Disney parks have always had a bit of mystery to them, and that’s done on purpose. Using terminology from the concept of “putting on a show,” the areas that customers (called “guests”) can see is called “on stage” and anything that’s behind the scenes or areas that guests can’t otherwise see, is called “backstage.” For decades, only Disney employees (called “cast members” [CMs]) could go and see backstage or views that guests would never have access to, but over time, things (read: rules, adherence to same, and technology) have changed and, for better or for worse, guests can see stuff like this:
Note: Some of the following links and photos are of “backstage” WDW, which may include things that could “spoil the Disney magic.” Proceed with caution (or not at all) if you’d rather not see those kinds of scenes.
The backstage stuff that Disney has “allowed” to go out
These videos and photos are things that Disney knows about and has given approval for. There’s nothing here that you shouldn’t see (unless you don’t want to) 😉
The Utilidors on Television
As just a regular guest of WDW, the first time I remember seeing anything blatantly backstage was, unusually enough, on a PBS TV show in 1984. It was a series about companies that focused on excellence by running their businesses well and treating both their customers and their employees as if they were royalty. WDW was one of the companies highlighted, and it included some fascinating backstage footage, including that of the Utilidors (the “tunnels” underneath the Magic Kingdom), and the broadcast was all sanctioned by Disney! I found the TV show on YouTube not that long ago…take a look!
Behind The Scenes Tours
In the early 1990s, WDW started offering behind-the-scenes tours to guests. Planned by Disney Adult Discoveries and scheduled through what was then known as Disney University Seminar Productions (which would eventually become the now-defunct Disney Institute – its campus was where the Saratoga Springs Resort now is), tours were offered to groups of guests, usually convention attendees, where they could see the park through a different perspective and learn some of the inner workings of WDW. I went on the very first of these tours, Innovations In Action, in December 1993 and videotaped as much of the 3-hour tour as I was allowed. Click here to see it!
Singing in Candlelight Processional
Candlelight Processional began at Disneyland in 1955 and although the concept has evolved over the decades, the tradition continues to this day. It carried over to WDW during its inaugural holiday season in 1971 and, just like Disneyland’s version, continues annually.
Candlelight Processional runs at Epcot’s American Gardens Theater from the day after Thanksgiving through December 30th. Each day, three times a night, a celebrity narrator tells the story of Christmas, which is enhanced by music sung by the Voices of Liberty (Disney’s professional a cappella singing group), WDW Cast Members, and a 200-250ish voice mass choir comprised of several invited guest choirs from all across the country (and occasionally from outside the U.S.), along with live music played by a 50-piece orchestra.
Joe and I have sung as part of the guest choir almost annually since 2008. Here is my post (narrative, photos, video) of everything that happens at Candlelight Processional, including backstage, as a member of the guest choir.
The stuff that maybe shouldn’t have gone out
Years ago, the only way to take a picture or video was if you had your camera and/or movie/video with you – and since those things were rather large for a long time, most people didn’t bring them everywhere. Nowadays almost everyone has a cell phone with them at all times and they can take photos and video at a moment’s notice. Which makes surreptitious taking of photos and videos at Disney a lot easier to do, both by guests and CMs. Stuff like this…
If you’re on a Disney attraction that’s usually supposed to be dark (i.e. Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, etc.) and the lights are on, Disney considers it to be “backstage” and you’re not supposed to videotape the ride. As these videos show, that didn’t stop some people from taping their experiences.
Similarly, if you’re on an attraction at Disney and it breaks down, you sometimes have to be evacuated. Besides seeing the ride with the lights on, you may also get to see the backstage areas as you’re escorted out of the ride. You’re usually asked not to take pictures or videotape, but some people do anyway.
This website has a bunch of photos of behind-the-scenes stuff at Disneyland. Audioanimatronics out for repairs or as seen from behind, Walt’s Apartment above the firehouse at Disneyland (which you can take photos of now…it’s just that for years hardly anyone was allowed up there. Now they are.), the Jungle Cruise with no water, etc.
This website has some of the same shots shown on the website directly above, plus many others (warning: 2nd photo down includes characters with their heads off. Granted, it’s an old photo and it’s taken from relatively far away, but even so…ummm…”heads up” LOL!).
Are you a Haunted Mansion fan? Here are some photos of the Disneyland version of the Mansion that most guests would never get to see.
Not so much “backstage” as a view that guests would never get the opportunity to see, but this website has a bunch of photos that were taken by a Disneyland cast member from the top of the Matterhorn.
The following photos are ones I’ve found on the ‘net – they gave some more views that guests would generally never see (I don’t know who has the rights to any of these pictures – I just found them, usually on Pinterest LOL – but will happily give credit and/or remove them by request of the copyright owners)
This website also gives some great shots of Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure as taken from a helicopter.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what happens backstage before Tinker Bell takes her flight from Cinderella Castle (and where she lands, too), check out this page.
And finally, the following photos from the top of Spaceship Earth at Epcot are reproduced with permission of Jay L., who had official permission to share them (thank-you, Jay!). He says they were taken in 2015 when Theater C for Soarin’ was still being built. Again, these aren’t really “backstage” but are a view that guests would never, ever see otherwise.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary