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Posts tagged ‘Interview’

It’s a pilgrimage!

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.

Just Off Main Street can highly recommend Kim’s services in planning your next Disney vacation, find her at kimbowers.offtoneverland.com or on Facebook.

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.

It’s true, planning a WDW vacation can be daunting.

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! )

POP Century resort at WDW

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!).

The Polynesian does have some great views.

(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.

World Showcase, with some of the very best food in the parks.

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)

Sorcerer cards. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this.

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.

You can indeed relax at Walt Disney World

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!

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!!

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.

It felt as though I had the Magic Kingdom all to myself

I’ve known my next interviewee for a few years now. I met her when she and her sister opened Brainabilty, a local educational facility that presented unique and creative programming for children. My daughter LOVED it. Then, she helped me with some donations of stuffed animals for the Huggable Bears for Georgia’s Children project which provides stuffed animals for children in caught in middle of the child support system in Georgia. Recently, she and her husband took ownership of a local lighting store, House Electric. In addition to all this, she puts on one of the best Vacation Bible Schools in Athens! She’s a joy to know and to call a friend…introducing, Charlotte House.

Tell us about yourself:

My name’s Charlotte House, I’m 39 and from Gainesville, Georgia. My husband, Geoff, and I now live in Athens. We went to Walt Disney World for our first anniversary and we were picked to open up MGM Studios. I know it’s ‘Disney Hollywood Studios’ now, but to me, it’s still MGM. We got to go in early and they helped us with a script that we did with some of the street actors. Then they whisked us away and took us straight to The Tower of Terror to ride it by ourselves. Well, I’d been there and done that, and it is just not my kind of ride, so Geoff ended up riding it by himself while I waited by the photo screens with a cast member. It was hysterical to see all of these images of empty elevators and then all of a sudden to see Geoff sitting by himself in the huge elevator car. They gave us a copy of the photo and special buttons and we had people pointing at us all day saying, “Look, it’s the people who opened the park. I wonder if they’re famous?” We certainly felt famous that day!

Charlotte and Geoff at Hollywood Studios

Riding up the hill to the Tower of Terror

Geoff on the Tower of Terror

Do you have a favorite Disney Park?

Ooh this is a tough one!! Don’t know that I can pick one.

What’s your favorite Disney attraction?

I love to see the parades! They are always a must on my list!!

Who doesnt love a parade!

The Walt Disney World Bicentennial Parade in 1976. Thanks to Loren Javier on Flickr for this. Click on the photo to check out his Flickr stream, he's got some great ones!

Do you have a favorite Disney food/treat and souvenir?

Popcorn and a Diet coke in souvenir buckets and mugs and my Mickey Mouse Ears with my name embroidered on the back.

Feel free to read these fascinating blog posts about Mickey Ears here, here and here.

Favorite Disney movie?

Mary Poppins and The Lion King

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

Yes, several. Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter; Michael Jackson; M.C. Hammer and his whole entourage; Melanie Griffith; Princess Diana with Prince William and Andrew. Of course, I saw Mickey and his gang as well!

Did you know Griffith and then husband Don Johnson opened "EuroDisney" in 1994? Click the photo for more info.

Bet you didnt know MC Hammer had an animated series once. Complete with talking shoes. Note Darkwing Duck on the cover. Remember him?

This bust of Jimmy Carter was created by Blaine Gibson. In 1939, Gibson joined the Walt Disney Studios as an animator and worked on 'Fantasia,' 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Peter Pan' among others. Click on the image for more info.

What do you do now?

We own House Electric here in Athens, and I’m a Georgia Wolf Trap Teaching Artist working with the Alliance Theater in Atlanta.

Tell us about your time at Disney:

I worked there 3 years, 1990-93, during the peak seasons: Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas and spring break. I lived in Kissimmee at the time. I was a Casual Temporary or (CT) in merchandising and my costume was a red skirt, white polo with the Mickey Mouse Club logo and Mickey Ears. I also worked in “glow” for overtime, when it was available. “Glow” is selling all of the glow-in-the-dark and light-up merchandise when the sun goes down. I would walk up and down Main Street with light up roses or glow sticks before Spectro Magic would run. Then I would watch the parade and then sell some more glow! Back then we didn’t have anything near what they do today! We were able to carry or wear everything and still had our hands free to make change. Today they have full carts loaded up with glow. The only two glow products that I can remember were the necklaces and a glowing, battery operated rose. I saw a lot of very excited children who would beg their parents for cash and a lot of parents who were very reluctant to purchase them.

Charlotte in costume hanging with Mickey

The main jobs that were available to CT’s were attractions, merchandise or food services. Disney would move you around within the parks, but only within the category you were trained in, so I never worked food service or attractions.

Which park or unit did you work in?

The Magic Kingdom in Mickey’s Starland. This was first built as Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988. In 1990, it became Starland and then Mickey’s Toon Town Fair in 1996. If an area in the park was short employees, they would shuffle you around to different areas. So, I worked in Tomorrowland, Liberty Square, The Pirates of the Caribbean and on Main Street.

Thanks to Dan Alexander for this great scan. Click the photo for more info and a larger photo.

Why did you begin working for Disney?

I needed a summer job and I thought it would be fun. So, I went to Florida one weekend, found the Casting Center and interviewed. I walked out the door with a new summer job!

Why did you leave?

It was time to find a “real” job. I was getting ready to graduate from UGA and had to complete an internship at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta who hired me full-time after my internship so I choose to stay there instead of returning to Disney.

Tell us a favorite memory of working there:

Wow! I have tons of favorites!! One, in particular I’ll never forget, was an evening when I was closing. It was very late, way past when the Magic Kingdom had closed. I walked all the way through Mickey’s Starland and Fantasyland and everything was completely silent. There was no one around, or at least not within my seeing or hearing range. It felt as though I had the Magic Kingdom all to myself. I know it sounds dorky, but it was a feeling like no other that I treasure.

Tell us about a challenging day:

As part of closing procedures, we were responsible for doing “strollers.” This meant that we had to roll all of the strollers that were left in our land and take them to the bridge next to Cinderella’s Castle.

Most evenings, it was a pretty daunting task because of the number of strollers left behind. Lots of guests with children would visit Mickey’s Starland and then hop on the train to Main Street, leaving their strollers behind. Most lands might have a handful to take care of but we usually had 20 or more. So, one evening, it was time to take care of them, several of us started gathering strollers and hooking them together by leaning the stroller back and placing the front wheel in the basket of the stroller in front of it. Then we’d continue staggering the strollers until they were all hooked together. However, this time, we had an extremely large number of strollers with only myself and two other girls to push. Why I volunteered to take the lead, I don’t know, but I did. So, after getting a good head of steam, we had the strollers really moving towards the Teacups, and I had to make a turn to the left. Apparently, I wasn’t strong enough (or maybe I was too strong) to push them into the turn so…suddenly the whole line of strollers lost control and went careening across Fantasyland…and tipped over! There were strollers everywhere. We were bruised and bleeding from trying to stop them, and laughing uncontrollably all the while. It took us forever to get all of the strollers cleaned up and make our way to Cinderella’s Castle. Of course, after that I was never allowed to lead the stroller train again!

Tell us one of the most interesting or funniest events while you were working:

A call for volunteers was posted for anyone who wanted take part in the 20th Anniversary photo shoot. To me this was a no brainer – what an oppurtunity! We were to be dressed in our costumes and to meet at the front gates of the Magic Kingdom. It was really early in the morning because we had to get the shot before guests started to arriving. Cast members were positioned behind the railing above the floral Mickey at the ticket station. In front of us, the costumed characters were carefully arranged in the shape of a 20. We were never told where or when they would use the photo and for a long time I thought it would never be seen. Then one day I got a copy of the ad from a friend. He was flying someplace and saw it in a Delta SKY magazine and realized that I was in the top right hand corner. He tore the page from the magazine and sent it to me!

The SKY Magazine photo

Tells us something no one knows about Disney:

In Peter Pan’s Flight to Neverland, Captain Hook’s hook was on the wrong hand. His hook should be on his left hand, but in the ride it was on his right. I don’t know if they ever fixed it or not, I guess I will have to check it out next time I am there.

Would you go back?

Yes! I actually interviewed a few years ago and was offered a CT position to work at the Tower of Terror, but I was unable to make it to the training sessions.

(Ed’s note: If you’ve wanted to know what it was like to control The Tower of Terror, have a look at Randy Reighard’s ToT simulation site.)

Did it help your future career?

Not sure that it helped my career, but it sure does make for a lively interview when people see “Disney” in my job history!

What, if anything, did you learn from Disney?

Walt Disney was never afraid to dream. He took a small sketch of a mouse and turned it into an empire of fun and wholesomeness that has spread across the world for more than three generations! This taught me to never think a dream is too small or too big. A dream is meant to be chased for it can become real if you believe!

Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?

Yes, I am friends with several of them on Facebook. A big Mickey shout out to Leslie, Rex, Brian, Jeff, Greg and Terry!

Charlotte and co-worker pose with an Ewok in front of Star Tours. When was the last time anyone saw an Ewok at Disney??

I know for a fact no one's seen Michelangelo at Disney for years.

Did you even remember 'The Rocketeer' being a Disney property?

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

In many different ways! As a matter of fact, Disney sends you to Disney University to attend their ‘Traditons’ class before you start your job. This is where you learn all sorts of things to be a part of the magic, like not to make a funny face when people ask, “What time is the 3:00 parade?,” or how to point things out using your whole hand or two fingers, because in some cultures it is rude to point with one finger.

EPCOT cast member Becca shows us the Disney 'two-finger' point. Many thanks to Lynn Wiltse from http://www.wdwfanzone.com for getting me this shot.

You learn how to tell the difference between Chip and Dale and how to name all seven of the dwarfs. And of course you learn Disney lingo: you’re not an employee, you’re a cast member. If you are in front of visitors you are “on stage” and if you are not where guests are, you are “back stage.” You go on tours around the parks to know where things are. Plus, they teach you the Disney way of dressing.

Could you tell them apart just by looking?

Charlotte backstage with Mickey

What was your favorite Hidden Mickey?

Working back in Mickey’s Starland, I became very fond of “Minnie Moo”. She was the cow that was born with the classic three-circle pattern on her side!

(Ed’s note: Minnie Moo, the Holstein cow born with a large silhouette of Mickey Mouse’s head and ears on her side, died in 2001 at 15 years of age. Minnie Moo came to the Walt Disney World Resort from Minnesota in 1990. She lived for several years at Grandma Duck’s Farm at the Magic Kingdom and later moved to the Petting Farm at the Tri-Circle D Rance at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.)

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

There is a HUGE difference with the crowds between the “peak” and “off” seasons. If you can plan your vacation during the off-season, the lines and waits will be much shorter! Also, use a park map and a schedule to plan your day. A family can get really worn out running back and forth across the park to catch rides and shows. A little planning goes a LONG, LONG way towards a fun and memorable trip!

Get one of these. Use it.

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

To change the Snow White ride. The story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is such a great story, but the ride in Fantasyland mainly focuses on the witch. She pops out everywhere cackling and trying to give away poison apples! I would enjoy it more if the focus was on the whole storyline.

 
(Ed’s note: The good news here is Snow White will be moving into a new atraction when the Fantasyland expansion opens next year. Below are some artist renderings of the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train.)
 

Are you glad you worked there?

Absolutely! It was a fantastic time! I loved seeing and learning about all of the “Behind the Magic” things that happen at Disney. Plus, we were encouraged to visit the theme parks on our days off. This way we became more familiar with the parks and were better able to help guests. Some days I would show up early and go ride something before clocking in. You gotta love a job where you can go take a spin in a tea cup before you start work!

In fact, I’ve wanted to go back to work at Disney ever since I left. It just wasn’t geographically right for where I was at the time. My dream job is to be Snow White in a parade. What woman wouldn’t want to be followed around all day by seven adorable men?!  Unfortunately, at 5’6”, Disney says I am too tall to be a princess. I still think that if they would put me in flats and not heels I could pull it off…how ‘bout them apples?

Back in the day, you could pick up one of these EPCOT passports and take it around World Showcase and have cast members from around the world stamp and sign it.

Just like this!

Anything else you’d like to share?

If you have the chance to work at Disney go for it! It truly is a one of a kind, unforgettable experience!

Charlotte with Panchito Pistoles, or Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III, at EPCOT. Oddly enough, Duffy the Bear was nowhere to be seen 😉

See ya real soon!

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!

A day can be made in a moment

Here’s another fantastic interview with a new Bulldawg and former Disney Cast Member. John has been a big supporter of the blog (Thanks John!!) from day one and actually was the very first person on campus to contact me after I put the word out. I don’t think I can say enough good things about him.

John's a baseball fan. Never heard of this team though. Might be minor league?

Tell us about yourself:

My name’s John Cropp. I’m 34 and from Athens, GA by way of New Smyrna Beach, FL by way of Fairfield, CT.

John found Nemo? At Disney circa 1998.

Where are you currently working?

I am a supervisor in the Campus Eateries Retail Operations department of UGA Food Services. I drive a van around campus from the Joe Frank Harris Commons to the little convenience stores to open, close, or otherwise make sure that they have everything they need to serve the staff and students.

How did you end up in Athens?

The plan has always been to go back to school once my detour to Disney was over, but I have found that it gets harder and harder to go back the further out you get. When my wife and I were looking for places to move to soon after we got married, we visited my brother in Athens and fell in love with it. He’d moved here a year or two earlier after visiting his friends who had moved here a year or two before that. The common denominator is New Smyrna Beach, Fla  where about a dozen or so current Athenians lived at one point. (Ed’s Note: I dig Athens too!)

Our fair city...

What’s your favorite Disney park?

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World

What’s your favorite Disney ride?

Toy Story Mania

Toy Story Mania is Disney's newest attraction at Disney Hollywood Studios. It currently has the longest wait times in the parks.

What’s your favorite Disney food or treat?

The chocolate chip cookies from the Main Street Bake Shop in the Magic Kingdom. (Ed’s Note: Did you know Disney pumps in the smell of cookies and popcorn on Main Street? It’s true. It’s on the internet.)

What’s your favorite Disney souvenir?

Vinylmation Figures. The only one that I have gotten so far looks like a baseball. My wife and I stayed at the Home Run Hotel part of All Star Sports the last time we were down and that seemed like an appropriate momento from the trip.

What is Vinylmation? Vinyl Mickey-shaped figures painted as other Disney characters or objects. This would be from A Nightmare Before Christmas. They are HUGELY popular in the parks.

What’s your favorite Disney movie?

The Lion King

Did you ever see a celebrity in the parks?

I saw Barry Bonds pin trading in front of the Liberty Tree Tavern in the Magic Kingdom.

Remember this guy?

How long did you work at Disney?

Five years, from 1998 until 2003.

Why did you begin working for Disney?

My friend and I went on a whim to an audition at a dance studio on Port Orange, FL where they taught us dance steps, some animation techniques, and some puppeteering techniques and then they ran us through some songs or scenarios and picked their favorites. “Love Shack” was the song that we had to lip-sync to with our hands which was great because I knew it very well and really went overboard on Fred’s parts. I’m pretty sure that I was picked for my willingness to look foolish in front of complete strangers!

I have so many local connections to the B-52s, including family, I wouldn't know where to start. I will say this, overboard? On Fred's parts? Is this possible?

Tell us about your job:

I was a puppeteer at the ‘Legend of the Lion King’ show at the Magic Kingdom and Character Performer across the parks. I worked in the Magic Kingdom mostly. The puppets for the Legend of the Lion King show were life sized mechanical puppets that we either wore as harnesses with the puppet above us controlled by hand mechanisms below or were mounted onto carts and pushed around while operated from below. Cub Simba and Cub Nala were harnesses while Adult Simba and Pumba were on carts. There were also mounted puppets in the prom which was on a large hydraulic lift that doubled as Pride Rock and the romantic scene for “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

Pumba and Simba puppets

Backstage control board

 

'Legend of the Lion' King cast wall

How the stage was set before the show started

There were seven puppeteer tracks (or roles) and a Rafiki for each show. I did two of the roles and “monkey” (not at the same time) over my four years there. Both of my tracks were relatively easy so it was learning the “monkey” role that sort of kept me at the show full-time.

Rafiki as Rafiki

and John as Rafiki

Outside of ‘Legend of the Lion King’, I was “friends with” Tigger, Eeyore, Geppetto, Br’er Fox, and the Tweedles pretty regularly. Typically, we had a five-day-a-week bid for each season (we were able to pick our schedules based on seniority) and then they’d schedule another day when necessary and that day could pretty much be anywhere in the park (or elsewhere if another park was real short), at anytime, doing anyone in your height range. When the schedules came down from the office (every Tuesday if I remember right), it was a bit like Christmas!

John's 'friend' Tiger and John's family at the Crystal Palace

Not John, but I thought you might want to know what a Tweedle looked like

Why did you leave Disney?

After ‘Legend of the Lion King’ closed in early 2002, I was offered a full-time floor manager position at the Virgin Megastore Orlando in Downtown Disney where I had already been working at as a part-time cashier. After about a year of picking up shifts as an seasonal cast member, I ended up letting my status run out sometime in 2004.

Tell us your favorite memory of working there:

There are so many… probably my favorite memory was New Years Eve 1998 when our manager took all of the late cast performers up on to the roof of the Fantasyland Theater to watch the fireworks. It was very exciting at the time, but looking back I remember that everyone up on the roof that night became pretty close over the next couple of years and we are all still in touch.

I do love fireworks

Also, I’m a huge Glasgow Rangers fan and would often leave work to watch afternoon European Cup games at the Fox and Hounds in Kissimmee. In order to make room in my schedule to do this, I would trade shows with other performers so that I could do two or three shows in a row, get a five hour break to go to the game, do another two or three shows, and go home. In return for trading shows with me, I would go up to the “Inbetween Room” (in between the pre-show stage and main show stage of the Fantasyland Theater), go down some steps, down a hallway, pop out of the door at the back of the bench area in Liberty Square (which is a single door that looks like a double door), and get the performer a delicious chocolate chip cookie from the snack shop (cookies were referred to as “crack” in the greenroom… as testament to their deliciousness and addictive qualities :-)). It was always easy to get someone to trade shows the second time than it was the first!

I still can’t believe that I had a job that enabled me to leave work and watch soccer games on the clock! In the time before cell phones, you were required to be in place for the show but were free to do whatever between shows and since there was no way to contact anyone once they left the green room, you could be in the cafeteria, on Space Mountain, or on the moon and it was all the same.

Share a really bad day at Disney:

The hardest day I had at Disney was performing as a very animated character at Animal Kingdom on a very hot day. There isn’t a breeze at AK because of the vegetation and I wasn’t able to do much more than stand and sign after about ten minutes of the twenty minute sets. It was probably the only time that I felt like I wasn’t physically able to do my job. Thankfully, the skies opened up during my lunch break and we were sent home early (and paid for the rest of the shift!).

Where did you live while in Orlando?

Mostly at Cagan Crossings in Clermont. It was very cheap and the the tenants tended to stay for several years so it was a bit quieter than other apartment complexes.

Tell us a funny work story:

That’s a tough one, too… Cub Simba lip syncing the pre-recorded ‘Due to technical difficulties…’ announcement while sitting on top of Pride Rock at the beginning of a ‘Legend of the Lion King’ show. That was the late great Javier Cruz messing around after a show had been downed due to something mechanical breaking. Management wasn’t happy about it but we all still laugh about it whenever it comes up.

Javier 'Jefe' Cruz

Javier “Jefe” Cruz was one of the most entertaining people that I met at Disney. He worked at LoLK, but would pick up shifts everywhere all week so everyone at the Magic Kingdom knew him. Once a week, he’d come into the greenroom (our breakroom) with a group of newly hired cast members that he met in the tunnel or cafeteria and announce “Jefe Traditions Tour!” and he’d give them a backstage tour of the show. During rehearsals, he’d pull pranks to keep us in good spirits during the late nights. His most popular stunt was running though the pit with his shirt spinning above him. This happened once every set of rehearsals and always when everyone was at their lowest level of patience and energy. He also had catchphrases like “CHICKEN LITTLE!” and “I HATE CHOO!” which he would yell into or out of the breakroom whenever there was a little bit of tension just to lighten the mood.

He usually did track b which started the show on Pride Rock as Cub Simba. Mufasa and Simba rise up so that Mufasa can tell Simba that the kingdom will soon be his which starts he Circle of Life theme of the show. Whenever something broke before or during the show, it would be downed and an automated announcement would play which said something like, “Ladies and gentlemen, due to technical difficulties, this performance of Legend of the Lion King has been delayed/canceled.” As puppeteers, we were instructed to keep the puppets lifelike but not to break character. Well, this time, Pride Rock had risen and Simba and Mufasa were waiting for their lines to play when the announcement played instead. Where Simba should have said, “WOW!” He said, “Ladies and gentlemen…” The stage manager’s mouths dropped and the rest of the cast lost it. It was the funniest of the funny things Javier did in his time at LoLK.

Javier died a year or two after LoLK closed. He was in costume, entertaining fellow parade performers before the start of a parade when he ended up in the wrong place and was pulled under a float. He died doing what he loved to do and what everyone loved about him. Where he could have been standing still, saving his energy, he was instead lifting the spirits of those around him.

Tells us something no one knows about Disney:

That most of the cast members really do enjoy their jobs as much as it looks! The pay’s not great, the hours can be long, and the guests can be tough, but pretty much everyone there is there because they love it.

Would you go back?

If there was a way to commute from Athens, Ga to Walt Disney World in less than an hour, absolutely.

What, if anything, did you learn from Disney:

The idea that every one of the cast of thousands makes a difference every single day and it’s the little details that can make the big picture so great.

Are you still in contact with Disney co-workers?

Yes.

How did you share the Disney magic in the Parks?

Just by knowing my role, staying in character, and paying attention to every single guest. A day can be made in a moment.

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

Personally, I would have liked for them to have relaxed the facial hair ban while I was there.

Are you glad you worked there?

Yes!

Not sure what John's doing here, but it looks important

Anything else you’d like to share?

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” – Walt Disney

 

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