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The best $120 I've spent at Disney this year got me into Magic Kingdom's secret tunnels

Aug. 31, 2022
10 min read
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What would you say if I told you I paid $120 (on top of my park ticket) to walk around Disney World for five hours and only got on two rides? You'd probably think I'd have been better off spending that money on 15 Dole Whips or creating a realistic lightsaber at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

But what if I also told you that during those five hours I had some of the most fun I've had at Disney all year, learned enough park history to fill a book, got to see how the magic is made, and visited backstage areas where guests are not typically allowed -- including the secret underground tunnels where Disney cast members, characters, supplies — and, yes, even garbage — move around under the park unseen.

And those two rides I rode? I was ushered straight to the front of the line.

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I was able to do all of this (and more) on Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour. Although I am now the keeper of many Disney secrets, I am not going to divulge all of them to you here. What fun would that be? I am, however, going to share a bit about my experience so that you can decide if it's something you'd like to add to the itinerary for your next Disney World vacation.

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Keys to the Kingdom: Tour essentials

If you have ever seen a cast member clad in a dapper plaid outfit leading a small group of guests around the Magic Kingdom, you may have spotted a Keys to the Kingdom Tour. (These are not to be confused with the private VIP tours that cost thousands of dollars.)

Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour is held each morning at the Magic Kingdom, with four staggered start times between 8 a.m. and 9:30 am. The tour is priced at $114 per person plus tax ($121.41 total) and each tour holds about 20 guests.

Because of the small group size, advance reservations are strongly recommended, but they will take walkups based on availability. You can book the tour directly on Disney's website.

The tour is fully accessible if you have a scooter or wheelchair, and ASL interpreters are available. Tours are only given in English, but non-English speaking groups will sometimes bring their own interpreter to work alongside the tour guide.

Keep in mind that theme park admission and a Magic Kingdom Park Pass reservation are also required.

It's also worth noting that guests must be 16 years or older (with valid identification) to participate. Although I found the tour to be fascinating, my 3-, 5- and 9-year-old sons may have had something else to say about standing in the heat for five hours talking about forced perspective and how deep the water is on the Jungle Cruise, so these age guidelines are probably for the best.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Making magic: Highlights and revelations

My tour started at Town Square Theater, which is just inside the entrance to Magic Kingdom.

There is a small check-in desk outside of Tony's Town Square Restaurant where a cast member gave me a name tag and headset to use during the tour and also took my lunch order, so that it could be ready and waiting for me when we took a break for lunch.

Related: What it’s really like doing Disney World 3 different ways: Budget, moderate and blow-out luxury

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Once everyone had checked in, our tour guide Lynn went over the basics of what would be involved — lots of walking and standing, plenty of water and bathroom breaks and no photos or videos (I took my own photos after the tour). She also helped us set up our headsets.

Then she teased us with a bit of magic that would be revealed at the end of the tour by telling us that her "onstage" answer for how Tinkerbell flies during the nightly fireworks show was pixie dust, but she would give us the "backstage" answer at the end of the tour.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

We did a lot of "walking and talking," but we also stopped at certain points so our tour guide could delve deeper into certain topics. Our first stop was Main Street, U.S.A. where we learned about the construction of the Magic Kingdom, right down to the color of the bricks. I had never paid much attention to them, but the bricks leading into the park are red. This was Disney's way of "rolling out the red carpet" for every guest who enters the park.

As we walked down Main Street, U.S.A., our tour guide pointed out the names painted on the windows above the shops. I already knew from being a self-admitted Disney nerd that the windows paid homage to people who helped make the park what it is today, but there were some I had never even noticed.

Walt Disney's name is painted above the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor at the end of Main Street, U.S.A. This is not only because he is the "director" of the show and the director's name historically came last in the film's credits, but also because he loved vanilla ice cream.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

We made our way through Adventureland to the Jungle Cruise, where our guide shared interesting tidbits about the ride, like how Walt wanted to use real animals but was (luckily) advised against it.

Not surprisingly, we all enthusiastically answered "yes," when our guide asked if we wanted to go for a ride. Then, rather than the typical Jungle Cruise spiel (which cracks me up every time), our guide took the microphone and used our time on the ride to discuss how the mechanics of the boats and animals work, along with some Easter eggs to look out for.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The ride revelations continued as we walked past Pirates of the Caribbean and Splash Mountain — and then things became really interesting.

Our guide took us through a door marked "Cast Members Only" and we were suddenly in a backstage area behind Splash Mountain. I felt like we were sneaking around behind the Wizard of Oz's curtain, which would have been more than enough for me. Then our guide said she had a surprise for us.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

We walked right past the huge warehouse that stages the Festival of Fantasy parade floats just in time to see them preparing the floats for the noon parade. Based on what I learned there and what I know of my own driving skills, I would never have what it takes to pilot one of those parade floats.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

By then, it was time for lunch, which was at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe in Frontierland. We had about 30 minutes to eat, but our food was waiting for us when we arrived. Inside each name placard marking our seats was yet another surprise — a golden keepsake pin to commemorate our tour.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

After lunch, we moved into Liberty Square, which, I learned, has one of the last Liberty Bell replicas made from the same mold as the original in Philadelphia (Disney added the distinctive crack on its own).

The Haunted Mansion sat just behind us as we discussed other elements of Liberty Square, so our guide took that opportunity to share details on its design and the special effects used to create the happy haunts who reside there. She then ushered us straight onto the ride, which I looked at in a whole new light after learning more about how it all worked.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

I think the tour guides know that seeing the secret tunnel system — dubbed the "Utilidor" by Disney — is one of the big reasons people take this tour. The Utilidor is something of an urban myth for Disney nerds and a part of the parks that most guests never see or even realize exists.

Referring to the Utilidor as a tunnel is a bit of a misnomer. The part of the Magic Kingdom most guests see is actually on the second floor of the park. The first floor is the Utilidor.

We saw the tubes where 83,000 pounds of trash per day are whisked away from the park, walked past costumed cast members on their way to meet-and-greets with guests and saw walls lined with photos and memorabilia that tied back to everything we had learned about the history and creation of the park during our tour. Since no photos were allowed, you'll have to take the tour for yourself if you want to get a peek.

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The last stop on our tour was where our guide revealed the Tinkerbell scoop she had promised us at the beginning of the tour.

If you are old enough to read this, you probably already know that Tinkerbell doesn't use just pixie dust to fly. Our guide revealed exactly where she lands at the end of her 30-second flight from the top of the 189-foot-tall Cinderella Castle. A young child walked past as she was explaining it to us and the guide stopped so as not to "ruin the magic."

TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Was it worth it?

You might think that seeing how the magic is made would ruin some of the mystique of Disney World, but it actually made me appreciate it more than ever -- which was already quite a lot based on the amount of time and money I spend there. I learned so much about the care and attention to detail that went into building the Magic Kingdom and that still goes into operating the park today.

So much of Disney is in the details. Spending five hours walking through the park and focusing exclusively on those details only made the magic stronger.

One of my favorite things about Disney World is that there is always something new to discover — be it a name on a window, a "hidden Mickey" or learning something new about the "man behind the mouse," Walt Disney.

Whether you're a Disney history buff or just really into getting a peek behind the curtain at Disney World, this tour is bound to show you things you've never noticed before. You have to be OK with spending the morning and early afternoon doing more touring than riding, but after the tour is over, you'll step onto those beloved attractions with a newfound admiration for what goes into keeping the magic alive all these years later.

For those groups who are into all things Disney, yes, this tour was definitely worth the time — and money. And of course, there's the added benefit of being able to tell all your friends that you've been inside Disney World's "secret" Utilidors.

Featured image by ROBERTO MACHADO NOA/LIGHTROCKET/GETTY IMAGES
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
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  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

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  • Annual Fee

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Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

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  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

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  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases