Walt Disney World has mastered the fine art of edutainment, and it’s no small feat to make learning fun for all ages! Cleverly disguised amidst the fun and frolic of the Disney parks are worlds of knowledge conveying tidbits of history, mechanics, ecology, culture, and more. All too often, we overlook the less blatant details, or fail to understand their significance. Sometimes, they’re even hidden from our view in the mystical backstage areas, which are strictly off-limits to park guests - unless you’re on an official resort tour, that is!
Guided tours offer the opportunity to see the parks from a new perspective. Led by knowledgeable park guides, tours vary in scope, focus, and length - most including behind-the-scenes elements. Naturally, you can expect to learn a few secrets behind the history and operation of the Disney parks and resorts, but you might be surprised by what else you can learn on a Walt Disney World tour.
1. There are good bugs?
Perhaps insects aren’t the best selling point for most of us, but you can learn about much more than bugs in the hour-long Behind the Seeds tour at Epcot. After experiencing the slow-boat ride Living With the Land, consider viewing the attraction from another angle - backstage! For $20 ($16 for children), you’ll be led through four greenhouses and the fish farm (at feeding time), as Disney’s team of Horticulture experts and interns demonstrate progressive gardening techniques, including hydroponics.
Your guide will share knowledge on ecological threats, including which bugs are good and which are harmful, and perhaps a tip or two that will motivate even the brown-thumbs among us to feel optimistic about our potential. Surprises and special experiences vary on the tours, but may include a ladybug release, fish feeding, starter seed gifts, and samples of the food grown on site. Behind the Seeds is another tour that welcomes photography, and younger guests. Additionally, the tour runs frequently throughout the day, and rarely needs to be reserved in advance.
2. How much food does it take to feed over 1,500 animals of 250 different species?
The next time you’re frustrated over cooking and baking for a family gathering, just think - three tons of food must be prepared and distributed each day to the 1,500 animals of 250 species that call Disney’s Animal Kingdom home. Disney is well-respected for its conservation efforts, and Animal Kingdom’s Backstage Safari tour provides a rare glimpse into that process.
This three hour tour includes a slightly more in-depth safari than the average Kilimanjaro experience, as well as backstage journeys through the Animal Nutrition Center, housing areas, and the veterinary hospital at Rafiki’s Planet Watch. Along the way, you’ll encounter various Disney zoologists ready to share details about the resident wildlife, and Disney’s ecological programs. Backstage Safari is open to guests 16 ages and up, for $72 per person.
3. How do you tell a dolphin to “wave”?
The dolphin residents at Epcot’s The Seas with Nemo and Friends pavilion know a host of performance commands, delivered in the form of hand signals from informed trainers. For $199, you can experience the thrill of stepping into a trainer’s fins through the Dolphins in Depth tour. The entire tour lasts three hours, with 30 minutes of that time being spent in waist-high water, wading with dolphins. Limited to only eight guests per tour, Dolphins in Depth explores the anatomy, husbandry, and superior intelligence of the beloved, playful creatures. You’ll even learn a few hand signals for the chance to communicate with a dolphin yourself. Minimum age to participate is 13.
Epcot offers two underwater experiences as well. DiveQuest and Epcot Seas Aqua Tour are more immersive tours, with DiveQuest requiring proof of SCUBA certification to take part. DiveQuest is a three hour experience, priced at $175, for ages 10 and up. Join the more than 6,000 occupants of this 5.7 million gallon saltwater ecosystem for a deep sea exploration of epic proportions. Dolphins, rays, sharks, and over 60 other species join you on your 40 minute adventure after you enjoy video and lecture presentations. Epcot Seas Aqua Tour employs the “snuba” method - a combination of snorkeling and SCUBA - to explore the 27 foot deep tanks. This is a 2.5 hour tour, priced at $140, for guests 12 and up.
The best part about the tours at Epcot’s “Seas” pavilion is that none of them require park admission separate from the tour cost. Additionally, all proceeds go toward Disney’s Wildlife Conservation Fund.
4. What is a Christmas pickle?
A pickle hidden in the branches of a Christmas tree promises a special, extra gift to the lucky finder - or so the tradition goes in Germany. Germany is one of the representative nations of Epcot’s World Showcase, where you’ll learn about the many varied traditions that combine to celebrate a global holiday season. Disney’s Yuletide Fantasy tour is only offered on select dates in November and December, for guests 16 years and older. This three and a half hour whirlwind tour costs $89. Tour stops include Epcot’s Germany, Japan, Italy, and America pavilions, where you’ll compare and trace holiday traditions, and Magic Kingdom’s Main Street USA for a look at early Americana influence on a Disney’s holiday decor.
Speaking of decorations, you’ll also visit Walt Disney World’s crown jewel, The Grand Floridian Resort and Spa, and the guest-favorite life-size gingerbread house and bake shop in the resort lobby, where Victorian elegance blends with Disney magic. The highlight of the Yuletide Fantasy tour is arguably the stop at the Holiday Services Warehouse, where decorative duplicates are stored - including fully decorated back-up Christmas trees.