If you’re curious to know more about the amazing tours that Disney World and Disneyland both offer, from the most fun Halloween experiences to the tours of Walt’s apartment on Main Street USA, check out my article on VIVA GLAM Magazine here!
Just for you all here, I’d like to go into a little more depth about the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour offered solely at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park.
If you’re a history buff, a Disney-fact extraordinaire, or just someone who has been hearing about the infamous “underground tunnels” at Disney World, this tour is for you.
My first real experience with backstage areas at Disneyland came when I was cast in a Disneyland commercial many years ago. We were given a guide to help get us around the backstage areas to and from the live park areas for shooting. I was taken backstage and dressed as a balloon vendor, but I didn’t appreciate what a magical experience it was getting to go backstage and be wardrobed at Disney’s wardrobe building. Our poor guide was so annoyed because I kept asking him stupid questions. I remember belting, “Where are the underground tunnels?” He rolled his eyes at me and said, “They don’t exist here. They’re only at Disney World.”
As I became a more seasoned visitor to Disneyland, I began to love an appreciate the history, though the Magic Kingdom, the park I grew up visiting, held more wonder and spectacle in my eyes. But I couldn’t overlook the love and history at Disneyland Park. So, for one of my birthdays, we did the “Walk in Walt’s Disneyland Footsteps” Tour where we got to tour Walt’s Main Street Apartment over the firehouse. What a treat! So, naturally, when I found out that the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour took guests into the infamous utilidor tunnels at Disney World, I just had to sign up for it.
The entire tour was very interesting to me, covering the hidden details and historical facts of the Magic Kingdom park. Having been to Disneyland every month for years and not having been to the Magic Kingdom in ten years, it was very interesting to see and compare the differences between parks.
As the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour began, our guide praised Roy Disney’s dedication to seeing his brother’s dream through to the end. She talked about how without him, the park wouldn’t have been possible. I loved that, as Roy gets overlooked a lot at Disneyland. She explained how all of the little flagpoles on the roofs of the buildings on Main Street were all lightening rods. You see, Florida is a lightening capital, so the Disney World parks have a ton of hidden lightening rods all over the parks, including the giant roof of the Tiki Room, which is actually made out of metal impersonating a straw appearance.
We were told all about the design of Disney being for the 1% that will notice the smallest details. For instance, off Main Street, tucked in a corner, there is a man holding singing lessons. It’s a staged recording through an open window, and it plays all day long as a hidden piece of ambience. Almost no one notices it, but it is beautiful when someone does. We discussed the forced perspective of the Main Street design, how the windows act as credits for park creators and imagineers, and much more about the history.
We were able to snatch a boat on the Jungle Cruise and get the comical tour done a different way. Instead of the punny jokes, our guide told us historical information about the tour. And, if you listen closely to the headhunters, they really do say, “I love disco” in the recording.
Though no one can stump me on the trivia of my favorite ride, the Haunted Mansion, it was so nice to experience Disney World’s version of this iconic attraction. The mansion is completely different in appearance at Disney World, which is explained away by the idea that the mansion appears to you the way you’d like it to, as told in its lore. However, we got to enter the ride via the “Servants Quarters,” which is a corridor still staged dressed for the mansion’s look used to take out scared children. I love that it had servant bells hanging on the wall as you walked through.
The real reason to take this tour, however, is to experience the backstage areas, as I mentioned above. We were taken behind Splash Mountain and were able to see its water reserve before heading into the building with the parade floats. Getting to see them up close was very exciting. After that, we made our way down into the utilidors, aka the underground tunnels. The utilidors serve as a way for employees to get around the park unnoticed. It would hurt the magic of Disney to see an employee in a western-inspired outfit of Frontierland in Tomorrowland, so this ensures that won’t happen.
Walking through the corridors covered in Disney posters and notices was fascinating. We were shown where employees get dropped off when they arrive on their buses into the park. They enter the utilidors via a bus stop right by the outside. There are maps on the walls periodically showing you where you are so you won’t get lost. To help with that, as well, the walls are painted a different color for each area of the Magic Kingdom that you are under. For instance, pink walls mean that you are under Fantasyland. It was pretty clear when you were under the castle, and that was an amazing feeling knowing that you were under such an iconic building. The elevator to the top of the castle for the princesses was right next to us, as we watched some of the actresses make their way up in princess attire.
And, Disney’s trash system there works on vacuumed shoots that funnel the rubble to a building behind Splash Mountain. The trash pipes were over some of the tunnels, and you could hear the garbage bumping around over your head, occasionally.
It was such a different experience of the Magic Kingdom seeing it through the “Keys to the Kingdom” tour, but it was one I am so glad that I got to experience. I can’t wait to go back and try the scuba adventure at Epcot or one of the Animal Kingdom tours next!
I was very excited to visit the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa after having heard about them for years. They had been compared to the caves within the entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Naturally, being a Disney connoisseur, I knew I had to see them in person. Lucky for me, I was able to go for my birthday last year.
As you approach the caves, you will be shocked as to how large and towering the entrance-way, itself, is. That gave me a little insight as to how massive these caves were. And, it was true. The most mesmerizing part of Cacahuamilpa is how tall those natural caves are. It is one of the largest cave systems in the world, and it is still live, meaning water still trickles into the structure and continues forming the caves to this day. The top of the caves tower from 100 to 230 feet above you as you walk down the dark paths. The natural formations show figures and stories that your imagination can surely have a good time with. And there are areas were natural crystals hang, as well. The cave of wonders from Aladdin played in my mind as the natural formations showed light-play and produced shadow characters around us as we walked through the tunnels. It’s definitely a place to visit if you have a large imagination.
Perhaps the coolest part of this experience was knowing that there is an amphitheater down there that still plays live shows. The acoustics are so perfect that artists are thrilled to use that space to put on concerts. I’m not going to lie, I tried it out and sang some Phantom of the Opera down there, and it’s pretty amazing hearing your voice bounce off of the walls of the cave.
If you want to see the greatness that nature has created on its own, the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa are a must-see.
Have you ever wanted to go husky sledding? Ever wanted be pulled in a sled by reindeer? Well, Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is the perfect place to live out your dream winter activities! Damian and I went to Kakslauttanen in late December, and there are so many amazing things about it that I’ll have to break it up into a few posts.
For this entry, I’d like to focus on the activities. Kakslauttanen was so full of culture. I’ve never experienced such rich and unique culture before, and the activities were the highlight to this unbelievable experience. On our trip, we participated in three activities, though there are dozens that you can try. (We missed out on ice fishing, snow mobile rides, and more! But we were so happy with the three we chose.) The first activity we took part in was horseback riding in the snow.
I’ve grown up riding horses, but riding in the snow was such a different, magical experience. There were trees draped around us as we trotted through the snow on horseback. The trees were hanging over our heads, covered in a shining, crystal covering of ice. We passed frozen rivers, fields of glistening white, and went through snow-covered forests. The horses were so friendly and loving, and I made a few new cat friends in the barn.
Next, we went reindeer sledding. I’d never seen a reindeer up close before, and that alone was enchanting. Damian and I got into a small sled that was led by a reindeer. Our reindeer sled was tied to a reindeer behind us which was tied to another sled and so on, making a chain of reindeer sleds. The reindeer behind us put his head right in between ours as he went running through the woods in the moonlight. We took a break at a winter tee pee in the woods. We sat by the firelight in the warmth and were served hot juice from an iron teapot boiling on the fire. The warm juice made of mixed berries was served into wooden cups (so the cups wouldn’t freeze), and it was delicious. Sitting in a winter tee pee in the firelight drinking hot juice from a wooden cup was one of my favorite memories.
The highlight of the trip, however, was the husky sledding. As we gathered by a sled to learn how to drive it, the huskies were tied up in the distance waiting to run. I’ve never seen happier animals in my life. They couldn’t wait to run and lead the sled. They were crying out and pulling, just waiting for the signal to go. Once we pushed off and gave them the signal, they took off. They were mostly Siberian huskies, and they were beautiful dogs. As I drove them through the snow passed fields, snow-covered fences, and frozen lakes, I couldn’t help but smile.
Each sled consisted of five or six dogs, and Damian and I switched being passenger and driver in the middle of the journey. Hand signals were used to alert the sledders in front of and behind us as to whether we were slowing, stopping, or going. Upon the completion of our journey, we arrived at a winter tee pee. We entered the small, triangular building and sat around the warm fire. We were served more hot juice by the fire along with hot stew. Eating the stew by the fire in the winter tee pee was incredible.
View my husky sledding video here!
For each activity, the resort provided a warm thermal jumpsuit to go over our jackets and winter attire. It was the perfect shield from the extreme arctic temperatures. What a unique experience. I can’t WAIT to go back to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort. More to come on Kakslauttanen soon!
This Beautiful Trail Would Have Been so Much Better if We Weren’t in a Drought
Grotto trail is a 2.7 mile loop near Malibu, California. While Grotto trail really does have it all- flowing water, waterfalls, fields, mountains, and incredibly scenic views, make sure you head out there on the right day. What I mean by that is this- if you are in a drought or if there just hasn’t been any rain, you will miss out on an opportunity to see this trail at its finest. The day we went was not only in the summer, but it was shortly after a large fire, and there was no water to be found. While you could see where the waterfall once stood strong, it was now dried up and empty. Once we got to the end of the trail, we found the small remanence of a stream, and that was all the water in existence on the trail. While we could see where the water used to pour around all of the rocks at the end of the trail and image how glorious it was, it wasn’t the same since we couldn’t experience it for ourselves. We could see where the water had faded the rocks and stained them with its level over time, but it was nowhere to be found on this day. The golden grains of grass and scenic views did help to still make the trail worth it, but it wasn’t the same. I hope to make it back when there is water there.
A Little Getaway in Sequoia National Forest
The Remington Hot Springs exist in a quick path in the Sequoia National Forest just a few hours north of Los Angeles in Southern California. Don’t let their existence in the Sequoia Forest fool you, though. They are nowhere near the main entrance to Sequoia National Park. Instead, the path is three hours away from the entrance in a different area entirely. While it is always an amazing thing to experience natural hot springs, these are pretty underwhelming. To get to them, one must head down a very hot and dry path down a steep hill (but only 0.4 miles in and out, so it’s not too long) to the springs. There’s one spring that exists as its own little hot tub up a few feet away from the running river, but the rest exist at the base of the river. The view of the river is gorgeous, but being from Richmond, Virginia and growing up playing in the James, rivers don’t always impress me. And the hot springs connected to the river were flooded with the crashing waves of the river when I went. From what I understand, this happens a lot. As I said, while it’s pretty impressive to see natural hot springs anywhere, these are not worth seeing. Having been to Grutas Tolantongo and Deep Creek and with several other hot spring hikes planned this year, this one is one you can skip. I will update you with some more impressive ones soon.
Murphy’s Ranch Trail is a 3.4 mile loop located in the Pacific Palisades. This hike is in a pretty central area, located just shortly off of where the 405 meets Sunset Blvd. Parking is simple, as the trail begins in a residential area. Currently, there is a lot of construction going on where the trail begins, so you won’t miss it if you look for the construction. Luckily, this trail features my favorite aspect of hiking- you go up on the way in and down on the way back! It’s great to start a hike going uphill, as you are more pumped and ready to get moving. The more you walk, the more tired you get, so I always find it ideal for the trail to be going downhill on the way back. This trail fits that mold perfectly.
Murphy’s Ranch Trail is ideal for those looking to see some beautiful natural sights while also getting a little urban-ruin exploration on. As you reach the highest part of your trail on the journey in, you can choose to keep going forward and down or down a large set of stairs that descend down the side of the mountain. I chose to go down the stairs and loop back around and gradually up on the loop. You can choose to do it either way.
As you reach the bottom of the stairs, you have entered the land of Herr Schmidt, Winona and Norman Stephens, and their followers. Those individuals listed above were Nazi sympathizers who built this refuge as a place to wait for the Americans to fall and be overtaken by the Nazis during World War II. Instead, the ranch was raided and closed in 1941 by US officials. When you make a left at the bottom of these stairs, the unpaved road will take you around to the old power building that has been well boarded up. It’s pretty fun to look around at the graffiti that has been placed all over the abandoned building, and you can also climb up the back side (where the hill makes it easy for you to climb on the ruin) to take a photo from up on top of the structure.
As you continue through the woods (and the path gets much more narrow), you come across the remains of a building that is now just a chimney, followed by the old stables. The stables are also covered in graffiti, and the building is half standing and half fallen. However, it’s standing enough for you to be able to see where each stable was. It’s a pretty cool spot for those who love ruins.
From there, you continue up a gradual incline until the path reaches the top of the steps that lead down to the building. From there, it’s a gradual decline down to the entrance of the trail. I highly enjoyed this hike, and I think you will, too.
The hike to Deep Creek Hot Springs is a MUST for those who are itching for adventure. However, it is absolutely not for the faint of heart. Deep Creek Hot Springs is located about 2 hours away from Los Angeles. It is roughly a 5-mile hike in- and-out, however, the trek in is deceitfully simple if you go the conventional way. You find yourself mesmerized by beautiful desert scenery and mountains as you walk down trails along the edge of this dusty location. The beautiful valley that you stand high above distracts you as you continue down for about 2.5 miles. The gradual decline in the path (and then very steep decline at the end of the trail to the hot springs) makes this trip seem effortless and quick.
Then, as you approach the hot springs at the bottom of the mountain, a paradise appears in a clearing of trees. You see a beautiful body of water that isn’t quite big enough to be a lake, but it’s much larger than most creeks that I’ve seen. As you step into the clear water, you see little fish and tad poles move around your legs to avoid your step. This water is, surprisingly, very warm. Welcome to the hot springs!
As you pass the shallow water, you can go to the opposite side of the hot springs to the rocks. These rocks serve as pools that hold more of the hot springs. There are many different caverns that serve as little “hot tubs,” holding all different temperatures of water. The hottest pool is supposed to be 110 degrees. There are some that are much cooler, however, and the creek around the pools is the perfect swimming temperature. It feels like a luke-warm bath.
For those that enjoy action, you can jump off rocks into the waters of the creek. We swam, laid out in the natural springs, and soaked in the amazing scenery that this hidden spot had to offer.
I bet you forgot about having to go back 2.5 miles after your amazing soak, huh? Most people do. The people who tackle this trail regularly know that you need to save almost ALL of your water for your trek back in the desert heat after enjoying your time in the warm water. I’m telling you now… if you go, please save A LOT of water for your way back. Unlike your gentle trip down, the entire way back from the hot springs is up hill. It’s 2.5 miles up. Most of the trail is on a slight incline; however the beginning and end of the trail are very dramatic climbs. If you are out of shape, you will not be able to easily make this trail back. So please be advised: have a lot of water and pace yourself or you will have a hard trip back.
Perhaps soon, I will tell you all how our friend almost died going on this trip with us. Stay tuned for that story.
But, if you’re used to hiking on rough terrain, I highly recommend this beautiful place.
Las Pozas is an unbelievable playground for adults. It was created by the mind of art patron and poet Edward James who searched for the best land he could find to create his wonderland. He discovered the mountains in San Luis Potosí and knew that he had found the perfect location. With the help of a local Mexican man who bought the land for the British art patron, Las Pozas was initiated. In the past, the gardens featured beautiful orchids and exotic animals. After they were destroyed in a great frost in 1962, the surrealist sculptures began construction, and they stole the show. By the time James passed away in the 1980s, over 36 surrealist sculptures stood tall over the trees of his land. This is the Las Pozas that we know today.
Arriving in Las Pozas, you enter into a jungle-like environment up in the hills of the Sierra Madre. As you enter the garden, all around you is greenery and plant life. (Joking around my friend and I dubbed this “Jurrassic Park, Mexico.”) “The Stairway to Heaven” greets you to your left as you head towards a circular structure that leads you down a path to the rest of this wonderland. This is, perhaps, the most beautiful structure featuring many circular stairways all leading to one very small platform on top of it.
As you pass it and enter through the circular sculpture, the structures climb higher and higher up the mountainside, featuring stories-high concrete stairs, flats, and formations that peak out over the tree tops. The best part about this experience is that you can play on any of them.
As I climbed and balanced on the structures, the hardest part for me was knowing that the stairs had no railings. We’d be climbing stairs high above the greenery that circled around structures with nothing on either side, and the fear of heights within myself would peak on the narrow stairways. If you fall, it is likely that you might not live to tell the tale. But, as everyone says, the best things in life exist on the other side of fear. Conquering that fear to come out above the trees and waterfall of the jungle of San Luis Potosi was the best thing about my trip to Mexico. There is one structure in particular near the top of the mountain that overlooks the waterfall and all of the garden and trees. You can sit up there and listen to the rustling of the trees and here the splashing of the waterfall. There, you can find true nirvana. That was worth everything. If you like adventure, playing, and exploration, absolutely find that tiny spot in the mountains of San Luis Potosí, and you will be in Heaven.
If you live in Southern California, a day trip (or a weekend trip) is a must-do to visit Sequoia National Park. Spread out wide across from King’s Canyon National park and conveniently 3 ½ to 4 hours from Los Angeles is Sequoia, featuring miles of hiking trails, streams, cascades, wild life, caves, and the most impressive trees you will ever see. When you arrive, plan to drive roughly 18 miles from the entrance (where you pay your drive-on fee of $30) to make it to the Giant Forest. (If you plan on visiting more than twice in a year, think about getting the season pass for $50. It pays for itself in two trips!) If you’re going to see anything in Sequoia, the Giant Forest is the most important. The Giant Forest Hike is only 0.8 miles in and out, but it can be harder going back as it is on an incline. You begin walking into the woods and find yourself surrounded by redwoods with the largest bases you have ever seen. These sequoia trees have stood tall for roughly 3,000 years. Their height is nowhere near as impressive as their width. Their bases are, as I laughingly described them, very “girthy.” At the center of the sequoias is the main attraction of this section of the park: The General Sherman Tree, the largest known living single stem tree on Earth, taking up 52,500 cubit feet in volume. It is estimated to weigh 4.189 million pounds, and it isn’t even hard to speculate why. When you see this tree, you will feel so humbled to exist on this earth.
The other trail I highly recommend in Sequoia is Moro Rock. Moro Rock is a dome-shaped granite formation that a trail has been cut into for climbing to the most amazingly scenic summit, overlooking the Great Western Divide and most of the park. While it’s a very high, very steep climb up stairs carved into the structure, it is worth enduring to see the top. At the top of the rock, there are railings around you in a flat, narrow walkway so that you can experience this majestic view, looking down into the greens and waters of the valley from high above the tops of the mountains. This view, and the beautiful rock path, make Moro Rock a must-see at Sequoia.
While I couldn’t do it all at once, I made sure to return to Sequoia to finish out the “must-sees” list.
On my list to tell you about at Sequoia next time: Crystal Cave and the Tokopah Valley trail to the Topokah Waterfall at Sequoia! Stay tuned!
Puebla is a very artistic, hip city slightly south of Mexico City. It is a fun, modern place to be. Though it is updated and gorgeously modern, the old side of town features antique Spanish architecture still entwined perfectly within the new.
Our hotel, the Puebla de Antano Hotel, was a beautiful, five-star, classy place. The Spanish architecture featured a glass ceiling falling gently over the beautiful artwork and newly-painted walls. When it rained, they called this ceiling a “waterfall” as liquid gently cascaded like a waterfall down it.
As you exited the hotel, the Puebla Cathedral was right in front of you with beautiful colored lights dancing off it at night. We walked into the plaza next to the Cathedral to find a little park filled with class, style, and tons of little cafes. Puebla was the only place we visited in Mexico that had pizza and pasta. It was nice to see the strong variety of food around on top of all the shops.
Just outside of Puebla was the Great Pyramid of Cholula! Cholula is marked in the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest pyramid to exist in the world. It is also marked as the largest monument constructed anywhere. What is left of the structure doesn’t seem like much now, but it’s because a large hill had formed over it after centuries had passed, and the Spanish built a cathedral on top of the hill. So it looks like a large cathedral on a hill, but you’d be surprised to find that the pyramid still exists beneath. Tunnels under the interior of the hill hide in a maze for you to play in. Tourists can visit parts of the tunnels within the hill, and it is absolutely worth it to do so.
Next to the towering hill, where the tunnels let out, are ruins of the outside city of the temple for you to see. This part of the structure has been excavated for tourists to enjoy. There are sacrificial altars, remains of statues, and the large steps to the base of the old structure- the only real part of the pyramid still to be seen. If you feel the need to hike up onto the hill to see the glorious church, I highly recommend that, as well. What an adventure we had in Puebla!