What You May Not Know About The Secret Tunnels Under Disney's Magic Kingdom

Many casual guests of Disney World might walk around the Magic Kingdom without ever realizing there's a network of subterranean work happening beneath their feet. It's the world's most-visited theme park, but the bulk of the Magic Kingdom's visitors only experience its staged, above-ground fantasy world. Much of the park's backstage area is in a system of tunnels underground. This won't be news to hardcore Disney fans who are familiar with the concept of the Utilidor, or utility corridor, below the park. It's been the stuff of tabloid tales for years, but Disney itself has confirmed that this nine-acre service tunnel loop exists. The only thing secret about it is what truly goes on down there.

The Magic Kingdom offers a five-hour walking tour where visitors can go behind the scenes and see part of the Utilidor — for a price. However, no camera or phone usage, even by Disney Cast Members, is allowed inside. This leaves the Utilidor with a certain lasting mystique. There are only a few old publicity photos and guerilla videos of it from decades past floating around online.

Pictures from the early 1970s, when the Magic Kingdom first opened, showed costumed characters riding golf carts down a long, industrial tunnel, crisscrossed with overhead pipes, like something out of a James Bond villain's lair. Security is tighter now, and it's been a long time since anyone posted fresh Utilidor pics. If you want to see it today, your best bet is Disney's Keys to the Kingdom Tour.

Unlock the Utilidor with the Keys to the Kingdom

When you enter the Magic Kingdom, you can see how the flower bed with Mickey Mouse's face slopes upward to the Walt Disney World Railroad station on Main Street, U.S.A. Once you hit Main Street proper, the incline is gradual enough that it obscures how you're walking uphill on the second floor of a huge construction complex. Technically, the Utilidor is ground-level and everything else was built on top of it, using dirt recovered from the Seven Seas Lagoon (that manmade body of water where ferries take visitors from the parking lot to the Magic Kingdom).

The Keys to the Kingdom Tour meets every half hour from 8:00 to 9:30 a.m., just inside the Magic Kingdom at the Town Square Theater. It's designed to reveal lesser-known tidbits about the park's development history and operational procedures. The Utilidor allows offstage Cast Members and supplies to stay out of sight while moving through the Magic Kingdom. Below ground, an automated vacuum collection system even pipes trash along unseen, so as not to break the fantasy spell for guests.

While the Utilidor is the main draw, it's only one part of the tour, which includes lunch and VIP rides aboard attractions. The tour runs $129 to $149 plus tax, and you'll need a separate park ticket in addition to that. The price of a one-day ticket varies depending on the day; it starts at $109, but there are ways to save on Disney tickets.

What you won't see on the tour

As the Most Magical Place on Earth, Disney World is full of attractions that spark the imagination. What's left out of view in the Magic Kingdom can also fuel some imaginative urban legends, but don't expect to see Walt Disney's cryogenically frozen body preserved under the Pirates of the Caribbean on the Keys to the Kingdom Tour. Your tour guide will unspool trivia and point out hidden Mickeys, but they probably won't lead you past half-costumed characters who are taking smoke breaks with their heads off in the Utilidor, either.

It's true, by some accounts, that character costumes are confined to the Utilidor and can't leave park property. Yet some areas remain off-limits to guests, the same as a "Staff Only" door would be at any other workplace. Behind closed doors, the Utilidor reportedly has an employee salon called Kingdom Kutters and a cafeteria called the Mouseketeria, complete with a Subway franchise for sandwiches. These are modern vestiges of "Uncle" Walt's original plan for EPCOT as an experimental community with some inner workings hidden below the surface.

While Tripadvisor reviews of the Keys to the Kingdom Tour are generally positive, some express disappointment with the mundane reality of what they saw. Maybe it's no coincidence that the tour's name nixes the word "magic," since it might ruin the Disney magic for some people. Others may leave satisfied, with a fresh eye for some interesting things missed on your last Disney World trip.