My Disney Top 5 - Walt Disney World Cast Member Momentsby Chris Barry, contributing writer
Welcome back to another Disney Top 5. As always, I hope all of you out there are safe and well.
I was pretty excited when the latest issue of D23 magazine arrived in my mailbox recently. I've been a subscriber since day one of publishing and it's a fantastic publication for any Disney fan. This month's issue celebrates 65 years of the Disney theme parks. As most of you are probably aware, this past July 17 marked Disneyland's 65th birthday, a milestone that unfortunately couldn't be celebrated in the park itself due to the pandemic. So it was wonderful that the original park and the whole concept of the Disney theme park got it's due in the ultimate fan magazine. In this particular issue, they spend several pages highlighting Disney cast members from the parks around the world.
With an article of my own due, that got me to thinking; which cast member moments in my history in the Walt Disney World parks and resorts stand out the most? Picking the best is a tall order. The cast members at Walt Disney World are truly extraordinary and have made for some incredible memories over the years. Some have been the smallest gestures of kindness or attention, like a wave or a hello. Of course, we've also seen the cast literally going out of their way to help out someone or create a special memory for a guest that they will never forget. It's what's commonly referred to as the Disney difference and nobody embodies that difference more than the Walt Disney World cast members.
One of the things I regret most is the fact that I don't really have or remember their names. Perhaps I should have taken the time to mention their name and their good deeds to a supervisor so they can get some recognition. I hope they know that one of the many things that we, as Disney fans, love about our time spent in the parks and resorts is the treatment we consistently receive from this amazing team. If you're reading this and you're actually spending time in Walt Disney World right now or will be soon, make sure and thank the next magical cast member you come across, or take the time to jot down their name and mention what they did to guest services, especially during these trying times. I can sort of do my part by recognizing a few right here, right now with my Top 5 Walt Disney World Cast Member moments.
5 - Birthday Cake Delivery - Disney's Yacht Club
A few things happened on the morning of my 50th birthday. First of all, I woke up in the Yacht Club at Walt Disney World. That was hard to beat. I had 27 friends and family in the same wing of the building as me, so, needless to say, we were all having fun. The plan that day was to head to the Magic Kingdom bright and early to see the opening, hit a few attractions and then have a huge breakfast with Pooh at the Crystal Palace. First things first though: the phone in my room rang. It was Goofy. He wanted to wish me a magical day. That was pretty cool. Then there was a knock on the door. Considering just how many of us were at the Yacht Club it could have been anybody. However, as I opened the door, I was greeted by a very fancily dressed gentleman. In his hand he held a Mickey ears shaped chocolate cake!
It was around 7:45 a.m. mind you. This man was wide awake and he delivered me a birthday greeting like no other. I can't even remember what he said, but it was upbeat, positive, cheerful, humorous and ended with something like, "That's how we do things here at Disney's Yacht and Beach Club Resort." He was a class act. It was early in the morning and he looked like he was dressed to go to the Oscars or something. He did that all for me, just because my mother asked to have something delivered in the morning for my 50th. She requested a cake. She didn't request this guy. I'm sure she expected a room service style delivery. He was an added bonus and he was awesome. It happened so fast, I never caught his name or took a photo with him, but if he's out there, I hope he knows how happy he made me that morning. And the cake…was…delicious!
4 - Ride Delay - Slinky Dog Dash - Hollywood Studios
On that same trip celebrating my 50th, one of the highlights was going to be a first trip on the Slinky Dog Dash coaster in Toy Story Land. This new land had only officially been open for about a month so it was brand new to all of us. If I recall properly, we had a group of FastPasses and made our way through the queue. Considering how new it was, the FastPass line was still pretty long. We literally got up to the loading zone and were next in line when one of Florida's legendary storms reared it's ugly head complete with lightning and thunder. Being the Disney veterans that we all were, we knew this would soon pass. (I can clearly remember standing in the doorway to the Emporium the Magic Kingdom and watching a line of rain move across Town Square. It was dry at the firehouse and raining at Tony's!) Alas, this was not one of those storms. We were dry on the loading platform and had nowhere else to go in the rain so we waited and waited…and waited. Once the cast member realized that this was going to be a long one – and I'm talking close to 2 hours here – she put on her entertainment hat and tried to make the wait bearable for all of us, especially the little ones and that's where the magic began.
This girl was indefatigable. She essentially turned into a game show host hitting us with Disney trivia questions and circulating through the crowd to get answers. Then, seeing that there were several little kids who needed more entertaining, she formed a circle and sat them all down on the platform. She recruited my daughter and one of her friends to join who were more than happy to help out. One of those little girls had obviously lost all of her hair to some vicious disease, and she was laughing and laughing as this cast member led them in some sort of "hand-slapping-sit-in-a-circle" type of game. It was wonderful fun and it killed the time until the storm finally blew over. Not only that, you should have seen the look on that little girl's parents as she laughed and played along with the group. That was a memory created for all of us but especially that family that day.
3 - Ride Encouragement - Pirates of the Caribbean - Magic Kingdom
On her very first trip to Walt Disney World my 4-year-old daughter, Samantha, was having the time of her life. Sam bought into Disney from the second we stepped on property. She loved it all and still does to this day. At the time, summer of 2003, she was too young to have known anything about Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl which was hitting it big at the box office that very summer. At that age I wouldn't have taken her to see it anyway. Yet, she was very hesitant when we approached the ride in Adventureland. To this day, I still don't know why. Maybe she got a glimpse of the skeleton high up on the attraction sign? Maybe it was the ominous looking darkness as we got closer to the queue entrance. Maybe the whole notion of pirates scared her. Whatever it was, she started having trepidation and wanted to back out. Enter a young female cast member – once again, I have no name – who spotted Sam's hesitance. She came over and started talking to my nervous child and the conversation went something like this, "Do you like animals? Well, there are so many different animals inside this ride. What I want you to do is to look for as many animals as you can find throughout the ride. Remember them all. When the ride's over, I'll be waiting at the exit for you to tell me all the ones you spotted."
Boom! Sam had a quest! Her nervousness subsided. We thanked this wonderful young girl profusely and honestly figured we'd never see her again. We thought she was just giving our daughter a boost of courage and she'd go back to whatever her job was. The ride was awesome and Sam searched for every animal and at the end, wouldn't you know it, this cast member waited at the top of the exit ramp for her and got her report. As parents, we were just floored that this girl took the time to not only help Sam overcome her fear of the ride, but really followed through on her promise to meet her at the end. Sam was thrilled. We were thrilled and this cast member just disappeared never to be seen again probably spreading her magic to other guests' children. It was such a simple gesture, but it made all the difference to our little one and to us as well.
2 - Mary Poppins - Cinderella's Royal Table - Magic Kingdom
The summer of 2004 brought my wife, daughter, and I back to Walt Disney World for an amazing 10 day vacation in the magic. Some of you may recall what else the summer of 2004 brought to Orlando – Hurricane Charley. We were staying at the French Quarter when Charley literally shut all the parks down and shut us all in our hotel rooms. It was quite a night and quite an experience. For a few days afterwards, despite just about everything being open on property, the parks were quiet and lines were shorter. Guests simply couldn't get there. This paved the way for one of our all time favorite cast member experiences. Back then, people talked on the Disney buses to and from the parks. They weren't busy checking their My Disney Experience apps! Word got to us during one of those bus conversations that there were tons of no-shows at the restaurants including impossible to score reservations at places like Cinderella's Royal Table in the Magic Kingdom. After hearing this tip, the next morning we walked right up to the check in and they were able to seat us right away for breakfast.
You may be aware that this character breakfast is stocked with all the big Disney princesses. My daughter was beside herself meeting Cinderella, Snow White, Belle, Ariel and Aurora all in one shot. We didn't expect Mary Poppins to be on that list, but there she was. Now, I know for a fact that Samantha had not seen the film at that point. However, when Mary came to our table, Sam told her that she was, "Her favorite princess in the whole place!" To this day I still don't know where that came from. We got the feeling that with all the heavy hitting princesses in the room, Mary Poppins didn't hear that too often. As soon as she did – to borrow a term from Spinal Tap of all places - she turned up the Mary Poppins to "11."
She spent so much time with us, talking to Sam, looking through her autograph book - to this day I still have no idea what they were talking about, but it went on for a while and our daughter was just beaming. After breakfast, we went outside into Fantasyland and got in the queue for Snow White's Scary Adventures. We were still in the outside part of the queue when who walked by - Mary Poppins and one of the penguins on their way over to the carousel. Mary spotted us and came right over and said something like, "Oh look, it's Samantha. I just had a lovely breakfast with Samantha!' Once again - daughter beaming, parents beaming, all because of the extra care from this "practically perfect in every way" cast member.
I should mention that a few years back I wrote a Top 5 Disney character experiences article. The cast member playing Mary Poppins in the photo above actually saw the article and sent me this email:
Hi - That's me as Mary Poppins in your "Top 5 Character Experiences at Walt Disney World"/Aug. 6, 2010, article. A friend of mine recognized me in the article and sent it to me. I am so pleased that after all of this time, you still remember the character experience. As a performer, that's why we did what we did - to give magical memories to all of the guests. And I'm thrilled that even now, it's still a good memory. Tell Samantha that Mary said "Hello and to have a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious day!"
1 - Pure Magic - Sorcerer Mickey and Handler - Animation Building - Hollywood Studios
My sons and I were on one of our "boys only" trips together. They were young, maybe 10-years-old. At this time spotting characters was a big deal to them, even if we didn't meet them or get autographs and photos, they just wanted to spot them and keep track of who they saw everyday. One particular day we were in the Animation building in Hollywood Studios. This was 2012, so it was before Star Wars came in. The Magic of Disney Animation was still running but this had become a very popular place to meet characters and it was the only place you could meet Sorcerer Mickey. We were there meeting Frozone and Mr. Incredible. As we walked off of that line, we headed over to see how long Sorcerer Mickey was and, as always, it was pretty huge. We spotted a family in the corner near Mickey's line that seemed to be dressing up their young daughter as - you guessed it - Sorcerer Mickey. She had the hat. She had the red robe. She even had some Mickey hands. Then we noticed that she also had two forearm crutches and was obviously a special needs child. She did her best to walk over to the end of the queue and get in line just like everybody else, but it was a struggle with the robe on and the crutches but she was determined.
Then we noticed that one of Mickey's handlers must have spotted this little girl because they had walked over to Mickey and whispered something in his "ear." Next thing we new, it was time for Mickey to take his break, only he didn't walk to some backstage door. He walked right over to this little girl dressed up like him at the back of the line and gave her her own special greeting. I will never forget the look of sheer joy on this little girls face, She had obviously taken the time to put together this outfit and wanted to meet Mickey dressed in the same outfit and the fact that Mickey came right to her…must have absolutely made her day. Her parents had tears streaming down their faces as Mickey and his handler led her over to the backdrop so she could get the perfect photo op. My boys, Casey and Alex, looked at me, with a tear in my eye as well, and said, "That's so cool that they did that for her." Yes. It was. Very, very cool indeed. It's not even my own child, but it was the best thing I ever saw a cast member do in Walt Disney World. My best guess is that family will never forget that moment either.
Given the nature of these Top 5 articles and the size and scope of a place like Walt Disney World, I inevitably have to leave things out. Typically when I sit down to compose a list I end up with 10 things I love about a park or an attraction or 10 things that I love to do most when I'm down there. The same goes for this list as well. From day one, the Walt Disney World cast members have been extraordinary sources of patience, kindness, and, yes it's corny, but so so true, they are extraordinary sources of magic. There are so many moments that I remember clearly. Whether it was that amazing singing bus driver at Riverside, or whoever it was in the Donald Duck costume at Chef Mickey's that made us uncontrollably laugh at breakfast, or the girls working in the Germany pavilion who recorded messages of encouragement in German for me to send to my wife who was, in fact, in Germany running the Berlin Marathon, to that absolutely incredible Kilimanjaro Safaris driver who was the perfect blend of nature guide and Jungle Cruise skipper or even the quiet, smiling cast member who popped a Mickey sticker onto my cranky child's sleeve at just the right moment, they are all essential parts of the Disney experience and are indispensable sources of Disney magic.
Not only do they make us feel special, they go above and beyond to do so and they make it look easy. They're probably underpaid and overworked but I like to think that the ones that really turn on the Disney magic do so because they believe in what the place stands for; that you should feel different when you pass through those arches and it's their job to facilitate that. There's no greater proof than arriving home from your Disney trip and heading out to the local supermarket to get a fresh gallon of milk for the next morning and what happens? Nobody's all that magical and nice to you are they? I could wait on a simple counter service food line anywhere in the parks or resorts, and when I get up to the register I can pretty much guarantee that I'm going to get a kind word from a cast member. After a few days, you start to feel that it's the norm and it really should be the norm everywhere. If it could happen down there with the heat and the crowds and the hecticness then it really could happen everywhere else.
My wife once said to me that she feels like anything is possible when she's down in Walt Disney World. Sure that's because of the storytelling and the history of Walt and the Imagineers consistently and creatively pushing the envelope to build such an amazing place for the world to experience. But, in my opinion, without the cast members selling that amazement and believing in it, it wouldn't be the same. I hope they know just how much it means to all of us.
That's all for this time. As always I'd like to hear your thoughts. Click on the link below, comment on my list, share your cast member experiences, stay safe and I'll see you next time with another Disney Top 5.