Reviewing the Disney Family Magic tour

by MouseStation Crew, staff writer

I took my family, including 11-year-old Allan and 7-year-old Michael on the Disney Family Magic Tour in mid-October 2007. The cost for the tour was $27 for adults and children (including tax), which did not include Magic Kingdom Park Admission, of course.

We were told to meet at the "Tour Garden" to the left of City Hall at 9:45 a.m. on the day of the tour. Because of traffic, we were a little late but arrived well ahead of the actual 10:00 a.m. tour start time. We noticed that everyone else in the "Tour Garden" already had their name tags, so we wondered when a cast member might come out to check on us... when one of my boys noticed that our name tags were sitting on the counter in the old Disney Gallery building (now package pick-up). We entered the building and identified ourselves, and were handed our name tags. We were also offered some slightly cool bottled water. It was a nice gesture.

The tour group was made up of about five different families. Our boys were, by far, the oldest of the bunch. Most of the children were in the 3- to 5-year age range. The parents and one set of grandparents made up the balance of the group. Altogether, without having actually counted, I would say our group included about 10 children and 10 or 12 adults.

At about 10:15, our tour guide arrived. Melissa (from St. Louis, Missouri) told us that some odd things had been happening in the park. In fact, Captain Hook had threatened to completely take over the park because Peter Pan had stolen his best hook.

Our tour guide then placed a bundle of white dishrags on the ground and told each of the kids to take one. Eventually after all of them had been taken, it was clear that a small leather bag with a skull and crossbones symbol on it had been at the center of the bundle. One of the moms in the group held onto the small leather bag until the tour guide came back. She told the lady to open the bag. She did so, and then finding that the bag was filled with "Mickey Dust" (Mickey-shaped confetti) she proceeded to toss the whole bagful into the air leaving most of the bag's contents scattered around on the ground. The tour guide quickly took the bag back and handed out as much of the "Mickey Dust" that remained to other tour members. She explained that it was the "Mickey Dust" that would empower us to find the hook that Pan stole and return it to Hook so the Magic Kingdom could be saved.

Next, we were told we had to find the scroll with the missing clues. After just a few moments of walking about, Barbara, my wife, found a canvas scroll about three feet by five feet, which was covered with hand-written clues that would take us from the garden to several other destinations and ultimately on to the location where Pan hid the hook.

The scroll of clues directs the entire tour. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Each of the clues was written in a riddle/rhyme form. The first took us to the Harmony Barber shop on Main street, where we had to "sing a few bars" from "When You Wish Upon A Star" before proceeding.

As we walked down Main Street, our tour guide told us we would "sneek up" on the cast member at the attraction status board. After tossing some "Mickey Dust" at him (precious stuff since most of our stock was still on the ground back in the Tour Garden), we said, "Arrrrrrr." The tour guide explained that if we did that, and the cast member responded back with an, "Arrrrr," then we would know he was a pirate working for Hook to overthrow the Magic Kingdom. The cast member didn't respond with the dreaded, "Arrrrrr," and besides seemed rather clueless about our task. He had no special help or information to offer, so we continued on to the next clue's location.

The Partner's statue, at the hub, was next. There the tour guide asked everyone who their favorite Disney character was. We were then (simultaneously) to act out our character's behavior. My 11-year-old son Allan chose Donald as his favorite character because, he said, the duck is cranky. Then, he was too cool to act out his character's behavior as the little kids were doing. When the tour guide got on his case a little, he said he couldn't because he needed someone to make him cranky. His little brother, Michael, quickly walked up to him and shoved him while grinning his head off. Michael was more than happy to help Allan get cranky.

Everyone shares their favorite character at the hub. Photo by Brian Bennett.

After about 10 seconds of miscellaneous acting, the tour guide told the kids to get out the scroll and read the next clue.

Next we were off to find "the Claw that would choose." Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin was obviously our next destination. When we arrived at the attraction, our tour guide suggested we all ride the ride. After doing so, we all looked—at our tour guide's insistence—that we find and look at our ride photographs, and then we walked outside and looked at the scroll for the next clue.

If my description of the tour seems a bit disjointed, it's only because the tour itself is rather disjointed. We would read a clue and go to the destination we identified, which in our case was the Barber Shop, Partners, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin, the large granite spinning sphere in Tomorrowland, Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe, the dwarves' vault near Snow White's Scary Adventures, the Cinderella Statue in the castle courtyard—right next to Tinker Bell's Treasures, the Liberty Tree in Liberty Square, the Diamond Horseshoe, the Tiki Fountain in Adventureland, and finally to a courtyard directly adjacent to Pirates of the Caribbean.

The castle on the granite ball is a clue to our next destination. Photo by Brian Bennett.

At each destination, there was a small task to be done. Sometimes it was a "follow-the-leader" kind of walking activity. Some included looking for some detail (such as finding the vault), while some were just silly behavior that was very much geared towards the small kids in the group. The kids thoroughly enjoyed sneaking up on the cast member and sneaking up on Sonny Eclipse at the Starlight Cafe and later, when we found Hook doing a meet and greet at El Pirata y El Perico Restaurant, "scaring him" by acting like Tick Tock, the crocodile (with an imitation of the University of Florida's Gater Nation arm chomp).

The kids sneak up on Sonney Eclipse at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe. Photo by Brian Bennett.

Throughout our walk, the kids shared the tasks of carrying the "Mickey Dust" bag and the scroll. Allan and Michael and one other boy did the majority of the clue reading since the other kids were too young to read.

Eventually we did arrive at the Pirates of the Caribbean and walked back into a courtyard where we were supposed to be able to finally find the hook. We all looked, to no avail. In fact, after a few minutes Peter Pan and Wendy arrived and helped us look. No luck. Finally, a cast member that "happened to be in the courtyard" volunteered to climb up and see if the hook was hidden up in some of the ornate woodwork. When he did so, it was obvious that the hook was hooked to his belt... and that he was obviously a pirate that was trying to make sure that the hook didn't get back to Hook. He wanted the Magic Kingdom taken over by the Pirates.

Peter Pan and Wendy join the hunt. Photo by Brian Bennett.

With the Magic Kingdom safe at last, Peter and Wendy got all of the little kids together to celebrate by playing a game of "Wendy Says." It was a fun interlude, but again it was definately something that the little children enjoyed much more so than older kids, teens or adults. Finally, Peter and Wendy offered to pose for pictures with each family (using our own cameras, which was nice). We also received an 8 1/2" x 11" certificate of having helped save the Magic Kingdom.

The Bennett Family poses with Peter Pan, Wendy, the clue scroll and the hook. Photo by Brian Bennett.

When our photo session was complete and our certificate was in hand... I noted that the time on my watch was 11:35. We'd spent $108 for a tour that was advertised as taking 2 1/2 hours, but that only took 1 1/4 hours. The tour was a very simple scavenger hunt that was geared toward 3- to 5-year-old kids. I wouldn't say that my sons were bored. They seemed to enjoy figuring out where the clues would lead us, but none of them were particularly challenging.

Would I recommend this tour? Certainly I would, for families with little children under 4 or 5 years of age. Those little tykes did have a good time. (It was pretty expensive, though, for a few clues and games of follow the leader through the MK.)

Personally, I was disappointed. I was not at all happy that the tour was so abbreviated from what had been advertised. I was also disappointed that my sons found the tour to be so mundane. I was hoping that they would find it completely enjoyable... but the tour just wasn't designed for kids of their age. As for me, well, I didn't expect that the tour would be challenging for me and it certainly wasn't. I was expecting a better story, to be honest, and a much better overall experience.

Barbara, however, was having none of that. She made a point of going to Guest Relations at City Hall when we left the park sometime later (we enjoyed some other attractions and a Dole Whip while we were in the park) to complain. She really felt strongly that there was a need to address both the description of the tour indicating that kids of all ages would have fun, and the fact that it took only half the advertised time.

At first, the cast member tried to placate her with some Fastpasses. When that didn't work, the cast member tried to explain that the describe in tour time was due to the tour no longer including a 45-minute "interactive event." (Even that would have left the tour a half hour short of the advertised time.) Of course, the tour cost hasn't changed as a result of eliminating that portion of the tour... nor has the tour brochure been updated to show the shorter duration. In the end, Barbara insisted upon and was given a full refund of the tour cost.

Could this tour be better? It certainly could! With just some minor effort this tour could be transformed from a brief but fun activity for little kids into a magical, enjoyable time that would cross age boundaries with ease. Specific goals or tasks to complete at each clue stop, and more character interaction (besides just Peter Pan and Wendy at the end) would be welcome. Free ice cream or sodas during the mid-tour break would have been a nice touch. Perhaps, somehow, making this a competition between the various families would have really juiced it up.

When all is said and done, I'm really more disappointed in the attitude of the cast members and Walt Disney World's tour organization to "dumb down" a tour by removing content but not being willing to adjust the price against the lesser net worth. To me that is a greater threat to Walt Disney World than the threat of Captain Hook taking over the Magic Kingdom.