Wednesday, December 16, 2015

A Magical Interview with a Disneyland Cast Member

By Brittany Bell

I have another special treat for the readers of Disney Avenue. Many of you may recall the interview I did last week with a former Walt Disney World cast member which was a HUGE hit here on the site. Today we will keep that momentum going because we have a current Disneyland cast member joining us to share his magical stories of working at the happiest place on earth. In this second interview I conducted, I was lucky enough to talk with Disneyland employee Robert Pierce. Robert is currently a Day Custodial Lead for Disneyland Park after completing the Disneyland College Program in August 2014 to January 2015. Let's hear more about Robert’s duties in the parks, his experience in the college program, and his own personal take on how the spirit of Walt Disney lives on each and every day inside Disneyland…

Disneyland cast member Robert Pierce

Q: What exactly does the position of ‘Day Custodial Lead’ entail?

RP: As day custodial lead, I’m responsible for running all custodial operations for whatever land I’m assigned for the day. So custodial is not “landlocked”, we get to work all over the park. For one shift I may be assigned to Fantasyland and as lead, I’m responsible for running the entire custodial team for Fantasyland. This includes answering calls for any of the codes we have, any accidents or emergencies, and giving Cast Members assignments and making sure they fulfill those assignments.

Q: Do you go out and do custodial work or do you just oversee the custodial work for the land you are in charge of?

RP: I do both. It really depends on the person, but my personal style of leadership is going out there and doing what my team is doing. For the new Cast Members it’s setting an example and for the older Cast Members, it shows that I’m also willing to do what they have to do. Even though I have authority over them, it shows I am just one of them as well. So I go out and empty trash with them, or clean up the codes if they need help. It also keeps me from being bored backstage all the time [laughs].

Q: You said you did the College Program, how did you go from “Earning your Ears” to having a leadership position in such a short time?

RP: It was kinda rough and very fast-paced. Most people take a few years before they become leads. Towards the end of my College Program I decided that I was going to stay with the company and that this was going to be my career, so I decided right out of the gates that I was going to try my hardest to move up. In the beginning, it was hard because I was only getting 8 to 14 hour weeks because of having no seniority and low park hours because it was January and February. It makes it hard to prove yourself, so when Spring Break and Summer Break came along I really started making myself known. Then when I did my interview the managers really liked the answers I gave and I got the position.

Q: What was the process of getting into the College Program and what was it like when you got there?

RP: Well, the two programs are vastly different for the 2 resorts, and I obviously did the Disneyland Program. I applied online, just like you would if you were to apply for any other job at Disneyland. Once you fill out the application, you take a web interview that basically asks what you would do in certain scenarios. Then your web interview is judged, and if you score well enough, you continue onto a phone interview. After that, it can be anywhere between a week and a couple of months until you hear back. They usually let you know via email if you got into the program.

Once you move into the program you have two options: you can either do Disney Housing, which is at the Carnegie in downtown Anaheim, or if you live within the area, you can live in your own housing. They take rent right out of your check and you work a minimum of 24 hours but a maximum of 32 hours per week. You are granted 4 years of seniority as soon as the program starts because they need to give you enough hours for you to make enough money to pay them back for housing.

You take one, sometimes two, classes through the company while you’re there. They’re basically business classes. They teach you about how the company operates and how you can network and market yourself if you choose not to stay with the company.

Robert hard at work keeping Disneyland clean

Q: Did you stay right on through after you finished with the College Program?
RP: I did. I decided about three-quarters of the way through (which is actually really late for most people) that I was going to stay. I just couldn’t go home.

Q: In custodial positions you obviously have very different guest interactions. How would you describe your daily guest interactions?

RP: Unfortunately, as custodial I don’t get as many interactions as say, ride operations or stores. But, generally the interactions are very positive. Most people are gracious that you’re picking up their trash because they’d rather not sit in it. Occasionally there is a guest that doesn’t like you sweeping next to them or is just frustrated during the day and sometimes it can get to you. But you just have to remember that the guest that you’ve interacted with, if you give them a smile it can help you get through it. But in general, guest interactions are very positive and it’s very easy to make magic as a custodian since we move about freely. We can just walk about anywhere within our land and so we can just go up to a guest and start talking. If something comes up and we feel inclined we can just make magic.

Q: Do you have any overwhelmingly positive or memorable guest experiences?
RP: I do remember one time there was a young boy in front of the castle. He was dressed up as Peter Pan and was in the most adorable costume. He was asking where Peter Pan was and I’m not in entertainment so I wasn’t sure where he was. However, at the time we had just launched the Disneyland app. So I told his family to wait just a minute while I run backstage and check on it for them. I ran backstage, opened up the app, and found out that Peter Pan was supposed to come out in about five minutes. So I ran back over to them and they had just gone into Pixie Hallow. I grabbed them out of the line and ran them over to see Peter Pan. He took a picture with Peter Pan and Captain Hook who happened to be with him, so that was extra special. Then I ran them back over to Pixie Hallow to meet Tinker Bell and her friends.

Robert and Rabbit

Q: Is there a land you prefer to work in? Are some easier to clean than others?

RP: My favorite place to work is New Orleans Square. I just love the way New Orleans looks, I love the feel, and it was the last land that Walt personally opened in Disneyland. It’s also the only park that has New Orleans Square and I just love the feel. Fantasmic! also happens there so at the nighttime you have that. It’s really cool to see New Orleans transform into a stage for Fantasmic! in the middle of the park, as opposed to Disney World where Fantasmic! has its own amphitheater. It’s really cool to just see it happen right in the middle of Disneyland. It’s definitely not easy to clean because it is a crowded area, especially at night for the show.

As far as the easiest land to clean, Frontierland is always pretty clean. Critter Country is easy to clean as well. But, they do all have their nights.

Q: Since this year is the Diamond Celebration, do you know of any employees that have been with the company since 1955?

RP: I don’t know of any who have been here since the park opened, but I do know of a couple of employees who were here for things such as the Matterhorn opening and have met Walt Disney. One of our Cast Members (in custodial) actually helped build the Matterhorn and talked with Walt Disney. So he says, and I trust him. There are some Cast Members that have been here 30, 40, 50 years. On the Cast TV it says what members are celebrating milestone years, and you’ll get 30, 35, 40 years and its just like “wow”.

I’m sure there’s someone at the resort that has been here since park opening. I mean, out of 27,000 employees, there’s gotta be at least one.

Q: Disneyland is the only park that Walt personally got to see complete and opened, do you think the spirit of Walt and his presence still lives on at Disneyland and do you think that it holds Cast Members to a higher standard?

RP: Oh definitely, 100%. I’ve been to both resorts, and I love both resorts, but there is a drastic difference at Disneyland. There’s just that small town, very home-y touch of love that you can feel, especially on Main Street. I really don’t know how to put it into words. There’s just so much Walt everywhere. We have the bench in the Opera House where Walt first thought of building a theme park. We have his apartment up above the Fire Department with the light that is the spirit of Walt looking over Disneyland. It feels very personal, and you definitely feel held up to a higher standard because people know that this was Walt’s park and people all over the world come to Disneyland.

There is definitely more riding on you, and it goes for both parks. DCA is, in a sense, just an extension of Disneyland. We couldn’t fit all the crowds in Disneyland, so we opened up another one, and everywhere in the resort you have the feel that Walt has been there and that he built the resort.

Robert poses with Claude Frollo

Q: What are your personal goals within the Walt Disney Company?

RP: One of my dreams is to open a new theme park as a person in Disney corporate. I want to go to a construction project, finish it, and then open it up for guests. My main goal is to be in corporate. I don’t really have any specific positions in mind, I just want to be able to make really important decisions for the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

So, for now, it’s go from lead, to emerging leader, which is the program that is often used to promote people to management, and then go from management all the way up, step-by-step, to corporate. I’m not sure what the ladder is currently to get to that point, but I’m taking it just one step at a time. So the next step is to make it to emerging leaders.

Robert and Roger Rabbit

Q: What is your favorite part about working at Disneyland?
RP: I would be lying if I didn’t say one of my favorite parts is being able to get into the parks for free! [laughs]

It’s not really comparable to any other experience when you can completely turn someone’s vacation around or make a memory for someone that they will never forget for the rest of their lives. A lot of times, life can be filled with hard moments and tough things that we have to go through. Being able to put that one bright spot in somebody’s life that they will never forget—it’s just incredible. Seeing smiles on everyone’s faces, it just doesn’t compare to anything else. I’d say that’s the most rewarding part.

Then there’s also the part where you know you’re in an operation that’s known around the world for its efficiency and service—especially in custodial since Disney parks are known for being extremely clean spaces. You feel part of something successful; you don’t feel like you’re just there to do a job. You know it’s important and that what you’re doing is effective. You know you have a purpose.

I'd like to personally thank Robert for taking the time to share his experience working for the Mouse with all of us. Whether it was Dan Burgess, the cast member I interviewed from Walt Disney World, or Robert in Disneyland, all of Disney's cast members seem to have one main goal in common: making the guest experience magical. I think we all can agree that without Disney's cast members there wouldn't be a thing called Magic.

If you presently are or were a Disney cast member and would like to share your story with the readers of Disney Avenue, please click the "Contact Us" tab at the top of the page and send a email to our editor and owner of, Keith Mahne. We would love to share your stories here on the site.


Brittany Bell grew up in Lewiston, Maine, about 45 minutes away from Portland. She is currently studying Public Relations and Journalism at Boston University, and hopes to one day work for the Mouse himself. She grew up in a Disney-loving home, and would watch Sleeping Beauty on repeat as a little girl. Her first trip to Walt Disney World was in the summer of 2000, at four years old. Ever since then, Brittany and her family take annual trips to the World, and have no intention of vacationing anywhere else. Her favorite places in Walt Disney World are the Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Grand Floridian, and the Magic Kingdom. She can’t go without seeing Fantasmic! at least once each vacation, even though she chokes up a little at the final scene. Brittany is fascinated by how one man’s dream became an empire—one that makes dreams come true every day.

Before she became obsessed with Frozen and Queen Elsa, her favorite Disney characters were Princess Aurora and Mulan. She loves everything and anything Disney, from the parks, to the movies, to the Broadway musicals. In the near future she hopes to participate in the Disney College Program and work as a “friend of a princess”.

You can find all of Brittany's articles here.

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