01 of 06
Backstage Magic from Adventures by Disney: Tested and Reviewed
If you know that I've been writing about Hollywood and Disneyland for almost 20 years, you may wonder why I decided to take Adventures by Disney's guided tour of those same places. Surely you could give the tour by now; you might be thinking. The fact is that I can't, nor can you arrange to do all the activities this tour has to offer on your own.
Here's What I Think About Adventures by Disney
First and most important: Resist all temptation to read other blogs and discussion boards about this tour. I'm not trying to keep you captive, but other writers want to tell all, ruining surprises not mentioned in your advance itinerary. These spoilers diminish the magic, and you'll just have a lot more fun if you don't know every little thing.
I've been writing about California travel for more than 20 years, logging dozens of trips to Hollywood and Disneyland and writing two Disneyland books along the way, but Backstage Magic was unlike any other trip I've ever... taken. Any one of several experiences would be enough to make a person want to go back again, but taken as a package, this is one extraordinary trip that you'll never forget.
About the price: It may seem high at first glance (check it here), but much is included: 5 nights in top-notch hotels, Disneyland park tickets, most meals (including character breakfasts), and airport transfers if you fly in. In fact, a Disneyland package for two for the same number of hotel and park days would cost you about half of the total tour cost.
Most important: No matter how much money we spent, most of us mere mortals simply couldn't arrange this trip on our own, visiting nearly a dozen places that aren't open to the general public.Continue to 2 of 6 below.
02 of 06
What You Need to Know About the Backstage Magic Tour
Backstage Magic is a six-day, five-night tour. You will spend four full days touring Hollywood and Disneyland. The tour spends a little over two days in Hollywood and the rest at the Disneyland Resort. It's a guided tour, which frees you from doing anything except showing up and having fun.
When this review was written, the tour included access to a lot of places that most people would never get into on their own. They include behind-the-scenes visits to the Jim Henson Company Studios and the El Capitan movie theater. You will spend most of a day touring the Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Archives, and Walt Disney Imagineering. There may (or may not) be a surprise visit to an unannounced Disney location after that. At the Disneyland Resort, you will take a VIP tour of Disney California Adventure, get a special FASTPASS to a popular attraction, and view World of Color from a VIP viewing area.
You may also get to be the first people in one of the parks at the resort, getting in... while the streets are still empty.
Adventures by Disney may change their itinerary at any time, and daily activities vary due to schedules in the working studios you visit. For more information about the current tour, visit their website, and you can download their current itinerary.
Backstage Magic is best for those who love Disney and Disney theme parks or for anyone who wonders how things are done. Minimum age is four with a suggested minimum of six, but we think it's better for those ten and older. You know your kids best, but this is not a trip for children with a short attention span or for little ones who wouldn't understand what they're seeing.
Tips for Backstage Magic
Continue to 3 of 6 below.
- You'll be doing lots of walking. Forget about looking cute; you need to be comfortable. Dress is California casual everywhere.
- Don't be shy. If you speak up and volunteer, you get to do more fun things.
- For this late sleeper, early starts were hard (7:00 a.m. several days). There's not much to do about that except to know it's going to happen.
03 of 06
The first day is about getting started, with much of it taken up just getting there. An early group dinner allows time to see a Disney movie at the El Capitan or a first-run feature down the street at Grauman's Chinese Theater.
Each group is different, but mine included a multi-generational family of five, a family with a 12-year-old daughter, a honeymoon couple, three singles, mother/daughter and aunt/niece duos.
During your full day in Hollywood, you'll get a backstage tour at the El Capitan Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. You'll see part of the daily pre-show that precedes every film, go on stage and discover how the whole thing works. The visit ends with a demonstration of the theater's Fox pipe organ, one of only six of its kind ever made and the only surviving one still in use.
After a short motor coach tour down Sunset Boulevard and through Beverly Hills, you'll visit Henson Studios. I don't know what's more exciting at this place: The Muppets, the sound... studio where "We Are the World" was recorded, or the history to goes back to the days when Charlie Chaplin built his movie studio in a cluster of fairy-tale-cute cottages.
A statue of a tuxedo-clad Kermit the Frog stands above the gates as a tribute to Chaplin's character, The Little Tramp. Inside, we saw two short films about the studio and the former A&M Records sound studio. The highlight of this visit was the Creature Shop™, where you'll see how those amazing animated puppets are made, from start to finish. If you're ready to stick your hand up when they ask for volunteers, you'll get a chance to be a Muppeteer for a few moments.
An unannounced afternoon excursion made me glad I hadn't been reading the blogs and bulletin boards - it was all the sweeter for not knowing it was coming.Continue to 4 of 6 below.
04 of 06
Making Disney Magic
My favorite thing on the entire four-day tour was Disney Imagineering, where much of the magic is made.
Inside an unassuming-looking building, our group met a next-generation animatronic dinosaur named Lucky, who can move on his own. Other highlights might include an audio demonstration, a peek at a project under development, and a look at the scale models (maquettes) of many characters from Disney theme parks and films.
After that, we visited Disney Studios which is much like any other film studio, with big sound stages full of sets for television programs and movies. Because of space constraints, some Disney productions are filmed at other studios and what you'll get to see depends on whether the stages are busy. Our group visited two sound stages. We also had lunch in the Commissary, where one of our group sighted Disney archivist Dave Smith standing in line.
Afterward, we enjoyed a visit to the Disney Archives. And just because we looked interested, a Disney employee stopped to... give us an impromptu discussion of the multi-plane camera Disney used to give a three-dimensional their early films and to tell us how those films are being digitized today.Continue to 5 of 6 below.
05 of 06
Disneyland Like a VIP
On the VIP tours you'll take at the Disneyland Resort, you may notice those forbidding "Cast Members Only" signs, but you'll walk right past them chuckling to yourself, feeling like the kid who climbed over the fence to see the baseball game.
You may get a chance to stand on Main Street USA before any other visitors get in (including those who are participating in Magic Mornings). You may even hear the announcement that all vehicles need to leave the park for an on-time opening.
Breakfast is at the Plaza Inn, where (so the story goes) Minnie Mouse has cooked up some tasty dishes. The Plaza Inn serves the only character breakfast inside Disneyland, with lots of parents and kids having a great time.
Disney doesn't provide details about the exact current itinerary for your Disneyland day, This is what we did: We went behind the scenes to visit the locomotive maintenance shop, took a train ride inside the Lily Belle parlor car, walked through back lot to see the parade... float warehouse and the fireworks launch site.
The day's highlight for most of us was a rare visit inside Walt Disney's on-site apartment, but unfortunately, it has been removed from all tours the best I can tell.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed a VIP viewing spot for the parade and then planned where to use our VIP Fastpasses the next day.Continue to 6 of 6 below.
06 of 06
Behind the Scenes at California Adventure
Breakfast at Goofy's Kitchen was the best of the week, served buffet-style in a cheerfully decorated room. The food choices are as goofy as the place's namesake, including pizza, macaroni and cheese, a full dessert bar and peanut-butter-and-jelly pizza. More traditional bacon, eggs, pancakes, and waffles are also served.
After an early entry into California Adventure's Hollywood Land, we went behind the scenes in the Animation Building for a private visit to Turtle Talk with Crush and for a drawing lesson in the animation studio. You might also get to go behind the big screen at Soarin' to find out how it's all done.
An afternoon with no scheduled activities will be welcome, but there may be more VIP Fastpasses to burn. And a goodbye dinner. And VIP seating for World of Color.
For a fan of Disney magic, this tour is the trip of a lifetime. You'll get to see things you would never see any other way and have someone else take care of all your travel... logistics. You'll meet some other fun Disney fans who will share your enthusiasm, too.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary trip for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.