A THREE HOUR TOUR... AND MORE!


by ALL EARS® Guest Contributors
Andrea McKenna, Dotti Saroufim, Patt Sheahan, and Beth Floro

Feature Article

This article appeared in the April 16, 2002, Issue #134 of ALL EARS®
(ISSN: 1533-0753)

You've ridden all the rides, seen all the shows, you've even visited most of the shops and restaurants. By now you think you know all there is to know about Walt Disney World. But wait! There's always more to learn and Disney, of course, knows the perfect way to share that information -- a behind-the-scenes tour!

A few weeks ago, ALL EARS® reviewed the brand new tour, Wild by Design, offered in Disney's Animal Kingdom. We thought it might be interesting to take a fresh look at some of the older, more established tours throughout Walt Disney World as well, so we asked several friends of ALL EARS® to share their recent tour experiences with us. Here are some of their HIGHLIGHTS -- their full tour reviews can be found by following the indicated links to AllEars.Net.

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"Inside Disney Animation"
A She Said/She Said Report
by Andrea McKenna and Dotti Saroufim

Andrea: On a recent cold and clear February morning, we arrived at the Bus Information kiosk outside the Disney MGM Studios at 8:45 a.m. for the Inside Animation Tour. I have always wanted to take this tour, and so was very excited when the opportunity arose to take the tour and write about my experiences. I'm sorry to say it did not live up to my expectations. This tour is strictly for people who know absolutely nothing about animation or the Walt Disney Studios, and it did little to enlighten me about any aspect of those subjects.

Dotti: Like Andrea, I was really looking forward to my morning "inside animation." I'm one of those who knew absolutely nothing about animation and not too much about the Walt Disney Studios. Unfortunately, I read too much into the word "inside" and didn't dress appropriately for the weather. Did Andrea mention that it was COLD?

Andrea: At 9 a.m. sharp our tour guides Nancy and Bobbie arrived to begin our adventure inside Disney animation. Unfortunately, we neither went inside the Animation Building nor even saw much animation on this tour. Instead, the tour consisted of several stops at key points around the Disney-MGM Studios theme park, with each stop coinciding with a particular period of Walt Disney's life and the history of the Disney Studios.

Andrea: We eventually were driven to the Disney Institute and given individual cels of Mickey to paint. A short video was shown about how animated feature films are made, from storyboard through soundtrack recording and sweetening to finished product. The video featured a scene from Tarzan and I'm fairly sure I've seen it somewhere before; either on The Disney Channel or possibly on the Tarzan DVD. Either way, it wasn't very informative.

Dotti: I think that the highlight of the tour for me was the visit to the Disney Institute. I have never been on the DI grounds and was especially interested now that the Disney Vacation Club has announced plans to expand there. Of course, I could have easily done this on my own.

Dotti: Inside the classroom at the Disney Institute, we were seated at high square artist tables accommodating eight people, two on each of the four sides. We were supplied with an unpainted cel, a brush, water for rinsing, mixing cups, and paint. We were instructed on the proper way to apply the paint to the cel -- "puddling" rather than using your typical brush stroke. I actually very much enjoyed this part of the tour.

Andrea: The best part of the Disney Institute trip was getting to see pieces of the set from Nightmare Before Christmas and some concept art from Disney films. The entire visit lasted approximately one hour.

Andrea: The $59 price tag on this tour is downright outrageous without the Animation Building part of the tour. If you're looking for an in-depth look at how animated films are made, this is not the tour for you. There are other, better behind-the-scenes tours at Walt Disney World for your money.

Dotti: I have to agree 100 percent with Andrea on this -- $59 is a steep price to pay for this tour and it was an insult to actually have to pay for park admission on top of it. The walking tour of the animation building (The Magic of Disney Animation attraction described in http://allears.net/tp/mgm/m_animation.htm) is far more informative than this and is part of your theme park admission. Our guides did an admirable job with what little they had to work with, but the tour itself needs much more "umph" or a smaller price tag to make it worthwhile.

To read the complete She Said/She Said report of Andrea and Dotti's less-than-animating experience, take a look at: http://allears.net/btp/tour_an5.htm

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"The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains"
by Beth Floro

If you share Walt Disney's fascination with trains, crave a peek behind the scenes at the working of WDW, or simply want to feel like a VIP with the park to yourself for a couple of hours, then this is the tour for you.

Check in with your Guide at the MK gate before the park opens. When your group has gathered (note: be on time! This tour cannot wait for stragglers!) you will be escorted into the park and enjoy the feeling of having Main Street all to yourself. You can take photos while your Guide begins telling you about Walt and his lifelong interest in railroading.

Your group will move upstairs to board the train for the first ride of the day. This is no ordinary ride; it is a complete safety check of the track and all systems. It also includes a backwards ride to the roundhouse! Be sure to check out the wall murals in the Depot -- they tell the story of the American railroad circa 1900.

All aboard! Your Guide continues offering you facts and trivia on the people and machinery involved in the every day working of the WDW Railroad.

Did you know...
-- Walt's uncle was an engineer?
-- One of Walt's first jobs was on a train?
-- Disney World railroad engines get 792 FEET per gallon of fuel?
-- In the 30 years since the Magic Kingdom opened, at least two of the four engines have been in service every single day?

The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains tour lasts approximately two hours. It costs $30 and is open to guests age 10 and over. Tours are offered Monday, Thursday and Saturday each week. You will need admission to the MK for the day of the tour.

To read Beth's report in its entirety, including her notes for tour-takers with disabilities, please visit: http://allears.net/btp/tour_tr3.htm

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"Dolphins in Depth"
by Patt Sheahan

Ever get to do something so special in your life that you know it's a once-in-a-lifetime event? Ever get to do that something twice? I did.

I did the Dolphins-in-Depth program with my daughter and two friends in February 1999. Due to a gift from a friend, I got to do it again this February.

This is a 3.5-hour program held Monday through Friday in various areas of the Living Seas Pavilion, with the most impressive location being the top of the two-story tank. The clarity of the water is unbelievable and to see huge stingrays, fish and turtles swimming by when you're supposed to be listening to your instructor is breathtaking.

The program basically begins outside the Guest Relations booth in the front of Epcot. (You do not need admission to Epcot to participate in the Dolphins in Depth program.)

After check-in, you are escorted back "behind the scenes" and you get to see the outside of the Living Seas and the massive filtration system that is used. The entire contents of the Living Seas are circulated within 2 hours. Being back-doored into the building, one corridor looks pretty much the same as the other. And, of course, you are anxious to see the dolphins you will be interacting with. That happens pretty quickly.

We were led up to the two holding pools off the top of the aquarium. If you are in the Living Seas and you see the dolphins disappear through two square cutouts in the wall, this is where they are heading. Toby and Bob are approximately 20-year-old dolphins, having been captured off of Key West in 1984. Their living together in the Living Seas approximates how male dolphins live in the wild -- most of the time they buddy up in groups of 2 to 3 males. The female dolphins and their calves live in larger groups.

Are you able to swim with the dolphins? The answer is no. But I believe what you get is far better than swimming with the dolphins. In-the-water time has been expanded and I think we were in the Living Seas tank for close to 45 minutes. The session is limited to eight participants. That gives a dolphin to four people. There were six people the day I was there, so we had three people per dolphin and expanded time.

The age requirement on this experience is 18, but I have heard parents signing waivers for children who are 16 or 17. Call in advance if you have children under 18, but small children will NOT be allowed. Pregnant women are not allowed to attend because there may be danger of getting bumped by the dolphin's snout, etc.

Is this program worth the $140 and almost four hours of my Disney vacation? Oh yes.

Patt's whole review, including her answers to most of the commonly asked questions, can be found here: http://allears.net/btp/tour_did2.htm