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Vote of the week: VIP tour and backstage experiences

By Robert Niles
Published: July 18, 2008 at 8:01 AM
Theme parks, of course, are in the business of making money. In addition to the regular admission ticket, souvenirs, etc., many parks offer VIP tours and backstage experiences, for an additional fee. From escorted tours through Disneyland to a day with a SeaWorld trainer, plenty of options are available.

Have you ever been on one? That is our vote of the week. For the purpose of this question, we are not counting paid "front of the line" passes, like Universal Express Plus and Flash Pass, where the park just sells you an extra ticket and points you on your way. We're talking about employee-escorted tours and the like.

If you have gone on one of these experiences, tell us about it (including how much you paid), in the comments. Was it worth it?

Readers' Opinions

From Donna Tolliver-Walker on July 18, 2008 at 8:45 AM
Best backstage experience ever: Griffon breakfast at BGE last year. Thank goodness we signed up for this event, because unfortunately it didn't last long. It was a great value for the money, considering the excellent buffet, the complimentary 6 x 8 photos, and of course all those rides on the mythical beast w/no wait and only a few other privileged ones in the park to share it with you!

Also good: breakfast events with Jack Hanna. You get good closeup viewing of a range of animals.

From Nigel Smith on July 18, 2008 at 8:48 AM
Over the Memorial Day weekend my friend and I decided to do the VIP tour at Cedar Point. The cost of the tour is $400 each, which included entry to the park, parking, a few onride photos and your own tour guide for 8 hours of ride time. We could ride any coaster as many times as I wanted without having to queue. It was the best $400 I had ever spent at Cedar Point.

I had been to the park two years earlier and after queuing in the hot sun for over 2 hours on each ride, and spending 3 days in the park to ride every coaster, I vowed never to have to go there and wait in those hot, sun exposed lines to ride a coaster. It was just torture!

Now I realize $400 is a lot of money and many of us can't afford it, but if you only go to Cedar Point every few years and want to get the most out of your day then I highly recommend this package. Plus I ended up saving in the end cause we didn't have to pay for multiple nights accommodation and extra few days car rental.

From Brian Emery on July 18, 2008 at 8:53 AM
I took the 2 hour Animal Adventure at BGA where you also get the Safari ride included.
It was Two Years ago and it was expensive. It was worth it only because my daughter loves Animals and you get up close to many different things you can not see from the park.

Pro’s and Cons.
Pro nice long two hour tour.
Con – took two hours away from our park time after driving 1 hour from Orlando….

From Sid Ryan on July 18, 2008 at 8:54 AM
I took the behind the scenes tour at Disney's Animal Kingdom. It was a 4-hour tour, and included walking through the animal barns and backstage areas, as well as indoor sessions that cover the conservation and ecological efforts of DAK.

One of the best parts of the tour was the Animal Enrichment programs, where they showed us what AK goes through to make sure the animals' lives are as healthy and happy as possible.
I was surprised at how much is spent and what they go through.

Very worthwhile tour.

From jamie rodgers on July 18, 2008 at 10:50 AM
Backstage Tours :-

I have just come back from florida last month an while i was there i went on the behind the magic tour at disney world, I belive it cost $200 roughly and lasted 7 hours we meet at epcot. We started our tour in the backstage area of world showcase and was shown some really intresting sites, as the tour started at 8am we was allowed to see the world showcase being set up for the day ahead. 'james' our tour guide then took us to the american adventure where we went to see how the show was run and went behind the scenes and meet the engineers, We then boarded a mears coach and set on our way to the hollywood studios, here we got the same treatment at the tower of terror. we was told some of the things that was coming up in the future for d.h.s, apperantly there is soon to be a copy of crush's coaster (from paris) in stage 1.

we then went for lunch, also very nice !

we soon was on our way again, next stop Magic Kingdom ! this was really the best part of the tour we got to see the workshop areas, seeing some of the rides taken in for repair. and being told how each part was done, we also visted the laundry plant and the clothing department.

Next stop was the utiladoors, this really was a treat !

This really was a well spent day of our holiday, i would recomend any one doing this tour 7 hours just flew by with out a moments notice, the guide was lovely and knew so much, every bit was fun and informative !

From Anthony Murphy on July 18, 2008 at 3:23 PM
EPCOT, Backstage Magic
It was excellent. Lots of walking, but a must for anybody who has pretty much seen everything at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. You also get to see the famed utlidoors.
From Scott Thatcher on July 19, 2008 at 8:31 AM
Did the 'Save the mammels at Sea World in Orlando. It was a very educational tour that showed the lengths AB goes to to save harmed or sick sealife. The group was 20 people. That is the most they would allow. At the end of the tour, they allow 5 people at a time to enter a caged area to feed exotic birds. I forget how much it cost, but it was really educational and fun.
From Cameron Fernandez on July 20, 2008 at 7:59 PM
VIP Tours.

Well, since im an actively parkgoing Floridian, i could give a few tips on Florida "vip" and "backstage" tours. Probably one of the most unique and interesting tours down here is at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay (or B.G. Africa. old habits), where you go on a pretty unique Safari experience out on Busch Gardens' Serengeti Plain. You get alot closer to the animals at Busch Gardens then you do at Animal Kingdom, and you are given the opportunity to feed the animals yourself. This particular VIP tour is pretty reasonable for florida theme park standards at about 35 bucks. Busch has also been adding some more up close experiences since they completed their new "Jungala" area of the park, so check the website. Busch Gardens is a little out of the way from the "superparks" in ORL, but its worth the drive.

If you really want an awesome experience at Disney parks, their VIP tours are literally out of this world. Particularly interesting is their "Keys to the Kingdom Tour". You get to see off limits areas of the parks there and get "backdoor" access to all the rides (ya basically get to walk on. tah tah line jumpers and annoying new buddies from China). I havent done this one, and most of us Floridian's will rarely spend more on VIP tours anyways but the people I know that have taken it highly reccommend it. My Research says its 60.00 per person (not including admission) and hey, "FREE" lunch. At disney, a good size meal costs about that much!

From Deidre Dennis on July 21, 2008 at 9:32 AM
The closest we've come to doing a VIP package was buying an Express Plus Pass at Universal Orlando and it was worth every dime. Although fairly expensive, depending on your party size, we'll definitely plan to "save up" just to have one of these experiences.
From Larry Zimmerman on July 21, 2008 at 1:32 PM
Contrary to a previous post, KTTK (Keys to the Kingdom) only provides back-door access to a few rides (2 or 3, depending on crowds and weather), but is remarkable in that you are led behind (and UNDER) the scenes through the Magic Kingdom for about 4 1/2 hours. Great Disney trivia, insider insights, and lunch are included. Not to be missed if you're a true Disneyphile! Ages 16 and older only (so as not to spoil the "Magic" for those who might still believe in it). Park admission and separate fee required.
From Russell Meyer on July 21, 2008 at 1:36 PM
We've done quite a few VIP tours/backstage experiences over the years, some that have changed or no longer exist.

On our last trip to Orlando in November, we did the Sundowner Safari at Busch Gardens Tampa, which requires all guests to be over 21. The experience includes a quickie version of the popular Brewmaster's Club in a small room in the Crown Colony Restaurant. After that, guests board a truck and head out onto the savanah to feww giraffes and other African wildlife. In addition, each guest gets two more 16 oz bottles of beer to enjoy on the safari. With our platinum passes, I think the total was $70 for 2 people.

We also did the Shamu Rocks dinner show at Sea World Orlando, which is an all-you-can-eat buffet. The food is pretty high end with numerous seafood dishes, chicken, and a special food area for the kids. The diner also includes drinks (including beer) and a specially reserved seating area for a Shamu show. With our passes, the total was somewhere around $50 for two.

In previous trips over the years, we've also done:

Around the World in a Segway Tour at EPCOT--This tour has changed a bit since we took it a couple of years ago, but when we did it, the tour was a one hour lesson in a room in Innoventions to learn how to use the two wheeled gizmos. The second hour was a tour around the World Showcase before it open to guests on the segways, and a chance to get pictures around the park without other guests in the way. I seem to recall this tour was around $140 for two.

Virtual Magic Kingdom (VMK) Tour--This tour doesn't exist anymore, but was a little over an hour with a VIP tour guide through the Magic Kingdom, and how the VMK environment was created to resemble the real park. The best part of this tour was this it was FREE, and included backdoor access to Pirates.

Save a Species Tour at Sea World Orlando--This tour includes a tour of the resue tanks with a highlight of the manatees, and about 20 minutes in the backstage aviary and oportinities to feed the animals. With our passes 3 years ago, I think this tour was $17 for 2.

Wild Artic Tour at Sea World Orlando--This backstage tour includes a backstage view of the polar bear exhibit and beluga whale tank. The highlight of the tour is an oportunity to pet a penguin in a backstage area. With our passes 5 years ago, I think this was around $15 for 2.

Predators tour at Sea World Orlando--This tour included an educational discussion of sharks and killer whales. The tour also included what was a special view of the shark tank from a large backstage window that is now the main window of the Sharks Restaurant. We also got a chance to touch a small shark in an aquarium, and a chance to view the killer whales from a backstage window, that is now longer a backstage area. This tour I think was around $15 for 2.

One of these days, we'll do the Keys to the Kingdom Tour at Disney World, but the price (over $100 per person including lunch) and the length (8 hours) always keeps us from booking it.

From Marc Ricketts on July 21, 2008 at 8:02 PM
Epcot Aqua Sea-When I first saw that I could dive in the tank, I knew that would be an upcoming splurge. It was even more fun than expected, and I was uncharacteristically showing off for the crowd, sneaking up on the restaurant patrons (thought about smuggling in a lobster bib and fork, but didn't want to be expelled ;-)).

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