A first visit becomes magical when he manages to be
alone in the park after hours
Friday, August 1
by Mike Scopa, staff writer
I received much e-mail regarding my How
Not to Spend the Night in the Magic Kingdom belated April
Fool's article. The most interesting came from a Disneyland cast member,
who mentioned that he was able to visit the Magic Kingdom after hours
by himself during his very first trip to Florida. How did he manage that,
and what did he think?
In this session, we join Disneyland cast member Joseph on his very first
visit to Walt Disney World (WDW) and the Magic Kingdom.
First Visit to Orlando
Joseph mentioned how he had enjoyed that April article and actually believed
it was true because it reminded him of the time he was the only person
in WDW's Magic Kingdom after closing.
I was a Disneyland cast member at the time, and had been at Disneyland
many times between the midnight closing and 9 a.m. opening and knew what
the park was like after closing," Joseph said. "I knew about the typical
security 'sweeping' process of clearing all guests. Then maintenance and
third-shift custodial usually hang around backstage to have meetings with
their supervisors, have a smoke or socialize until the 'all clear' is
called. Then they get to work onstage.
Joseph was on his way to his first visit to Orlando and WDW and assumed
that things would be somewhat different than in Disneyland.
It was my first visit and I was going to meet up with my friends,
fellow Disneyland cast members, Joseph said, but due to [their]
plane delays I was in Orlando at 5 p.m., and the rest of the gang wouldn't
arrive 'til 5 a.m.
With 12 hours to kill Joseph checked into his hotel and then drove around
WDW to get a feel for where the different parks were and how to get from
one point to another.
I had been told Disney World was huge, Joseph said, but
wow, was this California boy surprised.
He drove around the entire property and ended up at the California Grill
on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort where he could look out over
all of Central Florida from the restaurant's terrace.
Then he had an idea. I realized that I could get a quick visit
into the Magic Kingdom, only to be informed that the park was closing
in 30 minutes. I was a bit disappointed, but determined to get into the
Magic Kingdom that night. I figured I pretty much have 24-hour access
to Disneyland, what should be so different here?
Getting In the Park
Joseph remembered that in Disneyland one of the main entrances for cast
members was behind Main Street and Tomorrowland, so he left the Contemporary
and drove in that general direction behind the Magic Kingdom.
Joseph passed a guard booth and saw the back of Space Mountain. He knew
he was in the right area, pulled up to a guard booth and a friendly older
gentleman stepped out.
May I help you? asked the guard.
Joseph pulled out his Disneyland ID and told the guard that he was from
California and was supposed to meet a few friends behind Main Street for
an after-hours tour of the Magic Kingdom.
He looked me over and tested my knowledge of the company with a
great conversation about Disney history and his 20-plus years at WDW,
Joseph said. We talked about changes, some for better, some for
worse and, in the end, I had won him over. He finally said, 'Well you
are at the wrong entrance. This drive leads into the Utilidors (underground
utility corridors), and gas-powered vehicles are not allowed.' He told
me to drive back toward Space Mountain and pull into that drive. He would
call ahead and give me clearance.
Joseph followed the guard's directions and, when he got there, a parking
pass was waiting for him.
He drove slowly looking at every detail. Backstage at the Magic Kingdom
was very sparse, because all the action was down below. Joseph noticed
there were no offices, no trailers like at Disneyland. Instead, he found
a nicely landscaped parking lot.
West Meets East
With my Disneyland ID on a lanyard, I stepped out onto a deserted
Main Street, Joseph continued. I was expecting a line of security,
but there were none to be seen. I slowly walked up Main Street taking
in the wonder that it was all here, I was here and no one else was!
Joseph gazed at Cinderella's Castle. For a Disneylander as
he calls himself, who was used to the graceful Sleeping Beauty Castle,
Cinderella's Castle was quite an overwhelming site.
I just stood at the base of the stage in front of the castle and
looked up at its spires shining in the night lighting, he said.
I turned around and looked at the familiar-yet-somehow-different
view down Main Street. [And thought,] wow! Tonight it's all mine!
Visiting the Lands
He decided to do a loop around the park. His first destination was Tomorrowland,
the land where he worked in Disneyland. He immediately noticed the difference
between the California and the Florida versions. He liked the Florida
version and found himself getting excited
I couldn't wait to ride the Peoplemover [known at WDW as the Tomorrowland
Transit Authority] again and fulfilling my lifelong dream of seeing the
Carousel of Progress, he said.
He continued into Fantasyland and noticed how small it's a small
world was compared to the Disneyland version. As he walked between
Fantasyland and Liberty Square, he came across another person.
A Fantasyland manager was also walking through the land,
he recalled. I said hello to her, and told her I was waiting for
a few friends and just taking a quick stroll. I'm sure I must have looked
strange in jeans and a University of California Berkeley sweatshirt, but
she just smiled and said she hoped I enjoyed my tour. Wow, I can't believe
she didn't bust me!
He figured that WDW's isolation from the outside world made for fewer
security concerns than Disneyland.
Disneyland is so urban, he said, that if you hop the
fence on the east side you may literally be on the railroad track or on
the Autopia track.
He entered Liberty Square and saw the Haunted Mansion. He liked what
he saw, but preferred the Disneyland version. He described the Rivers
of America as being much more intimate and lush.
He was surprised to find no Fantasmic! seating or terracing as
there is in Disneyland (at WDW, the show takes place at Disney-MGM Studios).
He also looked around for New Orleans Square, but instead found more of
Frontierland, Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. He wondered
where Pirates of the Caribbean was and soon found himself outside a Spanish
fort that was home to the Pirates. Again, he noticed the difference
between the California and Florida versions.
I really missed my wrought iron balconies
no [Disney] Gallery,
no Club 33! Adventureland was so wide! I was used to the narrow, lush,
bottlenecked version in California. It was nice to see so many familiar
rides in a beautiful setting with plenty of walking space.
He walked back out to the hub near the castle and thought about going
into the Utilidors, but instead decided to continue his tour. He took
a leisurely stroll down Main Street and returned to his car.
As he left the Magic Kingdom, he realized that he had done something
that only a few people could do visit the park for the first time,
alone, at night, with hardly anyone else there.
Days Gone By
Joseph noted out how security has adjusted over the last several years.
Things are very different today at Disney parks, he said.
After September 11, a friendly wave and a Disney parking sticker
won't be enough to drive your car backstage at Disneyland. I am glad security
is tight in times like these, but I miss the days of innocence when a
boy from California could tour the entire Magic Kingdom all by himself
Thank you to Joseph for sharing his experience with us. He has some other
interesting stories that we hope to share with you in the future.