Our Responsibility to Disney Magic

by Mike Scopa, contributing writer

Our Responsibility to Disney Magic

Every once in a while, something happens that makes me sit back and assess exactly what I'm doing, and whether I'm doing it right.

My colleagues on MousePlanet and other Disney-focused Web sites are always working hard to bring to our readers as much information as we can regarding all things Disney, be it theme parks, Disney Cruise Line, movies, and so on. To bring you this information, we sometimes have to search high and low in hopes that we find information that is timely, fair, and above all accurate.

We can't do that without help, and that help comes from many places—including our cast member friends.

Over the years anyone who writes for a Disney-related Web site will tell you that without cast members, some of us would have a difficult time bringing you some of the information we bring you. So today, let's put the focus on how we as customers can infuse Disney Magic.

If you haven't already, let me suggest you read "Cast Place," a MousePlanet column by Shoshana Lewin full of cast member stories. They are well worth your time.

Like anyone else cast members value trust. There are times when cast members have shared information with me and have asked that I hold off mentioning certain things until a specific date. I've also had the pleasure of spending a day with off-duty cast members and have been shown certain things with the understanding that I would not photograph or write a word about what I saw.

There were many reasons for this; one in particular is that I would not want to endanger that cast member's job. Some cast members are very secure in their job and will not hesitate to talk freely about their work environment, rumors, and things close to being announced or released. Others are quite nervous about dropping out of their on-stage mode and are extremely cautious about what they say for fear of finding themselves unemployed.

Disney Magic

At Fred Block's Magicast meets this past July, I had the distinct honor of opening up the event as the morning keynote speaker for an audience of over 500. Knowing my talk was the start of their day of Disney Magic, I took that honor very seriously, and talked about the Disney Zone (in which the magic "clicks" and you find yourself "in the zone") and the recipe for Disney Magic. The recipe included three components: The guest, the Disney environment, and the cast member, with a particular focus on how vital the cast member experience was to putting the guest in the Disney Zone.

Let's face it, the first line of customer experience when any of us visit a Disney theme park is not the attractions, but the cast members. If they aren't doing their job then the guests aren't happy. I'd be the first to say that without the history I have had with cast members, you would not be reading this article.

I owe a lot to cast members, who introduce me to Disney Magic in so many ways: The semi-retired gentleman at the turnstiles who wishes me a lot of fun; the server at Boma who let me try the frunch (a special non-alcoholic fruit drink) at no cost at dinner, or the smiling cashier at the Magic Kingdom Emporium who?even with an endless line at her register—still smiles and wishes me a good evening. They all have contributed to me "getting it."

Of course there may be a few who are not cut in that cheerful, helpful, Disney mold. I can tell you an interesting story that happened to me last October.

I was on my Race for the Cure/Race for the Taste solo trip last October when I dove over to Epcot one morning. I was very early, so when I got to the parking lot I ended up parking in one of the first two rows. I remember parking between two vans, both filled with young families. The parking spot was on of the right side of the Epcot parking lot, to the right of Spaceship Earth as you look at towards the park entrance.

Since I was relatively close to the entrance, I walked diagonally to the walkway and made my way to the park entrance instead of taking the tram. I went through the security bag check and headed for the turnstiles.

When I was about 10 feet from the turnstiles, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see a female cast member security guard who immediately said to me, "You know you cannot park there."

"Excuse me?" I asked.

"You know as a cast member that you are not allowed to park there anymore."

I was puzzled.

She went on to say that I was parked in some sort of handicap zone that in the past had been used by cast members and I should have "gotten the memo" that cast members were not to do so anymore. I was stunned. I then said in my defense, "In the first place, I'm not a cast member and in the second place, I parked in the general parking area and had regular guests on each side of me."

She obviously thought I was lying or she had substantial earwax build-up because she then said, "You're going to have to move your vehicle."

I remained stunned. This woman was obviously convinced I was a cast member who was breaking the rules. I was worried that if I didn't prove to her that she was wrong, that she would somehow have my my rental car towed.

At the same time, since I had been to Walt Disney World a gazillion times and this seemed to be an interesting, yet annoying situation, I just had to play along with her and see where this was going. My Disney Internet geek-writer curiosity was also intrigued.

We walked back to the parking lot and began walking through the handicap section, when she abruptly stopped.

"Why did you stop?" I asked.

"This is your car!" she replied.

When I heard her say that, a warm and fuzzy feeling came over me and I know I had a grin a mile wide as I turned around to answer her.

"No ma'am!" I said in my most polite manner. "I'll show you my car."

I led her a few rows upto my rental car, clicked my remote key fob, which made the car beep. I opened the door, and triumphantly proclaimed, "This is my car."

She looked at me, looked at the car, mumbled something, then said "Oh!" She said something about having made a mistake; but she offered no apology. Instead, she simply walked away and left me there.

So now I had to go all the way back to the park and go through security again. However, as you can imagine the lines were much longer than they had been some 30 minutes earlier.

Of course I had also lost my window of time to ride Soarin' twice within the first hour of operation. I usually grab a Fastpass, have breakfast, then get in the stand-by line, ride the attraction, then immediately get on again using my Fastpass.

The security woman had taken this away from me.

As you might imagine, I was a bit upset. But nowhere near as angry as I would have been had this been my very first visit to Walt Disney World for a once-in-a-lifetime trip with my whole family. As I walked past Guest Relations I thought about going in and reporting this cast member, but I thought that it wouldn't be worth it. When I got to the Electric Umbrella, however, I decided that it would bother me if I didn't speak to someone.

So I went back to Guest Relations and walked up to the counter. A pleasant young woman smiled and said, "Hi! How can I help you today?"

I was very calm and told her what happened. I did not raise my voice and said, "I just thought I'd let you know that this happened so perhaps something could be done so it would not happen to someone else."

Well, her eyes grew wide and her expression turned from a happy smile to one of shock.

"Oh my God!" she said. "I need to get a manager to speak with you!" And before I could reply, she took off for the back room. Within a minute a very official looking cast member came out, came right up to me with concerned look on his face, introduced himself and asked me to describe everything that happened.

Again I was calm and collected. He asked me to describe the cast member. Of course I was able to provide her name and physical description. He made a comment that implied that this was not the first time this particular cast member had impacted a guest's experience in the wrong way.

He apologized several times for what happened and asked if there was anything he could do to make up for it. I probably should have asked for a golden Fastpass to Soarin', but I just asked that he do whatever necessary so that this does not happen again to another guest, especially one who might be visiting for the first time.

Now here is a situation where a cast member was trying to do her job but had made an assumption that backfired on her.

As guests we have the responsibility to out fellow guests, the Walt Disney Company, and those guests that come behind us, to do whatever we can to improve the guest experience. That includes letting Walt Disney World know when a cast member has made our visit pleasant or not so pleasant.

But here is where you and I, and Walt Disney World management sometimes drop the ball. I would bet that for me the ratio of good cast member experiences to bad cast member experiences over the years is in the area of 1000 to 1.

I am more apt to complain about that one bad experience than I am to praise those many positive experiences. It's probably human nature. We all expect to be treated right, and so when we are treated well by cast members we think nothing of it. However, treat us less than our expectations, and we complain.

We are all guilty of not making the effort to compliment cast members when they go that extra mile or go beyond the call of duty. Perhaps that's because we've come to expect a top drawer customer experience from Walt Disney World, and we have been so spoiled all these years that we now take it for granted. This is wrong, wrong, wrong.

As guests it behooves us to make sure that those cast members who make our visit so magical are also recognized by us and acknowledged to their management.

It also behooves Walt Disney World management to do whatever they can to put in place a vehicle by which a guest can easily take a minute or two to let management know that "Jim" the conductor on the Walt Disney World Express was extremely helpful to me and made my experience very enjoyable.

It must be human nature to go through hell or high water to complain about a cast member experience but see it as an inconvenience to pay them a compliment because in many cases we expect (and have been conditioned) to be treated like royalty. Nonsense. These Walt Disney World employees are not paid princely wages. Many of them need to work as many shifts as they can each week to break even or keep their heads above water.

Despite the long working hours, low pay, low appreciation by both management and by the guests, they manage to smile and do whatever they feel to help us have a wonderful magical experience.

It's time to let these people know how much we appreciate their efforts, to acknowledge that without them we would not be coming back to Walt Disney World. It's time to wake up both ourselves and Walt Disney World management as to the important fact that the cast members are vital to all our Walt Disney World experiences.

So I'm asking you: on your next trip to Walt Disney World, if you happen to feel good about how you were treated by a cast member, to take the time to stroll over to Guest Relations and let them know about your positive experience. In all cases we have to pass Guest Relations on the way out of the park anyway. Would it really hurt to take a moment and express your gratitude? I'm sure we all appreciate a pat on the back at our own job so why shouldn't we do so for our cast member friends?

I hope to practice what I preach from now on. Every time I leave a Walt Disney World theme park, I will stop by Guest Relations and be sure and let them know who was responsible for my magical Disney day.

And maybe, just maybe, if we all agree to do this, then perhaps management will recognize just how valuable these employees are and eventually compensate them for their true value and treat them as they should be treated—for without cast members we'd never...

...Remember the Magic

Next Time

We all know that a Disney theme park has two personalities—a daytime personality and a night-time personality. In our next discussion, I want to point out what I like about Walt Disney World after dark in another of my Top 10 countdown of things to do at Walt Disney World when the sun goes down.

Class dismissed.