Working for the Mouse

by Shoshana Lewin, staff writer

In Part 1, you saw tips for a great interview and what it takes to get hired. In Part 2, you met cast member Anthony, who was hired as an Outdoor Vending (ODV) cast member at Disneyland. And in Part 3, we introduced you to the Traditions training program.

As has been noted in our last few Cast Place pieces, every cast member has a slightly different experience in their first days with the Disney company.

Two of the stories below are the traditions experiences from cast members at Walt Disney World who are not in the College Program. The last story is from a cast member who offers some insight into the workings at Tokyo Disneyland Resort.

Cast Member K's Advice

Being a cast member might look easy (smile, be courteous, be knowledgeable, don't kill someone with your ride) but getting there is half the battle.

Traditions is Disney's long-used orientation meeting for new cast members. Speaking of cast members, you'll learn that term very quickly... you're taught that the Disney company is less a theme park and more a giant improv theater.

Everyone, from the guy sweeping the gutter to Michael Eisner himself is a “cast member” in a huge production that Disney puts on every day.

In Traditions, you're taught many of the same pieces of information that you would get in a, well, “traditional” orientation meeting. You learn the history of the company, the history of the immediate property, who the upper management are, what to do in an emergency, policies on sexual harassment, how to use the Material Safety Data Sheets books (which let you know scientific and safety info on various chemicals you may encounter on property) and much more. The difference is the hosts of these seminars challenge the audience to participate. They use questions, knowledge games, team-building exercises, and plain old-fashioned humor to get the points they are trying to make across.

The difficulty comes in the fact that the session is now four hours as compared to eight hours as it used to be at one time. This does, however, allow trainers to get more groups through, especially when the newest hordes of College Programmers come in.

After Traditions comes your park tour. Whereas Traditions dealt mainly with what goes on backstage at the parks, your park tour and subsequent classes prepares you to get out into the park. What actually goes on during this tour is dependent on the trainer leading it, but it usually includes a history of the park, a spin on a few of the more famous attractions and some personal stories of memorable events in the park's history. In my case, we spent a day wandering around the Magic Kingdom, learning about the names in the Main Street windows, the Partners statue, what to tell people about the line going from the top of the castle into Tomorrowland (it's a magic line drawn in Pixie Dust so that Tinkerbell can find her way home in the dark).

So, now it's time for your work location training. Depending on your location, this training can take anywhere from two days to a week. My Tomorrowland training involved two days of land tours and guest service orientation, costume fitting and then another four days of attraction training for Alien Encounter and AstroOrbiter (not including my five additional days later that year for training on Space Mountain). I would, however, advise caution as to the time of year that you choose to become a cast member. Mine took place during one of the busiest days of the year, the midweek of Gay Days, one of the few days that the Magic Kingdom actually hit its maximum park capacity (if memory serves). If we didn't hit that 74,000 mark, we had to have been very close.

On that same note, if you're going to be a cast member, remember that at certain times of the year, you will be dealing with an insane amount of people. With huge crowds, there are always troublemakers, and you will be the ones who have to deal with them.

My interview recommendations:

Be absolutely clear with the personnel CM as to what it is you want to do, especially for you aspiring members of the College Program. If you tell the rep that you don't mind doing a certain job even though you want another, don't be surprised if you end up being given the less desirable of the two.

Be aware before you go in of what particular expectations you have for your job. If you are not the type of person that craves being the center of attention and being an entertainer, this job is not for you. By the opposite token, expect to be ignored by upper management (remember, Michael Eisner has in the past referred to park Cast Members as “trained chimps in costumes” and his “puppets”).

Be energetic. If you're sluggish, distant, and don't seem to be “into” the company and its legacy, you are probably not going to be hired.

Cast Member Jill's Advice

I was hired to work in Walt Disney World at the Grand Floridian as a hostess at Narcoossee's in September 2001. When I went through the Traditions class, it was a day-long class (eight hours). I absolutely loved it! I didn't really have any expectations; I just thought I was going to be trained on customer service.

From what I can remember, we started out picking a seat at tables with other cast members, and we had to get to know everyone at our table and know their names.

The trainer/teacher was awesome. She told us that hers was an extremely competitive position and we understood why. She was the one who was going to initially instill in us that passion for making guests dreams come true. And she deserved her job. She was so charismatic, excited, animated, just bubbling over with enthusiasm for Disney! It was definitely contagious.

I think after we met each other, she talked about the start of the company. She talked about Walt and a bunch of history, how he got started, the first animated films, parks, and so on. I think she had some video clips to go along with her lecture. Then she handed out packs of trivia cards and each table had to put the event on each card in order of when it happened. That was fun! Whoever got it correct the fastest got prizes.

Throughout the whole day, she had a basket of little plastic Disney figurines that she tossed out to people for answering a question or knowing different trivia facts, etc, which made it really fun!

So, we learned Disney history, then learned the basics of customer service, all the Disney policies and mottos, steps for dealing with upset guests, how to right a situation, when you're onstage/offstage, stuff like that! But it was so much better than training you'd get anywhere else, because she peppered it with personal experiences, fun examples, asked us for personal stories, all kinds of stuff, so it never got boring and I never zoned out. She emphasized all over the place about how some families save up money for years to come here, and how we are the key to them having a once in a lifetime magical experience.

She also talked about Disney philosophy, what our goal is, and how to achieve it. I remember she said that when you're in the parks, Disney wants to stimulate all five senses. She used the example of when she worked in Mexico pavilion at World Showcase in Epcot. She said that there are bright colors and soft lighting for sight, the smells and tastes at the restaurant, the mariachi band playing music you could hear, and the merchandise you can touch. That's just one random thing I remember.

She also said that we were always supposed to keep up the magical image of Disney. For instance, when she worked at the Magic Kingdom, people would ask what the wire line running from the top of Cinderella's castle was, and you're not supposed to tell the guest what it really is, but she'd say that it was where Cinderella hung the laundry. Or when they ask about the cast member who's playing Mickey, if he/she gets hot inside the costume, you're supposed to play dumb and not know what they're talking about, no matter how much they egg you on! But, she encouraged us to think of a magical/fun response to any kind of question we might be asked, and gave us several more examples that unfortunately I can't remember!

We just learned all about that stuff for the rest of the time. It was interspersed by video clips of guest testimonials, with music to inspire us.

That was actually my very first time at WDW ever. I had arrived in Florida from California two days before, and hadn't even been in the parks yet.

I can clearly remember the anticipation building and building throughout the presentation until the end, where I thought I was going to burst! I could not wait to go into the parks after Traditions. They just pump you up so much about the Disney experience and how wonderful it is, and how you're gonna be part of it.

The ending was the best. She told this personal experience about her grandma who was in a wheelchair, and how some CMs worked their magic to accommodate her when she couldn't see the parade. I don't remember the details, but I do I remember that it was an experience that was really close to her heart and she started crying while she was telling it, and made all of us cry! Then she ended by showing us a video clip—a little montage of music and pictures that made us cry even more. And that was it. Such a great day.

So, I made plans with a of couple girls at my table to go into the parks after we went home and freshened up. They had never been there, either. We had a lot of fun. Ah, the memories…

CM TDL's Advice

I asked some non-entertainment Japanese employees about Traditions at Tokyo Disneyland Resort. Apparently there is some sort of Traditions-like orientation for Japanese CMs after all. From what I could understand, there was only about a half day of video and some lecture about a very short history of Disney theme parks and the ideas behind the “Disney Look” and “magic” and all that. So there is some aspect of Traditions here, just not with that name and—having been through Traditions at WDW—not as thorough as what they offer in the States. Entertainment employees—especially the foreign ones—do not receive such a course. We aren't even given any literature or anything to flip through.

Working at Tokyo Disneyland Resort is a lot different from working at a Disney resort stateside. And not just for the obvious reasons. They do not have a Traditions course at all, only regular job training and an area orientation. I would be surprised if many people working here know who Walt Disney is and almost none of the people I work with have a clue who Michael Eisner is.

Being an entertainment cast member, I did not have an interview, but an audition, and the Japanese casting director (talent booking) makes the final decisions for who is cast in the shows here. However, WDW staff often is vital in helping bridge the gap for them, including arranging all the contract transfers and acting as a liaison in every way. I never spoke to a Japanese CM until I arrived in Japan, at least after my audition. It was very difficult as the WDW staff doesn't know much about what's going on in Japan, and so it's difficult to get your questions answered. I arrived in Tokyo for work not even having a clue what the name of my show was or what it entailed. All I knew was my dates of employment, contract rights, position, salary and living information. It is a pretty big shock to the system when you get here, for they do not help you much in acclimating to Japan. You just go right into it and rely on other foreign cast to help you out, or stumble along as best you can.

Interestingly, the Disney fans from the States are very “jealous” of what the Oriental Land Company pulls from its hat for its parks. And in many ways, it is understandable, as the entertainment especially is very popular here and thus gets loads of attention. But I will say this—when you see how many people are in these parks, and—much more importantly—what they spend on food and merchandise, it is easy to see how OLC has the kind of cash to perform these acts. I've never seen anyone spend as much on merchandise as I see on a regular basis here. Not to mention that an Annual Pass for two parks costs upwards of $675 and to park your car for the day is $20.

And as for backstage, OLC is actually quite stingy. the Disney Company does not pay the greatest either, but salaries are very low here for the Japanese cast, especially considering how expensive Tokyo is. There is no free admission to the parks for any CMs or their friends and family. There are tiny cast shops that sell very limited discounted merchandise, but there is no CM discount inside the parks. Ironically, employees here wish they were employed by Walt Disney Company. I guess the grass is always greener.

Personally, as a foreigner I love working in Tokyo Disneyland but mostly for the experience. The job is a lot of fun, the salary good for foreigners and Japan is such an amazing country. Tokyo Disneyland Resort is top quality, especially for guests, and I will likely be back again soon.

Regardless of where you decide to apply and for what position, don't give up! I've received many letters from current cast members who were turned down the first time, but kept at it and were later hired.

If you have a Traditions or interview story, we'd love to hear about it. Also, if you were hired into a professional position at any of the resorts—or the cruise line—your advice would be very helpful to potential cast members looking for corporate positions.

– Shoshana