Every visit to Disney includes multiple interactions with cast members. Cast members (“employees” in Disney Speak) are trained to provide excellent customer service. They are also trained in safety and efficiency, and can answer pretty much every question thrown at them. They can handle the stickiest of situations and the smelliest of messes. Most of all, cast members know how to uphold the magic of Disney, and that, I believe, is what sets them apart from others in the customer service industry.
Five years ago, I was a cast member too.
While I miss working at the most magical place on earth, I don’t miss the pressure of having to constantly be “on” all the time. I recently got asked a great question on Twitter- “Are CMs different when they’re off-stage (outside of work), or are they genuinely pleasant people for the most part?”
The answer, to both, is yes.
Most cast members I’ve worked and interacted with are the nicest people ever, and genuinely enjoy their jobs. Cast members are also human (though many would like to believe they’re all pixie-dusted, smiling robots), and this means that as soon as they step off-stage, that plastered-on smile can vanish. Going off-stage may be the first time all day that cast member could sit down, call family, use the restroom, have a bite to eat, and cool down from the unbearable heat.
But what is the difference between an off-stage cast member who is merely taking a break, and a cast member who is truly unpleasant? Like with any job, some cast members just don’t feel the magic. On very rare days, I was one of them. A lot can also depend on a cast member’s situation.
Here are my experiences with the different sides of Disney cast members:
Depends on the Role
Just like in the real world, I think your happiness can be largely determined by what you do every day. Even if you’re the most positive person on the planet, you’ll eventually turn sour doing a job you hate. Same with Disney- some roles (or “jobs”) are preferable to others. Some cast members thrive on the repetitive tasks that come with working an attraction, while others hate the arguments that break out in the queue at the Fast Pass merge point (just picture you’re a guest watching fifty others with fast passes “skip” you in line at an attraction, where you’ve already been waiting eighty minutes, and the only person you can vent your frustration on is a cast member).
Some cast members thrive on the freedom that comes with custodial work, while others consider the work demeaning. Some cast members covet the role of character performer, believing it makes them “elite,” while others can’t handle the pressure of looking perfect day in and day out. It’s all relative.
Of course, I can only speak to my role- that of Conservation Education Presenter (or “Wilderness Explorer” as it’s called now). Those of us in that role were all there because we wanted to be; we applied for the role and interviewed and crossed our fingers that we’d be selected for an internship that thousands applied for. We all knew we were lucky to be there. It wasn’t just a job for us, it was a once in a lifetime experience, and that experience had an expiration date. Even on my worst days, I knew the internship would end after six months. My fellow interns and I all aimed to be as genuinely nice as possible both onstage and off- oftentimes, even when my friends and I were just in the parks as guests, we’d help others who were lost and call little girls “princesses.” We were in the “Disney” mindset even when we weren’t on the clock.
Whether you’re friends with a princess, or sweeping up garbage- whether you’re at Disney for six months, five years, or just for a way to get in for free and earn a steady paycheck- this can all affect how a cast member behaves while “off-stage.”
Depends on the Day
In my role as a cast member, I was outside in the heat every day. Animal Kingdom is a beautiful park (and now, with Pandora, it’s my favorite park), but that didn’t make the hot days any more bearable. Some days, especially if I was positioned at an animal exhibit for over two hours with no sun coverage or air-conditioning, I could find myself losing steam easily. I might be less enthusiastic with guests at the end of a long, hot day than I was in the morning. No matter how much you try to prepare yourself for the long periods in the heat, it’s different when you’re experiencing it with no escape, until your next break, which could be hours away.
A lot of factors can affect cast members in their day-to-day roles, and these, in turn, affect how the cast members feel once they go off-stage. When I came off a particularly hot day, was in desperate need of a shower, and hadn’t eaten anything more than a frozen meal, I probably wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around.
Did this mean I hated my job or the guests? Of course not.
Cast members experience burn-out in Disney, just like employees would at a “regular” job. Everyone handles it in different ways, and this may be perceived as unpleasant to guests who happen to catch a tired cast member on the way to break, or on the way to their cars to go home (this happened to me often- I would get stopped by a guest after I had already clocked out, but was still in costume, because our staff parking lot was in the same lot as the guests at Animal Kingdom).
Most days, the weather took a backseat to the magic I was making for guests. However, what I’m trying to say, is that all cast members will have bad days. Whether it’s the weather, personal problems, or illness, catching a cast member off-stage on a bad day may cause the wrong impression. Of course, cast members are trained to leave their emotions at the door- we’re there for the guests, because for them, this is a once in a lifetime vacation. Some cast members are better at this than others.
In all, cast members may appear unpleasant on the rare bad day, some cast members will appear unpleasant all the time, and some will never have a bad day in their lives. It all depends on the day, and the individual cast member.
Depends on Co-Workers
I think this goes for all jobs, everywhere in the world. Coworkers can make or break your work experience.
I was lucky to be in a group of 27 interns, and sure, there were people I didn’t get along with AS much as others. Overall, however, we were all friends. Every day our rotations changed and we’d be partnered up with someone different, either at a Kids Discovery Club or an animal location. Even if we weren’t the best of friends, I usually didn’t mind who I was partnered with. Sharing the location with another, having another pair of hands on deck to assist with guests, made all the difference in my day, and in my subsequent interactions with park-goers.
I was happier overall both being with a team of cast members who supported each other, and having parts of my role be independent (some animal locations were done solo). It helped me come out of my introverted shell, and improved how I acted with guests and fellow cast members. I liked having friends who understood exactly what I was going through, and just how difficult our specific role was.
Not everyone will get along with their co-cast members, and that can affect how they behave off-stage. Some days, I’ll admit, I would get annoyed with one of my fellow interns, and I would try my best not to let it cast a shadow over my guest interactions. Mostly, I was very lucky to have a good team.
Does the Magic Disappear?
So, I’ve covered how cast members are, for the most part, genuinely pleasant people on-stage and off. Most are there at Disney because they truly want to be there. A lot of things factor into a cast member’s attitude, and whether we drop our smiles and pixie dust the moment we turn our backs on Fantasyland, or keep our heads up even during the most difficult days.
I have met the rare cast member who, it seemed, just couldn’t be bothered with life. They did their jobs and went home, collecting their paycheck and not giving a rat’s (or mouse’s) ass about the “magic.” But, on the most part, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a cast member who doesn’t just love their job, but finds it hard to drop the Disney mannerisms even when they’re not on the clock. Though we may be human, and there may be days where the thought of quitting flashes through our minds, cast members are genuinely the nicest people you will ever meet. Even those like me, who have long left the employ of Mickey Mouse.
I’d also like to bring up the second part of the Twitter question: “How did working there affect your enjoyment of the parks?”
This, luckily, is a far easier question to answer. Working there enhanced my enjoyment of Disney beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve always been fascinated with Disney and learning how everything worked, how all cast members strive to make magic for the guests every single day, still amazes me. Yes, the work was grueling, and I think I ended the first week in tears at how daunting working at Disney seemed.
But it was an experience I’ll never forget, and I love going to the parks now, knowing that for a short time, I was a part of the Disney bubble. I love that I may have made a guest’s day, that I may even be in a few of their pictures; that I could write two books about my Disney experience, and that I can go back now with many memories of my time as a cast member.
I apologize for such a long post! I hope you all enjoyed! For more stories of my time working at Disney, please feel free to check out my books on Amazon (shameless plug, I know).
Does anyone have any other questions on what’s it like to be a cast member? If you yourself worked as a cast member, how did your experiences differ? Leave a comment below!
Hugs and Fishes,