New viral page for Monsters University. As someone who works for a major university, they nailed it. Enjoy!
It’s not often that I see something Disney-related that surprises me, but this most certainly did. More at this link
Earlier this year, I discovered that a fantastic Disney resource lives right here in our little college town. Kim is a Disney Vacation Planner, and I wanted to find out what that was like, and she was gracious enough to spend some time and answer some questions for us.
Tell us about yourself:
My name is Kim Bowers, I’m 43, married to my husband Tom for 20 years and have two kids. I grew up in Atlanta, went to school at the University of Georgia and graduated in 1991 with an Early Childhood Education degree.
Tell us about your job:
I provide fee-free booking and planning services for anyone planning a Disney vacation. My clients come to me because they are overwhelmed by the number of decisions that must be made when planning a trip to Walt Disney World, and they have a thousand questions! Which resort to choose? What time of year is best? etc.. I can help you plan your Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise, or any other Disney destination vacation.
I get to know them and what they want, and help them get the very best rates on the package that is just right for them. Then I help them plan out their itinerary. Going to Walt Disney World is not just another vacation – it’s a pilgrimage! People want everything to be magical – and they appreciate the insider guidance. I have several clients who come back to me because they know I stay up to date on everything, and I can fill them in about new attractions and make sure they get the best price. I’ve been doing this for 4 years now.
How did you get started?
After planning several trips for my family and friends, I realized I had a vast (some might say ridiculous) amount of knowledge and a knack for planning. Somehow I had become a walking travel guide! I just knew I could do the job. My background is in teaching preschool, which involves a lot of planning and of course, understanding kids, so I draw on those experiences a lot too. I loved the idea of having a profession that would keep me connected to Walt Disney World. I turned to the Internet to find out how I could become a travel agent and found Off To Neverland Travel. I applied, interviewed, and was hired as an independent contractor.
So, this isn’t a Disney company?
No. Off To Neverland Travel is an Earmarked agency. That means we are Authorized Disney Travel Planners. That affords us access to the very latest news resources and training. We book directly with Disney, and add our own special services at no extra charge.
Planning Disney vacations for my clients is a lot of fun because I put myself in their shoes and try to anticipate what they will need to know. So in my mind, I go to WDW a lot! And helping people make happy memories is very gratifying. I love to hear from my clients after they travel that my advice and guidance really made their trip run smoothly, or that a character meal I suggested was a highlight of their trip, and so on. It may sound corny but it is an honor to help families make memories that will last a lifetime.(Ed’s Note: It’s not corny, it’s kind of awesome)
One of my favorite things about my job is a service we provide called reservation monitoring. This is something that won’t happen if you book online or by calling Disney’s reservation line. Once a client books with me, I watch all the discounts that come along. And when one comes up that matches, I apply the savings or offer an upgrade. I can’t ever promise it will happen, but it does quite a bit. It’s not often you get a phone call from someone saying “Guess what you are going to save money!” So, it’s fun to do that!
Do you book other theme park vacations?
Honestly, I will but I prefer not to because other companies do not instill me with the confidence Disney does that my guests will be blown away by an all-round superior experience.(Ed’s Note: So true)
How many times a year do you visit the parks?
I visit 2-3 times a year for vacations or meetings (And no – I don’t get to go for free! )
What are your favorite places to visit when at Walt Disney World?
My favorite resorts are Disney’s Pop Century Resort because of the low price and the over-the-top Disney theme and service; and Disney’s Polynesian Resort for the tropical ambiance and location (right on the monorail, and you can see Cinderella Castle from the pool!).(Ed’s Note: Allow to me add the Polynesian’s great themeing, and the luau is my second favorite meal at Disney.)
I really like EPCOT, and its relatively relaxed pace. And there are so many neat little nooks and crannies to be found – especially in the World Showcase. I notice something new to me every time I visit. EPCOT is also home to Soarin’, my favorite attraction.
Crystal Palace for breakfast with Winnie the Pooh and friends is my whole family’s favorite place to eat. My husband calls it the epicenter of the happiest place on earth.
Do you have any advice for guests planning their Disney meals?
I can’t eat wheat, so normally it’s difficult for me to eat out. But at Walt Disney World, I have almost as many meal and snack options as everyone else and I don’t have to worry because the Disney chefs come out and speak to me personally and they are very knowledgeable and accommodating. They make a gluten-free brownie at Pop Century and several other restaurants that is even better than the regular kind. They also stock cookies and other goodies I, and others with wheat allergies, can enjoy while my family is having their treats. To me that is a very big deal!
Do you have a favorite place in the parks off the beaten path?
This won’t be off the beaten path for long because it is very new and people are just discovering it. You could easily spend a day in Magic Kingdom Park and not even know about this. “The Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom” is an interactive game that takes you all over the park on a self guided quest with mysterious maps and magical playing cards to save the park from the Disney villains. My 10-year-old son and I tried it out in May of this year, and he loved it. The technology is very impressive. They have holographic-looking characters popping up in shop windows and such, and you can actually cast spells that make things happen. It’s very cool. (Interesting link about testing the experience)
What’s your favorite Disney movie?
My favorite classic Disney movie is Cinderella. It was my first theater movie when I was a kid. My mother had to drag me out because I laughed to hard at the mice! They are still my favorite part of the movie!
Tell us something no one knows about Disney from an insider’s perspective:
A Disney vacation can actually be relaxing, and you don’t have to go home exhausted ! There are many places to enjoy peace and quiet at Disney World! A lot of people make the mistake of cramming in so much activity they forget to relax. I try to help people find that balance so they go home refreshed.
Is there a Disney experience you’ve never done, but want to?
Aulani , the new resort in Hawaii is on my “someday” list!
Tell us about some of your most magical experiences helping plan a Disney vacation:
I’ve had the pleasure of working with several families whose Disney vacation is a celebration of life in the wake of a very difficult time. Hospice patients, cancer survivors, and others have come to me and said, “…life has been really hard this year. And we just need to get away, have a fun time making happy memories together,” or “We just realized that life is too short to put this off any longer.”
I handle all the little details so they can just go down there and enjoy. It really is an honor to help a family have a fun, relaxing, healing experience like that. And I can’t think of a better place for them to do that than Walt Disney World.
Many, many thanks to Kim for sharing. I can’t wait to call her to book our next trip!
After putting out a call on the blog and Facebook, Tony was kind enough to contact me about his time at Disney. Many thanks to him for sharing his experiences with us!
Tell us a little about yourself:
My name is Tony, I’m 31 and from Tampa, FL. I’m currently a fraud detective in Central Florida. I married my wife, Sarah in October of 2010, and we have two dogs. We both LOVE Disney World! We’re both annual passholders and frequently visit the parks. Also, every February for the past 4 years, we celebrate the birthdays of some close friends by drinking around the world at EPCOT with about 20 friends. This September, we are attempting to drink around the resorts in an event Sarah has named “The Happiest Hour On Earth”.Ed’s note: I can totally get behind this idea.
I worked at Disney for 6 months during the summer/fall college program of 2001. I was enrolled at the University of South Florida in Tampa then, though I wasn’t taking any classes while I was away at Disney. I left when I saw how hard the tourism industry was hit after 9/11. Managers were being asked to work fewer hours due to decreased attendance. After seeing how I could work hard to become a manager and have something out of my control greatly effect my career and income, I thought it was time to consider looking into another career field.
Why did you begin working for Disney?
I was an employee in the marketing/group sales department of Busch Gardens when I applied for (and participated in) Disney’s College Program. I enjoyed working in the theme park industry and was originally interested in learning what set Disney apart from the other companies. I thought this would be a valuable opportunity for me to learn skills that would help me to advance in a career when I came back to Busch Gardens.
Tell us about your job at Disney:
I worked in Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a theater usher at the Tarzan show. I also worked in ride operations at Dinosaur. At Dinosaur, I would do everything from seat belt checks and party grouping to tower control and attraction greeter.
Tell us your favorite memory of working:
I always enjoyed opportunities to participate in “magical moments.” Sometimes we would be assigned to do a magical moment by “the bump”, (an employee position assignment system). However, magical moments could happen at any time when you have positive interactions with a guest. Little things like giving a guest reserved seating in the Tarzan show, or taking guests past the line to go on a ride.
The “bump” tells employees where to report for the next part of their shift. When you returned from a break, you would go to a computer located somewhere inside or near your assigned attraction. After logging in to complete your lunch break, a receipt listing all of the positions needing coverage at that attraction was printed. If you printed the bump, you were likely sent to the “first” position, which at Dinosaur, was a greeter position. You would report to the front of the attraction and meet who the previously assigned greeter was. You pass the bump to them, and it tells that person to either go on break or report to another location at the attraction. This process would continue through almost every position to keep breaks on schedule and a good rotation for cast members. Most cast members had preferred positions and would offer to stay where they were if the person with the bump wanted to skip that position. At Dinosaur, I enjoyed all the positions except the hallway position after the pre-show, it offered little guest interaction or opportunities to stay busy. When I worked at the theater for the Tarzan show, I don’t remember an official bump. Our breaks and lunches were all taken at the same time between shows. We took it upon ourselves to rotate positions and that normally worked out fine without issue.
Tell us about a challenging day:
September 11th, 2001. I was in my car and on my way to work around 10 a.m. when I heard on the radio that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was clocking in at the Animal Kingdom breakroom near the front entrance when I saw on TV that the Pentagon had just been struck.
I walked to my position as an usher at Tarzan Rocks that morning and couldn’t believe the news. What made things more strange, was that since Animal Kingdom opened at 8 am, many in the people in the park had no idea what was going on outside Walt Disney World, especially since smartphones didn’t exist. The few guests that knew were the ones with Blackberries.
The way I remember it, after a couple of hours of work, the decision was made to shut down the parks. We were asked to turn guests away from the attractions and tell them the park was closed. When guests asked “why?”, we were instructed to suggest that they go back to their hotel rooms and turn on the TV for the news. I don’t recall any guests being difficult about being asked to leave. Many of them had no idea and were only catching rumors on their way out. I am glad that we were advised not to tell guests what was going on. Knowing that I could be talking to someone that worked and lived in New York City and was at Disney on vacation, I’m glad that I wasn’t put in the position of potentially having to give someone what could be a death notification.
After the park was clear of guests, management requested that the Dinoland employees remain corralled in the breakroom to await further instructions. Many of us sat on the floor in this cramped space watching the TV for any updates. The decision was ultimately made to send us home and keep the park closed. Back at the college program housing, despite the macabre situation happening in the world, many of us gathered for an impromptu cookout. It was rare when we could all be together without schedules getting in the way. It may sound disrespectful or insensitive, but I don’t think we knew what else to do. Many of us were from across the country and since congested telephone networks made it difficult for some people to reach family members, we spent quality time with the people we grew to consider family where we currently were living. Throughout all of this, I (and many others) couldn’t help but worry if Disney World would be an additional target.
Disney World was a quiet place in the weeks to follow. People weren’t traveling and managers were asked to cut their own hours in half voluntarily. As many people who lived through that time noticed, there was a renewed sense of patriotism and kindness to your neighbor. This was especially noticeable at Walt Disney World.
Where did you live while in Orlando?
I lived in Disney’s College Program housing at Chatham Square.
Tells us about your favorite Disney park and collectables:
My favorite Disney Park is EPCOT where my favorite attraction, Spaceship Earth, resides.
I’m a big fan the Udon noodles at Katsura Grill in the Japan pavilion at EPCOT.
I love the Vinylmation Park Starz figures and enjoy Disney’s ‘Meet the Robinsons.’
Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks:
I had the privilege of meeting Richard Dreyfus and his family while giving them a brief tour of the Dinosaur control tower. I also met Roy Disney on Walt’s 100th birthday while I visited the Hollywood Studios as a guest. Mr. Disney was walking through One Man’s Dream and talking to Michael Eisner. Unfortunately, I did not get to meet Mr. Eisner.
Tells us something no one knows about Disney:
With enough money, you can buy a block party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in which you and your company can walk the red carpet and be mobbed by cast members that have been hired to hound you for pictures and autographs.
Would you go back?
I would really like to work in the parks again, but after I retire from my current career.
Did it help your future career?
Yes. I think having a name like the Walt Disney Company is a strong employer to list on a résumé. I also attribute many of my people skills to the opportunities I had at Disney to help people.
Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?
I still have one as a Facebook friend. Although I haven’t talked to my former coworkers and roommates in a long time, I would be happy to see any of them again. We did have a reunion 5 years after our college program.
Did you park hop during your time there?
Absolutely! On the college program, you don’t make much money so you learn to rely on the parks for a good time. My roommates and I would spend our time off at the parks. I even remember bringing a change of clothes to work so I could meet up with friends as soon as I finished my shift.
Did you have a favorite out of the way place to hang out in the parks?
Although it wasn’t really “out of the way”, I would often find time to go by The Living Seas at Epcot. I’ve always enjoyed the exhibits there, particularly the cuttlefish tank. When I had time to myself in the parks, I enjoyed spending it there. I find the cuttlefish fascinating and relaxing to watch. I still love showing them off to friends that haven’t seen them before; everyone seems to find them interesting.
Do you have a favorite Hidden Mickey?
My favorite hidden Mickey is in Dinoland at DAK. If you stand near the weird dinosaur statue outside Chester and Hester’s, and look down, you might be standing on it! It’s a series of cracks in the concrete making a hidden Mickey about 18 inches wide. I think most people stand or walk over it and never know its at their feet!
What advice would you give to a guest visiting the parks from the perspective of a cast member?
I would suggest that guests take time to interact a little more with the cast members. When you engage a cast member in conversation, not only will you break some of the monotony that they might have in their day, you also give that cast member an opportunity to show you why Disney service is above the rest. Although most people work at Disney because they have a passion for what the company represents, it is still a “job” at times. Showing interest in the people of Disney and not just the attractions will open many unexpected doors for memorable encounters. Like Walt said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it makes people to make that dream a reality.”
If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?
Fortunately, Disney has been progressive regarding their integration of technology and communication “plus-ing” the guest experience in the parks. That being said, I am quite happy with things they have done or are planning to do. But if I was put in charge, I would work to bring the future back to Future World in Epcot. Provide better dining options in the Magic Kingdom. And finally, install a One Man’s Dream-style exhibit at each park that is focused on Walt’s interests and achievements relating to that park’s theme.
Are you glad you worked there?
Many thanks again to Tony for sharing!!