Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever October 15, 2015: Magic Kingdom Premium VIP Tour

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Premium VIP Tour best week ever

The average Orlando visitor doesn’t have a bottomless budget for their vacation, so we here at Touring Plans are dedicated to helping you squeeze the most out of every buck. But every once in a while, it’s nice to get a taste of how the other 1% lives. Ever fantasized about a trip to Walt Disney World without worrying about dining reservations, FastPass+ bookings, or transportation to and from the parks? Welcome to the wonderful world of WDW Premium VIP tours, where the magic of plaid can make almost any Disney dilemma disappear. Usually, the Touring Plans team gets treated just like any other paying guest when we go to the parks. But for this very special Best Week Ever I was able to experience my first Magic Kingdom VIP tour…and I may never be able to go back to waiting in lines again!

Walt Disney World has just finished training their latest crop of plaid-clad VIP tour guides, and (thanks to the generosity of an old friend) my wife and I were invited to test-drive an exclusive Premium VIP Tour of the Magic Kingdom as part of the final approval process. Our day began at 9 a.m. at the front entrance of the park, where we were greeted by our guide, Gio. Most WDW cast members are exceptional, but the resort’s VIP tour guides are truly the best of the best. Gio, a native of Brazil, has worked as a front-line cast member at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, in addition to studying tourism and psychology in university. We were able to have great conversations with him about not only theme parks but our recent travels in Europe, and at no time did it feel awkward to be touring the attractions with a stranger.

Gio began our day not with a pre-programmed itinerary, but by asking us what we wanted to do; he enquired about when we had each visited the park last, and what types of attractions interested us. We quickly agreed on greatest-hits tour of the park, including all the classic rides (minus a couple of the rougher ones, like Space Mountain). With that, we were off on or whirlwind 4 hour adventure. Our first stop was the Main Street Bakery for a Starbucks eye-opener. When you are on a VIP tour, you don’t have to worry about rushing to an E-Ticket at rope drop, and can take your time enjoying the park’s morning atmosphere.

A look at construction work on the castle forecourt stage.

After checking out some recent upgrades around the hub and posing for the requisite castle photo, we headed into Fantasyland for our first rides of the day.

Cinderella’s wicked stepmother & stepsisters waiting for an early morning carousel ride.

Objective number 1 was Peter Pan’s Flight, which was already sporting a 50 minute posted standby wait. Thanks to our VIP tour guide, we were through the FastPass+ entrance and off to Neverland in under 2 minutes. Gio didn’t attempt to squeeze into a pirate ship with us (that may have been a bit awkward) but he was kind enough to hold our coffee for us until we returned.

Since it was right there, we also boarded it’s a small world with no waiting whatsoever, and took a timeless cruise around the waters of the world.

Next up on our to-do list was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The standby queue was posted at 60 minutes, and all FastPass+ reservations were gone for the day, but we were climbing into our swinging mine car in exactly 2 minutes. Even better, we were allowed to sit in the front car, making the ride’s visuals that much more spectacular.

Orlando’s Winnie the Pooh ride isn’t one of my favorites (I’m still mourning Mr. Toad), but when your VIP tour guide can cut the wait from 20 minutes down to 3…well, why not?

Dumbo is another attraction that I’d normally feel dumb wasting precious touring time waiting for, but thanks to Gio we were aboard our flying pachyderm in under 3 minutes. He even pointed out the trail of peanut shells cleverly embedded into the cement leading to the attraction’s entrance.

Who doesn’t like a train ride? As we traveled around the park from Fantasyland Station, Gio pointed out a trivia tidbit I had never heard of before: The garden path between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland is known as Holland Way, named after a manager who used the grassy area as a shortcut before it was an official walkway.

Arriving at Frontierland, it was time for the one-two punch of Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The weather was ideal for a log flume, and with our VIP tour guide’s aid we were in our log less than 60 seconds after arriving. We were even able to request a middle row to avoid the worst of the spray.

Since we still got a bit spritzed, a quick Big Thunder blow-dry was in order. At this point, we discovered the one downside to Disney’s Premium VIP Tours: since they access the same FastPass+ entrance as other guests, a backup at the MagicBand reader can derail your wait-free experience. Fortunately, this line looked worse than it was, and we were off on our “wildest ride in the wilderness” within 5 minutes.

All of this stress-free touring can make you hungry, so we asked our guide where we should eat. Gio had an encyclopedic knowledge of the resort’s eateries, and instantly suggested Columbia Harbour House, which is always my top quick-service choice. Be Our Guest was booked solid for lunch, but Gio offered to squeeze us in there if we wanted. However, we declined in order to save some time.

While leaving Frontierland, we did poke our head inside Pecos Bill’s to inspect the brand new Mexican-flavored menu, which looks like an improvement over the old burgers (especially since the free cheese sauce was long gone).

On the way to lunch, we took a detour through Adventureland for a ride on the newly refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, it was experiencing some technical difficulties at that moment. Here’s where the power of the Premium VIP Tour came in handy; while Gio couldn’t magically fix the ride, he did monitor the attraction’s status via his smartphone, and was able to alert us to its reopening just as we were finishing our meal.

With PoTC temporarily DOA, our final pre-lunch adventure was a voyage on the world-famous Jungle Cruise. We bypassed the standby queue, boarded in about 3 minutes, and enjoyed one for the funniest spiels I’ve heard in months.

Columbia Harbour House proved a smart pick as usual, with the grilled salmon and broccoli salad providing a perfect energy boost without the typical fast-food coma. Gio even ate with us, and Mickey picked up his meal so we didn’t have to.

As we headed out of Liberty Square, Gio pointed out this musket in a second floor window, a tribute to the Revolutionary War minutemen that I had somehow never noticed before in my 4 decades of visiting the Magic Kingdom.

With lunch over, we were ready to launch on our pirate cruise, bypassing the stagnant standby queue. Pirates of the Caribbean is looking better than it has in years, especially the refurbished figures and and refocused lighting. All the special effects, with the exception of the underwater mermaids (which we’ve heard have been permanently disabled) were fully functioning, and the whole attraction looked almost as good as new.

One surprise was that our boat had at least an inch of standing water in the bottom as we boarded, and took on even more as we came down the big drop, despite rumors that the flume had been refurbished specifically to prevent such soakings. Luckily, our VIP tour guide was in the know, and directed us to a middle row to avoid drowning.

Before we knew it, our four hour tour was up, and it was time to fill out a survey and say farewell. In that short period of time, we experienced all of our favorite rides in the park and had a great meal, all without ever waiting more than 5 minutes in line (usually much less). However, before you throw away your touring plans and book a tour for yourself, there are some crucial caveats to be aware of:

  • Premium VIP tours of the Walt Disney World parks cost between $400 and $600 (depending on season) PER HOUR, with a 7 consecutive hour minimum per touring day.
  • That price is valid for parties up to 10 guests (including infants under 3). If you have 11 or more in your group, you’ll need to book a second tour guide at full price.
  • VIP tour prices do NOT include park admission, food or drinks, souvenirs, or hotel stays.
  • The hourly VIP tour fee does include transportation in a private vehicle to and from the parks from anywhere in Central Florida, including off-property hotels, private homes, and even the Disney Cruise Line terminal at Port Canaveral. However, the hourly fees run from when you are picked up to when you are returned to your destination.
  • Premium VIP Tours do NOT include backstage visits to off-limits areas like the Utilidors; take one of the guided group tours like Backstage Magic if that’s what you are looking for. However, if you have a park-hopper ticket, your VIP tour guide can use cast member-only entrances to drive you directly from one park to another for maximum efficiency.
  • Premium VIP tour guides can assist with dining reservations, get you into reserved viewing areas for parades and fireworks, and allow you to enter the FastPass+ queue at all attractions and most character meet & greets. They can also try to accommodate requests for specific seating or attraction re-rides, but those are not guaranteed. However, they cannot speed your admission to any attraction that doesn’t offer FastPass+, or cut you ahead of other guests in the FastPass+ line; in other words, this is not a true “backdoor” service like Universal Orlando offers.
  • Finally, a small number of FastPass+ attractions may not be accessible to Premium VIP tours, specifically the Anna & Elsa meet & greet at Princess Fairytale Hall. If meeting the Frozen sisters is a priority, with sufficient advance notice your tour guide may be able to arrange a private audience. [CORRECTION: Anna & Elsa ARE included in the VIP tour (though during peak times special arrangements may need to be made) as are all other fixed location meet & greets. However, VIP tours cannot cut the queues for roaming characters in the streets.]

The bottom line is that, with a minimum starting fee of $2800 per day (plus admission), the Premium VIP tour is way beyond the means of most Walt Disney World guests. However, in a world where a night in a Polynesian bungalow costs over $2000, and FastPasses for popular attractions sell out months in advance, this type of service can start to seem almost reasonable. For a large family with only one day to spend at WDW (perhaps before or after a Disney Cruise), the Premium VIP tour’s flexibility and door-to-door transportation perks may make more financial sense than one of the $299/per person Ultimate Day guided tours.

If, after all that, you are still eager to get a second mortgage and sign up for a Premium VIP tour, just call 407-560-4033 up to 90 days before your visit. You can also find more information about Premium VIP and other group tours at https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/vip-tour-services/.

Taking a break on Main Street with a couple old friends…

Have you ever taken a VIP tour at a theme park? Did you think it was worth the money? Share your experiences in the comments below.

 

Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

5 thoughts on “Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever October 15, 2015: Magic Kingdom Premium VIP Tour

  • October 15, 2015 at 8:02 pm
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    Aw, shame about the mermaid effect being permanently gone. I quite liked to look out the boat for it, but at least now I won’t be disappointed in my expectations. Thanks for the heads up, I’m looking forward to seeing the improvements to the ride!

    Reply
    • October 16, 2015 at 10:04 am
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      It could return, but I’ve been told it won’t. It didn’t work consistently, and even when it did most guests didn’t get what it was supposed to be. The music & mermaid skeleton are still there.

      Reply
  • October 15, 2015 at 8:51 pm
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    At the current pace of price increases, admission to the park at all will be only for the 1%.

    Reply
  • October 16, 2015 at 3:18 pm
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    Thanks for this detailed review! It’s always fun to read about these things so we can dream. Would you be able to describe this ‘Ultimate Day’ tour? I thought all Disney VIP tours were exactly what you describe?

    The only true VIP tour we’ve ever done was at 6 Flags Magic Mountain, where an entire day (as much or as little as you want to spend at the park) was $300 per person, minimum 4 people. Since the lines there are insanely long for the coasters, and we only had one day, we decided to splurge. The $300 per person included our park admission, walking in the back entrances of all of the rides for immediate access, sitting exactly where we wanted (usually the front car) on every ride, and all of the food we wanted to eat (at the park’s one TS restaurant, any CS, or any kiosk), as well as special ‘VIP parking’ about 20 feet from the entrance to the park, even closer than the handicapped parking! After the day was done, we felt we had gotten our money’s worth, with 30+ roller coasters and other thrill rides under our belts, plus food all day. But at 2-3 times that amount, even with 10 people, and much less included… I’m not so sure. We can add a few extra days to our park tickets and spend $300 per night to stay at a deluxe Disney hotel, so I’m not sure that wouldn’t be a better way to spend the money, even if someone can afford such a tour. I think the best application is what you suggest: someone who has a very limited amount of time, and perhaps has minimal notice, and is therefore unable to plan/book ADRs and FP.

    All the same, it sounds wonderful, and I’m glad you enjoyed yourself so much!

    Reply

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