Walt Disney World Cast Member Stories: Becoming a Cast MemberBy Amy Ziese, Thursday, April 18, 2013 09:00
Becoming a Disney Cast Member requires a training process unlike any other. Merchandise Cast Members don't simply learn how to operate a cash register and navigate the stock room. Housekeeping training goes far above and beyond making beds and scrubbing toilets. Cast Members in every job are required to learn about the magic behind the parks, so that they're equipped to sprinkle a little pixie dust into every guest's experience, whether they do it frying a burger or fluffing the pillows.
The first thing that every new hire goes through is an introductory class called Traditions. This is where you learn the essentials of working at Walt Disney World, such as how to do the "Disney point" (with two fingers instead of one to avoid any inadvertent cultural insults) and how to address common guest questions. You also learn all the vocabulary associated with the Disney Cast Member culture. Disney's employees, as already mentioned, are known as "Cast Members" but the analogy to show business continues far beyond this. Every detail of the park and the attractions is part of the "show." You wear a "costume" to work every day. You are either "onstage" in guest areas, or "backstage" behind the scenes. Even a glimpse of backstage areas is forbidden to guests unless they're on a specially designed tour, which carefully steers them around the most top secret areas.
No matter where you work, it's important as a Cast Member that you see yourself as an integral part of the show. Whenever possible, you're trained to give carefully themed answers to guest questions. It's always better to explain to guests that some of the dinosaurs from Dinosaur the Ride have escaped and are being carefully rounded up, than to simply say the ride is experiencing technical difficulties. Walt Disney World was painstakingly constructed to eliminate any glimpses of the outside world, so that guests within the park can enjoy a completely immersive experience. Unlike Disneyland, where Anaheim was able to spring up right outside the walls of the park, Walt Disney World has a wide buffer zone that will prevent this from ever happening. The tourist kitsch that has overtaken Orlando since the opening of the theme park is kept well away from Walt Disney World itself. Though it hugs the edges of property as closely as possible, you'll never spot it from within.
Walt Disney World covers 40 square miles, roughly the size of San Francisco. Only 35% is currently developed, and 25% of the property is designated as a wilderness preserve, ensuring that it will never be developed. The expert layout of the park takes every detail into consideration. For example, though the Tower of Terror at Disney's Hollywood Studios is visible from Epcot, it was designed to blend in to the Morocco pavilion so the tower looming in the distance doesn't stand out. With such mindful planning, it's no wonder that each Cast Member is also groomed to blend into his or her environment.
After traditions, every Cast Member participates in a second class that covers the details of the park that he or she will be working at. During these classes, Cast Members typically ride a few of the popular attractions, walk through the park to get a feel for the layout, and learn all the back stories behind the development of the park. Though many guests don't realize it, Disney's Imagineers put an immense amount of time and effort into making sure that there's a story behind every detail of Walt Disney World.
Enter Dinoland in Disney's Animal Kingdom and you're assaulted with all the sights and sounds of a tacky roadside carnival. Chester and Hester's heavy drawl greets you on the attractions, and a ring of costly carnival games circle the area known as "Dino-Rama." It hardly seems in keeping with Disney's sleek and sophisticated style. Once you learn the story behind the area, however, it all makes sense. Diggs County was a sleepy roadside town until paleontologists began to unearth some fantastic fossils in the area. Looking to capitalize on the dino-fever hitting the area, the local couple Chester and Hester abandoned their gas station and opened "Dino-Rama" which is just as loud and over-the-top as the proprietors themselves.
You'll find this kind of detailed theming everywhere you go in Walt Disney World. It's essential that Cast Members are aware of all these details so that they can play their parts accurately. After a class on the park that the Cast Member will be working in, many also attend another training class on their specific area. In hotels, Cast Members take a class that covers the theming of the hotel. After these introductory days of training, Cast Members move on to learning about their specific place of work.
Here, too, theming is all-important. When a Cast Member can't incorporate something in line with the specific area or attraction, it's always safe to fall back on the basics from Traditions. This ensures that each and every Cast Member is equipped to offer friendly, polite, and knowledgeable service to guests in the park. They always know where the nearest restroom, smoking area, popcorn stand, and stroller parking location is. But consider asking for something a little more interesting the next time you're in the parks. Cast Members at the Liberty Boat are fully trained to operate the authentic steam powered riverboat. If you want to learn about African wildlife, any Kilimanjaro Safari Cast Member can answer your questions. For a sarcastic joke and a good laugh, you can't go wrong striking up a conversation over at the Jungle Cruise.
Working at Walt Disney World is certainly about efficiency, or a park that accommodates millions of guests every year couldn't function. Above and beyond pushing the button that dispatches the ride vehicle or restocking the pickles at the burger bar, however, is the monumental task of keeping the magic alive for every visitor to the park. This one element is meant to cross every age, gender, language, and cultural barrier to create an experience that's as unforgettable for the once-in-a-lifetime visitor as it is for the seasonal passholder. This is what being a Cast Member is really about.