, Disney-Designed tour up in the lobby at 4:30 p.m.

Kidani Village Lobby

Kidani Village Lobby

After Sanaa, the tour wrapped up with a trip out to the savanna. The outdoor savanna overlook area at Kidani Village is much smaller than the one at Jambo House. However, you are on the same level as the animals and the it feels more intimate than over at the Lodge. Plus, they lure the animals towards the overlook right around the time the tour ends, so they can be viewed by dinner guests when Sanaa opens. Every time I’ve been on the overlook around 4-5pm, there have been plenty of zebras, giraffes, wildebeests and various birds close by.

Despite the difficulties in hearing the guides on the day of my tour, African-Inspired, Disney-Designed is a fun tour for folks interested in Disney themeing. The Animal Kingdom resorts are my favorite with their combination of beautiful design and African wildlife. If I had to pick just one of the Kidani Village tours, I would recommend the Sanaa Cultural Tour simply because you get to sample some of the cuisine. However, if you already have plans to dine at Sanaa, taking the African-Inspired tour beforehand would make for a lovely evening.

Animal Kingdom Villas SavannaThe African-Inspired, Disney-Designed tour is currently offered at 4:30 p.m. daily. No reservations are accepted, and all you need to do to attend is show up at tour sign outside the Johari Treasures gift shop in the Kidani Village lobby .  The tour is open to all ages and lasts 20 minutes.   As resort activities can change monthly, check the Resort Activites Calendar or call (407) 938-3000 to confirm the tour schedule.

Missed the first four installments of the Free Tour Series? You can check them out here.

Have you tried the African-Inspired, Disney-Designed Tour?  Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!

Gardens of the World Tour Review

by on April 2, 2012

Festival BloomsThis year’s Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival is in full swing, and the park has never looked more gorgeous. What better way could there be to explore all the amazing displays and learn what it takes to put on this signature event than with a tour? Thankfully, the Gardens of the World Tour lets guests do just that!

Offered only during the Festival, Gardens of the World offers guests a unique opportunity to explore Epcot along with members of Disney’s Horticulture group. As the team responsible for bringing Epcot into bloom, the Horticulture tour guides are the perfect folks to share the ins and outs of maintaining the park’s landscaping during the Festival and throughout the year.

Periwinkle Fairy

Periwinkle Fairy, from the upcoming The Secret of the Wings, debuts as a topiary at the 2012 Flower and Garden Festival.

While I attended last year’s Flower & Garden Festival, this was my first time taking the two tours offered. The previously reviewed English Tea Garden Tour was a fun, free way to enjoy the Festival’s offerings. However, that quick tour is no match for the amount of information and access provided on Gardens of the World.

To start, tour guests met outside Epcot at Guest Relations at 9am. If you take this or any other tour, make sure you are early. For the first time in almost 20 tours, I was late. Somehow after arriving one minute late, it took over 15 minutes to finally catch up with the group. If you are ever late for a tour, immediately go to Guest Relations. Provided your tour allows late arrivals (some don’t), Guest Relations will find a Cast Member to escort you to meet up with the group.

By the time we found my group, they had already received name tags, pins, discussed the main entrance Fantasia topiaries, and made their way behind Spaceship Earth. Things were moving fast. I was handed a name tag and a headset. Almost all the paid tours use headsets to allow guests to hear despite their proximity to the guide and the volume of the crowds in the park. My tour had 21 guests, so I was very glad I could still keep up with what was being said despite trailing the group.

Bambi's Butterfly House

Guests can interact with butterflies and view cocoons in Bambi's Butterfly House.

At the point I joined, the group was learning about how the giant peacock topiary behind Spaceship Earth had to be lowered earlier that week because it didn’t flow with the surrounding flower beds, which are supposed to represent the bird’s tail feathers. This was one of the examples of how Disney is constantly evaluating and updating displays throughout the Festival. Another example was the sand sculpture highlighting the new Chimpanzee nature film, which will be completely rebuilt several times throughout the festival as the sand is eroded.

From there we made our way through Future World East into the For The Birds and Pixie Hollow gardens. Much of our tour was spent learning about the details in to the special displays throughout the park. Even though I had visited Epcot during Flower & Garden before, I never realized just how many displays there are. I counted at least seven on the tour, not including the country-specific landscaping throughout World Showcase. This tour did a fantastic job of encouraging us to really explore all the beauty the Festival has to offer.

Cars 2 synergy in the Japan PavilionNext, we learned about the creation of the flower berms and floating baskets in the waterway leading up to World Showcase. We also visited Bambi’s Butterfly Garden, my favorite Flower & Garden Festival staple. Then we walked by the rose gardens and the sand sculpture before making our way into World Showcase.

While there was plenty to see in Future World, World Showcase took up the bulk of this 3 hour tour. Starting from Mexico, we visited each and every pavilion. We even got to enter the Showcase before it opened to regular guests. I’m a big proponent of taking early tours that allow for a private park experience. I spent as much time taking photos of empty pavilions as I did learning about horticulture.

Prince Philip and Princess Aurora

Prince Philip and Princess Aurora waltz outside the France Pavilion.

One thing I didn’t realize until this tour, is that many of the flowers and displays for the festival are donated from outside parties, as well as other departments within Disney. Mexico’s orchids are provided by Animal Kingdom, which features orchids in its Oasis area. Many of the Mexico orchids are kept in pots and will go back to Animal Kingdom at the end of the Festival. The orchids that have been sewn into the palm trees will stay and may bloom a few more times before being removed.

Similarly, the Japan pavilion features a gorgeous display of bonsai trees. Each has been donated by a private owner to Disney. Our guide indicated that due to the delicate nature of bonsais, making sure these were returned in great condition is one of the most stressful tasks for the horticulture team.

Our group also learned about the process of creating topiaries for the festival versus building permanent topiaries elsewhere on property. If you have visited Topiary Production on the Backstage Magic tour, this part of the tour will be very redundant. I spent this part of the tour searching for the even the smallest sliver of shade. Fortunately, the headset let me stand far off without missing out on what the guides were saying.

Commemorative Gardens of the World Tour Pin

Commemorative Gardens of the World Tour Pin

Which reminds me: WEAR SUNSCREEN!!! I wore SPF 75 and still ended up with a terrible sunburn from this tour. Three hours of standing in direct sun is no joke. I spent much of the tour standing at a distance to be in the shade and even walked off at one point to get water. As a native Floridian, this was my first time getting a serious sunburn at Disney. If I were taking this tour again, I’d carry an umbrella to block the sun. Bringing a water bottle would be a wise idea as well. If it’s this bad in March, May is going to be brutal.

In the France Pavilion, we learned about how Disney constructs the hanging plant baskets. One of our guides works on the indoor plants at Magic Kingdom, including the hanging baskets in Crystal Palace. It never occurred to me how much work goes into choosing and maintaining the arrangements. Did you know that each of Epcot’s hanging baskets weighs up to 60 pounds? The larger the arrangement, the less likely it will dry out between daily waterings.

2012 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Poster

2012 Epcot Flower & Garden Festival Poster

We wrapped up in Canada. After learning about the irrigation system used for the trees on Canada’s “mountain”, we got to go backstage to view the pavilion from the other side. While this backstage portion of the tour was very short, it was fantastic to see how the mountain is constructed with deep planters and a pipe-system for the water. Here we each received a copy of the 2012 Flower & Garden Festival poster in a large tube. These posters cost $19.95 at the Festival Center, so it was really a nice surprise for tour guests.

Aside from being preoccupied with potential dehydration and sun-poisoning, I learned a lot from this tour. Most of the guests were avid gardeners, many taking notes on the specific plants used throughout Epcot. We each received a card with contact information for the Horticulture group should we have any follow up questions. Both of our guides were excellent and clearly passionate about their jobs.

If you are even the slightest bit inclined to learn more about gardening techniques and the process for pulling off the Flower & Garden Festival, I definitely recommend this tour for you. Bring some water, wear sunscreen and walking shoes, carry an umbrella, and you’ll have a good time.

If listening to questions about mulching techniques isn’t up your alley, you might want to reconsider. I’m not a gardener, and (sun aside) I had a reasonably good time. However, if I were facing time or budget constraints, I would skip the tour and just enjoy the beauty of the festival on my own. If you want to experience more Epcot but aren’t into plants, the UnDISCOVERed Future World tour is a good alternative. If you want to focus on Flower & Garden but want less of a commitment, try the English Garden Tea Tour. Just be sure to go late in the day to avoid heat exhaustion!

The Gardens of the World tour is currently offered Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 9am through May 20, 2012. It costs $60 and requires separate park admission. Guests must be at least 16 years old to take the tour. A 15% discount is offered for AAA Members, Annual Passholders, and DVC Members. Disney VISA Cardholders are eligible for a 20% discount when booking with their Disney VISA. To book, call (407) WDW-TOUR (407-939-8687).

Have you tried the Gardens of the World tour?  Do you plan on trying it out on your next trip? Let us know what you think!