02 March 2008

Going off road here for a little bit

Driving in Walt Disney World is, for all intents and purposes, a fairly simple task. As we’ve talked about before, the signs are easy to distinguish, and your paths are marked out for you. There are no side streets, maps, or wrong turns to speak of, your path is laid out before you like a red carpet to the World. But what about the Cast Members? Do they follow the same purple and red eared signs we do on their daily drive to work?

Additionally, I began questioning the use of the utilidors. Utilidors are the series of tunnel complexes used by Cast Members beneath the Magic Kingdom. These tunnels are used by the Cast Members to make their way to the appropriate land, dispose of trash, and deliver food, without the entire process taking place in front of the guests. This way, there would never be a cowboy in Tomorrowland, a sight which irked Walt in Disneyland, and one he sought solutions for. Yet, in the remainder of the Walt Disney World parks, there are no tunnel developments. Aside from the possible dilemmas this could cause in crossing thematic elements (i.e. what would a Hollywood Tower Hotel bellhop be doing near the Voyage of the Little Mermaid?), other questions began to bubble to the surface as well. In Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you never see a Cast Member from Conservation Station on the Wildlife Express, so how do they get to back to the farthest reaches of the park? Occasionally when viewing a truck on an access road, I would wonder where the connecting road had been to get over to this secondary road, or had the truck simply gone off road for a little while?

The question of back roads for Cast Members has wandered around inside my brain for a number of years. My Aunt Keeni took me down a few back roads, specifically Backstage Lane, in 1997, when the then delayed Test Track was still being built and tested. Since she was not in uniform at the time, and had a couple of teenagers with her, she told the gentleman at the security booth she had made a wrong turn and needed to turn around. As we turned around, she pointed out the extended track that ran outside of the old World of Motion building. This was the first time I realized that there was a whole world behind the carefully crafted stage I had been a guest of, and I began to take more note of the areas unseen, or rather unnoticed, to the average guest. One answer to the multitude of questions I had came in the form of the Cast Atlas, a guide to all the back roads and backstage areas in Walt Disney World.

To be honest, I didn’t know such a thing existed until late last year, when my father brought it to me from some of my Aunt’s belongings. Over the years I had discerned that there was a system of roads beyond the colorful fanfare that most guests cruised through. There had been discussions on various forums about this happening or that happening off of a road out of public view, a video even surfaced showcasing the whereabouts of the Epcot wand’s remains. Then, I received the Cast Atlas, and whole new avenues opened up.

I now knew where roads were and where they went, I discovered backstage pathways that kept the show in one area from bleeding into another, and I even was able to deduce what was beneath me when I stood in Fantasyland (locker rooms and the Character Zoo for those of you wondering). I felt as if I could go anywhere and do anything, it was exhilarating! That is, until you realize just how many security booths there are on property. While most back roads had nothing but miles and miles of empty driving space, they also had very little value to guests seeking a glimpse behind the scenes. The roads guests would love to travel down are generally guarded, leaving open the sole option of tell the security guard you are lost and that you need to turn around, much in the same manner my aunt gave me the fleeting glance of Test Track.

So the guide falls short of giving guests like me, with no real need or right for clearance, little hope of being allowed to wander aimlessly backstage. This, in the end, is a relief, knowing that while we are enjoying the stories in every corner of Walt Disney World, we are relatively safe, and free to worry about whether or not to have hamburgers or chicken fingers for lunch.

So then, what becomes of such a fabulous guide in the hands of the Disney nerd? It becomes a treasure trove of little wonders. The placement of the Character Zoo in the Magic Kingdom, the clever names of roads and cast cafeterias, the various spots on property where the horticulturists practice their art, and many other little peaks into the realm beyond the witty Cast Member doors. Here are a few treats to savor and discover.

¤Walt Disney Imagineering has a building between The Magic of Disney Animation, Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, and Rosie’s All-American Café.
¤Besides the locker rooms and Character Zoo, a hair salon named Kingdom Kutters also resides below Fantasyland.
¤Both Epcot (again off of Backstage Lane) and the Studios (behind Playhouse Disney) have a Company D. Company D is a store exclusively for Cast Members.
¤Cafeteria names include: Discovery Diner, Mouseketeeria, and Take Five Café.


Unknown said...

What an amazing Disney treasure you've got there...

Any other maps you can share?

Greg said...

This is something Ryan. I need to find such a trove of insider information. I need to start lobbying some of the former CM's that I know.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

Cast Members are great resources! Unfortunately, I think I have almost tapped my supply of cool pieces my aunt had.

George -
I'll try to get some of the other maps up, the problem becomes as you unfold the guide, the map pages become larger and my scanner can't fit the entire page. But I have some ideas on how to make it work. So expect some map goodness in the next few days!

Anonymous said...

Cool stuff! We had a wedding photo shoot at the MK at about 6am and on our way in and out of the park the photographer drove us round the back of the castle to show us where the costumes were stored and where the fireworks were launched - it was a great behind the scenes look!

FoxxFur said...

That's an older one - I doubt it's out of date but the costuming department is no longer under Fantasyland at MK but out in the parking lot.

Folks, if you want a "backstage tour" then do the following: drive through the MK toll booth past the parking lot and towards the Contemporary. Right at the Contemporary is a traffic light, go THROUGH it and ignore the sign that says "Authorized Vehicles Only" because it's unenforceable and lost guests do it every day. You'll drive right past Space Mountain. After about 1/3 of a mile you'll pass Pluto Lot on your right - this is where maintainence and third shift cast members park. Then the road will curve and you'll see the Monorail Barn on your right - all the monorails go here, as well as the MK steam trains.

You'll cross the Walt Disney World Rail Road tracks and come to a four way intersection. Look left and you'll see the back of Mickey's Toontown Fair and the Magic Kingdom security gates. Right and you'll see the storage warehouses and bus barns. Go straight and keep on driving.

After about a mile you'll pass a little right turn and you'll be able to see the back of Splash Mountain for a moment. Keep on driving straight through a S curves, past the Reedy Creek fire station, and suddenly you're at the Grand Floridian.

Guests who are lost or jogging do it every day. It's no big deal, but neat if you've never seen it.

Ryan P. Wilson said...

You're right Foxx, that's a nice little trip to take if you've never done it before. Every time I drive around there, I feel as if I am giving new meaning to the phrase "backside of water," but I don't know why. The map is indeed a few years old, but I treasure it because it belonged to my aunt and for the fact that it still offers some nice details, even if they are slightly dated.

krueg said...

I, for one, don't really like seeing the behind the scenes stuff. It kills the "magic" for me...

I did the college program in 1998 and it took me a few years to get over seeing all the "behind the scenes"! It was like learning Santa wasn't real as a child.

It's been 10 years but I can still pictures the utilidors and especially behind the scenes at AK, where I was on the opening cast and had my run of the place for two months leading up to opening day!

I really prefer to be a tourist at the World!!!