Disney Backstage Magic?

Disney did much better when naming their employees. They called them “cast members.”

And considering Disney’s powers of description, the word “utilidor” seems somewhat strange. But as many Disney fans know, this is the underground system or backstage or behind-the-scenes tunnels under Walt Disney World.

They were first built for the Magic Kingdom.

As visitors to the park, you can see them.

For a price, at least.

And not a particularly inexpensive one, at that.

But more on that later.

Is the tour worth it?

Whether or not you decide to pay the price for the tour, here are a few facts about this underground aspect that might help you decide whether it’s worth it:

  • The idea came from Walt himself. Legend has it that at Disneyland in California, he once spotted a cowboy from “Frontierland” wandering through “Tomorrowland.” Bad for the image. He was disturbed by this insult to the illusion of the park. So he had the underground area ordered in Florida
  • The utilidors were among the first elements of the Magic Kingdom to be constructed, and are actually located at ground level (placing them lower would have caused problems due to the water table in the Orlando region). They were covered over using seven million cubic yards of earth. That dirt was moved when they created the artificial Seven Seas Lagoon.
  • Gas-powered vehicles might pollute the air. So cast members get around the tunnels in battery-operated vehicles that look like golf carts. They are known as “pargos.”
  • There is one type of gas-powered vehicle that is allowed into the utilidors. That is the armored cars that come in to pick up the cash generated by the park every day.
  • Cast members have their own cafeteria here. They also are offered check saving services, an employee hair salon called “Kingdom Kutter,” and even dressing rooms for the parts they play.
  • During tours, guests under 16 are not allowed in the tunnel system. The major reason seems to be it would destroy the illusion if kids saw Mickey without his entire costume or Goofy with only his mask.
  • Most guests do not realize the existence of this underground complex because they enter from the monorail.
  • The tunnels explain why you never see a delivery truck at Disney. They’re only found in the tunnels, which also houses such essential buildings as a Fire Prevention Center.
  • With 1.2 million pieces of clothing, the “utilidor” system is termed the largest operating wardrobe department in the world. Each cast member has three costumes here.

Disney Tours for sale

There are two special tours that let you take a more leisurely look at the utilidors.

Both include lunch.

The five hour version is called “Keys to the Kingdom.” It is offered daily at 8:30, 9 and 9:30 a.m. (ages 16 and up, of course). It starts at City Hall just inside the Magic Kingdom Main Entrance. The cost is $79. Magic Kingdom Admission is required for this tour.

The longer, seven-hour version is called “Backstage Magic.” It is offered Monday through Friday at 8:45 a.m. The cost is a hefty $249 per person. Theme park admission is not required, but Disney recommends reservations at least two months in advance — indicating it is probably even more popular than the less expensive version.

So is one or the other worth the price?

“You do see the famous utilidors. They look and smell like the service areas in a convention hotel only with lower ceilings (our guide had warned us that this area is the worker’s off-time so don’t expect them to smile, they all smiled anyway),” observed one blogger.

“We really wanted to see Disney’s underground ‘utilidor system. The Magic Kingdom is actually built on raised ground, so most of the park is literally on the second floor. The lower level under the Magic Kingdom is where much of the behind the scenes work takes place. This tour takes guests below, into cast member only areas, and to areas within the park where you’ll hear behind the scenes stories and facts,” writes another blogger.

Whether or not it is worth the price might be debatable. Reactions were mixed among those who saw it.

A thumbs up or down often depended on visitors’ being big Disney fans. But whether you are or not, it’s certainly worth considering.

Particularly on a rainy day. ###