Over the past few years, my family and I researched how best to feed our desire to experience more and more of the Disney magic. In the past, we filled that need for the “Disney fix” with multiple trips to Walt Disney World (WDW) and several adventures upon one of the ships within the Disney Cruise Line (DCL) fleet. Between trips, we often travel to a local mall that contains a Disney Store filled with the newest must-have merchandise. Our favorite vlogs, such as those provided by the DIS crew, play on our television regularly. The Disney experiences that eluded us over the years were the excursions provided by Adventures by Disney (ABD). We have recently returned from our first ABD adventure, Backstage Magic*. My family and I are now trying to sort out two very pressing questions: “Why did we wait so long to go on an adventure?” and “When are we going again?”
The Backstage Magic trip provides the adventurer with an experience that loosely follows in the footsteps of Walt himself as he traveled through California. The trip starts in Hollywood and then concludes in Anaheim at the Disneyland Resort. One experiences both the culture of Hollywood and the charm of the parks. The consensus amongst my family is that this was truly an unforgettable experience. Given the organic nature of the adventure, meaning the trip often changes from week-to-week and from group-to-group, I hesitate providing details into our specific experiences. The basic structure includes two nights in the Loews Hollywood Hotel and three nights in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa.
During the stay in Hollywood, one experiences a walking tour of many landmarks including the TCL Chinese Theater and the El Capitan. Each adventure tours the Jim Henson Studios, the Walt Disney Studios, and Walt Disney Imagineering. While the Adventure Guides fill these times with activity, they also provide the traveler with some free time to explore on their own. The second part of the trip follows along Walt’s path as he begins to explore the formerly orange-grove-laden acreage that eventually became a magical kingdom filled with adventure and fantasy.
While the structure of the adventure provides travelers with a good idea of what will be experienced during the ABD trip, probably more important are the intangibles that cannot be fully experienced unless one actually travels with ABD. My wife stated it accurately when she posted on social media about her amazement that in a matter of a few days 30+ strangers became fast friends. Webster’s defines friend as “one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity.” During the trip, different people with varying personalities and diverse backgrounds shared a common interest, their love of Disney.
At our Welcome Dinner during the first evening, our Adventure Guides greeted us with a short overview of the week and then, of course, the traditional activity of introductions began. They also asked us to share what experiences we looked forward to the most during our adventure. For some, they shared their excitement about visiting the original Disney theme park. For others, they felt visiting the Walt Disney Studios or even Imagineering would be the highlight. For myself, the experience I looked most forward to was spending several days with other like-minded individuals, meaning those with a passion for the product only Disney can provide.
While there were many great experiences during our adventure, one of the highlights for my family came about when a large portion of our group disappeared into the park after the Paint the Night Parade. With flashing ears proudly worn upon our heads, we pursued a secondary adventure and “power walked” between attractions until Disney California Adventure (DCA) closed, and then moved over to Disneyland and nearly closed that park as well. As I further recall the new friendships formed during our adventure, I often look at my own personal pictures and see one particular traveler who became the group’s beloved “photo bomber.” During our farewell breakfast at the “Happiest Place on Earth,” we bid our fellow adventurers safe travels and proceeded to exchange social media contacts. These perfect strangers from four days ago now became our friends. The magic wasn’t just from the things we were able to experience, but also the people we met while doing them. We have kept up with one another and have even made plans to meet up from time-to-time during future visits to Walt Disney World if individual schedules allow.
The emotional whirlwind experienced during the ABD Backstage Magic adventure also serves as one of the intangibles. An experienced Backstage Magic traveler within our group warned us that, at times, we would need to “bring some tissues.” We traced the adventure of Walt Disney himself. We drove past the building that served as the first Walt Disney Studios, which is now a copy shop. We ate lunch at the Tam O’Shanter, which was a regular stop for Walt and the early animators and Imagineers. At the Jim Henson studios, an active puppeteer within the company provided us with a VIP tour of the studios. During our time at Walt Disney Studios, the tissues began to appear as we observed in the distance the hospital that Walt passed away in. During the Imagineering portion of our adventure, an Imagineer within the company spent time with our group as we became immersed in the mysterious halls within Imagineering. This day was a truly magical experience as we saw items not available to the public. At one point during our visit to Imagineering, I found myself, a grown man nearing half a century, fighting back the tears.
The storm of emotions culminated as we arrived to the “Happiest Place on Earth” and we checked into our room at the Grand Californian. In the past, the typical Backstage Magic adventure included a welcome dinner at a table service restaurant, celebrating our arrival to Walt’s park in Anaheim; however, during this occasion, our Adventure Guides handed us vouchers for a meal and informed us we had free time in the parks. Rather than spending an hour or two on a large meal together, I felt that they were able to sense our excitement about entering Disneyland and allowed us to venture on our own into the magical kingdom built by Mr. Disney himself. Our group did meet later that evening for a VIP viewing of Fantasmic. Our adventure continued over the next few days as we traveled between Disneyland and DCA, experiencing behind-the-scenes access to several of their famous attractions and observing the nuts-and-bolts behind the magic. We walked where Walt walked. We looked through windows Walt looked through himself as he observed new visitors to his park.
Our Adventure Guides themselves added to the magic as well. The ABD company paired them together perfectly, and allowed them to become a very important addition to our already magical trip. They left no detail unaddressed, whether providing us a legendary mint julep at Fantasmic or the traditional Mickey ice cream sandwich during the afternoon parade. They greeted us as we arrived to our first hotel in Hollywood and stayed with us until our Farewell Breakfast at the Disneyland Hotel. The Guides also served as the “paparazzi” of the group, providing photographic memories of our tremendous trip. During an adventure, one of the highlights centers around a daily, unique pin distribution. Rather than simply handing out the precious Disney pins, they often themed the handing out of pins depending upon the activity for the day. For example, during our day at Disneyland, they organized a meet-and-greet with the Disneyland Ambassador and he actually personally handed out the pin-of-the-day. My family often wondered when our Guides ate and when our Guides slept due to the very fact they were always seeking out to fulfill each need of every traveler.
The final intangible that an ABD trip provides stems from the excitement we experience as we plan toward the future. Even before this adventure had concluded, my family and I began brainstorming about where and when our next ABD may occur. After we had returned home, we scoured the ABD website and sought out the details to several other trips. I dissected my work calendar to find out when I might cut out some time to book our next ABD adventure. As we discussed our next adventure, concerns arose. Would we love our new Guides as much as we loved the Guides during this adventure? Would we make more friends as fast as we did this trip? How would we have a secondary adventure without Ryno? Are other trips equally as magical? Should we bring more empty luggage since we had done so much damage at the merchandise shops this past adventure? Do we choose San Francisco*, New York City*, or another Backstage Magic adventure? Should we attempt the Italy adventure? I really cannot answer these questions at this time, but I do look forward to finding out the answers as we look toward the future. The only question that can be answered at this point is, “Are we going again?” The answer, a definite “Yes.”
In closing, what ABD provided unto us was neither a trip nor a vacation, they truly provided us with a magical adventure filled with friends and fantasy. While there are innumerous group touring companies providing vacations to their customers, I doubt that they provide the quality of trip that the ABD company regularly provides their travelers. Our ABD adventure was also our first voyage into group travel and, when we initially booked this trip, my family did voice some concerns over group travel. We travel to WDW multiple times per year and rarely utilize a concrete plan to organize our adventure there. We do what we want, when we want, and rarely worry about others. Even though a bit of nerves were present at the onset of our adventure, those faded fast as we began to enjoy spending time with our fellow travelers. As stated before, during our last full night of the adventure, a large group of travelers including my family disappeared into the parks, spent time together laughing, and enjoyed one another’s company. Our fears and concerns over group travel faded away shortly after the first meal together and now we cannot wait for our next adventure. See ya real soon, Adventures by Disney!
*Editors Note: Links to Adventures by Disney itineraries lead to related areas of DreamsUnlimitedTravel.com. Dreams Unlimited Travel is the official sponsor of The DIS and provides guests with planning tips, information, and free, no-obligation quotes for Adventures by Disney, Disney Cruise Line, and Disney Resort vacations.