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20 Amazing Things Disney Cast Members Do Before Dawn

They really need that Mouse

Once the employees arrive at their work stations, many of their tasks are mundane. They’ll check things as basic as whether lights are working, fire extinguishers are functional, and paint is peeling. Anything that puts a blemish on an attraction requires some work. When the worker at the station can’t do it, they notify someone else.

Cast members take pride in their ability to perform myriad assignments without delegating or shirking their duties. Still, a fresh coat of paint or a broken fire extinguisher might be beyond their purview. Disney isn’t quite as forgiving as Snow White, though. Any job deemed unsatisfactory must be done again. That’s why a disgruntled or apathetic cast member could create problems for co-workers and thereby the earliest guests. When an attraction isn’t open on time, the problem isn’t always mechanical. Somebody could have just screwed up.

Then again, the problem could be more basic. Sam Kelly describes the doomsday scenario in the moments leading up to rope drop. “For opening, Mickey and his friends have to show up on time. If not, the guests get overwhelmingly anxious. (Cast members truly have seen it all.)” Yes, the costumed cast members have been known to run late, thereby delaying park opening!

Disney employs the carrot as well as the stick to incentivize already-great employees to reach new heights. Former cast member Sam Kelly mentioned, “In Epcot, we generally started each day with the managers distributing awards to cast members. It was a congratulatory pump-up for the day and served as an inspiration to earn one yourself.” This is a smart corporate strategy. By boosting the spirits of workers before the customers arrived, everyone representing the company was in a wonderful mood, ready to spread cheer at the Most Magical Place on Earth.

Liz Taylor describes the business end of these meetings. “We also would look at projected park attendance and have team meetings regarding the day ahead to make sure everyone was best prepared.” In other words, Disney can look at historical data and accurately forecast expected park attendance for a day. They relay that information to cast members so that everyone has a good idea about the way the morning should unfold. Expected traffic volume is critical to areas such as ride throughput, merchandise sales, and food consumption. It also impacts sanitary issues like park cleanliness, too. More people means a bigger mess. Cast members are on top of all these little details due to pre-opening preparations.

Like every work environment, some jobs are easier than others. For example, one former cast member, Natalie O’Grady, worked at Innoventions, one of the now-defunct educational sections at Epcot. She also worked on attractions including the aforementioned Buzz Lightyear. When she worked on the ride, the duties coincided with the job position. At Innoventions, a more open-ended guest experience, each day started with a team meeting instead. Every section of the Disney Empire comes with its own unique set of challenges. Cast members must adapt to each one if they want to thrive within the company.

On your mark, get set…

What do cast members consider the best part of the morning shift? That answer’s easy. Rope drop isn’t something that’s only fun for theme park tourists. Disney workers love it, too! They’ve been preparing for it all morning. When you enter the gates, it’s the moment they’ve anticipated for hours.

Liz Taylor best sums up the joy of working at a Disney theme park: “I would have to say the most fun at opening would be helping with the rope drop ceremony.  That was never my immediate responsibility, though.  When opening, the excitement of guests arriving to begin the day as they enter a previously quiet park is contagious. Adventure awaits. Anything you can do to make their day memorable, or stand out from the rest makes it all worth it.”

Lia Saunders continues, “Any rabid Disney fan knows that arriving in time for Park Opening ceremonies is not just fun and exciting, but also absolutely necessary if you want to ride a ride without a line or a fast pass. So there's always a crowd waiting at the entrance. There's music playing and tons of characters come out to greet the guests. A family gets specially chosen to help open the park and meet the characters, and then we all welcome the guests into our park and lead them towards our ride together as a group. It's really fun and exciting!”

Natalie O’Grady confirms that the opinion is unanimous. “If I was opening at the greeter position at Buzz Lightyear, I got to see what I called “the running of the guests.” Right after the opening ceremony ends and the ropes are dropped, the guests are just so excited to start their day and hurry as fast as they can to their favorite ride. It’s an infectious energy, and really gets you excited to work for the day.” As you can see, the cast members match your enthusiasm at the start of each day! Everyone loves those first magical moments when the gate opens, the rope drops, and the Happiest Place on Earth is open to the public.

Special thanks to…

As a final note, I want to express my thanks to the former cast members who offered their assistance with this article. More than 20 former Disney theme park employees offered to contribute to the piece. In the end, I culled the list to a series of 14 responses, several of which came from people who either couldn’t or asked not to be mentioned by name. The eight contributors who I want to thank by name publicly are Natalie O’Grady of AWordSmithComm.com, Shani Wolf from Academy Travel and ShaniWolf.com, Dr. Dana Corriel, Lia Saunders at PracticalWanderlust.com, Liz Taylor from Mickey Travels, Nikki and Kevin Koontz of Southern Utah University, and Sam Kelly of IAmSamKelly.com. I sincerely appreciate your invaluable contributions as well as your universal optimism.

Even when I asked these former cast members to relay negative experiences, they largely took the high road, instead highlighting all the ways that working at a Disney theme park bettered their lives. All of these contributors are a credit to the reputation of The Walt Disney Company, and there are more than 85,000 current cast members just like them at the North American Disney theme parks. The next time you’re at one of these locations, please take the time to offer your appreciation to the amazing professionals at Disney now that you better understand just how hard they work to perfect your theme park visit each day.

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