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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!!

More Disney attraction quotes…

because I knew you wanted more!





New Mickey Gas Station Play Set

Disney new Gas Station play set looks very familiar, no? I love that Mickey is wearing a tie. Thoughts?

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 🙂

Walt Disney World Scenes for a Tuesday

The most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen…

Jennifer and I went to high school together, as did her little sister. I remember playing drums for her senior chorus performance in 1986. She’s now the principal at an excellent alternative high school in Dalton, GA. Disney and Facebook, bringing people back together for years…

Tell us about yourself?

My name’s Jennifer Phinney (Ed’s Note: Her maiden name is Martin in case you were wondering if you went to high school with her too) and I’m 42. I’m from Dalton, GA and am now principal at Morris Innovative High School in Dalton. I’m married with 3 beautiful children.

What’s your favorite Disney park?

It would be a tie between Disney/MGM studios (now Disney Hollywood Studios) and Future World at EPCOT.

EPCOT. I love Future World too. You know Future World right? It's got the giant ball? Good, let's move on...

What’s your favorite Disney ride?

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. (Ed’s Note: Before the Fantasyland expansion announcement, there were rumors that Thunder Mountain would get a new interactive queue within the next two years, much like was unveiled at Winnie the Pooh last year. I’ve heard nothing about it recently however.)

What’s your favorite Disney food/treat?

Mickey ice cream bar

What’s your favorite Disney souvenir?

Framed Disney silhouettes of my children from Liberty Square.

Liberty Square. Or as most people know it 'where the Haunted Mansion is.' It's one of the more unsung lands at the Magic Kingdom. It's also one of the only places to get a funnel cake in the parks. And it has a Christmas shop. But mostly, funnel cakes. mmmmmmm, funnel cakes...

What’s your favorite Disney movie?

Little Mermaid (was released while I worked there).

The Voyage of the Little Mermaid is a 15-minute show at Disney Hollywood Studios. I've never seen it. Maybe because in 1991, while working at a Waldenbooks, 'The Little Mermaid' was played every day for months. I still have a hard time watching it...

Tell us about working for Disney:

I was there from 1989 – 1990 as a Backstage Studio Tour Guide at what was then Disney/MGM Studios. That was when the tour was about an hour and a half long, so we had some challenges learning the script every day!

This logo is so '80's you can smell the hairspray. I always wished I had gone back then. I did get to see it before the name change however, so that's something. Moving on...

An old Studios brochure circa 1994-95. Did you know the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is 199 feet tall. If it was 200, it would require airline warning lights at the top. It's also now full of cellular equipment.

Studios map circa 1990. The park was devoid of rides for the most part, focusing instead on movie and TV production. Times change...

Why did you begin working for Disney?

I interviewed for the WDW College Program on a whim. I was at UGA at the time (Ed’s Note: Go Dawgs!) I had to ride a bus from Athens, GA to Clemson, SC where the interviews were held, and then they offered me a job. I decided that it would be a pretty cool adventure, so I took the job and some time off from school.

Why did you leave Disney?

I had to go back to UGA to finish school. I majored in English, Vocal Music and History.

Tell us your favorite memory of working there?

I have many, but one of my favorites was during training. My wonderful trainer, John Dalyrimple, brought my soon-to-be best friend Carol and I into the Studios before it opened to the public and let us just wander around. Most folks never get to see how really beautiful the parks are because they are full of people all the time, but when no one is there – they are the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. (Ed’s Note: Some people have all the luck)

An empty early-morning Magic Kingdom.

Can you share a really bad day at Disney with us?

I didn’t really have one, but I did have to break up a fight between two women in the Special Effects area during one of my tours one day.

The current special effects area of the Backlot tour. They do a really nice job with this I think. Plus, the last time I did it, they had 'Pearl Harbor', 'The Rock' and 'Armageddon' props on display. It was a Michael Bay explosionorama!! Which is to say, Michael Bay. I digress.

Where did you live while in Orlando?

Vista Way, baby!

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

Watching the tutor try to corral the new Mickey Mouse Club Mouseketeers into their “school” trailer everyday.  They were NOT very nice children. Also, I was part of the first group of people who worked at the Studios, which was very interesting because we were making up a lot of it as we went along.

(Ed’s Note: The 1989 revival of the ‘Mickey Mouse Club’ ran for 7 seasons from 1989 until 1994. Cast members included Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez, Ryan Gosling, Keri Russell, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Jessica Simpson auditioned, but didn’t make it. The show was shot in Florida at the Studios.)

The New Mickey Mouse Club. Yup, that's Christina Aguilera sitting in the front.

and now Britney, bottom right

Tells us something no one knows about Disney:

At the time that I worked there, Disney was the single biggest employer in the state of Florida – that was why they had the EPCOT Student program, the WDW College program, etc – to bring in extra workers, particularly during their biggest seasons.

As you can see, the extra help is needed from time-to-time.

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

Many – Jodi Benson, Elliott Gould, Bill Murray, Motley Crue, Pat Sajak and Vanna White, plus the Mousketeers including Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera.

I agonized over what picture to use here. But, Elliott Gould just doesn't get enough attention these days, so here he is as Reuben from Ocean's 13.

Jodi Benson is the voice behind Ariel in 'The Little Mermaid', Barbie in 'Toy Story' 2 and 3 and cameoed with other Disney Princesses Paige O'Hara ('Belle' in Beauty and the Beast), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas) and Julie Andrews (Mary Poppins) in 'Enchanted'.

Would you go back?

In a minute – if I could live on $5 an hour.

Did working for Disney help your career?

I think so, if only because future employers found it very interesting that I had worked there and would call me for an interview just to ask about that.

What, if anything, did you learn from Disney?

I learned that people in large groups do not think very well. (Ed’s Note: Oddly enough, working for a major University teaches the exact same lesson.)

Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?

Several, especially through Facebook.

How did you share the Disney magic while working in the parks?

Mostly by just being friendly and taking time. The greatest thing about that job was that your employer WANTED you to take time with folks. That is something I do in my job now, and it makes a huge difference in people’s attitudes if they feel like they are getting your whole attention and your time.

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

Reduce the crowds on any given day, but I know they rely on that revenue to keep the lights on.

umm, yeah. Crowds can be an issue.

Are you glad you worked there?

Absolutely – most fun job ever!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

It is absolutely the perfect job for a college age student – very low stress and a wonderful opportunity!

That's Jennifer towards the back on the right. And yes, we ALL wore acid-wash back then. The sooner we all accept it, the sooner the healing will begin.


Thanks so much to Jennifer for taking the time to talk to us! See ya real soon.

Taking Five At Hollywood Studios

This is what I’m talking about. Take a few minutes and relax in the parks and don’t over schedule. Better yet, talk to some cast members. I know a few. They seem like nice folks 😉


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