Vagabond in America 2016 travel blog

"Behind the Seeds" tour

Marathon at WDW

Remains of the (now closed) River Country Water Park

Remains of the train tracks at Fort Wilderness

A fifth-wheel with a truck that makes mine look small

A parking lot at Magic Kingdom

A parking lot at Fort Wilderness

Another parking lot at Fort Wilderness

A humorous but often overlooked sign in the Magic Kingdom

A trail through the wilderness in Walt Disney World

“I first saw the site for Disneyland back in 1953, In those days it was all flat land - no rivers, no mountains, no castles or rocket ships - just orange groves, and a few acres of walnut trees." – Walt Disney

One of Walt Disney’s deepest regrets was that the beauty surrounding the original Disneyland in California was completely destroyed and replaced with hotels and strip malls. He wanted to avoid that fate when he designed the second theme park. He directed his company to purchase an unbelievably large tract of land in Florida. The new property was 40 square miles.

From the time I first visited WDW (Walt Disney World) back in 1974, I’ve always wanted to explore the property. While I still had a career, my vacation time was limited. Like all the other tourists, on each trip, I rushed into WDW, rushed to the attractions and then promptly when home. Now that I’m retired, I finally have the opportunity to explore WDW in a relaxed style.

It was actually hard to slow down. My instincts kept urging me to rush to the next attraction. Eventually, I was able to completely relax and absorb the vastness of the property that surrounded me.

I wanted to see for myself what is in WDW besides the parks and resorts that were created specifically for the guests.

Both Walt Disney and his brother, Roy Disney, came from the movie-making business where the scenery is designed for the camera only. There is no point is wasting money on the sections of props or buildings that will never appear on camera. They carried this concept forward at Disneyland in California and all the parks that followed it. On-stage areas (what guests can see) are elaborately decorated and carefully coordinated. Back-stage areas (where guests are not normally allowed) have a very industrial look with no money wasted on appearances.

I’m not the only one who wants to see how WDW works. At each park, they’ve created official tours for the guests that want to “go backstage” and see the parts of WDW that make it function but were never intended to be viewed by guests.

One of the simplest backstage tours (and the only inexpensive tour) was “Behind the Seeds”. During this tour, guests are taken inside the “Living with the Land” attraction in Epcot to learn more about the processes used. As a group we went through all of the attraction’s planting areas on foot observing and learning about their unique growing processes and research.

A much longer (and far more costly tour) was “Backstage Magic”. On this tour a group of us visited backstage (areas not open to regular guests) at each of the four theme parks. This included going into the legendary “utilidors” underneath the Magic Kingdom. It is a not-so-secret fact that what everyone thinks of as the Magic Kingdom is actually on the second floor. The genuine first floor consists of offices, costume workrooms, warehousing, and all the other normal business functions of the theme park.

The Backstage Magic tour would have provided a wonderful opportunity for photos for this blog. Unfortunately for you and me, photography is strictly forbidden in all the “backstage” areas on this tour.

Besides the current attractions at WDW are past attractions that, for whatever reason, have been abandoned. For example, the first themed water park in the world was “River Country”. It closed in the fall of 2001, just as it did every fall due to cooler temperatures. But, due in part to the reduced attendance following 9/11, it never reopened. It was simply abandoned, most likely for purely financial reasons. There are fences preventing curiosity seekers, like me, from getting too close. I didn’t want to break any rules but I was able to take a few telephoto shots of the area, without leaving the normal guest areas. You just have to know where to look. (These days we have the advantage of Google Earth, which allows us to legally peer down from above.)

Another abandoned attraction is the Fort Wilderness Railroad. It used to run around and through the Fort Wilderness Campground. It was long ago abandoned. But, I was able to find portions of the original rail bed. My fat-bike was quite handy to ride along the bumpy rail bed over the now rotting railroad ties.

On another adventure, I rode my fat-bike from Fort Wilderness to the TTC (Ticket and Transportation Center). I then rode it to Epcot and back to Fort Wilderness. (Total distance: 12 miles.) I was worried that the security police would stop me. I was pleasantly surprised when they halted traffic so that I could cross some of the roads.

My last adventure was to drive behind Magic Kingdom in my truck. Most people don’t know it but there are roads back there intended for cast members but open to the public.

As a nomad, my current “residence” is wherever my RV happens to be parked. Since I’m staying at the Fort Wilderness Campground, I figure that my temporary residence is inside WDW. How cool is that! Even the cast members (paid staff) can’t make that claim!

When they designed WDW, they went out of their way to give the guests the impression that they had just entered a special place, a place apart from the normal day-to-day world. Well, this has a strange effect on you if you actually live here.

Over the last year, I’ve learned to live with typical campground noises. Since many campgrounds are located near major highways and/or train tracks, I’ve gotten used to hearing trucks and trains in the middle of the night.

Here, I’ve gotten used to boat whistles late into the night. I’ve learned to expect to hear the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom and then from Epcot every night. I’ve even gotten used to the sounds from the Water Pageant as it passes by every night. Can you imagine living someplace where seeing Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck is just a normal part of your day!

Finally, I had the opportunity to actually live inside WDW and explore it to my heart’s content. I had a great time!

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