MouseFanTravel President Beci Mahnken was part of the first ever Adventures by Disney Backstage Magic Tour!
Day 4 – Walt’s World
The alarm went off at 5:30 am to ensure I had enough time to shower and do a little work before our 7 am meeting time in the lobby of the hotel. From there we walked towards the gates of Disneyland entering long before the general public. This provided us with a special magical moment of walking down Main Street with just our group and a couple of cast members who were busy getting the park ready for the guests. What a treat to enjoy the park in such a peaceful and calm atmosphere.
At the end of the street we arrived at the Plaza Inn for a breakfast buffet with and visits from some old friends including Minnie, Chip, Dale and the star of the show, The Fairy Godmother. She wandered around the room checking everyone’s plates to ensure they had the proper nutrition required for the days events. Check out her ‘shock and awe’ below when she discovered James David (his in-trouble name) didn’t select enough fruit on his trip through the buffet line.
After breakfast we gather our belongings and put away our cameras and cell phones because we are headed backstage. Our first stop is the Indiana Jones Adventure. We enter into a backstage door to see a few of the ride vehicles on display. The cast members give us a demonstration of the ride vehicle hydraulic capabilities and the gyrations it goes through when guests are on the ride.
Matt, the teenager and most likely the best gamer in the group, is handed the joystick control to give it a whirl. I think he has a future in thrill ride programming. Of course no demonstration would be truly complete unless we had a chance to experience what we just saw. So we were escorted up to the load area and onto the cars. No lines, no wait. Wow! I could get used to this.
Next stop, the Big Thunder Ranch area where we meet Courtney who tells us about the history of the horses and animals in the park. We took a peek into the building that houses memorabilia including awards and ribbons that have been earned over the years. It was neat to learn the horses not only work at the park but are shown as well. We were given the unique opportunity to feed the local residents and I couldn’t help but notice that the moment the cast member appeared with the feed, the scene somewhat mirrored the events at Mickey’s of Glendale the previous day.
After our visit to our new 4 legged friends, we put our cameras away again and head backstage to meet Ed and Vern at the roundhouse. They tell us more about Walt’s love for steam trains and history behind the engines we see today. Then its back to the Circle D ranch to visit the small house which was once the real home of the Dolly and Owen Pope. The Pope’s are the only people who ever lived at Disneyland and actually took care of the ranch which at one time had 220 horses etc.
Courtney meets back up with us and explains that the horses only work 2 hours per day and have 1 week off per month. They are allowed to work 5 years in total and then are retired. It’s a record breaker in Anaheim so we enjoyed a rest break and the guides had water handy to re-hydrate.
Of course with all this activity we are ready for lunch! We work our way to New Orleans Square where there are tables waiting for us at CafÃ© Orleans. We are greeted by a line of cast members with beads a plenty to welcome us and we work our way to our seats. Lunch was a set menu with a variety of choices but the favorites of the group were the blackened chicken Caesar salad and the infamous Monte Cristo sandwich. Dessert was a plate of Mickey head beignets. wow, Im in heaven here!
The entertainment was a resident pirate who tried on several occasions to get away with the beignets, but we were watching so he visited with each guest and spun tales of his high seas adventures.
We ended our visit to New Orleans Square with a picture on the stairs leading to the Dream Apartment and a ride on Pirates of the Caribbean, VIP entrance again with no lines or wait.
Could this possibly get any better?
Why – YES!!!!
We walked back down Main Street and gathered in front of the Fire Department building. There we divided into 3 groups because the places we would be visiting next would be a slightly tighter fit.
But first things first – please stow all electronic devices – cameras and cell phones out of site and out of hands.
I was in the group that was to be the first to ascend the stairs to Walt’s Apartment. Wow. I was about to step into a room filled with history. To stand where he did as he watched guests enjoy his park. I get a chill just thinking about that. But I am jumping ahead of myself.
We passed the backstage gate and to the right was the staircase that leads to the private room above the firehouse. The Tour Guide paused to tell us a story about how Walt’s grandkids would sneak across the small street behind the building and into the jungle on the other side. Jungle? The rear of the apartment backs up to a portion of the Jungle Cruise ride. Can you imagine having that park to play in as a kid?
The door has a hand crank bell that signals someone is about to enter and as the door opens we are met with a room where time seems to have stopped. The small dwelling consisted of the main room which also served as sleeping quarters with 2 sofa beds and bathroom, decorated in Victorian furnishings with red and white as the main color scheme.
A small kitchenette area to the right inside the entry way features a few conveniences like his original griddle which he used to make gilled cheese sandwiches and other simple items. Across the room stands an antique Regina Music box that stands approximately 4 feet high and was a gift from Walt to his wife Lillian. To the right was the entry to the bathroom and to the left was a table with a Victorian style rotary phone that Walt actually used. It was featured in the August 1963 pictorial for National Geographic showing Walt on the phone. This was one of the few times the apartment was photographed.
Looking towards the park you see two red couches that serve as beds, face each other from opposite sides of the room. One was for Walt and the other for Lillian so they could be together when Walt was putting in so many hours creating his magic. Between them is the infamous lamp that you can see from the street below. It’s a tradition that the cast members leave the lamp on to honor Walt and to symbolize that he is always looking over his park.
We were told it was ok to sit on some of the furniture as long as we ask which ones before taking any action. Brock and I sat down on the couch to the right, near the phone. Then as I was gazing at all the items around the room a wave of emotion just hit me out of no where. I looked at the lamp and realized I was looking at the same view he had as he gazed onto the park that he built to make his guest’s dreams and wishes come true. This wonderful, creative man became a grandfather to more then one generation and this was quite and emotional moment. Luckily we were allowed a group photo that was taken by the guides camera only – so I do have a treasured keepsake from the visit.
Thanks Walt. You have certainly made this little girl’s dreams a reality.
Reluctantly we departed the apartment to make room for the next group. But we weren’t quite done reliving history just yet.
We made our way to the Train Station where the Lillie Belle would arrive shortly to take us on a Grand Circle tour of Disneyland. While we waited, we were shown the VIP parade viewing area for the afternoon parade. Unfortunately they only had 20 seats available for the group of 36. I think they counted on the fact that some would decline the invitation to attend, but I think this is an area they need to tweak on this itinerary to ensure no one is turned away from such a great perk!
The Lilly Belle is a parlor car that was removed from general service in favor of the open style cars as Walt felt they offered a better view of his Grand Canyon and Primeval World attractions. About 10 years later the suggestion was made to revive it as a bicentennial car. That idea resulted in the private car now known as the Lilly Belle – named after Walt’s wife Lillian. She decorated it in her favorite Victorian style and included family pictures to add a touch of Walt to the place.
This unique experience begins with your private conductor escorting you to the car and punching your VIP keepsake ticket. Then you board the train and get settled in for a train ride of a lifetime around Disneyland.
The afternoon was on our own, so we met up with the group later that night for a VIP viewing of Fantasmic. I will go on the record to say I prefer the show at Disneyland over Disney World. Yes, even with the massive crowds that make it impossible to get anywhere around the lake area.
After the show a group of us headed out to take advantage of the fast passes we had in hand. Jungle Cruise (best in the dark) Buzz Lightyear and Space Mountain were all on the agenda. We even created a magical moment for guests who wanted to get on Space Mountain but the 60 minute wait was to long for them. Our fast passes were dated and there was no way we would use them all. So some lucky folks got to enjoy Space Mountain with very little wait.
Today – good memories & great friends.
Tomorrow – California Adventure, here we come!
Beci Mahnken is the President/CEO of MEI & MouseFanTravel.com . To date she is a veteran of 3 Adventures By Disney trips, more then 40 cruises including 16 with Disney and countless Walt Disney World and Disneyland adventures. Read her blog on the London and Paris Adventure by Disney.