Known the world over for its impressive guest service, Walt Disney World has perfected both the art and the science of Cast Member training. The company takes a top-down approach that starts with the big picture and then gradually drills down to the specific tasks that an individual Cast Member will perform. This helps new employees understand the company as a whole and where they fit in, helps to ensure excellence across the organization, and even facilitates later transfers and promotions.
Let's take a look at the steps that are taken to help bed in a new Cast Member, using a "spieling" attraction role as an example (such as as Kilimanjaro Safaris driver...a role that I held myself!).
No matter who you are, where you come from, what role you have, or even how much prior Disney experience you have, you are required to go through Traditions anytime you are rehired. Traditions covers a lot of ground, reviewing Disney’s illustrious history and giving new Cast Members a thorough understanding of the company today. Although it might sound dry, Traditions is a lot of fun. There are small-group activities, glitzy presentations, and even trivia games for prizes.
In the 1990s, Traditions was a three-day affair that included walking tours of the parks and a great deal of team-building. It has been streamlined into a single eight-hour day, with many of the previous activities moved to Park Orientation day. I’ve heard that Disney College Program Cast Members go through a shortened four-hour program.
At the end of Traditions, Cast Members receive their name tags and employee ID cards. This is an exciting time, because it means finally getting to visit the parks for free! A lot of people immediately make plans to spend the evening in a park with their new friends. But first, new Cast Members need to stop by Wardrobe to receive their costumes.
The first visit to Wardrobe is frenetic, nerve-wracking and often overwhelming. Each park has its own facility, and each facility is simply massive. Racks and racks of costumes of every description hang on moving conveyor belts, and Cast Members from every department rush through to avoid being late to work. This is the time for the new Cast Member to get a locker assignment and instructions on checking costumes in and out, as well as a fitting for the new costume. It is also time to make some decisions. Many costumes have options, such as shorts versus pants or an optional hat. You can change your mind later, but whatever you choose initially is what you will end up wearing for your first day of training, so it’s important to select the items that make you feel most comfortable. Then it’s off to the maze-like locker room to locate your locker and, if you like, to put your costumes away.
Disney offers something called Cast Zooming, which allows Cast Members to check out five costumes at a time and take them home to wash. I never saw the point of that, though, so I always took advantage of the option to trade in a dirty costume for a clean one each day. With Cast Zooming, though, the locker rooms are often emptier than they used to be.
2. Park Orientation
The second day of work is typically park orientation. Each of the four theme parks calls it something different, such as DAKlimation at Animal Kingdom or Discovery Day at Epcot. Regardless, this is the day for new Cast Members to walk around their particular park and get to know it in an in-depth way. This usually involves some combination of riding attractions, finding key spots backstage, learning some of the history behind the park, and maybe even a scavenger hunt or trivia game. At this stage, the training group consists only of new hires or rehires at that particular park, but Cast Members are not yet separated by job.
Although this is a fun day, it is important to pay attention. Cast Members are expected to be familiar enough with the entire park to answer basic guest questions, such as where a particular ride is located. For more complicated guest inquiries, Cast Members need to know who to contact to find that information. It is never acceptable to simply answer a guest’s question with, “I don’t know,” or even worse, “That’s not my job.” It is always the Cast Member’s responsibility to solve a guest’s problem or put that person in contact with someone who can.
3. Attraction orientation and non-spiel positions
After park orientation, Cast Members split into individual job categories for the rest of their training. Exactly what happens next depends on the Cast Member’s role. For example, Merchandise employees go through a class called Merchantainment, which teaches them to blend selling with entertaining the guest. For spiel attractions, this is the time to head over to the actual attraction and meet the trainers.
Spiel attraction training is typically four to seven days long, though this can vary by attraction, the number of trainees and the individual trainee’s progression. Trainees usually spend the entire period with one or two trainers, although this can change based on staffing needs. The first day generally involves going over the training schedule and walking through the different positions.
Spieling Cast Members usually receive a copy of the spiel on the first day so that they can begin memorizing it at home. Actual training, though, usually begins with the non-spieling positions (known as Land positions at Kilimanjaro Safaris). These include such spots as Greeter—the person out front with a radio, Grouper—the person who asks how many in your party and assigns you to a row, and Load/Unload. Each position has different priorities and different things to memorize, such as radio codes or how many people fit in a row, so it is important to pay close attention and maybe take notes.
The trainer will verbally explain how to work the position, then perform the job for a few minutes, and then let the trainees try. There are plenty of opportunities to ask questions and get help, and it usually doesn’t take long until the position feels like second nature.