It's the happiest place on earth, and with that comes a lot of stuff behind the scenes to make the magic happen. We love Disney World, but how exactly do they do what they do?
Here were some of those answers.
Always More Magic
I haven't worked there in years, but when I did, we were trained to look out for people that we could make "magical" moments for. Those people usually ended up being the really nice, personable families. If there was a really sweet kid at our desk (I worked at hotel) that loved Tigger, we'd do our best to get a Tigger stuffed animal sent up to his/her room. Offer me a bit of your Rice krispie Mickey because it's so good? We send up half a dozen with a note to the kid. Obviously didn't happen all the time, but it could be beneficial to be kind to the people working.
Policy Is For A Reason
WE'RE PEOPLE TOO! I can't tell you how many names I've been called, how many fingers have been pointed in my face, how many times I have felt seriously threaten by a guest because my ride ran out of fast-passes.
Most of the time, we don't know why the ride is down and won't find out until the end of the night when the park closes. If we do know, it's typically too complicated to explain unless you understand the functionings of the ride.
If the fast-pass line gets too long (phase 3) then there are queuing ratios that need to be followed. For every one person sent through regular queue, 10 people are sent through fast pass. So sending a family of four through regular queue is 40 people through fast-pass. To the one family in regular queue that got mad at me because I didn't send them through after the family ahead of them because I needed to take care of my fast-pass line, I'm sorry you think I'm a piece of sh*t but my coordinator is watching me and I already got reprimanded earlier for sending multiple single riders from the regular queue earlier.
People can be really really cruel, which is ironic considering they're at "the happiest place on earth." However, the perk of being able to go into the parks whenever is amazing.
Another fun one: we are REQUIRED to shut down the ride if anyone steps in the track. Once, an autistic child got really exited and just booked it onto the track and ran INTO the actual ride and of course, the parents went in after him. For safety purposes the CM at the controls have to hit the emergency stop button. At this point, everything is shut down and the only way we can restart it is after everyone has been evacuated and the ride gets a hard reset. Outside, we're informing guests that the ride is down. Out of courtesy for the family with the autistic child we did the whole "not sure why it's down but be back in 30 minutes." Meanwhile, there's a man screaming that we're all liars and that we shut down because a child ran on the track. Wanted to punch that man in the throat.
An Experience For All Of Us
WE WANT TO HELP YOU!
I can't speak for every cast member, but most of us want to work there because we want to be a part of the magic. And we are encouraged to be helpful and make things more magical.
When you are talking to cast members, be nice, kind, fun. Tell us fun things about your day when we ask you about it. Tell your kids to be adorable. You will probably GET FREE STUFF because we want to and can do nice stuff for nice or adorable people.
If you have a problem, getting angry and rude will result in us doing the bare minimum to fix it and make things right. Being nice about it and simply letting us know something is wrong, we will give you something better than what you ordered to fix it!
I worked at the ice cream shop on Main Street. About once or twice a day someone at some point would mess something up and give a guest a wrong order (even Disney makes mistakes). When someone would start immediately getting angry, we'd fix it and get them their proper things (usually adding some chocolate Mickey ears). But if someone was calm and understanding that mistakes happen when they let us know the mistake, we'd usually fix it with an absurd amount of ice cream, the toppings they want, and a cookie.
Also, IF YOU WANT FREE STUFF WEAR AN "IM CELEBRATING" OR BIRTHDAY OR SOMETHING BUTTON. AND IF YOU CAN, A COSTUME OR A DISNEYBOUND. Cast members give a lot of free things or free upgrades out every day. 9 times out of 10 they go to people with buttons or costumes or whatever (if it wasn't just to people we had a nice conversation with).
Controlling The Experience
Parent worked for Disney for a time, but not at the parks.
The Magic Kingdom (Disney World) is built well above ground so there are access tunnels below the park cast members can move around. Lots of 'secret' entrances throughout the park.
They do pump food smells strategically around the park to get your stomach craving some popcorn or turkey legs.
Disney World, located deep in the heart of Florida, has one of the Nation's most effective mosquito control systems. C02 traps track the quantities and types of mosquitoes around the grounds, but they also employ strategically located chicken coops, and monitor those chickens for certain anti-bodies they produce when infected with certain mosquito-borne illnesses. If a chicken pings for something like encephalitis, they enact very methodical spraying in that area to reduce the mosquito population's threat to humans.
You Unlock This Belt With The Key To Imagination
At attractions, most things we do are for safety. When I worked at Tower Of Terror we started doing the thing where we have all the guests put their hands up before we send the ride off. One time on my last vehicle of the night I only had one family, so we were being kind of casual and having a conversation. They all sat wherever they wanted throughout the vehicle and as I did my safety checks, the dad asked me why we have everyone raise their hands. Just he is asking this, his son raises his hands and we all hear the sound of a seatbelt zipping into a tightened position. The kid was holding his seatbelt loose so that he would dangerously fly off the seat during the ride. All I said was, "because of that" and sent em off.
When we tell you to put away your loose belongings on a ride, it's not a suggestion. Our main concern is safety, and the last thing anyone needs is a broken nose because a phone from row one flew back and hit a guy a couple rows back. But aside from harming others, you're also inconveniencing yourself.
We can't stop operations to go get your hat, cell phone or Mickey ears. So unless you want to wait until park close to possibly collect your items, please just listen to the cast members when they say that you should store your items away. It's easier for you, and it's easier for us.
When I was little, my mother had a rabbit fur coat. (Yeah, I know. But this was in the 70's!) . The cast member playing the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland came up to my mother, started petting her coat, and said (muffled through the mask, but still intelligible) "Mommy! Mommy! is that you?"
That CM would totally be fired nowadays, but my parents were the types to appreciate the humor and snark.
As an adult, many of my friends were cast members. And they would talk about having to bite their tongues SOOOO often.
I guess what they want the public to know is that they are humans under those costumes. They are both the character and the castmember.
Prepare For Tears
I have one moment that stands out above all the rest. I was waiting for someone to ask me this question. It's the reason I left a good job as a VIP Tour Guide and moved to the Character Department.
I was working City Hall one day when two guests came in with two little girls. One was in a wheel chair and the other one looked like she had just seen death. Both were cut and bruised and the one in the wheelchair had her arm in a cast. The two women were actually nurses from a hospital and were asking for a refund on the girl's tickets, something we avoided doing at all costs. When I asked why they told me the story. The two girls were with their mom and dad at Epcot and on the way home they got into a horrible car accident. The mother was beheaded right in front of them. The father eventually died too but the two girls didn't know that yet. They were from overseas and had no money and no contact information for anyone they knew. They were bringing the tickets back to get the girls some much needed money to help get them back home. My heart absolutely sunk. If you had seen these girls you'd know why.
They were truly traumatized. I refunded their tickets and got permission to be their private tour guide for the rest of the day (which they were not expecting). I walked them to the VIP viewing area for the parade which was as far as I could walk them in the costume we used to wear at City Hall. I had to leave them there while I put on my VIP costume. On the way down I pulled out every kid joke I could think of. I was a REALLY good tour guide (I helped write part of it) and I knew how to make kids smile. Nothing worked.
These girls were too far gone for that. I left them at the bridge to go change, walked backstage and bawled my eyes out. I just had never seen something so horrible. I was truly affected and it was a terrible feeling of powerlessness not being able to fix the situation. When I came back I brought them to get ice-cream, take them on rides and stuff but they never smiled, not once. The nurses were loving it and were trying to get them into it but it just wasn't working. We went back to the bridge to watch the parade. It was there that I honestly saw true magic. Real magic, not bullsh*t. I had called the parade department to let them know what was going on and set up a private meet and greet after the parade. As the parade was coming around Liberty Square I told the girls that I had called Mickey and told him all about them. I told them that Mickey asked to meet them after the parade.
The little girl in the wheelchair smiled.
"Really?" she asked. My heart skipped. "Yes, really! He told me to tell you to look out for him in the parade and to follow the float back to City Hall."
The other girl smiled.
"You mean right now?" she asked.
It had worked. They were talking. Not laughing, but talking. It was the first time I had heard them speak. Every single parade performer came up to them on the bridge and told them to look out for Mickey. Every one of them told them that. When Mickey's float came up Mickey (who was attached to a pole at the top of the float) managed to turn her body sideways, look down at the girls and point towards Main Street. That was all it took. The girls were excited now. They had forgotten about death. They were lost in a magical world and I couldn't believe I was watching it unfold in front of my eyes. We followed that float all the way back to City Hall, singing "Mickey Mania" the whole way. Back then, City Hall used to have a VIP lounge behind the desk that was for privacy during difficult situations or to host celebrities. I took them in and showed them the book where all of the autographs were. They were eating it up.
The girl who was Mickey that day got down off her float and without even taking her head off walked up to me backstage and said "Let's go." I walked in with Mickey behind me so I got to see the exact moment the girls met their new friend. They got shy but Mikey was in control now. Those girls met the REAL Mickey Mouse that day. Every single parade character stayed dressed to meet those girls. One by one they'd come in and play a bit then leave. We were in that lounge for over an hour. Mickey stayed in costume the entire time (which is hard to do after a parade). When Mickey finally said goodbye I had two excited girls on my hands that couldn't stop smiling.
They talked and talked and talked. We had a wonderful day after that but what I remember most is when we walked by the rose garden, the older one said "Oh, my mommy loves roses! I mean..." and she stopped. I held out my hand and walked her to the gate, picked her up and put her on the other side and said "Pick one!" She looked happy as she picked out her favorite rose. She didn't say anything more and she didn't need to. I said goodbye to the wonderful nurses and the wonderful girls then walked backstage behind the train station. This time I didn't cry. It felt so good to be a part of that. I realized that as much as I liked helping guests at City Hall, the true magic of Disney was in the character department. I auditioned, transferred and never looked back. Thanks for letting me relive this. It was a special day for me.
Talk to managers or Guest Relations or your server or someone who can get near a phone (NOT SOMEONE SENDING BOATS OUT AT PIRATES OR SOMEONE WHO IS RUNNING A CASH REGISTER OR IS ALONE AT A FOOD CART) if you have an issue. They can help you. They want to help you. They are there to help you. Waiting until after you leave the Parks and writing in or calling in does NOT get you anything special. We all work at the same company, we all provide the same compensation. If you don't want to spend the rest of your vacation in a funk get your sh*t together and taken care of before you leave and write in about how your food was too salty or how you got stuck on a ride.
Also, be nice to the people on the phones - whether it's reservations, ticket sales, or guest service. They will be happy to assist you with real concerns much more easily than if you are saying they suck at their jobs.
No, putting ice cream bars in your kids' shoes will not count as them being tall enough to ride Thunder Mountain.
We do not need your help to group yourselves into seats on rides, we can seat your "party of 52" much quicker than you can.
It means the WORLD to a cast member when you treat them like humans. I almost burst into tears on Christmas when someone said "thank you for being here, I know you're giving up time with your family to help make mine have a great vacation."
Don't be an *sshole. I understand there are very high expectations for a perfect Disney vacation, but the rides are old, CMs are tired, it's hot, there's so much you may not see. I will never forget bringing a Make-A-Wish family through our separate entrance, essentially the front of the line, to have a nearby mom say "maybe I should pretend my kid has cancer too".
Oh - and there are cameras literally everywhere.
The More, The Magical
My brother worked at DisneyWorld for a long time. My son and I visited him, and he took us into the park on one of his passes. But the pass let him take in four guests, so he found a young couple waiting in line to buy tickets and invited them in for free. They were unsure at first (is this a scam?), but when we got inside my brother just smiled and said "have the best day ever" and we walked away. They both squeeeeeeeeed with joy. It was a beautiful thing.
I worked in restaurants making reservations 15 years ago. If eating at this place was the most important part of your vacation and you decided to wait until the day of to try and book any time between 5pm-9pm dinner then you are an idiot. There is a multi hour line for every f*cking thing in the park but you think you can just walk in anytime and be seated? I'm not sorry that I personally RUINED YOUR WHOLE VACATION!
Magic Can Only Go So Far
I worked on Buena Vista street in DCA. People think that just because they're at Disneyland, we can do anything and everything for them. No, I can't magically pull a sold-out limited edition item out of my *ss just because you're upset they sold out. And no, I cannot sell you a limited edition pin that is only meant for annual passholders to purchase. I can't give you a free shirt or sweater either just cause yours got wet on Grizzly River Run. We're people too. It's embarrassing how many adults have lost their sh*t in front of other guests.
The Garbage Kingdom
SO MUCH TRASH. Work at EPCOT. I work behind the scenes and its a daily battle lol
And.... if you don't remember where you parked, go to a parking cast member. If you tell them what time you parked, they can tell you exactly what row you're on!
Pay It Forward
We were waiting in line for Star Tours and we were teaching my 6 year old daughter (at the time) how to growl like Chewy to pass time. When we got to the front the CM asked my daughter to make the Chewy sound, she complied, and he gave us a golden ticket for any ride in the park (except frozen). We had my in-laws with us and that was one of many magical moments that week. Really made an impression on them. :)
It was the end of the day and we were leaving the next day so we gifted it to another family.
Is It Only About Money?
We have lost our minds in pursuit of quarterly growth to impress Wall Street. Nothing we do is for the guest, it's to grow revenue or cut costs.
Example: Annual passport pricing was recently increased to dissuade lower-value guests from coming. We don't need you. We will have enough people coming for Star Wars and paying full price. And if you do come for Star Wars, most of you won't get into the land, let alone the rides. We currently have no plans to deal with this.
Other prices increase every year just because we can. We call it "taking our annual increase". We know you can't afford it, and we read all the Facebook comments about it being too expensive. But we will keep raising prices until the parks stop being full. And even when they are full, we will find ways to get more out of you by increasing food costs and reducing portion sizes. We have over a hundred people whose job it is to maximize revenue on things like food & beverage.
We increase parking costs to help pad the bottom line. We add parking fees to hotel guests because we can, not because parking is a problem.
To sum up, the Magic is a cover for grabbing cash. And the cash is just to make our c-level executives happy so they look good to Wall Street.