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Posts tagged ‘Animal Kingdom’

I always enjoyed opportunities to participate in magical moments

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.

Tarzan Rocks was a high-energy stage show in Dinoland USA. It ran from 1999-2006.

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’s flag ceremony at the Magic Kingdom a few days after 9/11.

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.

Tony’s apartment from back in the day. That’s a lot of bottles…

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.

Katsura in EPCOT

I love the Vinylmation Park Starz figures and enjoy Disney’s ‘Meet the Robinsons.’

The Haunted Mansion bride as a ParkStar

Ed’s Note: I love ‘Meet the Robinson’s’ too

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.

Richard Dreyfuss in 2009.

Dreyfuss stared in Disney’s version of Oliver Twist

as well as Disney’s adaptation of “James and the Giant Peach.’

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.

EPCOT’s The Living Seas is now known as The Seas with Nemo and Friends.

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!

I took this picture last year. It is indeed a great find!

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?

Most definitely.

Many thanks again to Tony for sharing!!

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Camping on Tom Sawyer Island

Another interview that’s been in the can for a while. This is a great one in light of Fantasmic’s 20th anniversary this year.
 

When you ask, sometimes you really do receive. After putting out another call to my fellow university staffers, I found my next interview via her brother-in-law. I met Rosemary Milsap, and her delightful son, at a local coffee shop one brisk but gorgeous day last year. She spent almost 2 hours with me discussing her time with Disney. I learned that we lived in Southern California at same time, living through some earthquakes and the 1992 riots.

Rosemary teaches drama at a local high school (she taught Broadway actor Tituss Burgess!). She shared stories and photos from when she was one of the performers in the first version of Fantasmic back in 1992 at Disneyland in California, plus some great insight into being a Disney performer and what goes in to the audition process. As always, I can’t thank her enough for her time. Enjoy.

Yes, THAT Tituss Burgess…seen here portraying Sebastian in the Broadway version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Tell is about yourself:

I’m Rosemary Milsap, 41, from Augusta, GA. I’ve been in Athens since 1993. I graduated from the University of Georgia in 1991 with a degree in Art History. I since gotten my Masters in social science education. In high school, I decided I wanted to be on Broadway and I’ve always loved the theater.

Let’s talk Disney, tell us some of your favorite things about the parks:

Disney’s Animal Kingdom is my favorite park and Space Mountain for a ride. I loved “Snow White” as a child and “The Lion King” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” now.

Do you have a favorite Disney souvenir?

My Seven Dwarfs figurines. My son has a stuffed Mickey that I love, and I regularly wore a baseball cap I got there for many years. I still have it.

And finally, a favorite Disney food/treat?

This sounds a little strange maybe, but the gluten-free chicken fingers I got at the Columbia Harbour House in the Magic Kingdom. During our first trip to Walt Disney World, I discovered that if you ask, many of the Disney chefs can and will accommodate a variety of food allergies.

 
(Ed’s Note: During my last trip to WDW, I watched a chef at the Rose and Crown discuss cooking options with a family whose child had more than a few food allergies, including preparing the meal with separate cookware. He never batted an eye at the request.)
 

More on Disney and food allergies

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

I don’t recall seeing any, but there were always rumors that a celeb was watching the show (We couldn’t tell as each audience was up to 3,000 people). We performed for a couple of media events when we first opened the show, and we were told we might perform for Micheal Jackson’s birthday. Sometimes, he would rent the park for the night. Memory evades me, but I believe it never happened, if it did he was not present.

But in some ways, Michael was always in the Park…

How long did you work at Disney?

1992 (almost the whole year)

What did you do?

I was a performer in the original cast of the outdoor show Fantasmic at Disneyland; I played a flower petal in the Jungle Book section, a pirate in the Peter Pan section and Doc in the finale section, all within a 1/2 hour show. It was a rush, three times a night. After I saw Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios, I know that some of the lineup has since changed–now it’s Lion King instead of Jungle Book and Pocahontas instead of Peter Pan.

Ed’s Note: I would rather see Peter Pan myself, I’ve never thought the Pocahontas segment really fit with the rest of the show. Hook seems like a better villain than Captain Ratcliffe, who just comes off as annoying.

How did you get the part(s)?

My husband and I were living in North Hollywood in Los Angeles and I needed a job. I saw an ad in the paper for a casting call and it looked like fun. At the time, I thought it was a parade audition. During many of our visits to Disneyland, I’d watch the parade and think, “I can do that.” So, I did.

There were hundreds of people auditioning in a giant sound stage in Orange County, we were there for over 6 hours. Another girl and I were two of the last people to audition. When they called us, we had learned a short dance piece, we both froze in place. They allowed us to start over, which seemed strange considering how fast they were eliminating people. I’ve always thought that if one of us hadn’t froze, they would have asked the other to leave, but as we both did, they started again. They wanted to see how we moved, and grouped us by height. Nothing happened that night, then I got call-back, went in and did more movement. Again nothing. Then, I got a third call, and I was getting a little annoyed, but a girlfriend encouraged me to go down and do it. I did and I was one of the last ones to get a part.

The characters were based on height, and I’m around 5’6”, and Doc is the tallest dwarf, so I was aiming for that. But 5’5” was the cut-off, so when it came to me, I got as short as I could.

We all signed six-month performer contracts. We got to pick our schedule, and I only worked on the weekends since I had a day-job up in Pasadena.

Ed’s Note: For any of you who lived or are living in SoCal, take a second to consider the geography here. Rosemary was driving to Pasadena from North Hollywood during the week, then to Anaheim on the weekends. That, my friends, is a lot of road time. She told me that she wasn’t even coming the farthest on the weekends, performers came from the San Fernando Valley, San Diego and the Inland Empire (San Bernardino).
 

After my six months were up, I signed another contract. But about two months in, my husband and I decided to move back to Georgia, and Disney was very gracious to allow to get out of the contract. I was there around eight months.

Tell us your favorite memory of working there?

Spending nights in the park during the months of rehearsal leading up to the show. In the beginning, we rehearsed on a sound stage, then we moved to park. They were rewriting and adjusting the show as we went based on how the performers moved and how fast they could get around during costume changes. The were VERY concerned about the dragon fire, [pyrotechnics and lifts] and making sure we were all safe. The Mickey at the end that rises to strike the final blow shoots up out of the ground like a rocket. These were all untested gags, and we worked very hard to get it right. We found out that so much gas was used for the fire gags that the gas level in Anaheim actually lowered all at once during a show. I was always worried about the ducks in the river.

Once we moved to the park, we worked from midnight until 8 a.m. We had to camp on Tom Sayer Island, which I found amazing. Here we were in this large city, sleeping outside and were perfectly safe. I had a great time. We brought sleeping bags and backpacks. Most performers weren’t allowed to have anything personal inside the park, but since we were there all night and couldn’t leave, we were allowed. I think most people brought books and cards. I played a lot of cards on that island.

Our costumes included a wet suit, sweat suit and t-shirt. We had to wear the sweats and t-shirt on the river crossing to the paddle-boat where we got in costume. The costumes were at the whim of the wind, that’s when my flower petal suit became a strapped-on 7’ sail. It could literally pick you up if you didn’t hang on or lean the right way. The huge water fountains in which they projected video clips would spray you on a windy evening and you would be quite wet (thus the wet suits we all wore). When we were done with one part of the show, we would have to literally run to the next location to get ready for the next section. It was always interesting (but usually fun) running in the dark on and off boats and across the obstacles of Tom Sawyer island! We got pretty good at it after a few good spills and pile ups.

Tell us about a challenging day or event you encountered and what happened:

The LA riots. The whole city was on curfew and it was unclear whether I was expected to report to work or not, but I was scared to drive past dark as that would be breaking curfew for LA county. Finally, I found out they had to cancel the show. I can’t remember how many days we had curfew, but those going to work were allowed to venture out after a day or two.

What was the most interesting event while you were on the clock?

We would have long waits when we were still in rehearsals before the show opened. Often it would be a couple of hours before you were needed again. Since it was the middle of the night, we would sleep in our sleeping bags, or play cards, or talk, but a few times we made up ridiculous games that involved silly charades just to pass the time. All very juvenile. The whole cast was very friendly and fun. A group of us had a sleep over a couple of times. We just enjoyed hanging out, but we all came from different directions up to 2 hours away, so hanging out beyond work wasn’t really feasible.

Tell us something no one knows about Disney:

I always felt a bit like Disney was ‘big brother.” They dictated hair styles for men and women with specifics for every ethnicity and hair type. Of course talent didn’t wear any jewelry, but sales persons were given specific instructions on where and what type of jewelry one can have on (rings, earrings, necklaces). It makes sense from an image standpoint, but it always seemed intrusive. One of the stunt guys for the “Peter Pan section wore a wig so well, that none of us knew he had long hair underneath until they got mad at him and he yelled that he quit and pulled off his wig!

Would you go back?

For a season or two, sure!

Did it help your future career?

I teach theatre, there must be some connection there…..

What, if anything, did you learn from Disney?

Walt Disney was a GENIUS! He really was a visionary.

Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?

No; I should look them up on Facebook!

What advice would you give to a guest visiting the parks from the perspective of a cast member?

See the shows, they really are good. It’s also fun to imagine what the person underneath the costume looks like and what gender they are (adults only, don’t spoil the magic for the kids)

If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?

How many guests they will allow in the park at one time. Too many on holidays.

yup

Are you glad you worked there?

Absolutely.

Thanks again to Rosemary, and to you dear readers for continuing to follow these interviews.

There is something very impressive about having Disney on your resume

Friends, after over a year, I’m finally posting some interviews that had gotten lost in not one, but two hard drive failures. Couple that with one of the busiest fall and springs I think I’ve ever had, and you get a blogger who dropped the ball.

However, I’m here to redeem myself, because I know you’d want me to, and start posting some interviews again. I’ve got three in the can and will present one of them to you today.

Rachel responded to one of my calls on campus tracking down faculty, staff and students who have worked at a Disney park. Rachel was kind enough to not only answer my questions, but meet me for lunch and provide some great pictures. Enjoy.

Tell us a little about yourself:

My name is Rachel Baginski, I’m 25 and from Tifton, GA. I’ve been married 3 years and work at the University of Georgia in the department of Communication Sciences and Special Education.

What’s your favorite Disney Park?

Disney Hollywood Studios, which is home to my favorite attraction, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Ed’s note: one of mine too.

This is a great look at how the attraction works. Click for more info.

What’s your favorite Disney food or treat?

There are so many. The chocolate covered strawberries that they sell in all the parks are amazing; a Dole Whip, the huge carrot cake wedges, and the cannoli from the Magic Kingdom.

Honestly, who doesn’t love these???

What’s your favorite Disney souvenir?

My Disney College Program “graduation hat.” It’s really a pair of Mickey ears with a tassel attached.  But I had my name embroidered on the back, and it has a place of honor on my bookshelf at home.

Rachel with Prince John at Animal Kingdom, one of the few characters she didn’t have a photo of at the time. She told me that she was at her apartment one day, and got a call that Prince John was in the park and she ran over there to get this. That story makes me smile!

Favorite Disney movie?

It’s a tie between Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

I saw a few. Johnny Depp, Larry the Cable Guy, and the Atlanta Braves during the year I was there.

I don’t think I need to tell you who Larry the Cable Guy is…right?

Tell us about working at Disney:

I was there for 4 months as an Operations Hostess for the American Adventure at the American Pavilion in the World Showcase at EPCOT. I was also in operations at Disney’s Wide World of Sports for the Atlanta Braves spring training season, where I helped clean and regulate seating during games.

A great experience at EPCOT. And it doesn’t get visited nearly as much as it should. In fact, you should take a day and do nothing but explore the pavilions at EPCOT. There are walkways, sights and food I bet you’ve never seen at a Disney park before.

I’d just earned my Associate’s degree in only a year, and felt that I should take a little breather before transferring to UGA to finish my degree. I looked into several internship opportunities, but Disney just seemed like the most fun by far.

Participating in the Disney College Program was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  I learned much about myself as a person, and a lot of my potential as an employee.  I grew up a great deal over the few months that I worked for Disney, and I would go back and do it all over again if I could.

Why did you leave?

I was ready to get to Athens and begin my tenure as a UGA student. However, I do regret not staying longer now as I would have been allowed to be Snow White’s “friend” if I had stayed.

Tell us your favorite memory of working there:

My happy memories of working for Disney are all pieces of days, rather than the whole day: having tea at the Grand Floridian with my roommates; relaxing on the beach of the Polynesian Resort on my days off; hanging out at the Adventurer’s Club on Pleasure Island; watching Fantasmic for the 15th time.  But one memory does stand out in my mind.  While I was working for Disney, my aunt and uncle adopted a little boy from China named Jack.  My new cousin was very confused, didn’t know much English, and was born without the use of his left hand. I invited them to come down to Disney World so so he could have the Disney experience.  He absolutely loved visiting the China Pavilion at the World Showcase in EPCOT where all the cast members spoke the same language as him.  And to top everything off, one of my roommates was “friends” with Belle from Beauty and the Beast.  So when we arrived in France, Belle was waiting to greet Jack by name.

The China Pavilion is one of the only places you can find Mulan in the Parks.

Did you have any challenging days at Disney?

When I first started working for Disney’s Wide World of Sports, I was placed on parking lot duty to help guide the cars out of the parking lot after the game to avoid major traffic jams.  I was having a good time with my team, and with meeting everyone as the traveled to and from the complex.  However, I have extremely fair skin that no amount of sunscreen can protect if I’ve been in direct sunlight for several hours.  By the time I left work that day, I was bright red and completely miserable.  Needless to say, the next day they relocated me to a shaded area inside the complex.

I can’t even imagine…

Where did you live while you were there?

Vista Way, of course!

Vista Way…though I’ve heard more than a view former Cast Members refer this by other names…you know, college kids away from home…yada, yada, yada

Do you have a favorite hidden Mickey?

I’d have to say my favorite hidden Mickey is at the end of the American Adventure show.  One of the last fireworks to go off at the end of the song explodes in the shape of classic Mickey.  I think it’s my favorite because that’s the one I saw the most often, and I’m very fond of that show and that pavilion.

Tell us one of the most interesting or funniest events while at work:

I was working in the American Pavilion during Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival.  Every evening during the festival, a musician from the 60s or 70s would perform on the large stage that s directly next to the American Pavilion.  What really stood out for me were the nights that Davy Jones performed.  It was hilarious watching women older than my mother act like crazed teenagers, as they screamed and threw themselves at him.  I would go over on my lunch break just to watch the women react.

Jones was a regular performer at Disney Parks over the years. Sadly, he passed away in February of this year.

Tells us something no one knows about Disney:

It is VERY easy to get lost in the tunnels under the Magic Kingdom.

Would you go back?

In a heartbeat.

Did it help your career?

There is something very impressive about having Disney on your resume.  I will say that my customer service is excellent, and Disney is directly responsible for that.

What did you learn from Disney?

I learned that there is magic in everything, and even finding something positive in the tiniest detail can brighten someone’s day.

Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?

I’m still in contact with most of my roommates from Vista Way, and the other two interns I worked with at the America Pavilion.

Rachel (far left) and friends.

How did you share the Disney magic?

By smiling at everyone, treating every little girl like a Princess, and doing my best to make every guest I encountered have the perfect Disney experience.

If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?

I would make it a little closer to Athens so I could visit more often!

What advice would you give guests for a Disney vacation?

The best advice I can give guests from a cast member’s perspective is to ALWAYS plan your day before going into any of the parks.  There are so many different things to see or do or eat.  It is easy to get distracted trying to do as much as possible, and then you realize that you’ve spent your whole day literally running around the parks.  Planning ahead ensures that you get the most out of your day.  For example, if you look at a map ahead of time–note the fast pass locations so you can head straight there, get fast passes, go to various other attractions while you wait, have already picked out a place to eat in advance so you don’t wander around for an hour trying to find the place that looks the best, and plan to go to attractions around where you plan to watch a parade or show so you can get to the designated spot quickly.  I figure that if you’ve paid a bundle to get into the parks, you should maximize the time spent there by having a game plan before you arrive.

Map. Get one. Use it.

Also, everyone should definitely take advantage of the transportation that Disney provides on property (buses, monorail, boats).  It is so much better to use this transportation than to attempt to drive from park to park yourself.  You’ll save money on parking, and you won’t have to spend 30+ minutes of your day walking from your car to the gate.

Disney buses are awesome

as are the boats. And there are many to choose from. Try the one from the Transportation Center at the Magic Kingdom to the Wilderness Lodge…great fun.

But the Monorail is king!

Many, many, many thanks to Rachel for sharing and being patient with me all these months. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday Disney on the web

Interesting 3D Projection Mapping story here. Mentions the tech as being like a ‘Disney ride’ but doesn’t mention that Disney already does this.

Diszine has a piece about the upcoming wine tastings at Jiko – The Cooking Place at the AK Lodge here. If you’ve never eaten here, what are you waiting for? Kid friendly, on the Dining Plan and quite possibly the best food I’ve ever had. Anywhere. And South African wines…don’t get me started. The best in the world right now.

Sunday Walt Disney World Scenes

Walt Disney World Resorts Character Meet-and-Greets

Did you know you and your children can meet many Disney characters face-to-face at Walt Disney World? Of course you do. Do you know where they are? Maybe not.

One of the more surprising things about my recent trip to the Walt Disney World resorts in February was the number of character meet-and-greets in all 4 parks. My family and I have been 4 times since 2006, one trip to Disneyland, and when I lived in Southern California, we went to Disneyland at least once a month. I can honestly say I never saw the number of characters interacting with park goers be as many as in 2011.

I can speculate as to why, but firmly believe that John Lasseter’s overseeing of the Disney Parks has a lot to do with it. When I first took my daughter to Walt Disney World in 2006, the only characters we saw were either at the EPCOT Character meet, during early Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom, or at the Character meals. During all my trips to Disneyland, I can only remember one Character interaction: Captain Hook and Smee on Thanksgiving morning when the park was EMPTY.

We should all write Mr. Lasseter a letter thanking him for what he's done for Disney and the parks.

Flash forward to 2011. In addition to the regular cast of characters at Hollywood Studios, which are very approachable by the way, we got to see Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. and Minnie Mouse in a nurses uniform filming something in front of the Brown Derby. Plus, Handy Manny at the Animation Courtyard. At EPCOT two hours after opening, we ran into both Stitch and Daisy Duck, with very short lines, at the front of the park. The EPCOT Meet-and-Greet indoor area was full with all the top-tier names.

Here I am accosting Evie Starlight. She was very gracious. And very thin.

Ms. Mouse getting her close up.

Magic Kingdom saw Pluto, Chip and Dale, Fairy Godmother, the Evil Stepmother and Step sisters, Mary Poppins at the Carousal IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY. Tigger and Pooh. Peter Pan, alone, and with no line. Woody and Jessie together, Capt. Jack, Jasmine, Frontier Donald, Buzz Lightyear and Future Chip and Dale. But the most surprising of all was Mickey and Minnie at Splash Mountain AND Space Mountain for over 4 hours! Both days we were in the park. This is in addition to the Celebration parade with a revolving cast, including the Mad Hatter, Baloo, Mr. Incredible, Mickey, Goofy and Mike Wazowski, plus the Castle show. And the talking trash can in Tomorrowland.

Thanks to Disney Nerd Stacey Lantz for the pic!

At Animal Kingdom, Goofy was outside at the gates, then inside Dinoland with Pluto. Flik, who I’ve never seen before, in between Africa and Asia, Lilo and Stitch near the Lion King and all the spots at Camp Minnie Mickey were full. We saw both Brother Bear, from, um, ‘Brother Bear’ and Terk from Tarzan.

Speaking of a Bug's Life, did you know Dot was voiced by Hayden Panettiere?

This is Terk. From Tarzan. Voiced by Rosie O'Donnell.

So all in all, a great experience. My guess is that cast members are swapping out turns so the characters are in the parks longer. There was a noticeable size difference in Stitch at Animal Kingdom from when he went in for his pineapple juice to his return.

As far as I know, all the characters will give autographs. And of course Disney just happens to sell autograph books with your favorite characters on them. But, I saw two things that I highly recommend. First, a pillowcase and a permanent marker. We got one of these for our daughter’s 7th birthday slumber party. All the kids signed it. It’s STILL on her bed, long after the gifts have been forgotten. Second, a large, blank Vinylmation. I saw this in someone’s window at POP Century with about 10 autographs, I almost knocked on the door to congratulate them on such a fabulous idea. This year, my little girl used her ‘Up’ Adventure Book (just like Ellie!) and some of the characters drew little doodles. Squee!

This is a Vinylmation. It's blank. Get it signed. Live a long a prosperous life 😉

Can you look at this and not get a tear? I can't. Bless Pixar for making such compelling characters.

Now, how to find them. For the most part, they were out in the open, if a little tucked off to one side. Mickey and Minnie were well off the beaten path, next to the rest rooms at Splash Mountain and in between the rest rooms and Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. Fairy Godmother was behind Cinderella’s fountain in Fantasyland, where as Peter Pan was next to Philharmagic.

Just announced today, Disney will offer FastPasses to meet Mickey in the Magic Kingdom this spring in side the referbed Exposition Hall area just inside the park.

There are some also some phone apps to help you find them, but I think you’ll do better taking your time in the parks, talking to cast members (they really are nice) walking those paths you’ve never been on before. As I like to say, to get the most from a Disney resort, you’ve got to get Just Off Main Street 🙂

One of the best decisions of my life

Welcome dear readers. I met our next interview at work, taking her picture for a story we were doing on her. This is important, because it was after talking to my friend Pam (Ed’s Note: You read Pam’s interview right? It was my first one. No? Umm, go read it and come back. Here’s the link. Go on, read it…;-))and then Anne Marie about Disney that I decided to go ahead and start a blog featuring interviews with cast members.

Anne Marie is one of the many students, faculty and staff that make you proud to work at such an amazing University. I get to meet people like Anne Marie all the time, it’s a true pleasure.

Yes, I took this picture. I'm just as surprised as you are.

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Anne Marie. I am 29 and currently a grad student seeking my Masters of Business Administration from the Terry College of Business and my law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law.

How long did you work at Disney, and what did you do?

I worked for Disney for 7 months as an intern in the College Program in 2002 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a Kilimanjaro Safari’s game driver.

Fun facts: The Kilimanjaro Safari trucks are modified GMC trucks converted to run on propane. Unclear if propane accessories were involved.

Harambe is the fictional African village Disney created for Animal Kingdom. The Kilimanjaro Safari starts from here.

(Ed’s Note: Here’s a great site exploring the detail of Harambe)

Why did you begin working for Disney?

I had always loved Disney as a kid. My parents moved to Orlando when I was 6, and we lived 7 minutes from the park! Needless to say, my parent bought season passes and took me to the parks every chance I could convince them–every kid’s fantasy come true! (Ed’s Note: Indeed it is) While I was in college I heard about the Disney College Program and I jumped at the chance to go back for an internship. As an intern, I was very impressed with the company culture and loved every moment of my experience. At the end of my internship, I returned to school to finish my undergraduate degree.

Interested in learning more? Have a look, but please, come back and finish the story...

Tell us your favorite memory of working there:

I am a naturally introverted and shy person. When I applied for the internship I knew that I would be placed where Disney needed me. When I found out that I would be a safari driver, everyone told me how great it would be and how it was one of the top spots for a College Program intern to have. Prior to the internship, I had not been to the Animal Kingdom, so I had no idea what I was in for until I got to the park my first day. When I found out that I would have to entertain guests as a safari driver all day, learn the ins and outs of over 50 different African animal species, and learn how to drive a huge truck–needless to say, I was overwhelmed and scared to death…and excited…all at the same time. I had a flight or fight moment of anxiety for about a day, and then I told myself that this was a once in a lifetime experience and that I would regret it if I asked to be transferred somewhere else. Well, as it ended up, it was one of the best decisions of my life to stay. I got to know so many amazing people, from schools all over the U.S. and countries as far away as Zimbabwe and South Africa. I met amazing guests and was able to create “magical moments” with kids that touched me as much as I hope I touched them by providing a fantastic safari experience.

Located in DinoLand inside Animal Kingdom, Chester & Hester's Dinosaur Treasures is one of my favorite places at Disney. It's full of hidden mickeys, fantastic theming and a great backstory. Thanks to stretchdog on Flickr for the pic.

Do you have a favorite Disney park?

Do I have to pick one? I love them all. I guess EPCOT is my overall favorite. I love to travel and so the World Showcase has always been an amazing experience for me!

World Showcase at EPCOT. This is near the landing servicing the boat from EPCOT to Hollywood Studios. If you've never been on it, it's a treat. Don't believe me???

Here's the boat at the Hollywood Studios dock. This was right before I got on to head to EPCOT. And you didn't think we'd see anything good today...

What is your favorite Disney park ride?

Space Mountain (I know, it’s shocking that the Safari is not my favorite)

Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris. I'll go ahead and say what you're all thinking, 'Paris Disneyland is way more awesome than Disney here.' Though, the French do have a good excuse for superb theming on a fantasy space ride. Thanks to iamdanw on Flickr

What is your favorite Disney food or treat?

Oh that is easy — Ice cream sandwiches at the Main Street Bakery!

Thanks to sanctumsolitude on Flickr

What is your favorite Disney souvenir?

A fanny pack that my mom would wear when we went to the parks. It was pretty ugly (I mean it is a fanny pack), but it reminds me of my mom and the fun times we had in the parks together, so therefore it is my favorite souvenir!

Fanny packs of Disney 😉

What is your favorite Disney movie?

Beauty and the Beast

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

Sure…lots! Bruce Willis and Demy Moore came through the line at the Safari ride when I was an intern on the College Program. They were there with their kids and got the special VIP private safari ride! Joey Fatone got the same treatment when he came with his family.

Willis starred in "The Kid' for Disney in 2000. This movie is probably better known now for introducing us to Spencer Breslin, who is growing into a fine actor. Unlike his younger sister who just seems weird...

 

Here's Fatone dancing on the Disney Magic cruise ship in 2007. Fatone has a long history with Disney and Disney Parks. My respect for Fatone went to 11 after his appearance in 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'. 'I'm gonna kill ya...'

...including this guest spot on Disney's 'Imagination Movers'.

Did you encounter any challenges while working?

One hot summer day after I had a long shift on the truck, I was sweating through my clothes and had gotten only a short break before I had to head out to work in the stroller area. Well, an angry mom came up to me, upset that she couldn’t find her stroller. She yelled at me that it was my fault that she couldn’t find it. I had to remember what I had been taught during Disney orientation…to listen to the guest and to make every effort to solve the problem to their satisfaction. As it ended up, her husband had grabbed the stroller and had taken their kids to the bathroom without telling her. When she found out, she apologized to me and I gave her a pass to get on to another ride in the park without having to wait in line. If I had gotten upset in that situation it would have escalated needlessly. Instead, I listened and helped her walk through the steps of what had happened after she got off the ride and all turned out well.

Oh-Em-Gee, these stroller parking lots in the parks are a nightmare. Do what we did, buy a ballon first thing and keep it tied to the stroller the entire day. It makes a HUGE difference in retrieval after coming out from a ride and cast members have moved all the strollers around to make more room.

Did you ever experience anything unexpected or special with the animals while on a tour?

I witnessed the birth of two thomson’s gazelle’s or “tommies” as they were called on the ride. Tommies are very small when fully grown, so to see them as babies was amazing. These two tommies were delivered “on stage,” meaning live in front of guests. They stayed on stage only for a few minutes before they were taken to a team of vets off stage to be taken care of further. It was truly an amazing day!

A 'tommie' on the Safari. And, as anyone who's been on the Safari knows, you DO NOT call them Thomson Gazelles. The very idea...

Share a funny moment while you were on the clock:

Riding through the safari during mating season…I had to tell the kids on my truck to close their eyes on more than once occasion! 🙂

(Ed’s Note: Oddly enough, I couldn’t kind a picture to illustrate this point)

Did you have a favorite hidden mickey?

Yes.  There is one on the safari’s ride just after the African elephants. Look for it next time you go!

The Flamingo island is a hidden mickey, though you have to be high up to see it. Thanks to mrkathika on Flickr for the image.

Where did you live while in Orlando?

I lived at Disney operated apartments called Vista Way. They were located about 10 minutes from the parks. I lived with other cast members, two of which were my best friends who came with me from UGA. We had a blast!!!!

Would you go back?

Well, if Disney had a career path in environmental law and real estate, yes. I loved my time there, I just don’t think my current career path will take me back.

What did you learn from Disney:

I learned amazing guest (customer) service skills that have served me well in other service jobs held subsequently. I also learned how to work within a diverse workforce.

Disney's guest relations are legendary. Thanks to Loren Javier on Flickr

(Ed’s Note: Here’s a great example of good customer service…in the parks, if you buy something and you’re staying on property, Disney will deliver it to your room. I bought a coffee mug [what kind you ask? Nightmare Before Christmas of course. D’uh ;-)] and asked to have it sent to the hotel. Well, when I got there, no mug. After looking for 2 days, I was told that they would send one to our home, which was fine with me. But, when it arrived, it was broken!!! And at this point, I had washed the receipt with the clothes. So, on the phone I get, and after explaining what happened to at least 3 people, I fantastic young cast member was able to decipher the numbers I could actually read from the washed-out receipt, and send me a fresh, unbroken mug!!! One which I still use today. Sigh…)

Are you still in contact with your Disney co-workers?

It has been 9 years since I worked there…so no I don’t really keep in touch.

If you worked in the parks, how did you share the Disney magic?

I tried to make sure that everyone on my truck had the best experience of their vacation with me on the ride. The safari’s attraction was one of the top rides out of all the WDW parks, so I knew that the guests on my truck had high expectations. I also knew that they likely had waited in line for an hour or more and that it was up to me to provide them with a great experience. There were many occasions where I had a round of applause at the end of the ride, which was amazingly satisfying!

The queue for the Safari is great fun, cool in the heat of the day, and sets up the backstory well. But it is indeed the drivers that make the trip so worth while!

What would you tell guests about Disney since you’ve worked there?

It is just as much fun, if not more, to work at the happiest place on earth!

If you could change anything about Disney, what would it be?

Wouldn’t change anything!

Are you glad you worked there?

Absolutely!

Many, many thanks to Anne Marie for taking the time from a very busy schedule to answer our questions. We wish her all the best in the future.

See ya real soon!

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