The Guest Experience

by Shoshana Lewin, staff writer

We love stories about special cast members that make us laugh—or make us tear up… and we know you do, too. As we approach the insane Spring Break season at the parks—and patience tends to go down as crowd size goes up—remember that CMs appreciate a "thank you" for a job well done, as the guests in the following stories hope to covey to the special cast members they met during their vacations. Whether it is making a little princess' dream come true or inviting a grown-up prince on stage, these stories show that—as Mary Poppins told us—a little kindness goes a long way. Also, for you current or soon-to-be CMs, take a tip: You get out what you put in. If you take the time to make some magic for the guests (even with just a smile), the magic will come back to you. If you treat guests just like customers, the guests will treat you just like an employee.

Andy's Story

I just wanted to take the time to write to MousePlanet with a concern about the decline in magic that seems to be occurring at the Walt Disney World (WDW) resort. My wife and I are Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members, which has enabled us to be fortunate enough to take a trip to WDW at least once a year.

I've noticed on the last three or four visits (spanning the last three or four years) many of the CMs at the park and on the phone have been treating us as "customers" rather than "guests." It feels that the "pep" has gone out of their voices and that they'd rather be at home playing on their Xbox than making my reservation or answering questions I have while I'm at the resort. I'm getting a sense that the spirit of WDW is dying—it can't be just me.

I'd like to give a specific example by giving you a case in point. One of the things my wife and I do on every trip is attend the Hoop-Dee-Doo show. We also have the "before the dinner" picture taken and look forward to purchasing it at the show. We use this picture to mark the years—we have them lined up on a shelf at our home in chronological order and look at them often. I've noticed that in the very first picture we took in 1997 it has the two of us, a couple of barrels, a washboard, a couple of lassos, a Hoop-Dee-Do sign and a wagon wheel—a nice "dressed up" picture to be sure. However, as the years went by, the "dressing up" of the picture was done with fewer and fewer objects until finally, with last year's picture, it's just the two of us standing in front of a building.

It almost seems that Disney doesn't have time to do that one extra special thing that differentiates a trip to Disney from say, a trip to the temporary amusement parks that get set up in Wal-Mart parking lots. Both are fun, but only for one of them I have to drive 534 miles to get to.

I know that Disney gets set to a much higher standard and that people expect so much more on a trip to WDW but that shouldn't be an excuse for letting the magic die. So what is it? Do the CMs not care as much? Is it "just a job" to them? Are unions destroying the company the same way that the airlines and auto workers unions are destroying those industries? Is it management?

I've never worked at Disney, but reading all the CM stories on this site, it seems that it depends on what job you do. Maybe cast members need to rotate to all different areas of the WDW CM experience weekly. Sweep the park one week, operate a ride another, play Mickey or a character handler on a third week, etc. That way if the job was getting too boring, they would only have to finish out the week and it's on to something else. Disney would be a better company for it because they would have several "well-rounded" CMs who would feel that their contributions meant something.

I love WDW and look forward to going every year but it's getting near $60 per ticket just to visit a park for a day, for $60 I could have a lot more fun closer to home. I just feel like something needs to be done before it's too late.

Thanks for reading.

Todd's Story

I'm a new reader but wanted to share my own guest/CM story for your next column.

My whole family (parents, wife, two daughters) went to WDW in November 2004. My girls were 3-1/2 and 1-1/2 at the time and wanted to do everything related to princesses. For "Storytime with Belle," we arrived early so we could be sure the girls got good seats so they could see everything.

Well, when Belle started selecting volunteers out of the audience my eldest daughter got picked! Big problem—baby sister didn't want to be left behind. I sensed a minor crisis brewing and knew my youngest would be heartbroken if she got separated from her sister. I was seated a few rows behind and couldn't really intervene. Well, the CM bringing the kids out of the audience clearly sensed what was happening and brought both girls up on stage. My eldest was Mrs. Potts and my youngest was Chip! They just held hands during the whole story so little sis wouldn't be scared! Afterward, another CM told us they had never seen a child so young get brought onto the stage before.

I was so grateful to the CMs for being so sensitive and making both girls feel special!

Christine's Story

In August 2005, my family and I went on our first vacation to WDW. Thankfully, I was very fortunate to be able get seats early at Cinderella's Royal Table for breakfast on our first day at WDW, without a hitch. When we arrived at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, to say the least, my husband, my daughters, and myself were giddy with excitement. We skipped down Main Street (video and digital cameras in tow trying to capture every magical moment), while trying to get to Cinderella's Royal Table without being late for our Priority Seating reservations.

When we got there, I asked the CM checking us in if we could get a table at a window facing Fantasyland. I explained to her that it was our first vacation, not only to WDW, but our first vacation ever. She said she would see what type of magic she could produce with another CM who was in charge of seating. I held my breath and wished for a little Disney magic when… the CM came over to me and said he would arrange it. My heart leapt with joy. When they seated us, my kids and my husband were so excited (as well as myself) that we got to overlook Fantasyland while we ate breakfast.

To add to the already existing magic of Disney, the CM who happened to be our server was wonderful and the all princesses (Mary Poppins included) made wonderful appearances, taking the time to pose and talk with both of our daughters.

All in all, the breakfast was a wonderful kick-off to such a magical vacation. It is truly the CMs who add a little bit of magic and pixie dust to make everything so spectacular.

Carla's Story

My husband and I grew up in the Anaheim area and have many wonderful memories of growing up "in the park," but our favorite took place over the last two trips. Last year we took out whole family to WDW to celebrate three birthdays, including our granddaughter who turned 2 while we there.

On our third or fourth morning we split the group up, with the guys going to ride Rock 'n' Rollercoaster and Tower of Terror, and the granddaughters, daughter-in-law and myself going to Al's Toy Barn to meet some of the characters. It was very early and we were the first one's back by Al's and we let my 2-year-old granddaughter do a little running around (no crowds… lots of space).

As soon as the characters started to come out, she ran right over, falling and skinning her knee. She came up crying. The characters rushed right over to her to see if she was OK. While I got out my little first aid kit, Jessie, Woody and Buzz made a big fuss over her. They made her forget she was hurt and made her feel very special. We got to visit and take pictures for almost 20 minutes before any other guests got there. She was smitten with Buzz. For the rest of the day (and the rest of the month) she talked about how Buzz helped her, and pointed to her knee, saying "Buzz, he helped me!"

A year later we took her to Disneyland for a weekend with grandma and grandpa. The first morning we saw Buzz in Tomorrowland. Emma ran right up to him and showed him her knee, and told him it was all fixed. I "reminded" Buzz about the fall and he knelt down and inspected the knee and gave her thumbs up. She loves the princesses—but Buzz will always be her hero.

Mike's Story

This is in response to a letter that Rob wrote about how he thought that just saying "Thank You" to a cast member who had done an outstanding job would be inadequate. Here is how I handled that situation during our Christmas 2004 stay at Pop Century. When we were checking in my wife was saying that she didn't really care which area we stayed in (although we had requested the '50s) as long as it wasn't in the '80s or '90s. Well as you can guess, we were placed in the '80s.

My wife became very upset and actually had to go for a walk to calm down. While she was gone, I worked with the CM on the check-in desk to try and get us moved over to the '50s. Keep in mind, this was December 17th and bookings were probably right near 100 percent.

After about 30 minutes or so of checking and moving other room assignments around, we were put into the '50s building in connecting rooms on the ground floor facing the bowling pin pool. Perfect! After the check-in was complete, I asked to speak to the manager on duty. I'm sure the CM thought I was going to complain by the look on his face. I told the manager that this CM (I can't remember his name now) had done a fabulous job for us and that I just wanted to let him know it. I think I made his year. I just wanted to treat him the way I like to be recognized when I do a good job where I work.

Heather's Story

I love your compilation of cast member experiences. They bring back some good memories. My family and I have been going Disney since I was a youngun! These are my favorite experiences:

Back when you had tickets to get on the rides, my brother wanted to go on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Just then, I realized I had lost my ticket book. So, I agreed to wait right next to the CM at the entrance for him to go on the ride. She found me standing there, asked what was going on—and then phoned the CM at the loading platform. She came back to me and said, "Your brother is waiting for you at the ride platform. Go take a ride with him!"

When I was in college, we had annual passes. My friend wanted to go, but was having knee surgery and was in a brace. We convinced her to let us rent a wheelchair. She was totally embarrassed. However, it got a lot better when Mickey came up, stole her wheelchair (with her in it) and raced Goofy to the Autopia! We all laughed so hard! I have great pictures!

My cousin was born with serious heart defects and given a very short time to live. Make-a-Wish helped him and his family take a Disney vacation. My cousin was a Disney fanatic. Not only did a cast member give my cousin a CM name badge (they had the same name), but Aladdin rode a few rides with my cousin. I still tear up when I remember him excitedly telling everyone, "He said I could call him Al!" My cousin died shortly after that, but those moments brought him such joy.

My last memory was the first time my brother and I went to WDW. We went to Typhoon Lagoon on the third day of a nine-day vacation. While at lunch, my brother's screw fell out of his glasses, and the ear piece came off. He couldn't find the screw and couldn't wear the glasses. We didn't have much extra money to spend on the trip, and no idea where to go to get it fixed. While we were sitting there trying to decide what to do, a CM came from the restaurant and handed my brother a box—in it, there was a mini screwdriver and various screws and other items to fix glasses. My brother's glasses were fixed in mere seconds! Without her help, he would have been blind for the next six days!

Sarah's Story

I am a 15-year-old Disney fanatic who has been to the Disneyland Resort (DLR) nine times and WDW Resort three times. I hope to work for the Disney Company someday. On a trip to Disneyland in June 2005 my parents and I decided to take a guided tour because we had never been on one before. Being complete Disneyland fanatics, we took the Walk in Walt's Footsteps Tour. There were about 10 people on our tour—all were adults except one other teenager. Our tour guide's name was Trevor. He was very knowledgeable, friendly and just a wonderful tour guide all around. He kept telling us little-known trivia about Disneyland; needless to say, all of which I already knew. When Trevor asked the group about trivia, I answered all of his questions with the correct responses. I completely outshined all of the other 40- or 50-year-old guests on the tour! Rather than being annoyed at my "know it all" attitude, Trevor encouraged me and even let me give part of the tour.

Once, Trevor gave the group a wrong piece of information and I corrected him! Of course, he didn't get offended at all, and thanked me for my correction. After the tour was over, Trevor stayed to answer my questions about employment at Disneyland, his personal experiences, etc. Trevor made a great Disneyland memory for me. It was nice to see someone who was so passionate about his work. Thank you to Trevor and all of the other wonderful cast members at Disneyland!

Lou's Story

My son is a United States Marine. He was not with us when we visited Disneyland last year, as he was away doing what has to be done.

We have an action figure doll that represents my son that we take with us everywhere. That way "Tommy" is always with us in family photos. I asked many CMs to pose with "Tommy Doll" and not one of them refused. Some even went out of their way to put him in a special place for the picture. They treated him as if he were a real live person standing in front of them!

It meant the world to me… Tommy is still not home and we don't know when he will be, but I sit and look at the pics of my boy at Disneyland and it makes this old lady smile.

Thank you all!

Pam's Story

My cousin Steven was a CM these past four months at WDW as part of the college program. I have an entirely new respect for cast members and just how hard they work.

I am sending this story along because I never got to officially thank the CMs who made a trip to DLR an unbelievable memory for my nephew, Jaden, and me. We went on my sister's honeymoon and one day of our visit coincided with the Haunted Mansion Holiday (HMH) special event. I had checked for tickets weeks before and they were sold out. The day of the event we asked everywhere for tickets and were told there were a few as of 9 a.m. that morning, but that we would need to go over to the Disneyland Resort to check for sure. Well, we just never got back to the hotel that day. Both Jaden and I were decidedly disappointed when we did finally head back to the Disneyland Hotel, especially when we kept passing folks with their Zero lanyards and Haunted Mansion Holiday bags all the way through Downtown Disney.

While we were waiting for our pizza that night to arrive, I decided to wander around the Disneyland Hotel to see if I could see some new Haunted Mansion Holiday merchandise on display. After some searching—and a locked door I am convinced magically opened for me—I found the check-in area. I decided to look around and see if I could have a couple of Haunted Mansion Holiday bags to take home with me. All the CMs were packing up and obviously finished for the night. One came up to me and asked if I needed anything. I replied that I was wondering if there were any extra bags that I could have. She smiled and immediately set off to get the bags.

While I was waiting, a second CM came up and asked if I needed anything. I explained I was waiting for some bags. I jokingly said I could use two tickets, but that I was about a million years too late. He smiled at me and said "Maybe not." He then walked to the long tables where several people were packing up to go home. He spoke to someone and then came back and said to go over to the tables and ask for a woman, whose name I cannot remember now. When I got there and asked for the woman, she laid two lanyards and ticket books in front of me, took my name and financial information and, after a few frenzied moments, Jaden and I were off. She was going home after what must have been a very long day, but she took the time to handwrite my information because the computers had already been taken down. She could have simply said there wasn't enough time, but she didn't do that.

That Haunted Mansion Holiday event was the highlight of our trips to the Disneyland Resort. We will probably never have that sort of opportunity again, being yearly visitors. We had so much fun, probably because it was so unexpected. It never would have happened without the help of CMs who were willing to take time to help us. I just wanted to tell them thanks!

Robert's Story

Lots of things good and bad have happened to me at Disney. I to go to Disneyland Paris as often as I can—although I live in Germany (I became so obsessed I became a shareholder and have an annual pass). As soon as the Lion King show opened I was there each time standing in line—sometimes in the rain for an hour to get tickets. We saw the show from just about every seat in the house but then started queuing early to always get front-row seats. After returning time and again I did not realize that some of the cast had remembered me. Now, the show is well made and at the end the cast sings their main song and wave. Then came one moment I will never forget: Rafiki came to sing her/his song, and instead of walking back and forth over the stage as usual she came straight to me and held out her hand, thinking she wanted to shake my hand I held out mine, too. At this point, she pulled me out of my seat—looking at me the whole time—and sang her last song just for me. For me at that moment I was the only person in the theater—time just stopped. It was something that I have to this day never forgotten. We go back as often as we can and we are always sitting up from shouting and applauding as loud as we can. I am 50 years old.

Paul's Story

Thanks so much for having those stories posted it gives me chills just reading them, it proves to me why Disney is so much better in the amusement park business compared to the competition. I would be willing to pay another $10-$20 a day for these type of CMs. Thanks again.