Operating Disney's chain of hugely popular theme parks is a challenging undertaking. Each of the company's resorts employs tens of thousands of Cast Members, who work around-the-clock to ensure that attractions operate reliably, parks and hotels are clean and tidy and every guest has the broadest smile on their face possible. Over the last few months, we've published a series of articleslooking at the roles of Disney Cast Members. Sometimes, though, there's no substitute for actually stepping behind the scenes and hearing first-hand from Cast Members about how Disney's parks are run. Fortunately, Disney offers a range of tours that allow you to do just that. Here are 10 that are worth checking out!
10. Discover what's behind the magic of Disney's steam trains (Magic Kingdom)
The Cast Members on the Disneyland Railroad were viewed by Walt Disney as so important that he employed them through his own company, Retlaw. He even personally autographed their paychecks, making working as a conductor or driver one of the most prestigious positions at the park. Of course, those days are long past, but working on the railroads that circle Disney's Magic Kingdom-style parks is still viewed as something of an honor. On Disney's The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains Tour at the Magic Kingdom, you'll get an insider look at how the trains on the Walt Disney World Railroad operate. You'll join the railroad engineers before the park opens, as they prepare the trains for the day ahead. The tour includes a look at the backstage roundhouse, where the steam engines are stored and serviced. You'll also hear about why Walt had such a passion for steam trains, and get the chance to ride the rails around the park in a fully-restored antique freight train. More details, pricing and reservations
9. Walk in Walt's footsteps (Disneyland)
Only one of Disney's theme parks was personally overseen by Walt Disney himself during its construction - the original Disneyland in California. Walt was heavily involved in almost every aspect of the project, and that meant spending a lot of time at the park. Often, it even meant sleeping there. So he had an apartment constructed above the Fire Department building on Main Street, USA. Access to the apartment is limited to guests on the "Walk in Walt's Disneyland Footsteps" tour, which launched back in 2012. Focusing on Walt's life and work on Disneyland, it includes a look inside the apartment, a glance at the lobby of the exclusive Club 33 (although this is currently closed for renovation) and a private lunch on Main Street, USA.
You can't take photos in the apartment (there's a sneaky glimpse above), but a group photo is taken, so you'll have a memento of your visit. More details, pricing and reservations
8. Step into the world of cinema (Walt Disney Studios, Paris)
Walt Disney Studios is widely regarded as Disney's worst theme park, given its lack of attractions and the fact that it is not really the major production center that it bills itself as. However, it does offer a relatively cheap, 90 minute tour that it worth considering. The guided tour focuses on the secrets of the world of cinema, Walt Disney's influence on it and the hidden nods and tributes that are scattered throughout the park. It also includes a look at how animated movies are produced and at the special effets of a "working" studio. More details, pricing and reservations
7. Go on a Backstage Safari (Disney's Animal Kingdom)
Disney's Animal Kingdom is a unique Disney theme park in that it combines the company's traditional rides and attractions with enclosures for more than 1,500 animals. The Backstage Safari tour focuses on the challenges of caring for this vast number of exotic creatures. The tour includes a visit to the Animal Nutrition Center, where you'll learn how 3 tons of food are prepared and distributed every single day. You'll also visit a backstage animal-housing area, a state-of-the-start veterinary hospital and the Animal Programs Administration building (where you'll learn about the company's involvement in conservation programs). More details, pricing and reservations
6. Find out how Disney's horticulture teams cultivate the magic (Disneyland)
More than 800 species of plants, native to 40 different countries, grow at the Disneyland Resort. That's a major transformation, given that the site was originally simply 260 acres of orange groves. The Jungle Cruise alone has developed its own ecosystem since the attraction opened in 1955, with trees creating a canopy that allows species of ground plants to thrive that otherwise would not grow at all in Southern California. You can find out more about the planning that went into creating the stories that are told in each of Disneyland's lands through horticulture by taking the Cultivating the Magic tour. You'll even pick up an exclusive collectible souvenir trading pin and an exclusive seed packet for your troubles. More details, pricing and reservations