If you love tiny desserts, misinformation, and peak Magic Kingdom crowd levels, then boy (girl) do I have the tour for you.
The $99/person Taste of Magic Kingdom Park VIP Tour, otherwise known as “A Must-Eat Experience,” debuted in February, 2019. Take a look at what Disney promises and compare it to what we experience as we move through the 3-hour tour:
Moving forward, the tour is scheduled on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 9am. That means that unlike other tours, such as Walt Disney: Marceline to Magic Kingdom, Keys to the Kingdom, The Magic Behind Our Steam Trains, and most other tours, no aspect of it is presented before the Park opens to all guests. This will come into play as our group of 32 eager snackers attempts to traverse the crowds as we move from Land to Land and from donut to donut. The time also “feels” a lot less intimate with tens of thousands of other people around.
The following review does include some “spoilers,” which is to say, I’ll go over what you’ll see and do on the tour and include some of the more interesting details that our guides imparted.
I wish I was kidding, but the tour begins inside Tony’s Town Square Restaurant. I know what you’re thinking, “Josh, you know better.” And you are absolutely right. But I have never let that stop me before.
Just in case this is the tour for you, I will briefly continue going over the logistics. Unlike the tours put on by VIP Services, where you check in at a desk on the opposite side of the lobby, you’ll check in for your Snack Tour right at the check-in desk at Tony’s Town Square. Again, this does not bode well. Granted, Disney doesn’t own it quite yet, but I feel like the Jaws theme should be playing.
A statue of me looking at the Cosmic Ray’s Angus Pizza Burger with longing eyes actually appears above this fountain in the main dining room.
Even though the Angus Pizza Burger has since departed our world, I’ve heard that Cosmic Ray’s remains the best quick service at Walt Disney World. I can’t confirm or deny that fact.
The first half hour of the tour takes place inside the Tony’s atrium. I can only assume that our tour guide is asking me, “Why are you still here?” It’s a fair question. And one I don’t have an answer to.
Coffee, Decaf Coffee, Hot Water, Tea, and Mickey-shaped Cinnamon Rolls greet us at a table. Bottles of “smartwater” are on ice in the back.
A word of advice: Bottles of smartwater go for $5.50 each in the Parks. I’m not saying you should stuff your pants full of them. But I’m also not saying you shouldn’t.
While it appears that each one of our cinnamon rolls is missing a bite out of the lower left corner, these are otherwise the same full-size pastries that they serve for $5 at Main Street Bakery Starbucks. If there are any crevices in between the smartwaters in your pants, then you might try to fill them in with these. They’re actually shaped in such a way that you can sort of fit one inside the other if you know what you’re doing. If this is your first time, don’t worry about filling every inch. You might get hungry later is all I’m saying.
“Joking” aside, the day begins auspiciously enough. It’s nice to have a bottle of water to take with you throughout the tour and the Joffrey’s coffee should help put a little pep in your step. The Cinnamon Rolls, while a far cry from the famous Bakery pastries of yesteryear, are nice and crispy with a sweet vanilla frosting and seasonal sugar crystal sprinkles.
The tour begins with your guides and other guests sharing some of their favorite gastronomical memories from their visits to the Walt Disney theme parks. I kid you not when the first person that answered started by saying, “I’ve been a Disney Annual Passholder…” for however many inconsequential years. Literally the last thing I would do at Disney World is go up to someone and ask them about their experiences with Casey’s Corner, but here we are. The next person gushed about Club 33. Not impressive. Making money is easy. Eating Stromboli out of a planter at Pinocchio Village Haus is not. I considered sharing my experience with Pecos Bill’s Pork Glop Platter. Memories of Diamond Horseshoe whisked through my head. Memories of my other meal at Diamond Horseshoe whisked through my head. Not wanting to psyche myself out too badly, I turned off my thoughts for a while. That concludes this review.
After more stories about Casey’s Corner than I would have liked, we are off towards Casey’s Corner.
On many other tours, guests are equipped with listening devices to aid in hearing the guides, who may be a ways away in the distance as they walk the group from place to place. There are no such devices offered during the Taste of Magic Kingdom Park VIP Tour. Granted, it’s not the Hearing of Magic Kingdom Park VIP Tour, which might actually be an interesting topic. The screams from Tower of Terror are piped in, for example. They could do the same thing at Casey’s Corner. The point is that our walks from “curated tasting” to “curated tasting,” as we circle Magic Kingdom in its entirety, are completely without narration. Your guide will not attempt to impart any knowledge. Only the thoughts of Casey’s Corner will fill your head.
The tour includes short walk-throughs of exactly one and a half kitchens, the first of which is Casey’s Corner. Those walk-throughs culminate in what Disney describes as “unprecedented access.” The Casey’s Corner kitchen is shockingly small. Even as you consider adding a new memory about Casey’s Corner to your brain, with some amount of hesitation, now imagining the size of the kitchen in your head, it’s still smaller. While the hot dogs are cooked in the kitchen, almost all of the toppings are prepared at Tomorrowland Terrace and wheeled across through the utilidoors underneath Magic Kingdom. This is the most interesting fact of the tour. While I’m presenting the correct information to you now, the preceding is not exactly what we were told by our guides. One other note should you elect to pay the $99 to hear a similar fact yourself, you’ll need to wear close-toed shoes on the tour as to keep out any toe funk from the kitchen. Casey’s Corner has a reputation to uphold.
After taking the eight steps through the kitchen and seeing little more than hot dog buns and stainless steel, we took up residence in a semi-circle smack dab in the middle of the path leading to Adventureland.
Our next stop was Jungle Navigation Co. LTD Skipper Canteen, a restaurant that’s basically one big homage full of at least a thousand Easter eggs.
We were told about exactly one of these, which is that the butterflies behind this table in the S.E.A. room once belonged to Lillian, Walt Disney’s wife.
Next, we had an opportunity to walk through a small portion of the kitchen that’s shared between Skipper Canteen, Liberty Tree Tavern, and Diamond Horseshoe, in addition to a variety of carts throughout Adventureland. This was one part of the tour that I was excited to see. The kitchen is recently remodeled and serves hundreds of guests at a time. It must be a massive operation. Unfortunately, we just saw a small piece of it, an area where the food is expedited and apparently, where monitors overhead list what’s recently been ordered and needs to be prepared. The entire focus of the short presentation inside the kitchen was on these monitors, which were not particularly interesting. It makes a lot of sense that what needs to be made would be displayed on monitors in the kitchen. It was never mentioned or alluded to that the kitchen was actually much larger than what we saw and if I had not turned my head to the left on the way out, to see a long corridor full of equipment, I would have had no idea.
That concluded the “unprecedented access” portion of the tour, which ended up being eight steps past hot dog buns and then even more stainless steel with blank digital displays overhead. It would have been neat to hear some tricks of the trade – how the biggest challenges in preparing food for three very different restaurants in one facility are overcome. Maybe there’s one person that has been carving the turkey for 30 years. Something about how much salad they go through a day. Just about anything other than the fact that after you order the soup, it displays that order inside the kitchen, would have been more interesting. I could have probably pieced that part of it together myself.
While seated in the darkest room of Skipper Canteen, we sampled one of the Buffalo Chicken Spring Rolls from the Adventureland Spring Roll Cart alongside a small cup of the very sweet Schweitzer Slush, which is “Frozen Apple Juice and Passion Fruit topped with Bursting Green Apple Boba Balls, first concocted by the noted explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush.” Interesting side note – my father is actually Dr. Albert Slush.
While we were enjoying our snack, Chef Alfredo came out of the kitchen to give a brief presentation and to answer guests’ questions. The Chef was incredibly friendly, but he misunderstood our guide’s question about what he would offer at the restaurant if he could cook anything, instead offering menu suggestions from what was already available. He had also only been at the restaurant for six months, which didn’t lend itself well to questions about the history of the restaurant or about whether or not past menu items might return. (They won’t.)
With that, the best half of the tour was over and we marched through a busy Arabian Village towards Aloha Isle.
Somewhat interestingly, this VIP Tour debuted the day after Disney introduced three new ice cream cones, along with a variety of other treats. It had crossed my mind that this was not a coincidence and part of the tour would be focused on these new delectables.
This Hei-Hei Cone, for example, debuted on February 24th, a day before the tour started.
This was very much not the case as none of these new treats were mentioned. Another thing about the tour is that with one exception, nothing that we tried was at all unique to the tour. No special flourishes. That potentially makes some sense – the point of the Tour is apparently to “discover how food memories are made.” But currently, there is no opportunity to order just the Raspberry Dole Whip that makes up a portion of the Hei-Hei Cone. It would have been fun to have an opportunity to try it as part of the Tour. An, “Ordinarily, you wouldn’t get to do this, but we pulled some strings with the Mouse,” sort of thing.
Anyway, we got to try two ounces of the usual Pineapple Dole Whip huddled underneath a corner of the overhang. I don’t think anything of interest was mentioned other than the fact that Aloha Isle is much more popular than Sunshine Tree Terrace, so the two switched places a couple of years ago. The math checks out.
Next up, we made a stop at the venerable Tortuga Tavern. If any of these people could have named two items on the menu, I would have paid for their Tour.
Fortunately, it was time for some protein here with one bite of Turkey Leg. We also have an opportunity to wash it down with a fresh 12-ounce Dasani.
There is one scheduled bathroom break at Skipper Canteen, where we spent 40 minutes. Our Tortuga stop took 20 minutes, which seemed long given the fact that there was “literally” one bite to eat. There wasn’t much to talk about at Tortuga either, other than the insistence that it is actually turkey. The legs are just larger because they come from male tom turkeys. Most of the turkeys you see during Thanksgiving etc. are female turkey hens. Also, the hickory-smoking process is what makes it taste more like ham. And salt. Lots of salt. Also, cast members, and particularly VIP Tour Guides, are not allowed to eat turkey legs “on-stage,” since there is supposedly no attractive way to do it. They have obviously never seen easywdw.com go to town on one of these. Casey’s Corner Hot Dogs are in play at least. Those you can eat pretty.
Only about three minutes of our 20-minute stop was spent engaging with the guides. At least it’s less likely that you’ll turn up in any vlogs while you’re sitting there. *takes one bite* “Yeah, not my favorite.”
Our next stop was Liberty Square. Amusingly, there were two cast members working logistics behind the scenes to do things like make sure that our one turkey leg split between the 32 of us was ready right at 10:30am. That’s them holding trays full of small cups of popcorn as if we’re at some sort of theme park Costco. Dozens of people must have walked up to them and tried to grab a cup. NOPE. You’ve got to pay $99 for that.
Disney sells enough popcorn each year to fill the Tower of Terror, however much popcorn that might be. I’m guessing that the number is based on unpopped kernels. Otherwise, like three tubs full would fill the parts of Tower that will be open this summer. I’m happy to do my part.
From the Liberty Square Popcorn Cart outside Liberty Tree Tavern, it was time to walk all the way over to Fantasyland and back past Pinocchio Village Haus.
Some in-ear audio would have bee nice here. There’s one guide towards the front of the group and one to the rear, but we’re otherwise just trying to make our way through this corridor like any other guest.
Here we are again stopped in the middle of a walkway.
Particularly if you’ve never been part of a backstage tour before, the next section was neat as we headed backstage behind the Village Haus. We saw the Great Opening to the utilidoors underneath Magic Kingdom, where a lot of the food is dropped off and transported inside. We also enjoyed backstage views of the Haunted Mansion and it’s a small world show buildings, along with Village Haus and Be Our Guest. We also learned about how Disney converts leftover oil to fuel and various initiatives to recycle food waste along with its donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank. If that sounds more interesting than trying a single bite of turkey(?) leg, then I’d check out the much longer Keys to the Kingdom Tour. That tour is, unbelievably, the same price as this one, and includes lunch.
We emerged in between Gaston’s Tavern and Bonjour Gifts to a small cup of The Grey Stuff, which is exclusive to dinner service at Be Our Guest Restaurant. The Cookies and Cream icing is indeed delicious and the little chocolate square is a nice touch along with a couple of chocolate crisps. You can see how small the portion is given the size of the ordinary plastic spoon. Originally, a tour of the Be Our Guest Restaurant kitchen was a scheduled part of the tour, but it was problematic due to the quick service actively serving guests. I’m guessing that they don’t want you to actually see how things work back there. Or if they do, the tour would have started with a Non-Disclosure Agreement instead of a cup of coffee.
Next, it was over to Prince Eric’s Village Market for what I’m sure will be a “rainbow of refreshing and healthy snacks.”
Or, a full size version of one of these donuts.
According to my previous review, “the donut is light and airy with a fluffy, pillow-y quality and glazed with a relatively thick layer of vanilla icing and then topped with a generous sprinkling of purple sugar crystals with a couple more white chocolate shells placed on top for good measure.” While the amount of food that we had been served thus far wasn’t overwhelming, a full size donut was not necessarily what I was after at this point in the tour.
But it was a good opportunity for our guides to let us in on a secret that Disney does actively create new snacks and treats with social media in mind. Just like our produce, it doesn’t matter how it tastes – just how it looks.
It was then off to Tomorrowland.
Here, we had the opportunity to pose in front of the “Purple Wall,” with a #Disney VIPTours prop, among others.
The Tour concluded in the Tomorrowland Terrace seating area, where 12-ounce bottles of Dasani water were on each table.
We were then served an “in-development item” that we were not allowed to photograph. It was another of the various Spring Rolls that Chef’s Commissary provides the Park by the thousand, along with a side of soy-heavy soba noodle salad. I’ll let you know when we see it at Food and Wine this year, if it doesn’t pop up at the Adventureland Cart first. The final portion of the tour took about 25 minutes. We were given an opportunity to rate the item via these three questions. I’m certain nobody looked at them.
All in all, we ended up being served the following. To confuse things, I’ve included the price of a full version of the snack along with the portion available as part of the Tour:
- Mickey Cinnamon Roll ($5), smartwater ($5.50), and a cup of coffee ($3.29) at Tony’s Town Square
- One Buffalo Chicken Spring Roll ($7.50) and an Undersized Schweitzer Falls Slush ($6.50) – Skipper Canteen
- A Sixth of a Dole Whip – Aloha Isle ($5)
- One Bite of Turkey Leg ($12.49) – Tortuga Tavern
- Popcorn ($5) – Liberty Square Cart
- The Grey Stuff ($5) – Gaston’s Tavern
- Mermaid Donut ($5) – Prince Eric’s Village Market
- Spring Roll and Noodle Salad ($7.50) – Tomorrowland Terrace
That means the full retail value of the full size version of the snacks comes to $67.78 – perhaps $5 more if you grab an extra water or $5 less if you skip the cup of coffee or other item. Vegetarians can also be accommodated. You should be served fruit at Skipper Canteen in lieu of the Buffalo Chicken Spring Roll and Hummus and Crackers in place of the Turkey Leg at Tortuga Tavern.
Obviously, with just a couple of exceptions, we weren’t served the full portion. Taking the portions into consideration, the food cost was right around $40. That means we need to derive about $60 of value from the rest of the experience to get our money’s worth.
As the website has stated before, life is an expectations game, and I was expecting big things from this tour.
According to Disney, I was supposed to “discover how food memories are made,” “hear stories from the brilliant chefs,” “be immersed in culinary magic,” “enjoy unprecedented access to backstage kitchens and working areas,” “interact with the creative experts behind these memorable meal experiences,” “tuck into curated tastings of some of the most beloved menu items at Magic Kingdom park,” “help Disney culinary artists create the next generation of Magic Kingdom park food by sampling an item that is still in development,” and “relax and savor the experience because your VIP Guides will take care of everything.”
I don’t think any of that actually happened beyond being among the first guests to see inside parts of a couple of kitchens. I know how food memories are made and have plenty that I’d like to forget. Even if Chef Alfredo is brilliant, we didn’t hear from any other chefs, so there’s no plural going on. I’ve always said that culinary magic immersion is in the eye of the beholder, so we may disagree about that, but there was no interacting with any creative experts, unless we’re going back to the one Chef. You could argue that each of our stops was curated, even if that curation happened to be in the middle of a walkway in the busiest theme park in the world. Our secret spring roll wasn’t a departure from a million other items that have been available at Magic Kingdom and Epcot for years.
But with lowered expectations, I could see someone enjoying the experience enough to justify $20 an hour for the pleasure. It certainly wouldn’t be the tour that I would do. Marceline to Magic Kingdom is the same length, much more interesting, and half the cost. Keys to the Kingdom is far more fascinating, is longer, includes rides, includes lunch, and comes in at the same price. The Steam Train tour is a little more specialized, but also comes in at about half the cost at $54. Outside of a few interesting details, the tour isn’t anything that you can’t do as you move about the theme park yourself on your own time.
Overall, I didn’t feel like the Taste of Magic Kingdom Park VIP Tour delivered what it promised, but there might still be $100 worth of intrigue here if you’re interested in the snacks and have done most everything else at Magic Kingdom. One other consideration is that it does take up a full morning of touring. You may want to enjoy early morning rides without waits and grab spring rolls when it’s convenient.
We’ll see what’s next.