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Theme parks offer immersive experiences that guests can appreciate on many levels at once, but one way to enhance a theme park visit is by taking a behind-the-scenes tour. Here’s a look at a few of our favorites. (Note: Park admission is required for these tours, and there may be an additional price for the tour itself.)
Backstage MagicFor the ultimate behind-the-scenes experience, Walt Disney World’s Backstage Magic tour in Orlando, Fla., takes guests on a seven-hour adventure through all four theme parks. Guides share little-known facts and insider insights, as well as offer a behind-the-scenes look at the artistry, technology, mechanical marvels and backstage secrets that bring Disney magic to life in the parks.
Meredith Wallace of Minnie Memories Travel in Bedford, N.Y., says that Backstage Magic is the most popular tour she books for clients.
“It’s always the highlight of their trip,” she said.
Among the many opportunities on the tour is a chance to navigate the famous network of underground passageways, called “utilidor” tunnels, that Disney cast members and delivery vehicles use to move around undetected.
Agents should note that guests must be 12 or older to take part in this tour.
Behind-The-Scenes TourVisitors to SeaWorld Orlando can choose the 75-minute Behind-The-Scenes Tour to discover how SeaWorld’s animal experts care for rescued manatees and sea turtles, as well as have one-on-one time with a penguin.
During SeaWorld San Antonio’s Behind-The-Scenes Tour, participants get an insider’s perspective on how SeaWorld cares for animals at the park and in the wild, and have opportunities to touch stingrays and sharks. A percentage of all tour fees goes to the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund to support conservation projects around the world.
R.I.P. and Unmasking the Horror Tours Every October, demons and monsters take over Universal Orlando Resort for the annual Halloween Horror Nights. For guests who want to make the most of the terrifying experience, the 4.5-hour R.I.P. Tour is the perfect choice.
With a large number of mazes and scare zones, it’s nearly impossible to see everything in one night on your own, but R.I.P. guides make sure guests get the maximum thrills and chills.
“An R.I.P Tour is one of the best ways to enjoy Halloween Horror Nights,” said Trisha Engler, vice president of operations for Universal Orlando. “This VIP experience includes priority entry to the haunted houses, reserved seating at Bill & Ted’s Excellent Halloween Adventure and access to a special R.I.P lounge.”
When I took the R.I.P. Tour, I was initially a little hesitant. OK, I was terrified; I was a Halloween Horror Nights rookie. However, the guide made sure that I knew what to expect and gave me tips about where scare actors might be lurking. By the end of the night, I was happy to have experienced the event — and even happier that I had survived .
Since being scared might not be everyone’s cup of tea, Universal Orlando also offers “lights on” Unmasking the Horror Tours during the day. These reveal the special effects and movie magic that Universal uses to make Halloween Horror Nights one of the most elaborate theme park Halloween events in the country.
“The Behind the Screams: Unmasking the Horror Tour walks guests through many of the details that often go unnoticed when the lights are off,” Engler said.
Entering the haunted houses during the day took some of the mystery out of it, and it was interesting to see how lights, mirrors, sound effects and scare actors transform an ordinary hallway into a terrifying corridor once the sun goes down.
Agents should note that Halloween Horror Nights is not recommended for children under 13.
Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps One of the most special things about Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., is that it’s the only Disney park in the world where Walt Disney actually set foot. On the Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps tour, guides take guests on a walk through the park to literally trace the life of its creator, with each land representing a different chapter in Disney’s life.
“The tour gives a lot of history and background,” said our Disneyland guide, Annamarie. “So it’s good to have a little bit of knowledge and definitely have a lot of interest.”
When I took the tour, Annamarie shared stories about how and why the entertainment icon made certain decisions when creating the park, and she offered insider information about details that made it such a personal place for him and his family.
One such detail can be found on Main Street U.S.A. During Disney’s life, he had a private apartment above the fire station, so whenever guests saw the lights on, they knew he was home. To this day, a lamp is always on in the window so that his presence can be felt in the park.
Another park “secret” revealed on the tour was about the petrified tree on the banks of the Rivers of America. Annamarie explained that Disney purchased the 5-ton gift for his wife, who later presented it to Disneyland, reportedly joking that it was “too large for the mantle.” Today, the tree stands in Frontierland, where most guests pass by without realizing its personal connection to Disney and his wife.