Saturday, December 5, 2015

An Interview With A Former Walt Disney World Cast Member

By Brittany Bell

I was recently lucky enough to sit down and talk with former Walt Disney World Cast Member, Dan Burgess. Dan completed the Disney College Program in 2006, working primarily in the Magic Kingdom's Frontierland. It really is amazing to get a firsthand account at what it's like working for the Mouse. We all know that Disney's Cast Members are the ones that continue Walt's legacy and bring the magic to guests each and every day. Let's hear Dan’s personal account of his time at Walt Disney World in today's new article…

Q:     What was your role as a Cast Member at Walt Disney World?

DB:     I was in the College Program and I started in the Fall Semester as an attractions host in Frontierland. Frontierland subdivides the cast members between attractions and are grouped into smaller training families. So you get sent to Magic Kingdom, sent to Frontierland, and then they decide which family of attractions you will be trained on. If you’re full or part time you would be trained on the remainder of the land, but that’s not the case with the College Program where time is short.

The more complicated rides are by themselves because they are more complex and take more time to learn the training. Splash Mountain is one of the most complex rides on property—at the time I was there only Test Track and Space Mountain had more computing power than Splash. It’s computer is the size of an average dining room and has more computing power than a space shuttle. Training for it requires a lot of work.

It is possible to pick up shifts at other attractions, which is true for all Cast Members. But, you are basically limited to things that require no training such as Fastpass distribution and return, greeters, positions at photo cells, stuff like that. In that respect, I worked not only at all the other attractions in Frontierland, but also at Space Mountain, Tomorrowland Transit Authority, Carousel of Progress, Pirates of the Caribbean, and most of the Adventureland attractions. I also worked at Spaceship Earth, Mission Space and Test Track. I even worked at the Great Movie Ride once too.

Q:     On the topic of Fastpass distribution, have you been to Disney since the introduction of Magic Bands and Fastpass+?
DB:     Yes, I have.

Q:     What do you think of them from a Cast Member perspective?

DB:     Well they come with their positives and negatives. Fastpass return is one of the less-rewarding positions to work—as well as merge points—because you spend a lot of your time explaining to guests how the system works and why things that appear to be unfair on the surface are actually fair. There is a relatively high risk of negative guest interaction at any Fastpass positions.

Additionally, there are some types of rides, such as the Omnimover rides, that were not designed with the types of queuing scenarios that require Fastpass. Essentially, when Fastpass was introduced to all of the rides in the parks, that created (functionally) some hassles as well as ways to solve them. There are rides like Spaceship Earth and Haunted Mansion that were designed not to have bottlenecks because they weren't created to have that sort of alternating queue pattern.

On the other hand, certainly from a cast perspective, the Magic Bands are far easier to deal with mechanically and operationally. A lot of the sources of guest disputes are now easier settled. It doesn’t seem like Cast Members are making the decisions [on letting you in or not]: if your band turns green, you can ride, if it doesn’t, you have to wait.

Q:     Do you have any overwhelmingly positive guest interactions that you remember?

DB:     Oh yeah, I had a lot of those. I had a guy propose to his girlfriend on top of Splash Mountain. It did require company approval, so he came to us and we had to check through various channels to make sure it was doable. When you’re at the top of Splash Mountain, Cinderella’s Castle is framed perfectly so it’s actually a very nice viewpoint from there. It turned out wonderful, and she said “yes”.

You do remember a lot of times you were able to turn a guest’s day around too. We had one large family of 11 or 12 people come through—some of which were children, some of which were elderly—and any time you travel with a family that size, the logistics are crazy and there was a mother on whom this burden clearly fell. The trip had not gone smoothly, I think they had some trouble at the airport and hotel, but I don’t know for sure. They ended up in the Fastpass line [on Splash Mountain] without Fastpasses and it was the last straw for this poor woman and she just couldn’t do it anymore. So, I pulled her out of line and listened for a little while. I was able to take them over to Big Thunder Mountain, which had just come back up from maintenance, and they all rode with no wait. Then I took the mother and got her an ice cream cone and by the time that was all done we got them on to Splash Mountain and I remember when she got off she was very happy. We definitely turned her day around.

Although extremely positive interactions are as rare as extremely negative interactions, several years now after my time in the College Program, the extremely positive interactions are the ones that still stick with me.

Q:     Do you think being a Cast Member and then visiting the parks as a guest changes your perspective?

DB:     Well, you aren’t willing to wait more than 20 minutes for ANYTHING. (laughs)

Any time you’ve seen behind the scenes somewhere you have a different perspective. It’s like the people who work in the theater can’t go see shows without spotting slip-ups because there are operational procedures you’re aware of. When you go to the parks as a Cast Member you know when a line should not be 60 minutes, you spot show effects that aren’t working, you see guest situations that are happening and you sort of have to resist the urge to step in. One of the big jokes as a former Cast Member is when you’re there as a guest you have to stop offering to take people’s pictures for them. I mean, it’s a nice gesture and people are appreciative but you do get some funny looks.

You can always spot a Disney Cast Member in the parks because we’re trained to always pick up trash lying around in the parks. There’s a particular “Disney scoop” that you do and if you see someone do it you know they work there or have worked there. It’s just ingrained.

Q:     If there is one other place you could work during your time at Disney, where would it be?

DB:    I picked up shifts at most of the places I wanted to work, luckily. When I first went down, however, I actually requested one of the families of combined rides in Tomorrowland. But, while I was there, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor opened and the families got reassigned. So it would have been interesting to have been there when that happened because then I would have been trained on more attractions after the reassignment.

My other choice would probably be Future World East. Since Splash Mountain and Test Track have very similar ride systems I probably would have gotten that too. That would have been fun.

Q:    What do you miss most about working for Disney?

DB:    Aside from my get in the park free pass, a lot of it is the people. There really hasn’t been another time in my life where I’m surrounded by a group of people who all have one passion in common. The Walt Disney World Resort employs between 50,000-60,000 people (depending on the time of year) and all of those people have one thing they share. They all come from different backgrounds with different personalities and different interests. People who might never be friends otherwise become friends just because of the fact that they have one thing in common. One thing they love, one thing they’re passionate about. If you didn’t love Disney in some way you wouldn’t be working there. The reason working for the Walt Disney World Resort is so special is because it is the Walt Disney World Resort. I don’t think I’ll ever find a place (other than at Disney) where it’s like that. You don’t have to know someone before you start talking to them. The ice is already broken.

A lot of places like to say you’re a family. But at Disney, by the time you take the “Earning My Ears” tag off your name tag, you are a part of the family. You miss the rides, you miss the park, but you really miss that family the most. (END)

That about does it for my in interview with with former Walt Disney World Cast Member, Dan Burgess. I'd like to personally thank Dan for taking the time to share his experience as a Walt Disney World Cast Member with us. It's always special to hear directly from the ones who make the magic possible.

If you were ever a Disney Cast Member and would like to share your stories of working for the Mouse, please feel free to drop us a line in the "Contact Us" tab above. We would love to share your stories with the readers of Disney Avenue.


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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