Monday, July 6, 2015

A Dutchman in Orlando – Part 6: Merchandise (Mickey’s of Hollywood)

By Sam Vlas

Dear Disney Avenue pedestrians, it’s my honor to present the sixth installment of “A Dutchman in Orlando” to you today. This time around, we are going to delve into the exciting world of Merchandise, to be exact, we'll take a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard and stop by Mickey’s of Hollywood to meet and tell a few, fun stories. I hope you’re ready! Lights… Camera… Action...

(If you haven't had the chance to do so, be sure to check out Part 1 - 5 of Sam's adventures in the Disney International College Program here.)

After four weeks of working at the EPCOT Food & Wine Festival, it was time for the ICP’s (International College Program) to switch my roles. The "HUB" informed me that I would be working in the Left Block Merchandise, and for those of you who don’t know, Left Block is basically everything on the left side of Hollywood Boulevard. That includes (the largest store in Disney's Hollywood Studios) Mickey’s of Hollywood, the clothing and jewelry store Keystone Clothiers, and the little carts by the (now gone) Sorcerer’s Hat and Main Entrance. That’s quite a large area to cover, but completely up my alley, since I LOVE the Boulevard.

My costume at Mickey’s of Hollywood modeled after Walt Disney’s own clothing.

Special mention is deserved for my costume at Mickey’s of Hollywood, which I really liked. To the untrained eye, it just seems like a regular 1920’s outfit. But I learned during my training, that this particular costume is modeled after Walt Disney’s own clothing! The women costumes was modeled after Lily’s clothing. I was really impressed by that. It felt like I was wearing a piece of Disney history, and for a fan like myself, that’s kind of a big deal.

Mickey’s of Hollywood

I got into Merchandise around Halloween time, which Disney starts to celebrate in the beginning of October. Therefore the store was busy with people trying to get the latest Halloween merchandise, which often accumulated to calling the central Disney Hotline to call other stores and see if they had the items requested. Halloween was a mystery to a European like myself, we don’t really celebrate that over there. However, it immediately became one of my favorite Holidays.

There are a couple of different assignments you can get when working in Merchandise. You can be on Register, that’s pretty straightforward. You can be a Door Greeter, where you greet the guests walking in the stores (my favorite). You can be "Merchantaining", which basically means: take something from the store and play with it. It’s awesome! Especially with the "Glow with the Show" items. You can be a Floor Stocker, where you make sure the store looks neat and is well stocked. And lastly is the function everyone dreaded… Area Stocker. This basically means you make sure the Main Entrance is well stocked. That doesn’t sound too bad, but get this… the supply shed is out of the way, EVERYONE passes the Main Entrance and you have to be working fast to keep everything in stock, mainly water (because, you know… Florida heat). You are running back and forth between the two Main Entrance merchandise locations and the supply shed. Believe me when I tell you, it’s a very tiring shift.

Citizens of Hollywood

I liked being a Door Greeter the best because I would always have fun with it and mess with the guests any chance I could. I created a little barker persona for myself who would, in 1920’s style, inform what was happening in the store and, of course, shake the hand of EVERY guest walking in the store. I would often put some kind of apparel on and interact with it, whether it was a princess hat (don’t ask), a tail or Mickey ears. We have Mickey gloves to put on, so I would often combine the ears and gloves and do my best Sorcerer Mickey impersonation. Sometimes I would take a giant Mickey or Stitch plush and do a little puppet show, which was a great hit with all the kids. I loved doing those things, and they were even encouraged by management too!

One of the greatest things about working in the store, especially when I was a Greeter, was seeing the Citizens of Hollywood perform. Any regular of Walt Disney World will be familiar with this troop of people. They are movie stars, directors, talent agents, police officers and other people roaming the streets of Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, doing exceptional improv comedy for and with the guests. One time they were “filming” a commercial in front of the store and certain guests were assigned to help the stars get ready. One called Mimi Kaboom walked into the store and demanded a shoulder massage. Guess who was up to the task… this guy!

Other than working inside the store, one could also work at the Main Entrance. Now there are too locations where they sell merchandise by the Main Entrance: the little stand by bag control and a place called Movieland. I know what you're thinking: “Sam, I never heard of that!” You’re not the only one! It’s tucked all the way to the left in the Main Entrance area and not really visible. It mostly sells plushies, but it’s the only place in the Studio’s to get baby supplies. People don’t know this. I quickly found this out on my first shift there. I had three guests in two hours and I thought to myself: "I need to do something or else I’m gonna lose my mind." I took one of the bubble shooting guns, unpacked them and started playing with them. After a while the whole working place was covered in bubbles and they flew right into Guest Relations to the delight of the many people standing in line. BUBBLE PARTY!!!

It’s these kind of things that keep you motivated and fun as a cast member, even if guests come up with the most ridiculous questions. Speaking of that…

Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights

Christmas came around and we all know what that means… Christmas merchandise and the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights (OFSoDL). On opening day of the OFSoDL, I was stationed at one of the Hub carts (the little Merch stands near the Sorcerer’s Hat, well… not anymore), which mostly sells, you guessed it, Frozen merchandise. I don’t hate Frozen, I really don’t, but working in Hollywood Studio’s made me HATE Olaf with a passion. And I worked at a stand full of Olafs and I had to pretend I had fun. Awesome.

These stands are generally not busy at all, and since you’re in the middle of the park you’re almost always answering questions for guests. Mostly where the toilets are (“right behind you, madam”) or where the Frozen Sing-Along is ( “right down this way…”), but this day was different. The OFSoDL had opened and there were dozens of signs pointing to the Streets of America. Because the layout of Hollywood Studios is incredibly confusing people couldn’t find it, so by the end of the day I was able to direct people to the Streets of America in almost five languages. Once again, I had to find a way to entertain myself, so I started to play with the "Made with Magic" wands, you know, the ones that can change colors on a Mickey hat. I would sneak up to people and change colors without them even noticing, to the delight of their company.

The OFSoDL is truly marvelous and a must-see when you are at the Studio’s during Christmas time. The same can be said with Mickey’s of Hollywood apparently since it was ALWAYS busy during the Holidays. And when I say busy, I mean BUSY! How busy? Well, we stayed open for 13 hours and my register alone made almost $17,000(!) in one day. That’s one register, in one store, in all of Walt Disney World. That just blew my mind. People in the US are all into Christmas. I can’t say I blame them though; it’s truly a nice time with good spirits and plenty of nice food to go around. It is also the time to look out for other people. That’s what some guests did too. I was working outside on Christmas Day and we have just opened. A little girl comes up to me with a little candy cane, wishes me Merry Christmas and walks off again. Disney guests can be so awesome sometimes…

January 5th was my last day of work. It was a normal shift, yet so different. A sad atmosphere hung in the store. This was our last day working for the Mouse, the last day making magic for guests, the last day cracking jokes with each other, the last day cleaning up the store for the next day… We didn’t want it to end, but we all knew we had to move on. After the last cleaning, the manager gathered us all in the middle of the store and thanked each of us for our contributions. Many people shed a tear, including me.

Disney has a way of nestling itself into your heart, never to leave again. At that time, I remembered the journey I had made, all of the people I encountered, and all the magical places I had seen. From my very first step into Walt Disney World to my very last. It was a very emotional moment. I would like to take this time to thank everybody I encountered during my time in the Program. You all made a huge difference in my life and I still miss you, and Walt Disney World, every day. It was my pleasure and always remember...

“It’s not farewell, it’s see ya real soon!”

Friends, my journey may have ended here, but we’re not done yet. There’s much more to cover, like the other theme parks I went too, the Disney Cruise I took, and all the other shenanigans in Disney I still have to tell you about. So tune in next time as we delve deeper into the things CP’s do on their days off ;)

Until then: stop, look and listen, then safely cross the Disney Avenue. I hope you enjoyed it and I’d love to see you next time!

- Sam


Sam Vlas comes to us from the Netherlands. In everyday life Sam is a Communication major, studying International Event, Music and Entertainment Studies at the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries in Tilburg. He is following the Theme Park course, since he is an aspiring Imagineer. Sam has been a life-long theme park and Disney fan since he was a kid. He has been going to Efteling, which is a world class theme park in the Netherlands. When he was a teenager, Sam became more interested in the technical side of things. It was around that time that he found out that Walt Disney was an actual person, not just some company name. Since then he has been pursuing a creative career in the theme park industry. Sam will be participating in the Academic Exchange Program in Walt Disney World from July 2014 to January 2015. You’ll be hearing much more of that in the near future! Besides Disney and theme parks, Sam has a broad interest in everything fantasy, sci-fi and horror. He writes short stories and is currently working on his own website “Dreamventurer”, which he hopes will be released very soon! Sam will write about many different aspects of the company, from the very well known places and movies to very obscure corners of the Company. Since he will be working in Orlando, he'll be able to share some Cast Member stories too. Everything Disney grabs Sam's attention, so if he finds something exciting, he will be sure to share it!

You can find Sam's articles here.

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