Home » 6 Ways That Working at Disney World Was Just Like Working for Universal

    6 Ways That Working at Disney World Was Just Like Working for Universal

    Pirates Cast Member

    Although both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have rabid fan bases who have vowed never to set foot inside the “enemy” park, the reality is that the two resorts are very similar. Both are dedicated to providing a top-notch guest experience, and both go about it in nearly the same way. Employee training is nearly identical, as are the expectations and job duties, and thousands of people now work or have worked for both companies.

    I was one of those thousands. At Disney, I was an Innoventions hostess, an ice cream seller, and a Kilimanjaro Safaris driver. At Universal, I was a Kongfrontation tram driver, an Earthquake spieler, a Triceratops Encounter “scientist” and a Halloween Horror Nights scareactor. Here is an insider look at the similarities between life as an employee at Walt Disney World and at Universal Orlando.

    1. The Four Keys to Guest Service

    Pirates Cast MemberPirates Cast MemberEvery employee must know the Four Keys to Guest Service.

    Disney may have codified the Four Keys, but they form the building blocks for guest service at both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando. In order of importance, the Four Keys are Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. Employees at both resorts must pass detailed tests about not only their own work location, but generalized procedures for the resort as a whole.

    After training, employees are responsible for living by the Four Keys every day. These policies guide employee decisions among conflicting choices, ensure that each guest receives excellent guest service, and help to provide consistency throughout the massive resort complexes.

    For example, Earthquake was filled with conflicting responsibilities. We needed to meet hourly targets for the number of guests going through the attraction, yet we could not dispatch trains until every guest was safely settled in a row that was not overcrowded. Reviewing my training made it easy to see that safety trumped efficiency, and I was never tempted to dispatch an unsafe train just to meet my hourly goals.

    2. Empowerment and responsibility

    KidZone Team MemberKidZone Team MemberFront-line employees are empowered to make decisions and held accountable for the results.

    Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World empower their front-line employees to solve problems, to exceed guest expectations and to deliver unexpected surprises to guests. While some companies require managers to intervene in even the smallest situations, Universal and Disney trust their employees to use good judgment.

    When I worked at Kongfrontation, we frequently had small children who were both intrigued and frightened by the ride, and unsure whether they wanted to give it a try. I often took those children into the control tower, where video monitors covered the entire attraction. After watching the ride for a few minutes, some kids decided to try it out, while others felt they were too afraid. If the child decided to ride, I arranged front row seating. Either way, the kids enjoyed the attention and the parents were grateful for the assistance.

    3. Teamwork

    Universal Security TeamUniversal Security TeamTeamwork is absolutely vital to an excellent guest and employee experience.

    Teamwork is absolutely essential in creating an excellent guest experience. Each position is a vital link in a chain of positive guest interactions. Cast Members and Team Members are trained never to say, “It’s not my job,” or “I don’t know.” Managers pick up trash. Food service employees can find out the current operational status of a ride that is located across the park. Everyone pitches in, using their collective knowledge, skills and resources to make the parks the best they can be. This creates a feeling of family, enhancing individual performance and increasing job satisfaction.

    At Innoventions, another Cast Member and I frequently played off each other. Whenever a new item came in, we would work together to develop a comedic presentation that showed off the item’s features to guests. At night, after Innoventions closed, employees were stationed at strategic locations to wave goodbye to guests leaving after the Illuminations closing show. My friend and I continued our comedy routine late into the night, making tired guests laugh or smile as they made the long trek to the parking lot. That partnership not only enhanced the guests’ experience, but made me excited to go to work to every day. I always had a genuine smile and an enthusiasm for my job that ultimately made me a better employee.

    4. Rotations and breaks

    Shrek Team MemberShrek Team MemberBoth Universal and Disney provide frequent employee rotations and breaks.

    Theme park employees work hard under often-difficult conditions. Outdoor positions are exposed to the summer heat and thunderstorms, and the humid winter cold. Indoor positions require stamina, attention to detail, and a great deal of both standing and walking. Most of my jobs were spieling positions, which meant delivering lengthy memorized scripts to guests while maintaining the other keys to guest service.

    Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World recognize the importance of allowing employees to rest and recharge. They also realize that frequently moving to a new position keeps employees fresh and motivated. Consequently, both resorts utilize sophisticated rotation and break systems that are designed for employee comfort and efficiency.

    Although all my Disney and Universal jobs provided very fair rotation cycles, Kongfrontation’s were by far the best. Most rotations consisted of two land-based positions followed by a round on a tram. Each rotation lasted 15 minutes, or 3 full ride cycles. If someone in the rotation was at lunch, the time in one position extended to 30 minutes, or 6 ride cycles. That meant that in a typical rotation, each person spent 45 minutes working between each 15-minute break, while a lunch rotation meant working for an hour and a half before the next break.

    5. Playing with guests

    Brian BrushwoodBrian BrushwoodBizarre magician Brian Brushwood knew the importance of playing with his Halloween Horror Nights audience.

    Where else but in a theme park can you actually get paid to play with both little kids and adults? The employees are part of the show, and are expected to do what they can to enhance the believability of the fantasy that the parks create. From asking those in line for Kilimanjaro Safaris if they are all packed for their two-week adventure to joking around with tipsy attendees at a Universal after-hours event, playing with guests is a crucial part of the job at both resorts.

    The ability to read an audience is absolutely critical to providing an excellent guest experience. For example, Islands of Adventure’s Jurassic Park hinges on the basic concept that dinosaurs have been brought back from extinction. No matter what a guest asks, employees are supposed to stay in character and maintain the perspective that the dinosaurs are fully real. However, it is easier to get some guests to suspend disbelief than others. Knowing when to pet the dinosaur and show off its realistic movements, versus when to launch into a scientific explanation of the cloning process, helps to create a magical experience for all guests.

    6. The “Disney Point”

    Partners StatuePartners StatueThe Partners statue shows that Walt did not always use the Disney point. Image: Jess13131, DeviantArt.

    Attributed to some long-lost time in Disney history, the “Disney point” is now used extensively in guest service positions around the world. Pointing with one finger is considered offensive in some cultures. In addition, pointing with one finger could give a nearby guest the impression that the employee is pointing at him or her.

    The two-finger point is so ingrained in many Walt Disney World and Universal employees that they are unable to stop when they leave their jobs. Even decades later, many people claim that they still use the famous “Disney point.”