After the Mouse is an online community for Disney Cast members… and a little bit more.
Around 20 years ago I started After the Mouse to answer one question… “Remember that kid we worked with back in ‘92, What ever happened to them?”
It was a real-world question. The person asking was Dan and they were looking for Helen. She’d gone on to work on a cruise ship and Dan had gone to dance on another stage and the two friends had lost touch. I thought of old friends that I’d lost touch with too, and started the site.
The coming of the big blue social media site and Europe’s GDPR laws both helped the site to withdraw from the web for a while but we’re back.
I also had another itch to scratch. I wanted to rewrite the books on Disney as a workplace. Reading the wiki’s, guides and fan sites, there was so much poor information and too many outdated articles, and don’t get me started on the conspiracy theories…
So, I decided to solve two issues with one stroke. I’d start listing Disney work locations, Attractions, Parades, Disney Stores. I’ve started with just Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, and have since added the Disney Stores to the list.
I want to this community of experts to rewrite the guide to Disney’s public sites and use those pages to help old friends find each other.
We are still growing the community and always looking for help rewriting the wrongs of those wiki’s, fan sites and unofficial guide sites. If you are or were a Disney Cast Member, come along and join us.
Oh, and by the way, We helped Dan find Helen and they are still good friends.
We are accepting new members to the After the Mouse community. If you are or were a Disney Cast Member, and happy to share your knowledge then we’ed love to have you join us.
We’re looking to provide lots of the best Guest information out there and get it from the people in the know…
In 2009 I started writing a series of short memoirs about things I’d experienced and learned working at Disneyland Resort Paris between it’s opening in 1992 and my leaving Paris to return to the UK to get married in early 2004.
Over the year or so I was writing, I was lucky enough to be joined by a few fellow scribblers and I’ve republished the majority of these stories below. The only edits or revisions are to sort out the most egregious typos or remove photos I don’t have a right to reproduce here.
Most have stood the test of time. One in particular has marked the change in our times more than the others.
I hope they strike a chord with my fellow Disney Cast Members and perhaps some of you might like to pen a reminisce or two?
Leaving Disney, the hardest thing for me, as a Cast Member to do.
Almost five years to the day since I cut my ID in half and handed in my second-best name tag I put pen to paper about my life After the Mouse.
Working for Disney is undoubtedly special, there is a feeling you only get from being a part of the Disney Cast Member family. What comes After the Mouse is the real challenge. In this article I intend to look back at my own journey since working in the Parks and Resorts and what legacy has Disney left me.
Being a Cast Member is easy, - if you have what it takes that is - then it is lots of common sense, a little know how and a heap of smiling. Let’s face it none of us was the first Cast Member; somebody had been there before and done the job. The creases had been ironed out and a well-trodden path lay before all of us. Costuming was over here, our work location over there and Disney-U was behind us.
If you then stayed on and advanced a little in the company you learn a whole heap more. Different jobs, new skills from the most mundane to the most challenging. Then after years working in the comfortable, close, closeted microclimate of the Disney family I moved on. It was time to get a real job.
For some the experience is an easy transition. You find an employer who looks upon your Disney training as a positive thing, they see a trained customer service professional with a wealth of experience. Some however see a job applicant who had a ‘holiday’ job with a Mickey Mouse company.
Regrettably mine was more the second experience. It may be a European thing but Disney is still seen as the summer job. Of course Shawn Cleaves (writing for Jim Hill) had a different experience and perhaps its an American thing, the perception of Disney’s service is more a part of the culture. When I went for interviews in London it was certainly different.
Initially I concentrated on employers who had a reputation for good service who said they were looking for ‘Customer Service Professionals’. The reality however was a little different. Many asked for customer service and meant telesales staff. The service offered was in most cases the fabulous opportunity to but an extended warrantee on your mobile phone. Ok I could do the job but I couldn’t see myself having the phone slammed down on me fifty times a day.
Stranger still, in more than a few interviews I had to stand my corner and defend my resume. After the first few times though I began to appreciate that any employer who didn’t realise that making customer service run as smoothly as Disney does is a lot of hard work, and the staff who provide that service are well trained professionals. It took a while but I realised that if the interviewer didn’t get that then they just weren’t the right employer for me.
Making customer service run as smoothly as Disney does is a lot of hard work!
The other lesson I learned was to de-Disney the resume. Lose all Disney words and nomenclature from the job titles. Another quick interview killer was I had listed ‘Guest Relations’ on my CV – everyone understands that… right? When asked to define the work at City Hall I’d give a list of the responsibilities but if I ever mentioned the VIP team, Bang, interview derailed! “Oh, did you meet the Spice Girls?” Over, done, finished! ‘Guest Relations’ out ‘Customer Services’ in.
The other concept I keep bumping my head up against is defining who is the customer we are meant to be serving.
If you remember your Disney Traditions training, chances are you’ll remember that whole pyramid of service thing a Maslow diagram of sorts, Where the Guest was at the top of the inverted pyramid, The Cast Member was on the next layer down servicing the Guests needs, then came the Leads, servicing the Cast Members needs, then the managers etc, all the way down to the last inverted point where Michael Eisner sat, serving everyone’s needs… okay so it was a little idealised but it seemed to represent the way the company worked. Everyone there facing the Guest and looking out for them.
And why? Because Disney knows that the best way to get Mr Family Man put his hand in his wallet is to exceed his expectations! And in the Magic Kingdom that’s not an easy thing. He cannot be forced to give you a dollar, but the same guy will turn out his pockets happily if you’re there to look after him and his family that once in a life time vacation. Good Service = Revenue! Simple. So why do so many companies get that so wrong?
I have been to meetings where the whole concept of look after the customer and they in turn will look after you is rejected as a fairy tale, just so much hot air. Get them while they’re fresh, lock them into a contract and bleed them, ‘they’ll only leave our company as soon as they can so get the maximum dollar now’ is almost the mission statement.
I am not foolish enough to think Uncle Walt was some utopian philanthropist who only wanted to give joy to the world, he was a businessman, and a good one, a financially successful one. It is a simple idea, give people what they want, be nice to them while your doing it, and if you can exceed their expectations the all the better. Then when they left the Magic, they left smiling. The man was a genius.
This ethos is what sells Disney to the public, it is seen as so seductive people literally want to buy into the dream; the understanding that what ever happens Disney will be a good family experience. Look after the customer and they will become loyal to your brand, they will come back to your product willingly.
What I am seeing more and more of in this current economic climate - though it was common enough before - is the idea that as a worker you serve your boss, the boss is your customer. Your focus from clocking on to clocking off is to follow your employer’s business plan and if that plan doesn’t include a comprehensive customer care policy then where do you go?
Think about the last time you bought a product or a service that you were dissatisfied with. Let us for the sake of argument carry on with the mobile phone company from before. This is a competitive marketplace, lots of choices, lots of customers to make those choices, this should be the height of a competitive market, and as every company is selling much the same product then their customer service should give them the edge. Look out for your customer base of regular, paying customers and it will be loyal to you, right?
In reality the corporate mindset seems more focused on winning new customers than looking out for the existing clients and if they leave then, hey you’ve had their money already.
Recently Disney went in a different direction, radically enough treating their existing customers well - in fact better that well, they did that already. They implemented a scheme where Cast Members had the opportunity to ‘plus’ their Guests trip with small gestures. A food and Beverage host for example had the power to offer a free desert to a family of Guests who were clearly watching the holiday budget. What did it cost? In real terms it cost pennies – but what did those pennies buy? Whole truck loads of goodwill and that is priceless. can you see your phone company giving you a free case to protect your new phone?
Now we come to the point of this article where I finally get to the point, what my Disney legacy has been.
Since I left the Mouse I have worked for a company who outsource the bureaucracy of local government. I work in an office where the government is the client, the all mighty client. Their wishes are all that my employer has to worry about. The Government is also the traditional bogeyman, (who isn’t just a little cautious in dealing with the government?) And yet, despite everything I have written here, I think I do my job of focusing on the customer, the resident, well and they seem to agree. Just add a little, carefully disguised Disney service to the job – (wishing people a Disney Day does not go down too well) - and customers find dealing with the government quite a nice experience.
You see despite having to work to constantly changing rules and regulations of the city, the increase in taxes, the contentious issue of managing the parking on one of the worlds most traffic congested city’s I still do things in a way I learned at Disney.
Working truthfully, honestly and professionally, not forgetting the all-important smile, I still get the job done and both the taxpayer and the government are happy. It’s funny but those simple, throwaway things you learn at Disney work well outside the realm of the Mouse.
Pointing with your whole hand, answering honestly if you don’t know the correct reply – ‘I’ll be happy to find out for you’ works wonders – and clean shoes and a shave impress too. Most importantly though is a willingness to look out for that elusive positive side, want to find a solution not another problem. I may not be able to give my customers a free desert but I can give them my respect, the benefit of my experience and 100% of my attention, and where appropriate the 100w Disney smile.
I have also been training others in the Disney way of doing things.
Besides training and mentoring new members of staff in my workplace I was honoured to be asked recently to lecture to the local university in one of their lunchtime lectures. The topic was “Customer service – the Disney way”. The room was filled with an informal crowd of students, faculty, and I discovered later people from other facilities around the area. I talked for an hour on the finer points of looking out for people, exceeding expectations the whole nine Disney yards. And it felt so good to be preaching the word according to Walt again.
At this point I should be writing a snappy summery. Having started it many times I realise I am singing to the choir here on After the Mouse.com. You guys all know how real life can be kind of flat after Disney. My solution to the post Mouse blues has been to just carry on in the same spirit. Be nice to people and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll be nice rite back at ya!
Having spent a couple of days rewriting this I’d like your feedback so please don’t be shy. In fact please leave comments or submit an article or two yourselves.
Wishing you all a Disney Day!
Who are the Disney Cast Members seen with VIP Guests?
Possibly one of the most demanding and high profile of jobs in the theme parks is that of the VIP Hosts. If your the Cast Member taking a sporting hero or a film star around the Magic Kingdom then in the eyes of the world you must be a step apart.
In Paris the majority of the VIP guide team were made up from the ranks of the Guest Relations team and when needed they are supplemented with experienced Cast Members from around the resort who had been put forward by their management team. In the end though being selected for the role was as much about your face fitting as passing the training.
I got into doing tours through a friend in management who needed a hand with a bit of a challenge. I had done the training and perhaps as importantly I was a big English chap who had a reputation for being able to follow the rules and stand his ground when needed. The television ‘talking head’ who was bringing their friends over for the weekend had a bad reputation to live up to. I spent two hellish days playing sheepdog to three loud and self important individuals who delighted in shouting “What don’t we do? - we don’t do queue!” - they had been given a ‘’Backdoor Pass’’ - it was a nightmare.
VIP’s in Disneyland Paris got special treatment based on a multitude of factors but it comes down to Guest Safety. If having a famous face in a queue line for an attraction would cause the line to stop, or any Guests to be put in any form of danger by their fellow Guests trying to get to the VIP’s then the answer is simple - take the VIP’s out of the queue line. Hence the famous ‘Backdoor Pass’.
If you were deemed important for Disney to look after you but you weren’t likely to cause problems for other Guests then you lined up with the rest of the world. Then if you were a ‘face’ but maybe just in your own country then maybe you’d get a backdoor but only for the biggest attractions or where you really needed to use it for safety reasons - known as a digressional backdoor. Finally if your face was on every television around the world, on the back of every serial packet then you got the holy grail a full ‘Backdoor Pass’ to all attractions. Simple.
There is of course an exception to any rule. During the summer months Paris is filled with large Arabian royal families doing the tour of Europe, protocol - and the retinue of heavies - meant the families got special full ‘Backdoor Pass’ treatment too. These tours could be challenging but the upside was that they tipped well, and in the Arabian culture it would have been very rude to refuse… honest.
Over the years of doing ‘Royal’ tours I lost count how many of them I must have done, including the fateful one where I found myself looking onto the face of an Arabian matriarch who’s gold trimmed veil had come undone on Space Mountain - the ultimate taboo.
On the other hand there was the day a very senior prince of one of the gulf states entrusted his two teenage daughters to my care whilst he sat in the shade with his family eating ice cream. Both daughters were in western dress, and both were very beautiful, a fact which didn’t go unnoticed by the local boys. While we were waiting for a place to become available on a roller coaster two local boys started hitting on them.
￼Seeing two clearly Arab girls they started flirting in their native north african arabic dialects. Being well brought up young women form the gulf states they didn’t understand a word. Whilst my attention was on getting us places on the attraction, the boys were getting wound up by their lack of romantic success. As they put it, who were these girls to ignore them? What did they have that made them so special? Well, I pointed out, if they turned around they’d see. The size of the bodyguard who’d come to see what was going on persuaded the boys that it was time to leave. I swear to this day that you could hear the gaseous fear leaving the boys as they ran.
An good example of the Guest safety issue came on June 11, 1998 the day after the opening match of the FIFA Football (Soccer) World Cup finals in Paris. The opening match was between the Scottish and Brazilian national squads on the previous evening - sad to say the broken hearted Scottish fans to be seen everywhere around the resort the next morning. In fact, I’d spent an hour that morning in City Hall consoling the kilted fans.
At ten o’clock my beeper went off announcing an unexpected VIP tour - the Brazilian national soccer squad players, wives, girlfriends, press and hangers on. In all there were around fifty people in the group. Four other guides and I reported for duty.
So we have a couple of hundred heart broken Scots, fifty ‘official’ Brazilians and, to make the day fun, a few hundred Brazilian teenagers who had been sent over as a special trip to see their team win the opening match. To put the cherry on the cake, the world’s press and paparazzi were there too; all of them in the Magic Kingdom together. At this point I must confess, I am not a sports fan and I had no idea who my group of three players, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo and Bebeto were, the worlds press and the Brazilian fans knew though.
The first thing they wanted to do when they arrived at the resort a couple of hours later was eat. Walt’s Restaurant half way down Main St was reserved and off we all went. It took more than half an hour to get between the main gate and Walt’s, Mobbing fans and press were everywhere, Disney security had to block the doors to the restaurant when we’d finally got in and after lunch we had to leave through the kitchen, it was that bad.
I think we got the Brazilians on all of three attractions that day and getting in turned out to be the easy part. The only way we got out of Phantom Manor was to be physically rescued by the Scots fans who waded in to stop us from being crushed against the railings by the weight of the South American fans and press. It was the most stressful, scary day of my Disney life. Thank the Disney gods for the ‘Backdoor Pass’, if we’d tried even to do one queue line I hate to think what could have happened.
In my time, I did many different tours with many different people. Some were public or press events, others were private family trips. Out of respect I still don’t talk much about the second group but I think it is fair enough to talk about the bits that made it into the public eye.
I took a super rich family to take over a whole store to do their gift shopping; I looked after a group of twenty or so Zulu chiefs who only wanted to sample the fine dining; I spent a time trying not to notice the VIP I was meeting at their hotel room hadn’t dressed yet but invited me in to meet the kids anyway. There were crowned heads of state, athletes and Olympians, and a chart-topping pop star or two, no end of minor celebs who were more famous in there own mind than in reality. But, the one who was stopped most and asked most for her autograph was a gardener.
Those of you who have BBC America or the real thing in the UK will know Charlie Dimmock, the red haired, surprise star of the BBC’s Ground Force show. The lady signed one hundred and three autographs - I counted - in two days, all of it with good grace and a smile. What a star!
One big perk of the Gold VIP host badge is that you were able, and for many VIP’s expected, to join their group for lunch or dinner in the park or hotel restaurants. With Ms Dimmock that meant a hotdog and fries in the Sports Bar watching a rugby match - happy day! Dining with VIP’s could sometimes lead to complications though.
There was a lunch given for invited celebrity Guests for a press launch of some new thing. My Guest’s child decided to leave the table and play hide and seek, being the good Cast Member I went to fetch the escapee before they disappeared into the kitchens. I rounded a corner into the service set-up area to find a very famous actor hiding from his equally famous partner so that he could drink his wine from the bottle having publicly sworn off the drink. Smile politely. Collect wayward child. Return the child to journalist parents… hope for the best.
The hardest part of the job though was the occasional disappointment when you meet a hero and they don’t live up to the image you held of them. It only happened once or twice but it was enough. On the other side of the same coin, helping Roy Disney into a special event when the security on the door didn’t recognise him or his gold VIP pass, well that was just fun! Nice guy by the way!
Doing the VIP thing was fun, don’t get me wrong it was often monotonous in a same attractions different day kind of way but it was an honour, and you really did get to meet the most interesting people.
Driving Walt Disney’s Steam Trains at Disneyland Paris
There are a couple of generations of English boys who grew up wanting to be Engine drivers. I think it had a lot to do with Dr Beaching’s decimation of British Rail in the 1960’s. My father for one remembers the last days of main line steam engines, and always had a hankering to drive one. I on the other hand never saw a live steam train on the rails until I went to work for Disney.
As almost everyone knows Walt Disney had a real passion for steam, a love that he later built into his theme parks. If you want to know more on Walt and his fascination with steam trains there are a multitude of websites out there on the web who will cover this obsession in far greater detail than i ever can so I’ll leave it to them. Steve Burns’ post on Started by a Mouse.com is as good a place as any to start.
When I went to Paris in 1992 I worked in my ‘real’ job as a pastry chef in the Explorers club restaurant for a few months then the chance came up to move to the Attractions team and I jumped at the chance and plumped for the trains.
To be a Steam Train engineer was a special treat for me, as I said I think i inherited the yearning from my dad. Getting to drive the trains is not easy though, it is not a push button attraction, the trains run on ‘Live Steam’ so the training to drive the loco’s was, and I think still is the longest and most challenging of all the attractions. But first you’d had to serve your time as a station master and conductor then if you were deemed fit then you could embark on the month long training program. The Station master roll is as fun as you make it. There is a lot of Guest interaction and if that’s what you’re good at then spending a little time on Fantasyland Station can be an enjoyable way to spend a day.
After a few months interacting with Guests around the various stations I got my chance to wear the Osh-Kosh (B-Gosh). My trainer was a fellow Brit who really loved his all aspects of the job. Lee had been driving the trains since opening day and insisted that on my first day I was in the Roundhouse learning to fire up steam trains at 3.30 in the morning. To get the trains up to pressure is a four hour process. Starting by lighting the fires in each of the locos, slowly mounting a head of steam in each loco, nursing them from the compressed air used to atomize diesel when you first light them up in a morning to using steam to do the same job is a challenge to master. Lots of practice needed and the only way to get that practice was to be in the Roundhouse before the maintenance guys.
As I mentioned Disney uses live steam locomotives, that means you light the fire, you boil the water, you make the steam, you run the train by extracting the power from the steam. But ‘live’ can also mean dangerous as a few of us found out over the years. Minor burns, scalds and injuries were not uncommon; I myself went to the medical centre more than once.
I think its time to get a little nerdy here for a moment.
There is a lot of debate in the parts of the outside world that is into steam about weather Disney’s trains are ‘real’. Because they don’t burn wood or coal in the firebox some see them as ‘fake’. So the locos run on diesel but they burn it in the firebox not in an internal combustion engine. Getting diesel to burn as a liquid is a lot harder than you’d think, in fact you can pour it on a fire and it’ll put the fire out rather than make it burn (though please do not try this at home) hence the whole compressed air / steam atomizer thing. The atomizer dribbles liquid diesel into a stream of compressed air or steam. The two streams mix and make a highly flammable gas - I did mention not to try this at home didn’t I?
Then there is just the problem of lighting this explosively flammable gas. And this is where the photo here comes in; yes that is a sanitary towel - a Tampax - in the hand. The cotton wool, when dipped in the fuel and wrung out atomizes the liquid just enough to burn and when it is alight it is hot enough to get the atomized fuel to burn… viola how to run a steam train on liquid fuel.
Nerd out over!
Learning to drive and fire the trains is then a month long task. Lots of practice, lots of adjusting, tweaking, balancing and looking at the colour of the flame in the firebox to see if you have the steam / fuel mix just right. When after four weeks of climbing a steep learning curve, firing, driving, safety drill, reversing a seventy five meter long train in the dark… there is just the simple matter of a four hour written check out. Even then, if you’d passed that and were deemed fit to be on the main line you were always being watched. If you have the fuel level balanced with the steam/fuel mix just right the whole lot burns relatively cleanly, no smoke, no smells just steam coming out of the chimney. If you got the steam/fuel mix wrong choking black smoke would come billowing out of the chimney, as soon as it did every other engineer was on the radio. Only one word was uttered, a word that was so shameful you never wanted to hear it - ‘Stack’. Black smoke was coming out of your chimney stack and you were not doing it right! You leaned pretty quickly to watch the fire and get it right.
Starting from Main St USA the trains roll through the famous Grand Canyon Diorama, then the slow downhill decent to the first stop. This leg is one of the most fun. Swapping blasts of the steam whistle with the Riverboats on the Rivers of the Far West. Then lots of bell ringing and whistle blowing as you traverse the backstage crossing that leads to the dry dock and into Frontierland Depot - where the work began.
Frontierland Depot is where the trains are fueled and serviced during the day. This is the stop where the driver would fill the tender with water every other trip and fuel oil once a day. Also at this stop as the fireman you’d have to clear all the sediment and lime scale from the boiler. Every other tour or so you’d have a good look around, make sure nobody was in the area and open the main valve at the bottom of the boiler. This Blow Down valve let rip a high pressure blast of steam, water and calcium build up into a purpose built ‘cave’ by the side of the station. Lots of steam, noise and great photo opportunities. Now as fireman your work started in earnest, as well as clearing the boiler you had to build up the maximum head of steam, 9 barr or as I remember 130 pounds per square inch of pressure to get you and the train up the steep hill to the next station.
Leaving Frontierland, going over the backstage crossing to the Indiana Jones attraction and up the steep hill to the Pirates Tunnel. the tunnel runs through the upper section of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction allowing Guests to look down on the ride. The problem was that you couldn’t make steam in the tunnel, if you did the whole place would fill with smoke and set the fire alarms off - game over! So a good head of steam before you leave Frontierland is imperative. And to add more fun to the game, hidden in the tunnel is a switch to reset the fire alarm, miss that and set the fire alarms off - game over! Even spending too much time in there looking out for Captain Jack and the Fire Department would come running. Arriving at Fantasyland Station was always a relief.
Fantasyland is a wonderful stop for the Engineers. No real need to build steam pressure, no special challenges, just the chance to get the oil can out and go round the loco filling the oilers on all the major moving parts. In the late summer when the lavender plants are in bloom the place smells wonderful. we’d harvest swathes of the pungent flowers and hang them in the cab, the aromas of Lavender cut through the thick viscose reek of steam oil.
From there it is over the bridge past the Old Mill and through the backdrop of It’s a Small World and over the Parade Crossing - where funnily enough the parades enter the park. during the parade an Engineer will effectively have control over the parade, starting and stopping the parade to allow the trains through. From there it is up the gentle slope to Discoveryland.
Discoveryland station was a late addition to the park. it was added in 1995 in time to compliment the opening of Space Mountain. The station is built over the queue lines to Star Tours and what was at the time Captain Eo - it is now the home to ‘Honey I Shrunk the Audience’ - of all the stations Discoveryland is the most basic and minimalist. I hated it. There is little or no atmosphere. All it was to me was a place to build pressure for the uphill run back to Main St.
Main St Station was the home of the Steam Train crews, the lead office is in the centre of the beautiful faux Victorian station, and the queue line snakes around the exterior. The running problem was that Guests assumed that the office was a public washroom. Small children with a pained look and crossed legs were forever being pushed through the doors by soon to be embarrassed parents. It was also the prime viewing gallery for Guests wanting to see the Parades. So twice a day all breaks were canceled and any Cast who were no on the trains has to police the stairs to stop hundreds of people cramming the whole station. We even had people hanging off the front of the railings over a ten foot drop to the pavement - hey it’s Disneyland, nothing can go wrong - right?
The three original locomotives - a fourth was added two years after the opening - for the Euro Disneyland Rail Road were built for Disney in Wales by Seven Lamb engineering. The George Washington, the C.K. Holiday and the W.F. Cody. All are seventy five meters long and weigh in at a little over seventy five tones but with the power of steam will move gently forward with a twitch of the accelerator bar. These gentle giants were wonderful engines to drive.
As I said the original three locos were augmented in 1995 by another locomotive the Eureka. When she entered service she was an absolute pig to drive. She had come from another builder, she wasn’t as smooth to run or drive as the others. Whatever the reason she ran hot, she was stiff and unresponsive, the cab windows wouldn’t open and spending any time in the cab was like taking a super heated sauna. All the valves, manifolds and wrapping on the steam pipes stank of something deeply unpleasant, no amount of lavender would have cure that.
The summer of ’95 was hot and sticky in France and whilst our fellow Cast Members in the park were sweltering in 25 - 30 degrees centigrade the boys in the Eureka were enduring almost double that. The rest of the team hated her with a passion but she did have one redeeming feature - she’d been built in England and in the end it came down to the English team, Chris, Lee and myself to crew her. After a while she “bedded in” to use an engineering term, and became a pleasure to drive. She was still a pig, but a pretty well behaved pig.
After that was out of the way that job was fun. Working in a hot, smelly, confined space with the same guy over an eight hour shift is a good way to built a team and I still think of et Steam Team being one of the best group of guys I have eve worked with. Lee Wickedness, Fred Chauron, Andre Lukenga, Chris Larter, Jim Devlin, Desmond from Ireland and Justin from Australia, these were some of the best people to be stuck in a steam train cab with.
It was with the antipodean Justin that I spent on of my most memorable days in the cab. For reasons we didn’t understand the station master at Frontierland didn’t load any Guests at his station, we then were told over the radio to take it slow and easy into Fantasyland as there were VIP’s on the platform - VIP’s or not that was a no-no! but ours is not to reason why… then things just got weirder still in the Pirates tunnel. As we rolled through the scenes at five miles an hour we saw to our horror two guys jumping on the footplate of the loco. I freaked, thinking they were stray Guests i turned in my seat looking for trouble only to find one very senior manager and a very serious guy in Ray-Bans. “Drive and smile guys” was the only explanation we got. Seconds later we pulled out into the sunlight to find the platform full of people - “keep going, its ok they’re good”. Mr serious added something like “Please continue as normal Sir” and it was just then I got the hint. Barbara and (ex)President George Bush Sr, plus a few dozen of Mr Serious’ US Secret Service friends were about to get on our train. Possibly the most carefully driven tour of the Euro Disneyland Rail Road that I ever worked.
When people ask would I go back to working for Disney the first job that springs to mind is driving steam trains, and if i could have gone back to that team at that period in time then the answer is an undoubted yes. I know the skippers who worked the Jungle Cruise may disagree but I honestly think that Steam Train Engineer is one of the finest jobs in Disney. There is no spiel, little show but lots of challenges, a great costume - who doesn’t love Osh-Kosh? - and it is one of the few jobs onstage where you really have to think. You have to be good at your job, no ride control computers here. I loved that job.
What is it like to be a Disney Cast Member who moves from Disneyland Paris to Walt Disney World?
After the Mouse member Kay submitted this, our first true contribution to the site. Like Myself Kay had worked in the early days of EuroDisney but Kay then went on to work at Walt Disney World. This is her account of here experiences in Florida.
Once again I found myself sitting in a fancy London hotel…now coming form Scunthorpe this could only mean one thing, yes I was at another Disney Interview!
A year had passed since my two contracts in Disneyland Paris and the Disney bug still hadn’t left my system, so this time I had decided to conquer America. My memory is a little hazy of how the whole interview process for EPCOT worked, I bizarrely remember nothing of this day itself in London however my very first Disney Interview held in the Grosvenor House In London is still etched in my memory to this day, I do not know whether it was because of meeting a very young and enthusiastic train Driver called Tim who regaled us all with tales of parties and craziness or the fact that you always remember your “first time!”.
Anyhow a few months later and much saving hard on my parents side of things, I was on a plane bound for Florida! At the airport I met up with a couple more cast members who were also en route that day.
That was the first time I guess the differences between the two Disney contracts were evident. Disney Orlando had furnished all new cast members with lists of names and phone numbers of new cast members starting at the same time, this list was given to us a few weeks before start date so we all had chance to have a natter on the phone before going over! Very different to arriving at La Boiserie in Paris and being delivered into an apartment full of strangers and in my case being delivered to an apartment containing my room mates boyfriend and giant pet python, but that’s a whole other story!
By the time we reached Orlando via Atlanta I was missing all my luggage - not a great start but we were taken via Mini Bus to the staff quarters called Vista Way. Vista way was not dissimilar in appearance to La Boiserie however it was much larger and more tropical looking and we were thrilled to see a swimming pool and central lounging area!
Security at Vista Way was tight compared to La Boiserie, Resort I.D was checked by uniformed guards on entering the complex and visitors had to be gone by a certain time. The Security was always present and we would see much more of them in the coming year as they “raided” many a wild party!
At the time I was in La Boiserie no security was present at all and looking back there did always seem to be some dodgy guys from seedier Paris suburbs lurking around.
Disney orientation lasted a week here in Orlando and in that time we were told absolutely everything there is to know about Disney and had guided tours around the whole resort including all the hotels, I remember thinking that life was great as I sat looking down Main Street, we were so lucky, my God we were in America, it felt so different to being in Europe. It felt like living in a movie. AMERICA!
Trying to savour every moment of these early days filled with such promise and excitement for the coming year, I cast my mind back to the first few days in Disneyland Paris, I had been hired to work in the Newport Health Club and pool but found myself chopping fruit in Billy Bobs on a bar training course, no one seemed to know what was going on the first week in DLP and I had to fight hard to get the job I had originally discussed at the interview. Things felt better here in America, so organised and smooth!
The first few weeks in America went quickly, after a week I had finally stopped feeling land sick after my first long flight and had settled in to work at the U.K. Pavilion in EPCOT, I was in the Food and Beverage side working to begin with on the potato cart, selling hot spuds and fish and chips, all new cast members started here then progressed next to the tea cart selling trifles and tea then finally on to the jackpot, working inside the Rose and Crown pub as a waiter earning great tips!
Home life back in Vista Way was great, the apartment was shared by 5 other room mates, picked by Disney from different countries than your own. As we all worked in the World Show case at EPCOT, the whole living experience itself was multi cultural too. I shared with girls from countries including France, Norway, Canada and Mexico. All the girls were very friendly but to be honest I spent most of the time with the other cast members from the U.K. pavilion, as we worked together we had much more in common and more to talk about.
Vista way itself was surrounded by shopping outlets, shops, bars, hotels and restaurants, we quickly found ourselves knowing where the Cast Members hung out and could get the best deals. Funny though you were still classed as being on Disney Property in these places it was almost like Big Brother watched you wherever you went. Disney pretty much owned the whole of Orlando or so it seemed. You definitely had to watch your back, I think any wrong doing even in a club nearby would have ended in TERMINATION!! Totally opposite in comparison to DLP where Paris and its environs offered acres of Disney Free playground, even the little bars and villages close by the Boiserie were Cast Member dens of iniquity!
Reading back it sounds like Disneyland Orlando sounds like some kind of peaceful law abiding utopia, however nothing could be further from the truth.
I could happily say hand on heart that I never saw a drug stronger then some weed in DLP, that may have been the nice company I kept or the era that we were or just my innocence - but in Orlando the drug scene seemed much closer to home.
Its sad to remember that here we all were in the most magical place on Earth, having great fun, meeting new friends, visiting places on days off that most people can only dream of such as Miami, Everglades and the Caribbean, having free passes to the Best theme Park in the world and basically living a life of fun that drugs were ever on the menu at all.
Life out here in Orlando was very different to Paris, I struggle to think whether it was because I was older in Orlando but it definitely wasn’t better. Work itself in Orlando felt more like Disney was supposed to, this resort really captured the Disney quality like Paris never could with its Gallic shrug and Gitanes and Gauloises cigarettes but something was missing here for me, something magical which I only ever felt in Disneyland Paris- Orlando was seedy and had a plastic feel to it whereas DLP had a soul beyond the gates of the Magic Kingdom.
So for all the seedy Parisians hanging around La Boiserie, apartments full of snakes, and the driving cold Marne La Vallee wind compared to the fabulous weather in Orlando, nowhere in my mind could ever match the positive experiences I had in DLRP.
I just wonder however if I had gone to Orlando first?
What is it in the much loved Disney name that poeple can hate so much?
Hate – Verb; to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry.
Hate is a strong word with a powerful meaning, so why do so many people hate Disney? I loved my time with the Mouse. Okay, like some parents of young children I do have issues with Disney’s commercialism, my son loves a trip around the Disney Store, my wallet is perhaps not as keen - but on the whole I don’t think of Disney as the Evil empire. Which is possibly the reason I find so much of the research I did for this post so fascinating.
It was started this week from an article the free newspaper in London, the Metro. They ran this story and it got me thinking, why do people hate Disney so much?
The article is based around the upcoming release of the new film “The Princess And The Frog.” Disney probably thought it would be applauded for its first black princess but her ‘prince’ has stirred up the internet – he is thought to be white. “Prince Naveen of Maldonia”, voiced by Bruno Campos, is meant to be from the Middle East but bloggers say “He simply looks white”. Others think Disney has missed a chance to give a black couple the happily ever after treatment.
‘It’s saying that black love isn’t good enough and that black men could never be princes,’ said one woman. ‘Disney had the perfect chance to make its first black prince but instead it decided to go the controversial route.’
Some complained the evil voodoo villain - who turns the prince into a frog - is black and voiced by a black actor. Disney defended its choice, saying it wanted a multi-cultural cast featuring a ‘Prince from a far-away land’. It added: ‘Many high-profile leaders from the African American community have applauded our efforts on this film.’
This is after earlier allegations of when it emerged Disney had wanted the heroine to be a servant to a spoilt white socialite in 1920s New Orleans. This sparked a backlash from critics who said it reinforced prejudice and demeaned black people.
There are groups out there however who seem ready to hate the Mouse and all it stands for.
In 1996 the Southern Baptist Convention, disturbed at Disney’s equal treatment of heterosexuals, bisexuals and homosexuals, started a boycott of all things Disney. They seemed to be overwhelmingly concerned about sexual matters: equal employment plans for persons of all sexual orientations; and theme days sponsored by gay and lesbian groups. One source cites the American Family Association as believing that Timon the meerkat and Pumba the warthog in “Lion King” are not only homosexual lovers, but inter-species lovers as well. It was for them all a long way from their view of what Disney meant.
While Disney earned $21 million in 1996, its stock fell when the boycott was announced. Rev. Roy Fisher of the First Baptist Church in Nashville said: “I know of hundreds of people who have dropped the Disney Cable Channel. Disney has abandoned traditional family values to promote the homosexual agenda. The time has come to stop patronizing any company that promotes immoral ideologies and practices.”’
Some published opinions went further. One of the strongest tirades I have read whilst researching this post was from the jesus-is-savior website.
‘The naming of the first weekend in June as “Gay Days” along with Disney’s new program to extend employee insurance benefits to homo and lesbian partners along with ABC-TV’s Ellen DeGeneris’ (read: DeGenerate’s) open lesbian show was the final straw. Richard Lamb of the church morals and ethics panel said: “You can’t walk the family side of the street and the gay side of the street in the Magic Kingdom at the same time - there’s a sense of betrayal and outrage.” Disney owns ABC-TV, ESPN, A&E; and Miramax films which produced “Pulp Fiction” with John Travolta which glorified blatant cocaine use and race-mixing. They also made “The English Patient” that is anti-German and ends with an assisted suicide.’
Disney, the reality or the ideal does seem to stir up deep emotions. There is a deep love in many people’s hearts for the Mouse and the childhood memories attached to Disney. Perhaps some of the haters feel that Disney has let them down, that Uncle Walt doesn’t share their world view any more, has he turned his back on them?
There was of course a lot of rumor and controversy about Walt and his beliefs, we do know is that he was certainly understood to be from a religious family. [Quoted from Roland Gammon’s book - Faith is a Star, New York E. P. Dutton & Co. 1963.] Gammon went on a search of famous people for content on his 1963 book about prayer… Walt Disney wrote the article above for this publication. Walt Disney apparently held deep personal beliefs. Elias Disney (Walt’s Dad) was a deacon and named Walt after the family minister Walter Parr. (St. Paul Congregational Church in Chicago). Then Walt’s own niece Dorothy married a minister a Mr Glenn Puder. It was at Walt’s request that the Reverend Puder delivered the invocation at Disneyland’s grand opening on July 17, 1955. Also represented at the dedication were Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths. I am inclined to think that, while this in itself proves nothing, it shows he had an awareness of religion to the American people and he would himself have been disinclined from alienating too many people on grounds of their beliefs. There is of course the continuing suspicion that Walt Disney was anti Semitic.
Much of the anti Semitic allegations were raised in Marc Eliot’s now largely discredited biography. - Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince . The book presents the darker picture of Walt Disney than his popular image. Eliot presents ‘evidence’ of life-long anti-Semitism and covert employment by the House Un-American Activities Committee as a spy against Communists in Hollywood, and intense right-wing politics.
The book also claims that when Disney received the Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson just before the 1964 election he wore a badge supporting Johnsons rival Barry Goldwater, and repeats urban legends such as Disney’s alleged refusal to lower the American flag at Disneyland after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Walt Disney is known to have been in Florida on the day of the assassination, looking for land for the WDW project). The book has been called “an effective hatchet job” and the book’s claims are disputed by other authors, including ones who have reviewed and published information from the same FBI files as Eliot. Again time to make your own mind up from the jumble of interpreted facts, myths and fictions. Personally I cannot imagine an astute businessman, with a keen sense of the American people publicly and deliberately disrespecting two Presidents and the on looking public.
What is true however is that Disneyland hasn’t always been the gay friendly place that the Southern Baptists find so troubling. In 1984 three gay men successfully Sued Disneyland alleging that Disneyland had violated their civil rights when a security guard at the Anaheim park told them that “touch dancing was reserved for heterosexuals”. (Exler v Disneyland #342021 - Superior Court, Orange County Cal. 1984) The men dropped their lawsuit in 1989 after Disneyland officials pledged not to discriminate against same-sex couples.
What I do know from more than a decade with the company is that times have changed. The May, 1995, issue of Buzz magazine reported that a homosexual rights activist said that she was once told by Disney Chairman Michael Eisner that “as many as 40% of the company’s 63,000 employees might be gay!” The cover story also reported that Disney has the “largest lesbian and gay employees organization in the entertainment industry.”
I think the greater part of people’s hate of Disney is not a hate of the Mouse but perhaps a feeling of betrayal. The childhood image of a benign Walt Disney introducing ‘Disney Time’ each week on our television screens is a powerful memory. A safe familiar face, a friend of the family perhaps. Then as we got older and some of our values and how we saw in the world around us changed. Walt Disney’s name became associated with things that we didn’t agree with or didn’t fit in to our world view.
In the Walt Disney Company early years it concentrated on it’s animated films for children. This led by 1950’s to the first theme parks and television programs suitable for young people. The world can only handle a handful of new animated movies each decade. So, the company broadened into other areas of the entertainment business: books, a television network, and movies of all types.
The Walt Disney Company tended to reserve the Disney name for their children’s films and theme parks and brand the other businesses. Their subsidiaries have different names, ABC Television, Touchstone and Miramax movies, Hyperion books etc. This separates them from the Disney name, and gives them the freedom to explore mature themes without impacting on the “family oriented” Disney reputation.
The strategy seems to work well allowing the company as a whole to expand financially. However, some religious groups believe that the subsidiaries should confine themselves to child and family themes and not cover controversial topics, like sexual orientation, tensions within religious denominations, and other mature topics.
I am as worried as the next father about how much of my pay check still goes back to the Mouse, especially as I no longer have an ID. But I do not resent them their commercial success.
As for the first Black Disney Princess - Better late than never. Her possibly white Prince - Lets wait and see what he looks like next year when the movie airs.
Lastly, and perhaps most controversially, Disney’s stance on sexual equality. Disney has in the past not been the glowing beacon lighting the way to equal rights for all and there are some that some think they haven’t yet gone far enough to recognise their Gay Guests but I am proud to say that I worked for a company who have publicly stood behind their employees, taken a hail of verbal abuse for there stance and taken the hit on Wall street for it.
If you may in any way offended by other peoples sexualities and lifestyles there is some very good advice and debate prayers available on line from Christian groups, Gay Disney enthusiasts and Family vacationers alike.
Our guest blogger writes about being a Disney College Program Cast Member.
I am proud to introduce a new contributor to After the Mouse.com. Amanda. Having read Amanda’s forum post how to cope with the separation from Disney I encouraged her to give us her story of what having been a College Program Cast Member meant to her. Please read on…
I was asked to write a story about how my life has been since I have left Disney and obviously I have agreed.
I guess I will start by telling you all a little bit about my experience down there first. I did the College Program in fall 2008. In fact I squeezed three years of school into two so I could go down to Florida then graduate in December. I was so excited to go to Walt Disney World. One, I had never been there before, two, living in Nebraska, in the middle of the United States, there isn’t much excitement. I was excited to go down and meet new people and experience a new way of life. Little did I know how much it would change my life.
I was assigned the role of Housekeeper at Disney’s Old Key West Resort. No it wasn’t easy especially at the beginning, but I grew into it. I met some awesome people, full time cast members, and also my first boyfriend. I loved my roommates as we lived in Chatham Square Apartments. It was great going down during the fall because I got to experience Mickey’s Not So Scary Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Food and Wine Festival, and the magic of the holidays.
My last day at Disney was one of the saddest days of my life. My parents and grandparents had come down to pick me up and spend at week there after my program ended. On that last day we started driving home I cried. A lot. I couldn’t believe everything I was leaving behind and how my life had changed. Needless to say, I didn’t want to go home.
In the weeks to come, adjusting to winter in Nebraska was hard. I interviewed and accepted a job back in Nebraska, and turned down an extension at Disney for it. When I returned, that job fell through. So now here I am a college graduate, with no job and all I wanted to do was go back to Disney. Going from busy, busy, busy, to doing absolutely nothing didn’t set well with me. I spent a month and a half looking for a job, and in today’s economy, that isn’t easy. I filled my days thinking and planning on going back and when I could go to Disney. Talking to my friends down there never seemed enough. I tried to focus some of my attention on making a video of Disney memories, which helped a little, but also just made me want to go back more.
Currently, I am working full time in my desired field, reconnecting with friends back home and still trying to cope with the constant longing to be down at Walt Disney World. I am saving and hoping to go in August or September to visit, but eventually, I would like to move down there for a year or two. I am also now scrapbooking my adventures and hoping it will help.
It seems that people back home just don’t understand the longing for Disney. Living in Nebraska kind of separates you from life in other places. People can’t comprehend being that far away. And it is a whole other world down there, but at the same time it’s the place I want to be most. Where there is always something to do even if you’re by yourself. You can visit a thousand times in your lifetime, but working and living at Disney is a whole other experience and I am so glad I had the opportunity to earn my ears.
“Where everyone screams at the sight of a Mouse and the glass slipper always fits”
Opening Crew '92 the story of being a Cast Member at the opening of EuroDisney.
The opening of any Attraction, Resort, or Them Park – even an envelope – with the Disney name on it is an event. In 1992 I was a part of the biggest event going, the opening of EuroDisney. For the sake of posterity I am trying to record the events as I remember them. Bear in mind that this is written with a scary 17 year delay so please excuse any errors or omissions.
I interviewed for my dream job with Disney in a hotel suite in a cold rainy Manchester in February 1992. The hotel lobby was full to capacity with bright eyed kids looking for a job with Mickey Mouse. Clipboards were in every hand, forms being filled, returned and checked. Then it was off for a face to face interview with an American manager imported for the purpose. The demand was such that they were interviewing three candidates at a time. To cut a long story down to size I left the Manchester Airport Hilton with a contract in my hand… I was going to Paris for the summer as a Chef!
I arrived in Paris a month later – a month spent cramming to speak French other that the bit I learned from the Patti Labelle song – so I left the airport and headed for the address I’d been given for Disney’s not quite Paris office. They had set up temporary headquarters in a town called Noisey-le-Grande, roughly half way between Paris and the new resort. Before Disney rolled into town Noisey’s big claim to fame was that it was used by Terry Gilliam for the exterior shots for his film Brazil .
On the train out I’d met a couple of other Brits who guided me out to the office, I’ll be eternally grateful to Phillip and Laura for getting me there. All there was a curious lack of signage to the office, but that would become more obvious later.
Having ‘checked in’ with the management team I got my first real shock the promised housing wasn’t available – not just unavailable but not built in fact. But not to worry we’d be checked into a hotel for a couple of nights.
Anyone familiar with the ‘City of Light’ will tell you that Paris is a beautiful city, full of art, culture and wonder. What many don’t mention is the darker side. The group of young Cast Members who left the housing office that day were mini-bussed to the other side of the tracks – Aubervilliers-la-Courneuve. The area was colloquially know as the Bronx. There we were thirty or so kids from around the world living in a Hotel Ibis in one of those areas of town.
On arrival we were warned by the French Cast Members to watch out, so we spent a nervous first few days between arriving in France and starting work looking over our shoulders. Eventually we started to get used to the place, two Irish guys from down the hall found a friendly local bar and we made a few friends in the area. Abas the barman spoke a little English and the bar served an acceptable beer, life was looking up.
Living and now working in Paris was a blast. The small hotel I was living in was a microcosm of all that was EuroDisney in the early days. A couple of dozen nationalities, lots of bravado, and lots of secretly worried kids away from home for the first time. A friend later said that we all seemed to be ‘running away from something’ in those early days – boredom and the fear of turning into the kind of people who spent there whole lives living in the same postal code as their parents seemed to be a common theme.
The sometimes intense environment in that hotel made for pretty tough living at times, the clash of cultures and egos lead to a lot of butting of heads but it also bore many lasting friendships. Daniel, who stole my place at the bar one night is still one of my best friends even after almost two decades have flown by.
Getting to and from the hotel to the new resort was another real challenge. For us it was a two hour commute each way – the walk to the station, the infamous RER-B changing at Chatalet les Halles (an interesting place in those days) then the RER-A to Torcy, then a thirty minute bus trip to the main costuming building… and if you didn’t work in the parks you’d then have to hoof it across the Resort to your location. Thankfully as well as the resort opening on April 12th 1992 so did the extension of the RER-A right to the main gate – Hotel to costuming in under two hours - Yeah!
It was about this time a few of us, realising perhaps this wasn’t quite the dream we thought it would be started putting new, toung in cheak lyrics to the Twelve days of Christmas song, as I remember it went…
On the first day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “The Hotel is temporary”.
On the second day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “We pay good rates”.
On the third day of Disney, Mickey said to me, “You won’t need much French”.
The first week was spent happily spent exploring Paris with a fixed budget of 50FF (around £5 - $8 US) per day. Soon though March 5th 1992 rolled around – my first real day of being a Disney employee – a Cast Member!
At nine am we were shown into what is now the central reservations building and seated in an area that ironically became my office on my last day working for the Mouse. We spent three days there and in other locations around the resort learning the correct way to point, the names of the seven dwarves, and those Golden Keys to Disney Service. I must have stood in front of a dozen of these sessions and introduced myself – ‘Hi my name is Tim and before Disney I…’
Finally on my fifth Disney Day I entered my restaurant – The Explorers Club in Adventureland.
The next month was a blur. The Explorers club was one of five table service restaurants in the Magic Kingdom. I just loved it! The themeing was top drawer, the detail was excellent and the menu was great. The Club was situated on the border of Frontierland and Adventureland and was themed as a gentleman’s club for the adventurous world traveller of the nineteenth centaury. The Club also had it’s own dedicated musician. A ukulele playing, pith helmet wearing Brit Called Theo. How he got away with some of the more “choice” music hall songs he sang I will never know, but his larger than life excentricity added to the show. Best of all though was I got to be the assistant pastry chef! And that job had it’s perks…
As I mentioned earlier, Disney housing hadn’t been ready in time for the arrival of many of the Cast Members and when it did open there was a strict hierarchy of who got offered a place first, but as a chef working long shifts I qualified! April 10th 1992 I moved in to Appt 4613 – La Boiserie.
So was “La Boiserie” (DLP’s version of Vista Way)" like the famouse Cast Village of Kellerman’s in Dirty Dancing ? Well it had it’s moments. Take 800 kids from around the world, house them four to an apartment, remove parental and social controls then ignite the blue touch paper!
La Boiserie is Disneyland Resort Paris’ largest communal housing project. When I moved in, in 1992 the place partied pretty hard. The residence lacked the central dance hall of Kellerman’s and so the individual apartments bore the brunt of the parties. Some were trashed others were just plane infamous.
Ad hock, spur of the moment parties would spring up, cases of cheap Belgian beer would appear and mayhem ensued! Most of the time though these fiestas were good natured, sociable affairs with no trouble at all.
The reason I had been bumped ahead of many of my colleges was I was working the VIP opening night party on April 11th, The explorers club was providing the staffing for the Back Stage buffet for the VIP’s and their families. Nothing like serving Tina Turner, Cher and Jean-Claude van Dam on your first real shift in a new job! The night was fun, if hectic, and to be honest I don’t really remember too much of it.
I sneaked in to the park through the backstage area on opening day itself. The day was hectic, buzzing with that feeling of organised panic of any new project. The Resorts first months continued to be hectic, despite all those stories about EuroDisney tanking from day one. That first summer the park had to close its ticket sales to paying Guests repeatedly. One infamous day I remember we had 90.000 Guests through the gates.
Bearing in mind all that was going on in Europe that summer I still think we did a wonderful job that summer. On one knew if the Olympics in Barcelona and the Seville Expo would bring in more Guests or be an alternative draw. As always plan for the worst but hope for the best.
The camaraderie was wonderful. These were some of the best days I ever spent working for a living. Okay, the money was poor, the commute was a pain and I still didn’t understand what people outside of my little circle were saying but it was magical.
I am not a journalist or a writer of any real sort but I wanted to get some of these things off my chest and into your mind. I would invite you to comment if you feel you’d like to, and if you have a story to tell, let me know.
s the rot setting in with Disney’s Magic Kingdom’s Cast Members?
As many of you know I am a keen user of twitter the social network and “pulse of the Planet” A while ago I asked a cross section of Disney fans and former Cast Members on twitter to tell me what they thought was important at Disney. To my surprise this answer represents a large percentage of the replies.
￼We may argue the point, the quality may or may not be slipping, but that is not the issue, don’t get me wrong it is important to the continued success of the company but what is more important is the perception of quality. If Guests do not believe in the Disney dream, like Tinker Bell it will simply fade away. Sadly I think a lot of the public’s perception is down to the attitude of Cast Members.
Undoubtedly there are many thousands of good and devoted Cast Members making Magic every day in Disney locations around the world. But there are many who just don’t seem to get it. Take for example the Guest who corrected the Cast Member about Universal studios.
A few years ago now Jim Hill published an excellent article on the different species of Disney Cast Members, they put forward the groups as;
When times are tough, you invest in yourself…
The Walt Disney Company’s budgets are tight, staffing is down to the bones, show maintenance issues are becoming more visible and the number of Guests is falling – there is a tightening in everyone’s wallets and you have to work with the people you have. I am not sure I think it is all down to the Casting though. To quote one successful businessman Jason Calacanis. When being interviewed recently he said When times are tough, you invest in yourself…, a lesson perhaps Disney could profit from.
Taking the time to re-enthuse Cast Members with the Pixie Dust might pay dividends for the ailing giant of the entertainment industry. Reading the tweets of newly hired Cast Members the enthusiasm shines out. The magic enfused into new recruits during their deep dipping in the Disney lore at Traditions oozes out of every pore and they rejoice in the glow. It is later, much later that the different strata of Cast Member level out. Those who are not blessed to have been Die Hards, born to be the ultimate Disney employee might be reborn with a little time invested.
Taken from the turnstile, attraction or dust pail and shown a week in the life of the Guest Relations host, or take the time to read some of the letters and email received at Guest Communications. Perhaps look over the shoulder of a chef in a fine dining establishment, to see another side of the business. Shown another side of the Kingdom, perhaps something to aspire to, or to appreciate the work done backstage.
In the bleakest days of Disneyland Paris, in the mid nineteen nineties the then manager of Park Operations P.Y. Gerbeau and his team faced a similar problem. Specifically Attractions hosts motivation and moral was ebbing, attendance figures were low, the news media was talking about financial meltdown for the company and the Cast representatives within the French unions were demanding a pay rise at under the threat of strike action. The plan that emerged to set up what became known as the ‘Parcour’.
Now the name Parcour is the name of a fast-growing urban sport as seen in the opening scenes of the Bond film Casino Royale, in the Disneyland Paris of 1995 it was a motivational project on the completion of which you got a pay rise. You would spend a little over a year working a minimum of two months each on two roller coasters, two dark rides (e.g. Snow White), and two walk thrus. You could also then opt to work with the parking or ticketing teams.
The solution was simple, cheap, and very effective. Disney got multi-skilled, cross-trained staff, who had had a year of rapid training and advancement. With the spirit of competition, we tried to finish the Parcour as fast as we reasonably could, we felt we were more valued and as a bonus, we became better Cast Members. After a year we knew more about the parks and about the business as a whole.
Cast Members are the living breathing personification of the Disney Magic. I cannot imagine a Cast Member at Walt Disney World who would still be confused about Universal Studios after such a training period would be rare indeed.
Whilst financial belts are tight, I think investing in your best assets is possible the best investment you can make. Disneys best assests are by far and away it’s people. Fellow Cast Members, Disney management please take notice. People are to talk, sorry – did I say people – I meant Guests!
Disney Cast Member looks at his counterpart the Disney Guest
Guests - you have got to love them, really you have. They love the Mouse, they happily spend money and Disney then pays our wages from that money. As I said you have to love them. 99% of those Guests come and go merrily and we as Cast Members look after them without really having to think too hard about it - it comes naturally.
It is the other one percent I really love though.
Guests come in all shapes and sizes, different creeds, colours, religions and ages - what do they all have in common - apart from an inane urge to ask about the timing of the three o’clock parade - is they all want to believe in the magic, to suspend their disbelief in reality and buy into the Disney dream.
They want to meet Mickey Mouse, watch the parade and ride the E-ticket attraction. Thanks to the reality distortion field Walt spread over his empire - even to the stores long after his death - we as Cast Members were privileged to play our rolls in the dream. Weather as a Cowboy in Frontierland, a merchandise host in a Disney Store, or the Housekeeper Cast Members keeping it all spic ‘n’ span. We create the magic!
There is only one thing though, that is Guests don’t really even see us. We merge into the scenery, into the story; we are a part of the show. We simply fit in to the experience.
Unless there is a shift in the reality field perhaps that’s just what Cast Members should be. Okay so Security Cast Members and a couple of select other groups are exceptions to this rule. but for the most part Cast Members should be just that, a player in the Disney Show. What is more that is exactly what Guests want.
But as Cast Members we see the Guests. We look after them, and feed in to their Disney vacation dreams which is why I think Guest interaction is one of the finest parts of being a Cast Member.
As I said in the preface to this post 99% of Guests are happy campers. They know what they want and they know how and where to get it. They wait happily in lines, they get to their goals and they share the Disney smile. One percent have needs and goals that Disney cannot fulfil with an off the shelf solution. This is where we as Disney Cast Members stop being a part of the Guests dream and start to create real magic. Creating what is called in the trade a “Pixie dust moment”.
If you have a read of the forum post started by my good friend Paul Torres on just this subject you’ll no doubt see these moments of magic are important to many of us. For me it made working for the Mouse one of the most special times of my life.
In my time at Disneyland Resort Paris I must have met and greeted millions of Guests. Most I have forgotten some though stay with me to this day. I have written up some of these experiences in the forums, others though, perhaps not so dramatic still raise a stay with me.
One story started on a wet and quiet morning when I was behind the counter in City Hall. A young girl of about 12 years old came in to ask where the wheelchair rental was? Easy, across Town Square, under the Train Station. Job done, another happy customer!
What is called in the trade a “Pixie dust moment”.
The girl ran out stopping only to say something to two women slowly making their way towards City Hall. When they finally arrived one of the women sat down, and the other woman was fussing over her. Looking at the seated woman I was worried about her, she didn’t look at all well so I went over to say hi and check that all was okay. Then I spotted the pin on the second woman’s coat it said simply MacMillan Nurse.
We chatted for a while and it turned out this was meant to be a really special trip. This was the family’s first and last chance to fulfil a gravely ill mothers wish for her daughter to come to Disney, meet Mickey and have the holiday every child wants.
The real beauty of working for Disney is that it is magical and as a Cast Member you have the power to make magic!
I made a couple of calls, simple as that. I organised a simple meet and greet, explaining to the character lead that one of the Guests was in a fragile condition due to her advanced cancer. As we neared our rendezvous out side the Kodak shop the Pixie Dust looked like a sand storm. Mickey came over… followed by Minnie, Chip, dale, Donald, Goofy… the whole VIP cast turned out, they wanted to make a little magic that cold wet morning. Even over a decade later sitting in central London, miles away from the Mouse and writing this, the simple memory of that families joy still makes me emotional. Okay call me cheesy or overly emotional but I am proud of that mornings work and I think I always will be.
What we did that morning cost Disney nothing, zero, bupkiss – what though was it worth to that family? At the risk of sounding like a Master-card advert – Priceless.
There are of course Guests who are not happy, they go to City Hall or write to Guest Communications. Some, a small minority do try to play the system, to game it for what they can get out of it – false or exaggerated claims of attraction downtimes, broken promises, and a multitude of other sins. The Grumps or as a friend calls them weasles are, as I said, in a small minority.
Most people who contact Disney with an issue are genuine in there concerns and the company replies to those concerns. Having worked in both areas I still believe that Guests don’t want to beat the system, mostly they just want to have it work and I respect them for telling us. After all you can’t fix something if you don’t know its broken – right?
The more I have reread this post as I have written it I have come to a conclusion that had never occurred to me before. I think that it is a little simplistic to say that Walt Disney created the Magic and Cast Members are the ones who keep the magic alive, what good is magic if nobody wants to believe in it?
There is the Disney magic that Guests make. They let us do something exceptional! They let us be Disney Cast Members.
In 2009 Disney laid off thousands of Walt Disney World Cast Members, These are their story’s.
To leave Disney is one thing, to have Disney leave you is quite another.
In March 2009, the Orlando Sentinel’s Jason Garcia announced the news Cast Members at Walt Disney World had dreaded;
“Walt Disney World has stepped up layoffs this week, as the company moves ahead with a broad, recession-forced restructuring of its management ranks. Disney, which is Central Florida’s largest employer, with about 62,000 ‘Cast members’, refused to say Thursday how many jobs it has eliminated. But, one person familiar with some details of the cuts said he was given an estimate of 450.”
In another article dated April 14, 2009, Garcia gives the total figures as roughly 900 layoffs in Florida this year as part of widespread cost-cutting. Add to this figure the senior management buyouts. The April 16th article talks about the ‘much-quoted Disney spokesperson’, Walt Disney World senior vice president Jerry Montgomery, who accepted one of the voluntary buyouts Disney offered its executives in January.
Reuters reported on January 21, 2009 that The Walt Disney Company had made voluntary buyout offers to 600 executives at its domestic theme parks. It aims to cut costs amid an economic meltdown that has depressed attendance and prompted the company to deeply discount Walt Disney World stays.
In early 2009, The Walt Disney Co. began laying off 1,000 workers from Burbank to Orlando as part of its plan to eliminate 4,000 jobs companywide, which represents about three percent of Cast Members.
According to a company spokesman, roughly 3,000 people accepted the voluntary separation program leaving about 1,000 who will involuntarily lose their jobs before the end of July 2009. Disney blames the ‘soft economy’ which has hurt theme park attendance and advertising spending at ABC television. The company hopes to save about $400 million annually with these cuts.
The All Business website expects that the areas to be hit hardest by the layoffs are Disneyland and Disney World resorts and the feature animation department, where Disney is cutting several dozen jobs and cutting salaries by up to 50 percent. Other cuts are expected in ABC’s news operation and within Disney’s movie, music and home entertainment divisions.
The effect on non-executive Cast Members has been tangible, there are groups online devoted to those affected and here at After the Mouse.com we are starting to feel the ripples. A couple of days ago, I put out a request to interview some of those affected by the layoffs. I got quite a few replies. (I’ll say now that I have removed any names from this article).
The first reply came from a former hotel manger, “I had an internship after my first Disney contract which led to a five year career with the same company and my first management job, all the while going to school and coming to Disney during my off semesters. The job was great, but I felt something missing. That something was the feeling only The Mouse could give to its Cast and Guests. I gave up a great career to work for $7 an hour on the front desk; from there I worked my way up to being a Manager”.
“After being laid off, I felt relieved. My only bad feeling at the time was not being able to say good-bye to so many people who have become a part of my extended family, as the exit was quick and unceremonious. I was glad to know that the anxiety everyone was feeling could end as I knew my fate”.
“I think I spent a total of an hour at work on my final day; 15 minutes of that was getting ready for the start of my shift before my leader told me we had to talk with HR and the GM. The last 15 minutes was spent cleaning out my desk and hugging the few people who happened to be walking by as they saw me carrying the box of my personal belongings from my desk to my car”.
“I have been given the services of an outplacement company for 3 months. The services they offer appear to be good, but they seem slow to offer their assistance. I called the night I was let go, and I was finally able to take their introductory ‘webinar’ nearly 3 weeks later”.
“I have had one job offer, but I turned it down given the expectations of the job and the compensation offered. I know that I will take a pay cut given the current advantage employers have with today’s unemployment, but I’m not willing to work for a rate of pay where I’m essentially volunteering my services”.
“I honestly don’t have any resentment against Disney. Business is business and for the sake of the company, sacrifices had to be made. It stinks that the sacrifice was me.”
One of the saddest things I have read online this last month was a post on this site that simply said “My ears were removed on March 24, 2009”. All over this site it is repeated. What it meant to work for Disney and to have that taken away must be hard. I think the self-confidence and resilience in the former story speaks volumes of the professionalism and the self-confidence that seems to be the mark of a Cast Member.
Others haven’t had the same experience. One veteran Cast Member with several decades under his belt said “It takes twenty years to build a good reputation and only five minutes to destroy it, we’re well past the five minute mark… Walt used to say something to the effect that the cast is what made our company great. Bob, Jay and Al are only thinking bottom-line, not about the impact on the cast.”
“Another, and to me more worrying non-Disney case, is that of a female Cast Member who has again spent more than a decade with the company; “Weren’t surprised with Husband’s layoff, but to layoff both parents of a family seems cruel. IS cruel! I am confused and hurt as to why there was no filter to prevent such occurrences, especially when I have had solid performance reviews.”
“I suppose I could/should mention that in all this…I miss my Cast DREADFULLY. I was asked to come to our area because they needed the “mom” touch, and I truly became their work-mom. I love them dearly, all 300 of them, and I wake up in tears because I won’t get to see them every day. The hours at the MK made it such that I saw these folks MUCH more than I saw my own children, and even though that’s a crime, I do love them nearly as much as I love my own flesh and blood.”
Another comment I received was, “My boss has effectively written me off the page. Clearing my desk, taking me off our area distribution list, even though my layoff will not occur until I return [from medical leave]. When I call him to ask questions, he is aloof and distant, as if I was fired. But I am still on their team.”
Cast Members with years of market-leading experience are being cut free and left to find new jobs in a declining market. My personal hope is that the Disney name for excellence in customer service will reflect well on these good people and make them shine out over the heads of other job applicants. I can offer additional advertising for people’s resumes on the site in the hope employers are looking for that ‘Disney Magic’, making them easier to find. In the end, I think having Disney on your employment history will help you stand out.
It pains me that the common thread through most of the comments I have received is that supervising management are stand offish, aloof and disinterested. It is a discredit to a company with a reputation for family values and customer service that it cannot look after its own team in the same manner.
All the comments quoted in this article are as true to the original comments as possible, the only changes I have made are to anonymize them to protect the identities of those who have trusted me with there stories. This does not change the fact that these are the contributors opinions.
It is my fervent hope that the only people who have contacted me are those who have had a bad experience, something out of the ordinary, but I fear that it is not the case and that these sentiments represent a large percentage of those laid off.
To my fellow ex Cast Members, I wish you well and I hope to see you all back in the resorts one day soon.
Being a Jungle Cruise Skipper is one of the most desired Cast Member rolls at Disneyland
Out of all the jobs sought after at the Disneyland Parks, the role of being a Jungle Cruise Skipper is one of the most desired. A few years ago the OC Register did an opinion poll with the local readers to see what their dream Disney jobs were. The results of poll showed being an Imagineer was the most desired. Immediately below that was the roll of a Jungle Cruise Skipper. Now who wouldn’t want to get paid to go around in circles and say some of the puniest jokes around?
The Jungle Cruise is honored to be one of the few attractions to be around since the first day Disneyland opened it’s gates. If you’re luck enough to know where to look, you can get a glimps of what kinda of planning went into the development of this world famous attraction. To some people the Jungle Cruise isn’t the E ticket everyone thinks about, but it has still stayed as popular as ever through out time Disneyland has been open. What makes this attraction truly unique is that it’s the Cast Member, not the Attraction in itself, which gives it entertainment value. There is no other Attractions Host that supplies the entertainment for the entire attraction. With that, every skipper is different and has their own style. So when it comes to having more ride combinations, Jungle Cruise beats Indy by a long shot!
Compared to many attraction, the Jungle Cruise is over all quite easy to run. This gives Skippers the great advantage of not having to get up way early or late for opening of closing shifts. The opening crew starts only 15 minutes before park opening. This gives the Skippers just enough time to get signed off by a manager, do a scene check, and get the three boats needed set up for the start of the day. The Jungle begins it’s day with only six skippers and a lead. During the peak hours, the Jungle is fully Skipped by the lead and sixteen skippers, with an occasional dock hand during the peak seasons. Each of the 16 skippers are then divided into groups of 4, rotating between the boats, breaks, and loading/unloading. The rotations are done by the skippers themselves with no computers to guide them or tell them when to switch.
Throughout the normal operating day, it’s relatively common for the dock to be visit with the skippers counterpart… Tour Guides. When ever a Tour Guide is spotted it usually means one of two things: there is a guided tour or a celebrity coming aboard the punniest boat that have ever sailed. In the nine months that I served on the dock I was honored to guide a few tours as well as some celebrities. The first celebrity that I took out into the Jungle was Ed O’Niell. All I know is that I had no idea that who it was til after the fact. I saw a small group come on with a guide, was told that I wouldn’t be loaded any more, and was sent out into the jungle. Ed, himself, sat near the back door with sun glasses while the rest of his family sat up next to me.
The CM in me really came out that trip, not because there was a tour guide, but because there we about three kids up front. So the whole trip I just talked and worked them and boy did they laugh and have a good time! As I went through the Jungle, I saw the man in glasses laughing as well. Upon learning who my mystery celebrity was, I only feel it’s safe to say that I’m funny cause I got Al Bundy to laugh at the jokes. I feel honored to know that I was able to make him feel comfortable enough that he was able to relax enough to enjoy the time and laugh with his family.
The other celebrities I had aboard my boat were from the Disney Family… Chip and Dale and then Pluto and Goofy at another time. I have no idea who’s idea it was to put Goofy and Pluto up front with the skipper, but I can assure antics followed us for the two trips that we took together. Only at Disney can you ever experience the magic of the characters and skippers working together in improv to entertain guests of all ages.
It really does take something special to work as a skipper. Although it is only one skipper the guests see on the boat, it’s really the work of the entire skipper team that makes it all work. There really isn’t an attraction that replicates it, so when ever you’re in the park, be sure to stop by and allow us to give you a cruise. In the mean time, I would like to thank my head for always pointing me forward, my arms for always being at my sides, and my fingers and toes cause I could always count on them. Don’t forget to stop by the Bazaar a pick up your free case of Malaria! One case per family. Catch the fever!
There is a magical hour in Disney’s Magic Kingdom When a Cast Member walks alone
Imagine one of the world’s most famous streets, Regent Street in London, the Champs Elysee in Paris, or perhaps 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Take away all the people, every last one. Get rid of all the unpleasantness; the trash in the gutter, the billboards selling you things you don’t need and the newspaper vendors telling you things you don’t want to know. Now, just add sparkling lights and a jaunty tune or two and you too can recreate my best Cast Member moments.
If you are on a closing shift in any Disney park, especially if you are a in the Guest Entry complex management team, you’ll have experienced one of the greatest Disney moments. That fleeting time when the night is dark, the park is empty of Guests, but all the show lights are still burning bright and the music plays on Main Street. For all the world you could be alone in your own private Disneyland. It is the Golden Hour.
For a year or so, two nights a week I was the guy with the keys to the gates of the Magic Kingdom. After wishing thousands of Guests a good night and a safe journey, when the Security Cast Members had handed off and my last Cast Members had gone home, I’d walk back around all the gates one last time, checking the Kingdom was safe from invaders. Then it was a short walk to hand in the keys. I would make that walk last as long as I could just to bask in the quiet glow of the by now empty Town Square and Main St.
There is something just so special about the time between the last Guests leaving the park and the time when the Maintenance Crew start their nocturnal work. There is almost nobody around and the attractions hosts are long gone towards costuming. If the food and beverage team are still there, they’re probably scrubbing the floors and the merchandise guys are re-stocking the plush mountain. The Ticketing and City Hall teams are the only ones still around ‘On Stage’ and of them it is just the team leaders and leads who are still there. Main St USA is theirs and theirs alone.
It is your own private Disneyland, it’s the Golden Hour
To walk down the fairy lit, small town American dream with no-one else there, not a soul, nobody, it is only possible in that golden hour. But if you wait too long, just a couple of minutes too long, the illusion will be shattered; a merchandising window dresser swapping out new tees for old, a show lighting guy changing out a blown light bulb or the night custodial guys with a high-powered water hose. Any of them will shatter the whole illusion; the Golden Hour is special but oh so fragile.
There is a true magic to being able to walk down one of the world’s most famous streets and have it to yourself, lit up like a film set and with a sound track just for you. You must seize this moment, Carpe Diem as Robin Williams’ (or Catullus) might have had it; grab those precious few moments of tranquility when Disneyland is yours.
There is, of course, that quiet time before the park opens to the Guests, maybe an hour or two before the Steam Train whistle blows on Main St Station to announce that the park is open. But even for me, a self-confessed morning person it’s just not the same.
Those Cast Members who are in the parks are hard at work, usually getting the park all spic and span and ready for the new day. The park is still eerily empty with maybe just a fleeting glimpse of a fellow employee disappearing around the corner. In this pre-opening dawn, the parks are quiet; no one has yet flipped the switch on the all-pervading sound track to the park, the music, the bird calls, the ‘atmosphere’ noise. And there is the answer, the dawn doesn’t have that Disney magic.
The parks need to have had Guests in them, to draw in their breath and, like a tree photosynthesize the oxygen of a day at Disneyland. Pre-opening is the parks breath of anticipation before the Guests arrive, the Golden Hour is the sigh of satisfaction of a Disney day well done.
The Disney Monorail: An appriciation of the ‘Trains of Tomorrow’!
“We keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things…” Walt Disney once said in reference to how he encouraged his creative teams to work. This became especially evident with Tomorrowland at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. On June 14, 1959 Disney added multiple new attractions to the land including what is now referred to as the Disneyland Monorail, the first daily operating system of its kind in the western hemisphere.
Fifty years later, the Disneyland Monorail is still in operation and a larger counterpart has since been opened at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Although monorail systems are being expanded and developed around the world, they are only highly used at theme parks within the United States. This leaves many American travellers wondering why monorail systems are not more widely used in urban commuting environments.
Although the opening of the monorail at Disneyland was the first time a single rail system was ever given international public exposure, it was in no way considered a new invention. The first known monorail system used for passenger transportation was developed in 1825 in Cheshunt, England; it was powered by a single horse. Over fifty years later, General Le-Roy Stone developed a steam powered monorail in the United States.
Another monorail landmark was in 1887, the Enos Electric Company of New Jersey created an electric powered monorail system. This was also the first time that the monorail track was made of steel instead of wood. Moving to 1952, Doctor Axel Lennart Wenner-Gren (ALWEG) developed the ALWEG monorail which reached speeds of approximately one hundred miles an hour, one of the fastest monorails built at that time. After being developed further into a more commuter friendly design, the ALWEG monorail system reached its modern form in 1957. Finally, in 1959, the Disneyland ALWEG Monorail was opened to the public.
The star treatment that the Disneyland ALWEG Monorail was given might have also been the systems downfall. Sadly, the innovation behind Tomorrowland has become lost. What was designed to be a showcase of what the future held became more of a showcase of futuristic looking attractions. Tomorrowland is “a step into the future with predictions of constructive things to come,” Walt declared, when the land was originally dedicated. Although the monorail was supposed to be a representative of mass transit for the future, it became more characterized as an iconic attraction for theme parks.
With monorail systems being thought of as tourist attractions, it becomes highly possible that that thought process has prevented monorails from being widely used, at least within the United States. Despite being thought of as a tourist attraction, the success of the monorail systems at Disney theme parks should have been enough for people to see how well they operate as part of a mass transportation system.
By far, the most popular monorail systems were built by ALWEG. They stood behind their product to the point that they offered to build complete monorail systems for cities at no cost. Through this project, the Seattle Monorail was built for the 1962 World Trade Fair, costing the company $3.5 million. By the end of the six month long fair, ALWEG had made back their original investment and was making a profit through the fees being charged to use the system (Seattle History). With the monorail being built specifically for the World Trade Fair, ALWEG received its investment back easily and rapidly. Looking beyond that, the monorail proved to be a reliable transportation source for the massive amounts of people that headed to the trade fair. If it was not reliable, other forms of transportation would have quickly taken the spotlight.
A year later, ALWEG went to the city of Los Angeles to propose a monorail system. “The company said that if it were allowed to build the system, it would give the monorails to us for free – absolutely gratis. The company would operate the system and collect the fare revenues,” Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, said in a 2006 editorial; Bradbury was at the meeting when the original proposal was presented to the council. ALWEG was going to look at expanding the system for multiple “monorails crossing L.A. north, south, east and west,” Bradbury later mentioned.
The plan was unfortunately rejected by the city council. What seemed to be the dominant factor for the Los Angeles City Council rejecting the monorail came from oil company lobbyists using their influence. By keeping the monorail system out of the city, oil companies were able to maintain their fuel supply monopoly for private and mass transit operations. As a consequence of rejecting the offer, traffic issues were made worse due to the growing use of private automobiles. After a hiatus of not having any public transportation, the Los Angeles City Council started to build the subway system that the city has today. However, the construction of the subway was paid for by the tax payers of Los Angeles; subway manufactures did not offering their services nearly as cheap as ALWEG had offered.
Shortly before ALWEG closed in 1967, they gave other companies a license to use their technology. The most notable company with the license was Hitachi. The company has since delivered eleven different monorail systems world wide including eight in Japan, one of the world’s most highly populated areas (Monorail Delivery). Since Japan was willing to develop numerous monorails, it can be assumed that the systems have become an intricate part of daily transportation, not simply used as an attraction for site seeing around the cities.
Taking the lead, Japan has given a prime example of what monorail systems can do for mass public transportation, even in dense urban environments. The Osaka city monorail opened in 1990 with over four miles of track. With the extensions that are being built, the monorail will eventually be travelling about thirty-one miles through the city and neighboring communities (Monorail of Japan). The commitment of building over twenty-seven additional miles of track shows how much of a cornerstone that the monorail system has become in Japan’s public mass transportation network. It further shows how well monorail systems can help keep people moving to where they want to go.
The safety of monorail trains is undeniable. For example, the Osaka monorail was able to remain running after an earthquake in 1995 struck the local area, helping many locals to leave the city when highways were congested (Monorail of Japan). Searching through assorted sources for monorail accidents, their safety was further supported.
The only accident widely publicized was the incident that happened in Walt Disney World at the beginning of July 2009. It occurred during an end of the day procedure and caused the death of the pilot that was controlling one of the two trains involved. Throughout the history of monorails used in public transportation, this appears to be the only death that has involved operator or system failure. If any other accidents have happened, they must have been small enough that they were not widely reported.
Part of what makes monorails safe is that they are part of a multilevel system: as vehicles and pedestrians move along the primary level, monorails operate above everyone on a secondary level track. A second advantage to multilevel systems is that it allows the trains to continuously move without slowing down traffic.
Monorails have definitely shown their endurance through the years: the Seattle Monorail reached a million miles of travel in 2008 and the Wuppertal Schwebebahn suspended monorail, located in Germany, was put into service in 1901 and still works today. With so many people riding monorails daily and only one death having ever occurred during regular operations, they can easily be considered one of the safest ways to travel. The long term and daily use of monorails in Japan shows how well the systems keep travellers moving. Ray Bradbury said, “people are accustomed to travelling in the open air and enjoying the sunshine, not in closed cars under the ground,” comparing Los Angeles’ subway system to a monorail system. Hopefully, someday, people will be able travel together as the sun shines through the windows of their monorail while speeding through the sites of Southern California.
• “A Brief Seattle Monorail History”. Seattle Monorail Service.
• Bradbury, Ray. “L.A.’s Future Is Up In The Air”. Los Angeles Times.
• “Monorail Delivery Records”. Hitachi, Ltd.
• “Monorails In History”. The Monorail Society.
• “Monorail Of Japan”. The Monorail Society.
• “Seattle Monorail Milestones”. Seattle Monorail Service.
A Guests eye view of Disney’s Special Dietary Needs service.
This is an unusual article for me to publish here on the site, in that it is not written by a Cast Member but by a Guest. When I read this I thought it was well worth reprinting as it shone a light on a little known dietary service offered by Disney. It also tells of the way Cast Members go the extra mile to make Guests with special needs stays just as special as everybody else’s vacation.
Thank you to Sunny Hall for your permission to reprint this article - it is much appreciated.
Now, this was my fourth trip to Disney World, so while I am not an expert on all things Disney, I am not a total novice either. I was looking forward to taking our kiddos back to Disney, and to time spent with my extended family, but I was also experiencing a LOT of dread. Life with 3 year old triplets is no cakewalk, and autism just seems to make everything harder. When my kids can freak out over walking through a new door to a familiar place, or my taking a different route home, I had no idea how they would respond to the sights, sounds, smells and overall over stimulation of Disney World. So I admit it. I dreaded the trip more than a little. The last thing I wanted to do on vacation was spend 100% of my time diffusing toddler tantrum bombs in the 115 degree Florida heat among thousands of people. Call me selfish or scrooge if you want, but seriously, who would want to do that?
Well, much to my surprise and delight, the trip was MUCH different than I expected, and in no small part as a result of Disney’s great preparedness for it’s special visitors. Before heading out on our trip, I did as much research as I could about taking an autistic child to Disney World. I checked into food, attractions, playgrounds, the whole bit to try and plan as much as possible. This might make me sound like a control freak, but truly you have to plan for kiddos on the spectrum. Otherwise everyone is miserable. ASD kids thrive in structured environments and on schedules, so since we were throwing all of that to the wind, I wanted to try to plan what little I could.
On the food front, I would not have been more pleased. I had been told “No one does special diets like Disney” and I am inclined to agree. We stayed on Disney property and used the meal plan–2 things I highly recommend for simplifying life. When I called to make reservations, I let the cast member know that 3 children in our party had food allergies and she made a note of it with each of our reservations. When we arrived to the dinner locations, the chef came out to speak with us and to tell us what he could make for the children. Each of our dinner locations had tapioca dinner rolls. Most had GFCF hot dogs or hamburgers with tapioca buns. They also offered french fries cooked in a dedicated fryer–to prevent cross contamination, and fresh fruit for dessert. One place had GFCF Popsicles, and another had Rice cream (ice cream without dairy or gluten). It was WONDERFUL! We never get to eat out as a family, and it was so wonderful to be able to do that while also not worrying about my kids getting something to eat they shouldn’t. Plus, the chefs were so nice and happy to accommodate us. On a couple of occasions, we got grilled chicken instead of a burger or hot dog, and even though that was not on the kids’ menu, we did not pay extra.
We also did a character breakfast which is a buffet. For this, again the chef came out. He walked me around the buffet and told me everything that was safe for my kids to eat, and then offered suggestions of what he could make for them. He made special hash browns and Mickey-shaped waffles that they loved! He brought this all out to us family style. It was great. The kids got to eat fun food, see their favourite characters, and just be normal. AND, I didn’t have to haul in our own ‘similar’ food to make it work. GLORIOUS!
Now–for the fast food options. I contacted Disney and asked about special diets and got an email with very helpful information. I will post the info below in a moment, but first I want to tell you how it worked. We chose a select location (there are 2 or 3 per park) that we knew offered GFCF food, and got in line to order. I told the cashier that our kids had food allergies and the manager was summoned. The manager told me what was available for those specific allergies, and offered a book that listed ingredients for each item so I could be sure that there were no allergens in the food. In addition, these fast food restaurants offered a dedicated fryer so that french fries were only fried in them, prevent cross contamination from breading on chicken nuggets, etc. Once I placed the order, I waited. To my surprise, the manager came out with our tray wearing double (2) rubber gloves on each hand and personally brought me the tray. Evidently the managers are required to cook special orders themselves in order to avoid errors. YAY!
So the result was that my kids got to eat totally un-nutritious food such as hot dogs, hamburgers and fries every day–2 times per day, just like normal kids at Disney World. It was wonderful! And it made our lives so much easier as parents not to have to make tahini and jelly sandwiches , bring along avocado oil chips and offer them to our kids in lieu of burgers and fries.
Mother and author of this article Sunny, is from Knoxville, TN. She is a mother of toddler triplets, and the owner of Cutie Tooties Cloth Diaper & Natural Baby Store. In the original article - Why I Love Disney World-Part 1 - she’s listed the fast-food stops with GFCF food available
The Story of how a Disney Guest became a Disney Cast Member.
It had never been a lifelong dream of mine to work at Disney World. Honestly, from the time I fist remember visiting the park in 1982, it simply never occurred to me that just anyone could work there. So I went about my life, visiting often, content but never really wishing that could be me. Even when I was able to do a special behind-the-scenes tour of the Magic Kingdom at age 10 (they don’t run that tour anymore for those under 16 for fear of traumatizing children with a view of a headless Mickey), the people that worked there seemed to be on some separate plane of existence. They weren’t just employees at a job, they were Cast Members - part of the magic. I never thought that would one day be me.
That all changed in the 1990’s. I was floundering in college; not finding my place after a successful high school career of all honors classes. I just didn’t know what to do with myself. Finally, like a flash from a fairy’s wand, it came to me: I want to work at Disney World! More than that, I wanted to help people create their dream vacations to the place that held so many wonderful memories for me. So I switched schools and majors and got a degree in Travel and Tourism Management, with the goal of working for the Disney Travel Company in Orlando. My plan was perfect, I even convinced my mother and boyfriend to move 1300 miles with me to Orlando, and we all decided to work for Disney.
“CASTING”. You are not just going for a job interview; you are going to be part of the show.
When you drive by the ‘employment office’ of Walt Disney World, you know right then it is special. It is a huge pink building, and the part that faces the highway proclaims in shining gold lettering in front of it – “CASTING”. You are not just going for a job interview; you are going to be part of the show.
Once you arrive out front, you instantly feel special – you are going somewhere mere guests cannot! I’m not sure if it’s been remodeled since I first visited, but at the time in 1995, you walked in and saw a huge, wide ramp leading up to the second floor and the information desk. It was crowded with Cast Member wannabes milling about waiting to be called. There was Disney décor and hidden Mickeys all around the room, and televisions playing clips from Company productions as well as Cast Members discussing how wonderful it was to work there. Not everyone was as excited or impressed with their surroundings as was I, but you could find the people that really wanted to be there, to do something magical.
To be honest, I can’t really remember the actual interview process too well, I think I was just too excited and it’s all a blur these 14 years later, but obviously, I was offered a position. The only disappointment was there were no openings in the Travel Co. when I applied. I was told I could work elsewhere and transfer in six months if something opened up. What was available was being a Merchandise Hostess on Main Street, USA in the Magic Kingdom. It was bittersweet because I wanted to be in my field so badly, but who wouldn’t jump at the chance to work in the Magic Kingdom? And as we all know, there are much worse positions available at the World! I accepted the position.
Then, the fun began. The first step when “Earning Your Ears” is to go to Disney University to attend a program called Traditions. This is (was - I’ve heard it’s only 1 day now?) a 2-day program to get everyone up to speed and informed about both the history of the company as well as exactly how every Cast Member is expected to create magic every day. For a life-long Disney fanatic such as myself, it was heaven. To pass the time between watching videos and going over paperwork, the trainers would hold little group trivia contests. It didn’t surprise me that I knew every answer first, it surprised me that everyone around me didn’t! I still have the little PVC figures we received as prizes for getting the right answer. The very best part was the beginning of the second day, when you walked into the conference room to see a table full of Disney nametags. It was the first time I officially felt like I belonged to the special group that is Disney Cast Members.
The second part of Traditions was the tour of the park we would be working in. You may have seen on a visit to a Disney park or resort, a group of bright-eyed, smiling faces, all dressed in business attire despite the 90-degree heat and humidity…that would be a Traditions tour. There we were shown the ins and outs of the Utilidor (underground tunnel connecting all of the ‘lands’ in Magic Kingdom, where costuming and the cafeteria were, and the best route to get to your location.
After Traditions there was, I believe, a two-week training course within the tunnel which included cash handling and how to use the registers, where stock was kept in the huge warehouse rooms below the stores, and finally, in-store training.
I had the added excitement of being a part of the grand opening of a Disney store. I had originally been hired to work in Disney Clothiers, the smaller, higher-end clothing store next-door to the Emporium. The biggest difference at the time was The Emporium sold everything plus screen-printed t-shirts; Clothiers sold embroidered shirts among other items. It was much smaller and I was so grateful because the Emporium seemed so overwhelming to me! However when I got my first schedule, it was revealed that I would actually be working in the brand-new Main Street Athletic Club. This store was in the former Penny Arcade and Magic Store location – and as such we received many mixed reviews about our being there - so many guests missed those former attractions.
It was exciting being a part of something new (and less daunting because no one really knew more than me about that particular store). It was nice having a newly built store and stockroom and we even got totally new costumes. Rather then the high-necked cream-colored blouses and hot pink bowties that went with the long plaid skirts on the rest of Main Street, we got to wear a dark turquoise blue v-neck shirt with a sailor collar, and knickers (pants that buttoned at the knee, not sure what they are called in the UK but I know knickers are not the same there haha!) made out of the same plaid fabric. The men got to wear brown pants of a similar style and a lighter brown laced-up shirt, with suspenders. The only part that really made me nervous was my first day was on July 4th, 1995 - one of the busiest days at the Magic Kingdom.
I survived though, as I would survive many other days and nights…not getting out till 2am…working weekends and holidays and through rain or shine and Brazilian tour groups. I ended up working at Disney Clothiers too, as well as occasionally covering Baby Care, and later moving over to Uptown Jewelers, which I loved because by that time I was deep into collecting limited edition watches.
It wasn’t all magic all the time, but what got you through those rough days was the fact that you were not alone. Some of the most magical memories I have are of walking out on to Main Street when all the guests were gone and the streets were being hosed down. The lights and music were still on…and it was hard to look over to that big Castle at the end of the street and not get a tear in my eye. After our shifts, we all rode the bus back to the parking lot together and usually went out for a late night breakfast. We were family.
Being inside and selling t-shirts for the most part, there weren’t too many chances for ‘creating magic’ with individual guests. I don’t have an amazing story of making a guest’s dreams come true by ringing up their ponchos…However there were a few times when going above and beyond was appreciated. Finding a particular item downstairs in the warehouse section…offering a recommendation to a first time visitor…or simply offering a sympathetic ear to someone that had a less-than-magical experience.
Soon, though, after foiling my chances for a transfer by being out sick a few too many times (oops!) I left Disney to pursue my career in Travel. I would later go back to the company briefly with the Disney Store when we lived in Massachusetts, but I found retail in a mall is quite different than retail in a theme park. I also finally got my ‘dream job’ of working at the Disney Travel Company a few years back. I went through the 6 weeks of training, loved every single second of it, but once I got behind the phones my husband’s job was transferred to another part of the state so I had to leave that behind as well. I did worry how I would measure up with sales quotas and such, I think I made a better guest than Cast Member at that point.
Still, if given the chance today, if we still lived in Orlando and I could work around my children and husband’s schedule, I would probably still go back in a heartbeat. It’s a wonderful company to work for, and now, in my 30’s, I think I appreciate that a bit more than I did in my early 20’s.
In some ways though - once a Cast Member always a Cast Member. I will still pick up a piece of trash if I see it on the street in a park (we were always told to help keep the parks clean, even if it wasn’t ‘our area’), I will still rush over to a crying child who’s lost its parents and try to help out. I will still always look at the parks and resorts with a Cast Member’s eye, knowing just enough to be both dangerous and sympathetic to those having a rough day. I appreciate Cast Members more now, in every position. It truly takes a village to run the amazing world that is a Disney park. I am proud to have been a part of that village at one time. If I’m lucky, maybe I will again some day.
When Disney needed Cowboys for their new show they went west.
The small town of Cody, Wyoming, situated on the banks of the Shoshone River at the Eastern extreme of Yellowstone National Park has long been a symbol of the old American West. Every Independence Day holiday since 1919, Cody has hosted one of America’s largest rodeos, the “Cody Stampede Rodeo.” The stampede has long been a Mecca for many of the world’s top cowboys and rodeo fans. In 1991 Disney took a look too - after all the town is named for Buffalo Bill Cody.
One of the highlights of Euro Disney for many people was the headline dinner show in Festival Disney – “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show,” featuring Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and the Rough Riders.
“Over 100 years old, this once most popular attraction in the West, now comes East to Disney Village. Tuck into a hearty cowboy feast, as you cheer on the kings of the Colt, in a fast, furious tribute to the old West, complete with stunt riders, wagons and buffaloes.” (1)
“Cowboys needed for Wild West Show in Paris, France.”
Euro Disney brought together the best in the business to put the show together - professional cowboys, stuntmen, world famous horse trainers and Native Americans. Add to the roll call quarter horses, long horn steer and buffalo and you can see the size of the challenge. In this article I want to give you a little of the show’s history and a glimpse behind the scenes.
In the summer of 1991 a full page advert ran in ProRodeo Sports News. “Cowboys needed for Wild West Show in Paris, France.” Hundreds of cowboys and Native Americans showed up for the open auditions. Some of those auditioning dressed in full cowboy gear, complete with chaps and holsters or traditional tribal dress to impress the casting directors.
The hopefuls were put through practical tests to look at their roping and horse skills. By the end of the auditioning possess Disney had taken photos of the remaining candidates and went away to make their decisions. Many of the cowboys were veterans of film and show work, but as the final show still hadn’t been set in stone, all most of them knew was that they would be working in a rodeo stunt show. One thing they did find out was that Disney asked them to not shave or cut their hair. They needed the performers to develop that cowboy look.
Early in 1992 the lucky few cowboys and Native Americans selected were flown to Orlando, Florida to start their new lives as Disney Cast Members. At Walt Disney World, in addition to the usual traditions training, the new employees were given details of their new lives in a foreign country. Then, it was all aboard a jet to start a new life in France.
“Then, it was all aboard a jet to start a new life in France.”
As was the case for many of the other Cast Members on-property, accommodation wasn’t ready for the opening. Many of the original Cast of the new Wild West Show was set up in housing in the town of Meaux.
If you Google ‘Meaux’, you’ll find references to “The old town of Meaux has been the see of a bishop since 375AD”, and the town’s “Gothic cathedral (12th-16th C.),” and its gastronomic heritage “Meaux is known for Brie de Meaux, a variety of Brie cheese and the local variety of mustard.” The culture shock for both sides was immediate; wide brimmed Stetson hats were not the norm on the streets of the medieval town.
There is, of course, the old idea that the French hate all things American. It is an idea that predates the post 9/11 cheese eating surrender monkey thing, and it is true that a part of the French ethos says “The French invented good food, great wine and French men are the world’s best lovers – so why should we care about you?” And especially around Paris it can be obvious, except that they love the romance of the West.
It is not unusual to see French guys wearing screen printed black tee shirts with wolves and Native American warriors on the front. Between xenophobic mutterings, he’ll be puffing on his Marlboro (which he lit with his Zippo) and dreaming of taking to the open roads on a Harley Davidson. So when the Wild West turned up on the door step, it was cautiously welcomed - though I did see first-hand incidents where the local guys would try to provoke a fight with the cowboys or Native Americans. It never ended well…
“Local guys would try to provoke a fight with the cowboys… It never ended well”
Disney, true to form, hired the best in the business to work on their new flagship dinner show. As well as importing the best cowboys, Native American performers and stuntmen to the team, they hired horse stunt arranger, Mario Luraschi whose own biography says “A wholehearted passion for the American Natives led him to the horse world.” Luraschi was the ideal man to help the Cowboys develop their show. For the last 30 years he’s been the go to guy for producing horses for the movies, performing horse stunts, and has appeared in over 400 films in France and the United States. Mario’s stables to the north of Paris became the show’s training ground for the team’s first month in France.
The Disney cowboys had been there a few weeks when the stuntmen arrived. One cowboy remembers, “Never forget their arrival, the California stunts were wearing denim jackets that were opened up showing only a half shirt underneath. At the time, I was wearing thermal underwear, jeans, and a set of insulated carhartt’s. It was cold! ” (2)
Mario and the Wild West Show cast, as they were now beginning to think of themselves, trained from dawn till dust almost every day for two months. Some of the stunt performers needed to learn some basic skills before they could move on with show rehearsals. “The stunts spent a lot of time in the round pen getting taught how to ride by Leslie. She had them riding bareback at a trot with their arms extended to the side, they had quite a few spills.” (2)
In March 1992, Disney’s on-property housing came online - along with it came another complex around three miles from Disneyland Resort Paris at Bailly Romainvilliers. Les Plaiades was to become the new home of the Disney cowboys. The new show got its own custom built show arena at the same time.
Working while everyone else was with their families
For me Working Christmas morning at Disneyland Paris was always special. It was a time for the giving and receiving of gifts, making Disney dreams come true, natural disasters and being suspected of terrorism.
There are few more magical times for many of us than Christmas Morning. Traditionally it is a time for the family to gather around the tree and share gifts but as a Disney Cast Member, working for a 365 day company working on Christmas morning can be a mixed blessing. To be away from our families, working during the Holidays can be hard especially on December 25th but working, making the magic on this special day can often be just as special. With the whole resort decorated with hundreds of holly wreathes, miles of evergreen garlands, and countless fairy lights and baubles all with the Disney touch and sprinkle of pixie dust Disney at Christmas is beautiful.
All through the 1990’s I worked every Christmas morning. In France the “Fete de Noel” is celebrated in earnest late into the evening of December 24th so all my French colleagues wanted to be at the heart of their families the morning after. I was young free, with no family at hand, no children depending on me to be there so I always had my name down to work the opening shift on the 25th and I loved it!
Christmas morning 1993 and 1994 found me sat in the cab of the Steam Train on Main St station. I was waiting for the manager of ticketing and a family picked from those waiting to enter the park. The children of the family would be prompted to wave to the train engineers at opening time, in turn they would blow the train whistle and open the park. On Christmas morning it would be all the more special because as their fellow Guests rushed in, the ‘opening’ family would be led to the Christmas tree in town square to find the one package that wasn’t a prop, a gift for them. There was a simple kind of magic in the air; it made the 5am wake up call worth it. Years later when my career at Disney moved me around the resort I got to be the guy who chose the family and waved at the train driver on Christmas morning.
Many Christmas’ later, working in Guest Relations at City Hall the yuletide feeling was always strong. I fondly remember a child coming to ask if we could get a message to Santa Claus to say thank you for the wonderful gifts they had found in the hotel room that morning, a phone call to Santa later and the big guy in the red suit gave an extra big smile and wave to the children outside City Hall for the parade that day – the simple pleasures in life are the best.
Working for the team that Guests bring their problems to – even over the holidays is a real pleasure and a blessing too. To have a family come to you with a problem in June, one of those something and nothing issues, a typo made by a tour operator that caused no end of issues but could easily be remedied with two phone calls to the right people. A ruined vacation to a great family trip in five minutes. Then to have the same family to come back six months later, not only remember you but bring a Christmas hamper for the team – the gift not withstanding, Guests like that make the job worth doing!
Guests like that make the job worth doing!
Christmas at Disney though was not without its challenges, early in the morning of December 26, 1999 Disneyland Paris had an unpleasant visitor. Lothar was a violent extratropical cyclone sweeping across Central Europe that night, causing major damage in France, Germany, and Switzerland. Wind speeds reached around 206kph (130mph) by the time Lothar hit the resort. For the first and only time to date Disneyland Paris had to close its gates to Guests that morning.
The resort was left in a real mess, not only were the Christmas decorations ruined, even the cast iron street furniture had been blown around. Trees were snapped in two and the public transport system was brought to a stand still – meaning very few Cast Members could get in to help with the clear up. It was a tribute to those Cast Members could who got to work that day that the park reopened the next morning and that four days later the park hosted its huge Millennium night party as planned.
Outside of work back at the Disney Cast Member housing we’d throw our own party on the evening of the 25th and invite all our friends, who like us were all far from their families and homes. To accommodate everyone we’d take the internal doors out of the flat, remove the handles and use them to extend the diner table. Friends could be seen coming from across the ‘La Boiserie’ complex carrying their dining chairs and a bottle of Christmas cheer.
Normally I’d drive over to the UK and get all the ingredients for the traditional roast turkey diner with all the trimmings and the festive rich, fruited Christmas Pudding. One year I flew home in late December for a few days to see my family and I bought a large, catering size ‘Mrs Peak’s’ Christmas pudding for the party.
I checked in, put my bags on the baggage into the x-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. It was then I met the two large, armed Police officers at the baggage check desk. It was then that I found out my foil wrapped pudding looked remarkably like explosives on the airport security equipment. Just to say, it is amazing how much goodwill can be generated by simply telling people you are a Disney Cast Member! That and not carrying C4.
Of all the things I miss about not being a Disney Cast Member I think I miss Christmas in the parks most. I know I write too much about making the Magic, the Disney dream and all the other sickly, saccharin sweet stuff but working over the Holidays was a very special part of my time with the Mouse.
How Disney brought Buffalo Bill & his Wild West Show back to Paris.
William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody was born on February 26, 1846 in Iowa. During his lifetime he was a soldier, a bison hunter, showman, Medal of Honor winner and one of the most colorful figures of the Old American West. Still today he is known as the man who took the Old West to the rest of the world.
William Cody started by touring the United States with his show “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World,” then he took his show to the rest of the world. His troupe included many authentic western personalities notably, Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and her husband Frank Butler, who would put on shooting exhibitions. During the show Cody and his performers would re-enact the riding of the Pony Express, Indian attacks on wagon trains, and stagecoach robberies. The show ended with a re-enactment of Custer’s Last Stand in which Cody himself portrayed General Custer.
In 1887 he took the show to Britain in celebration of the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. She herself attended the show, the first public performance she attended after the death of her beloved Prince Albert 25 years before. The show then moved on to Birmingham and then Salford, where it stayed for five months playing to packed houses.
By April, Cody’s Wild West headed for Paris and the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. Cody changed the show to include, among other novelties, the Cowboy Band playing the French national anthem and several performers dressed as fur trappers to represent the French influence on Canada while performing in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
Touching “Les Indians” became a popular sport among young French couples
More than 10,000 people, including French president Sadi Carnot, turned out for the opening performance. French newspapers were filled with accounts of the Wild West and its performers, especially the Native Americans, who attracted attention wherever they went. Touching “Les Indians” became a popular sport among young French couples, who, newspapers reported, thought such contact would assure fertility!
It was this ‘Spectacular’ that Disney was aiming to reproduce at their new Paris Resort. As I said in part one of this article, Disney went all out on the show, hiring the best people for the production. As well as Hollywood stunt performers and champion rodeo riders, Disney brought in professionals at the top of their games to work on the show.
The Venue: Whilst the show’s initial home was at Mario Luraschi’s ranch, the real home of the show was built as part of Frank Gehry’s Disney Village.
Gehry is perhaps best known for his designs which include the Guggenheim Museums in Bilbao and New York, Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Experience Music Project in Seattle, and Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis.
Artistic Director: Euro Disney’s Artistic Director Jean-Luc Choplin worked on the show personally. In an interview with the New York Times, he credited Cody with having a huge influence on France’s own cowboys thus showing his high opinion of Cody. “If the guardians of the Camargue are wearing cowboy hats, boots and big silver belt buckles that’s Buffalo Bill’s influence.”
Show Director: Robert Carsen, perhaps best known for his work as an opera director, was hired to direct the show. For him it was clearly an enjoyable experience, in June 2008 he recalled working on the show stating, “I’ve never wanted to specialize in one style or period, because I enjoy working with a range. I’ve done a show for Disney, which is still on – Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, which I wrote with Ian Burton. I loved doing it, with all those Cowboys and Indians – it was crazy.”
Writer: The writer, Ian Burton is the only person I have not been able to dig up any real information on, which is a shame – if you know more about him please let me know.
The Music: The exciting and rousing original music was written by Georges Fenton. He has written the music for over seventy feature films and has collaborated with some of the most influential film makers of the late 20th century. He was nominated in 1982 for the ‘Best Original Music Score’ Oscar for his work on Richard Attenborough’s biopic “Gandhi”.
Effects: The lighting and special effects were created by Andrew Bridge, who has become famous in his field for his groundbreaking work on “Cats” and "Phantom of the Opera.”
The Animal Trainers: As well as training the Cowboys and stuntmen for the demands of the show, the multitalented Mario Luraschi and his crew seamlessly worked the buffalo, horses and cattle into the show.
The choice of animals used in the show also follows the same rules of authenticity. The horses are Pintos and Appaloosas for the Native American performers, and quarter-horses straight from the U.S. for the cowboys. The buffalo, which remain wild even in captivity, come from Canada and require special care due to their impressive weights of up to 1 ton. The longhorn cattle, from Texas, live up to their name with the horns of an adult male measuring up to 2 meters long!
The authenticity and attention to detail at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is unsurpassed. Every detail you see was made to be as real as it could possibly be. Every second of action is live, only the music is prerecorded. As you might expect with this line up of talent and production values, the show was big, loud and action packed. All it needed was a lot of rehearsal to polish off the rough edges.
In the weeks prior to the opening of the Paris Resort, the now almost complete show started to do full dress rehearsals in front of audiences comprised of Cast Members from the parks and resorts. These early shows were held for practice for the Food and Beverage teams that would be serving up the Diner element of the show. This was where I got my first taste of the West.
In mid March 1992, my work colleagues and I walked up to the Disney Village and into the show arena. Entering the building for the first time, it was easy to see that the Guests were going to be in for a real treat. The structure was massive. At the time, it lacked much of the exterior decoration which was to come later, but the inside of the arena was instantly immersive.
You entered into the show and passed the greeter where you were filtered into your ranch; Blue Moon, Red River, Gold Star or Green Mountain and given a seat number and color coded straw cowboy hat.
Now that you were properly attired, as you walked further into the arena the thing that hit you was the smell of horses, saddle leather and straw. As the ads say, it is not a place to be if you have asthma or respiratory problems – but that aroma will stay with me forever as the smell of the Wild West Show. As you continued, on the right hand side of the corridor there were barred windows looking into the saddling area and tack rooms. The Quarter Horses and the Appaloosas were always drawing admiring crowds. The left side had display cases of Western artifacts: tomahawks, Winchester rifles, totem poles, sheriff’s stars and buffalo heads. If it came to a decision of what to look at the horses always won.
Tomahawks, Winchester rifles, totem poles, sheriff’s stars and buffalo heads
Then rounding the corner by the long saloon bar you’d mount the stairs into the arena to find your seat and enjoy the show.
“With everyone in their seats and the unlimited drinks flowing, the ranch-hands appear to whip up plenty of team spirit and some good, old-fashioned rivalry between the ranches! Wave your cowboy hat in the air, shout “yeehaa!” and get ready for the grand entrance of Buffalo Bill himself…
“Roaring into the centre of the arena, a band of cowboys kick off the show. Several dramatic chases and charges, showcasing the daring life of an American pioneer. Soon enough, Buffalo Bill is hot on their heels and taking command, introducing the fearless, gun-shooting Annie Oakley and the wise, majestic Sitting Bull to the arena.
“The spectacular showcase of frontier life continues with demonstrations of Indian rituals, a rodeo with stunt riding, the arrival of the buffalo, lasso-throwing numbers and a shooting match where spectators try their hand at marksmanship. The scenes follow each other at a furious pace, keeping you on the edge of your seat for every second. It all culminates in a dramatic, tension-packed, hat-waving recreation of the famous stagecoach race, before you charge off to your own wild frontier, keeping your well-used cowboy hat as an authentic souvenir of a legendary night.”
The dinner show includes a menu of three courses of West Texan cuisine served at the table; Trailside bread, Cattleman’s chili, sausage with herbs, roasted chicken, ranch house smoked ribs, Texan vegetables, old-fashioned potatoes, and warm apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. Served with unlimited water, beer or Coca-Cola. Plus tea or coffee.
Between March 1992 and February 2004 I sat and watched that show 34 times. I watched it develop and subtly change over the years. The food has lost a little of its original taste and flair, but getting your server to keep your unlimited beverage topped up always was a trick. The venue’s entrance is now shared with the multiplex cinema and the Planet Hollywood restaurant has taken the prime plot for Guests entering Festival Disney but the show has always been a big draw.
Mickey’s Wild West Show!
The biggest change to the show however, came in 2009 when After 11,000 shows in front of more than 11 million people, the Disney Characters joined the Wild West Show. This was the biggest change in the show’s format since its inception sixteen years before. As you might expect the decision has been controversial.
The Cast say: “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show with Mickey and Friends” - Over the past months my opinion of the characters presence in the show has turned around 180 degrees. I was adamantly opposed at the outset of the idea, to the degree of resigning, and now I’m enthusiastically supportive of the new show. The characters, or more specifically the kids inside, are a blast to work with and in the end the characters are a great addition. Now that everyone’s gotten used to them, the cowboys and Indians treat them like they do one another: high-five’ing, joking, pushing, poking, and the “characters” react as the kids inside would. The result is that the characters are more “real” than ever, and the whole show is really very fun. I think the show is much better now than it has been for 10 years. For the record my positive assessment of the characters’ involvement has nothing to do with management’s views or influence. I would have been very satisfied if I’d been right and the show was much worse than before, but I’m also thrilled, in a different way that it’s actually much better than anyone could have expected, including management.
The Audience: The exact concept of the characters’ introduction still seems open to a little interpretation, but should the idea actually be that Mickey and the gang are visiting and taking part in the show with the audience, as spectators rather than stars, the transition may not be as painful as thought.
However, from a behind-the-scenes blog of the show, we can learn that “The Cattle Trail scene has become a full-blown Disney Character Ho-Down Musical” and that the characters “dance, sing, wave, and “speak” via recorded bites in various scenes.”
With word that the Disney Hotels have been offering tickets to the show discounted by 50% upon check-in in recent months, though, it may be that Buffalo Bill fans can’t be too picky about the invited Guests. Nevertheless, the Native Americans in the cast still planned to sing a traditional native song to commemorate the end of the show as we know it.
I haven’t seen the new show, and the blogs and forums are undecided on the subject. If you have seen the new show I would like to hear from you, please comment below.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Trent Vance, one of the actors portraying Buffalo Bill, for his assistance in fact checking and adding to the quality (such as it is) of these two articles.
Just remember - wherever there’s a sunset, there’s a West. But there was only one… BUFFALO BILL’S WILD WEST !!
One footnote to this story, whilst searching the piece I have answered one of my oldest questions. When Sitting Bull meets Buffalo Bill, his first line (the line I always remembered) was ‘Tatanka Yotanka’. I always thought it was a greeting, but he was simply introducing himself in his native tongue.
I think we can agree –- especially after my last post –- Disney does great Customer service. Having written that post and received many great comments I came to a realisation, giving great customer service made me a better Disney Cast Member and that is a skill set you take with you to your next employer after Disney.
City Hall, Main St USA, The Magic Kingdom, Disney! The address for great service and great learning too if you are a Cast Member. I went to City Hall with a lot of Park experience and I thought I knew everything there was to know about the Magic Kingdom –- wrong! Whilst I knew where the wash rooms were and the quickest way to Space Mountain I didn’t understand one key factor in the equation, – Myself, the Cast Member.
As I have said before I when I went to Disney I was pretty green. The classic Cast Member background, Small town upbringing, family focused, small circle of school friends and I didn’t know what I didn’t yet know. By the time I joined the Guest Relations team at Disneyland Paris (as it then was) I worked to the top of a few serious learning curves. I had encountered and become friends (even shared an apartment) with openly Gay people, I’d worked out you could date girls you hadn’t grown up and gone to school with, and that not everyone was the same –- different nationalities, different religions, different ways of life but at heart we all had something in common.
Working E-Ticket, thrills and spills attractions in a theme park close to high density public housing projects where the local kids figured if the world owed them a life, then Disney at least owed them a day out filled with posturing and displays of machismo. We learned that deep down we were both scared when it came to butting heads over queue jumping and petty acts of antisocial behaviour. The Zi-va’s (Zee-Var-s) as the local gangsta’ wannabees were known liked shows of loud intimidation and wild arm gestures. We, with our nametags and costume learned subtle ways of talking softly and calmly like a Hollywood villain played by an English actor, with just a hint of menace and a clue given about how big a stick nice old Uncle Walt could wield.
We learned that the parents of children that they had lost sight of in the excitement of the parks were often more scared and visibly frightened than their children – and sometimes became defensive and oddly aggressive towards the Cast Members of the lost children’s team when the family was reunited.
Often you’d be taken aback by the people being escorted by undercover security backstage to face the music having been caught ‘forgetting to pay’ before leaving the ‘Emporium’, Or by the danger faced by people precariously hanging off the architecture, video camera in hand to tape the parade.
I saw and heard the women – there was way more than one – who smuggled tiny, yapping, lap dogs into the park in hand bags and couldn’t understand why the ‘imbecile’ attractions Cast Member wouldn’t let them - the ‘whole family’, including the dog – ride the looping roller coaster together… I had seen all of these ‘Guest Challenges’ and more before I wore the ‘Gold D bade’ of a Guest Relations. But joining the team that was the very face of Disney was another challenge.
As I laid out in the other piece, there is a whole ethos, and a living tradition to Disney’s Guest Services. What wasn’t clear to me then and its only just becoming clear to me now years later is the grounding I got then, the way I learned to think about the customer and their needs and desires and fears and how they communicate those emotions has made me a better employee now years later.
I did things during the three years I spent in Guest Relations that I did naturally, as part of my daily job that now looking back I find incredible that did then. Things that were not what I was expecting; facing an angry millionaires wife who’s credit cards were turned down;
searching the parking lot late at night looking for a family to break the news that they weren’t heading home just yet – daddy had had one beers too many and had been arrested – only to find mommy and the eldest son were in the same state and spoiling for a fight;
helping a colleague console the family of a Blue Badge visitor who’s final dream had come true but only just… then having to be a shoulder to cry on in her turn.
Disney, and especially Guest Relations asked a lot of me, and I gave willingly. Only now am I realising how much I got in return. I got to work with some of the best people in the world I got to see and do some amazing things but best of all I got to know myself. Thank you Disney – I owe you a lot!
The names Disney And Mickey Mouse As Pejoratives
Pejorative: Depreciatory; disparaging; unfavorable.
Whilst I was writing the piece about Alnwick Castle looking for a senior Disney Cast Member I came across the quote from Sir Roy Strong “However much it brings distaste to my lips, it is a question of survival.” He was talking about looking at how Disney runs it’s business and how these techniques could be used in the culture sector.
Sir Roy amongst others came to look at Disney a few years ago as part of a group from the Natural History Museum to look at Disney’s theme parks in search of new ideas and presumably must have found some things to his liking. (Only fair for the Museum to return the visit as in 1975 Walt Disney Pictures had visited the museum to make the film “One of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing”). Though his comments still show his apparent distaste for any “Disneyfication” of his world.
Another proponent ‘Disney’ as a pejorative is a television show here in the UK. The show follows people building their homes from the planning stage through to completion – but woe betide the home builder if dear old the host of the show doesn’t like your taste. He pulls out a killer phrase from his arsenal of smiling vitriol something like – “I’m scared this is going to look like a plastic, mock Disneyland imitation of your dream”…
So why is Disney such a symbol of everything uncultured, uncivilized, of all that is shoddy and plastic or of botched workmanship? Who amongst us has not heard a disreputable company being compared to a “Mickey Mouse” operation? In his novel ‘Storm Warning ’, Jack Higgins uses the remark “It’s a Mickey Mouse operation compared to what goes on in Lyons or Paris”.
And Mickey has even entered British Government parlance. The term was notably used by Education Minister Margaret Hodge M.P., during a discussion on higher education expansion. Hodge defined a Mickey Mouse course as “one where the content is perhaps not as rigorous as one would expect and where the degree itself may not have huge relevance in the labour market” and “Simply stacking up numbers on Mickey Mouse courses is not acceptable” . She was referring to a policy in the late 1990s, when the Labour government created the target of having 50% of students in higher education by 2010. Apparently people getting university degrees in decision making, stained glass or golf management didn’t meet her ideals for education. But where did the use of “Mickey Mouse” as a derogatory expression come from?
It is often used as a diminutive adjective and adverb meaning small-time, amateurish or of inferior quality. A poorly executed project, for instance, could be pejoratively described as a “Mickey Mouse job”.
Presumably, this comes from the insinuation that the object or action in question was taken as seriously as Mickey Mouse, that is to say, not at all. (He is ‘just’ a children’s cartoon character – right?) The term does not normally imply any actual connection to Disney.
The same argument could be used for the poor Disneyland comparisons. We know Disneyland isn’t real, the Magic Kingdom’s Castle isn’t a real stone built medieval fortress, Main St USA is engineered to use fake perspective to look longer – Disneyland is not ‘real’. It is fake – but a very well built fake.
The other commonly used pejorative often associated with Disney is to “Take the Mickey” meaning to Tease or make fun of.
There are various forms of this: take/extract the Mick/Mickey/Michael, although the ‘take the Mickey’ version is most often used. It is sometimes reported that the phrase originates as a variant of the slang phrase ‘take the piss’ and the ‘Mickey’ refers to micturate - From Latin micturre, to want to urinate. This seems rather long winded and overworked to me.
It may be because I work in London but the phrase seems very like Cockney rhyming slang. - a code of speaking wherein a common word can be replaced by the whole or abbreviated form of a well-known phrase which rhymes with that word.
‘Taking the piss’ is used in rhyming slang and refers possibly to a fictional character called Mickey Bliss. The ‘classic’ three part extraction to Cockney rhyming slang works too, ‘taking the piss’ became ‘taking the Mickey Bliss’ and then just ‘taking the Mickey’.
Oddly though if this is the case Mickey Mouse has a second and even third slang meaning. In rhyming slang, a “Mickey” refers to a Liverpudlian or Liverpool FC (soccer) supporter (ie. Mickey Mouser = Scouser). It is also used to refer to someone’s home (Mickey Mouse = House).
The information I found seems to put the phrase originating in the UK in the 1930s and ‘taking the Mickey’ probably came not long afterward. (coincidentally just a couple of years after Mickey Mouse’s first appearance?) Though the precise wording - ‘take the Mickey’ doesn’t appear in print until a few years later. The earliest found as yet was in 1952:
It is strange that Disney and it’s figurehead are both commonly derided and commonly used as similes for the negative, whilst both being as equally loved and held as aspirational.
Irishman Tom Walsh, 43, the manager of the popular Mainstreet Grill in the small city of DeLand, Florida was shot during a suspected robbery on Saturday night.
Read more: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Irishman-murdered-in-small-town-Florida…
Just Days before the EuroDisney Cast Member reunion for the resorts 20th anniversary we all had some really sad news - one of our number Tom Walsh had been murdered in Florida.
The funeral was huge, tom had 8 brothers and sisters, he was the baby and as you can imagine it was terribly sad for them to say goodbye. his niece played danny boy in the church…it can be a cliche but the tears rolled down my face, it truly is the immigrant’s anthem. his ex-wife lisa, his daughter kira and all the walsh family were touched when i told them how much we all would miss the great guy, we had the privilege of knowing for such a short time.
Sorry it took me so long to post this, but we found out when we came back that Tom wasn’t the only one we had lost, Jeff Ridley (Hurricanes Night Club) had also passed away.
this though was a little harder as we had been unaware…2 years ago. that was quite hard for my husband as he and jeff had only got back in touch and then due my father-in-law’s passing, andy had lost contact with jeff again. Then the anniversary came round and pictures were put up, with the comment RIP Jeff.
email@example.com is the name of his brothers website, he can put people in touch with the people in Deland, Florida, where tom was living.
Well it took us a week to get our heads around that. So sorry about the delay
This site is an unofficial site/work and is not in any way affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, the Disneyland Resort, or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries.
All information/opinions (including but not limited to photographs) contained within is the property of After the Mouse, unless otherwise noted. If used, Disney materials such as photographs, names of the various Theme Parks, character names, attraction names, etc. are copyrighted © Disney, and are presented here for purely informational purposes.
All opinions stated within do not necessarily reflect the opinions of anyone else, and certainly not the Walt Disney Company, the Disneyland Resort, or any of its affiliates or subsidiaries. They are solely ours.
We do this because we enjoy spending time in The Parks, we enjoy taking pictures of what we do, and we enjoy sharing the Magic with others. This is a blog/podcast made by fans, for fans. Nothing else is implied.
© 1998-2024 | Tim Jennings