Disney World: Getting the Most of Cast Members

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What do the following three questions have in common?

Tinkerbell in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Thomas Cook
Tinkerbell in a thoughtful moment. Photo by Thomas Cook
  • Is the rain real?
  • Is Mickey Mouse a cat or a dog?
  • What time is the Three O’clock Parade?

Answer: They are all questions I was asked as a Walt Disney World cast member.

I hope it’s clear that these questions are not exactly the best questions to ask a cast member. I don’t mean to imply anything about the guests who asked these questions, especially since the parade question is one I got asked once a week or so over a number of years.

This article is not about questionable questions. It’s about how you should ask cast members about park information. It seems like a simple issue, but any longtime cast member will tell you their many stories of frustrating guests and their questions.

Obviously if you’re a fan and user of TouringPlans.com and the Unofficial Guides, most of the questions you would have asked cast members while on vacation will have been answered long before you left home or at least could be answered during your vacation using Touring Plans books, apps or websites. That brings us to the first of my list of tips:

Tip #1: Try to make sure the source of information knows enough to answer you correctly.

This isn’t something which is guaranteed to happen when talking to random cast members. Walt Disney World both trains their staff and expects them to be able to answer many general questions accurately, but with thousands of on-stage employees there’s no way you can assume the one you pick will give you a correct answer. Any random cast member could have just started their employment, could have transferred from another park or could be one of those rare creatures – someone who doesn’t love Disney and is only there for the work.

I encourage you to minimize the number of questions you ask on vacation. Plan ahead, carry a map and use the same set of navigating tools you employ at home. One of the most common observations cast members make of guests is that they “Leave their brains at home.”

 

Tip #2: Location, Location, Location.

Think of this as the bathroom tip. You’re not going to ask where the bathrooms in Frontierland are while you’re on Main Street, are you? Cast members know the closest bathrooms. They’re also much more likely to be able to answer questions about the area surrounding their work location. Cast members who work in the Norway Pavilion should be able to answer questions about the Norway Pavilion, but it’s best to wait until you get to Morocco to ask questions about that pavilion.

Another aspect of this is that you should ask cast members questions based on their occupation. For example, a cast member who is working at Space Mountain is typically trained to work at other Tomorrowland rides and would be a good source of information for Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

 

Tip #3: Utilize Guest Relations Wherever Possible.

Obviously, guest relations is the place to go for answers. The staff is there to answer questions and they generally excel at this task. Of course, this means everyone might go there to ask. During times near park opening and closing, guest relations can be very busy with long-lines. If you need to ask questions while there’s a long wait, search around for a cast member nearby that is “looking helpful” (i.e. doesn’t seem to have some other job). When the parks are busy it’s not uncommon for them to have extra staff on the outside. Asking that cast member can provide the information needed, or at least will tell you that you do have to wait in the guest relations line.

Most guest relation locations inside the parks are near the entrances. All parks also have guest relations locations outside the park, separate from the ticket sales. The inside the park locations are as follows:

Magic Kingdom – Guest Relations is located in City Hall and is to the left of Town Square when guests come through the entrance tunnels.

Patrick says "Hi!" (but not much else) At Universal Studios Orlando. Photo by Thomas Cook
Patrick says “Hi!” (but not much else) At Universal Studios Orlando. Photo by Thomas Cook

Epcot – Guest Relations is located inside the park past Spaceship Earth in Innoventions East.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom – Guest Relations is located past the entrance and to the left.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios – Guest Relations is located past the entrance and to the left.

SeaWorld – Information and Reservations Counter, approximately 200 feet across from the turnstiles. Guest Services is located nearby for more detailed information.

Universal Studios – Guest Services is located directly to the right of the turnstiles.

Islands of Adventure – Guest Services is located just to the right of the turnstiles.

Legoland – Guest Services is located directly to the right of the turnstiles.

Busch Gardens – Tours, Information and Reservation Center is located directly across from the turnstiles. They also have Guest Services nearby for more detailed information.

 

Tip #4: Second Opinions.

Not just for doctors and lawyers, a second opinion is particularly useful if your question is important.

For example, a few weeks ago, my friend and I wanted to set-up in a great location to photograph the Main Street Electrical Parade, so we asked two cast members about it, but got conflicting answers. We set up in a nice Frontierland location with the expectation of the parade following the same direction as the Festival of Fantasy Parade earlier in the day. Honestly, I’m not a big parade fan, or I probably would have known.  We should have asked yet another cast member, but we didn’t. Because of that, we were on a bend in the route which would have left us with great approaching images. Unfortunately we discovered too late that the parade was approaching us from the opposite direction and the bend partly hid the parade until the floats were right in front of us. Lesson learned.

 

Tip #5: Gray Is the New Black.

Most of Walt Disney World’s younger cast members are wonderful, friendly and helpful (some are even friends of mine!), but nothing can beat years of experience. So look for older cast members. Yes, gray hair is a bit of a giveaway, but you don’t need to only look for seniors. Anyone that doesn’t appear to be a junior in high school could do. Look in the shops, which is a common location for older cast members. Photographers and custodial staff can be good sources for people who are not only older than the typical college-aged cast member, but have probably worked for Walt Disney World for many years.

These senior cast members are also more likely to learn about the parks and the rest of the World and be able to provide helpful information. Walt Disney World employs many people who have retired from their first profession, which means a lot of them are educated and still adventurous. They work there to earn supplementary income or to take advantage of the many cast discounts. They’re also the ones who probably have great stories too.

 

Tip #6: Go Deep.

Dale would love to answer questions, but he's in the 3 O'clock Parade! Photo by Thomas Cook
Dale would love to answer questions, but he’s in the 3 O’clock Parade! Photo by Thomas Cook

Obviously, people visit Walt Disney World for a magical vacation. Attractions, shows, character interactions, water play and dining are all obvious ways to absorb the magic, but one of the best and most underrated magic sources is the cast member! Every day of your trip look for cast member interactions. You have to be particular who you speak to, but you’ll be surprised how many of them will be able to tell you stories if they can spare a few moments.

You’ll find cast members in every park and throughout Walt Disney World, such as shop keepers, custodians, hotel staff and attraction attendants (the ones with short waits – this isn’t something you should be asking the person who is loading you into your Doombuggy) who would love to speak with interesting guests. They’re so used to getting the same questions about bathrooms or show times that anyone who asks them a more in-depth question will be a relief.

Suggestions of what should you ask?

  • What do they like best about being a cast member?
  • How long have they worked there?
  • Have they had any funny experiences?
  • What is their favorite attraction?
  • What’s the best tip they would give a guest?
  • Who is their favorite character and why?

 

One small bit of caution: Walt Disney World’s famous (some of us would argue infamous) bus drivers and boat captains aren’t always the best sources of information. Sure, they can tell you basic stuff as well as any cast member, but at least in the past when they often provided their own commentary to passengers, their stories were often legendary yarns as interesting (and as factual) as those told in the Walt Disney classic animated short Pecos Bill. If you are a recipient of one of these stories, treasure it, tweet it, share it with friends but don’t just accept it without verification.

One final note: While I wrote this article based primarily on Walt Disney World experiences, every theme park in central Florida has many wonderful employees who can provide much of the information the guest needs. When visiting any of the parks, I encourage you to engage the staff. Every park encourages their staff to give exemplary service.

If you’ve had a great interaction from someone (or a bad experience, for that matter) note their name and work location and drop by guest relations. There you can quickly tell your story. Guest interactions are so important that your comments will usually be forwarded to the cast member’s supervisor. Cast members can get rewarded for exemplary service and I promise you that anyone who honestly doesn’t treat a guest properly will be reprimanded. The good cast members like to see both of those things happen.

 

By the way, if you can pull it off with a straight face, go ahead and ask someone the time of the 3 O’clock Parade. True, it currently has a name, but you’ll be carrying on a Disney tradition well over thirty years old.

I hope this primer helps people. Feel free to share any comments, especially if you’d like to share some great cast member interactions. Thanks!

 

Thomas Cook

Greetings! I'm Tom, better known as Stingray Tom. Photographer (nature & architecture), historian (Orlando & Florida, including theme parks) and published author (including Orlando's Historic Haunts). I'm a 30 year Orlandoan but was born within 50 miles of Disneyland. I spend time each week in the parks as well as deep in Florida's nature. I love animals, dark rides and my girlfriend (not necessarily in that order). Twitter @StingrayTom3000.

16 thoughts on “Disney World: Getting the Most of Cast Members

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  • August 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm
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    In defense of asking “what time is the 3 o’clock parade”, and something I learned from a backstage tour: it’s often not an example of asking an unthinking question, but of asking not-quite-the-right question. What the person probably wants to know is “what time will the 3 o’clock parade be here at this location?”.

    Yes, there will always be those who just don’t think about their question…but the best cast members think about what the person really needs to know and respond with that, especially for these ‘stupid’ questions that get asked all the time. That’s a big part of why I love Disney.

    Reply
    • August 17, 2014 at 9:26 pm
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      Thank for the comments. Wasn’t focusing in the 3 o’clock parade thing – I’m sure there were many reasons why guests asked that question. I do remember that nearly all were satisfied with the answer: “3.”

      Reply
  • August 17, 2014 at 2:54 pm
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    The cast member (Dan, if I remember correctly) that checked me into Yacht Club for my 30th Birthday trip went above and beyond in his service. Nothing grandiose, but he was extremely friendly, answered all of my questions, and even escorted me and my friend to our room. I was so pleased with our interaction, that I wrote an email to Disney praising him, and I hope it got back to him somehow.

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    • August 17, 2014 at 9:29 pm
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      That’s great!

      Yes, generally their supervisor will get the note, eventually.

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  • August 17, 2014 at 4:35 pm
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    I’d like to second your tip #3 about using Guest Relations whenever possible. I recently had a moderately complicated question about the new Memory Maker product. I went to the photo center in the Magic Kingdom, thinking that would be the logical place to ask. Despite me asking the question several different ways, the cast member helping kept giving me information that simply didn’t make sense. Rather than taking his information at face value, I then went to Guest Relations. The cast member there took the time to do some research (about 90 seconds worth) and get me accurate info. The Guest Relations staff is generally trained to dig deeper if they don’t know an answer, rather than just talking if they “think” they know the answer.

    I suppose the corollary of this is “trust you gut.” If you don’t think a cast member is giving you proper information, take this as a sign to go to tip #4 and ask someone else.

    Reply
    • August 17, 2014 at 9:31 pm
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      Thanks!

      Reply
  • August 17, 2014 at 9:40 pm
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    The cast members really do make the magic; I’m often acting out the ‘Ballad of the Single Rider’, and while Disney isn’t exactly a lonely place to go by yourself, nothing beats being able to share that enthusiasm with someone, even for a minute or two. Heck, from yesterday alone, I could name you at least three or four different times just off the top of my head where a cast member brightened up my visit.

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    • August 17, 2014 at 9:58 pm
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      As might be guessed, I spend a lot of time in the parks by myself. I DO enjoy interactions with CMs.

      Reply
  • August 18, 2014 at 8:28 am
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    I have nothing but admiration for Disney’s human resources and training departments. While I know nothing is perfect, I’ve never had anything but good experiences with Disney Cast Members, and sometimes they do something that truly amazes me.

    A few years ago, at Magic Kingdom, my then-five-year-old daughter had just gotten Peter Pan’s autograph, and we were making our way back to Main Street, and there was a parade going on (probably the three o’clock parade?), and there in front of us was Peter Pan fighting Captain Hook on a float. Now, my daughter is naturally sarcastic and skeptical, and of course at five she already knew the characters were actors, so she rolled her eyes and blurted out, “Boy, Peter Pan sure got *there* fast.”

    A young cast member near by knelt down beside her, to be at eye level, and said, solemnly, “He can fly, you know.”

    My daughter’s face lit up and she nodded, “Hey! That’s pretty good!”

    Disney’s Cast Members are a huge reason the parks and resorts are as spectacular an experience as they are.

    Reply
    • August 19, 2014 at 12:04 am
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      Awesome!

      I was at the Magic Kingdom back in June and got to meet Tinkerbell (pictured above), we had a great conversation about lobbying the park for her to get her own castle-like structure since Fantasyland is seemingly adding new castles left-and-right.

      Only a few minutes later I saw Tink on her float. Same dress, same hair, same hair, but something had changed. I’m sure it was the sunlight…

      Reply
  • August 18, 2014 at 10:42 am
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    I have read elsewhere (not reliable sources) that a single negative comment at guest relations about a CM would/could result in termination of their employment. As a former cast member perhaps you could comment on how true this statement might be? It would certainly make me hesitant to “name names” if I had a real customer service issue (which I have thankfully never had)

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    • August 18, 2014 at 11:54 pm
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      A single negative comment will NOT get a cast member fired, at least anymore. Current labor laws make it necessary for termination to follow either a well-documented chronic situation (i.e. calling in sick regularly), or something major i.e. provable theft).

      That being said, a significant negative personnel file item, whether from leadership or a guest complaint, can lead to the cast member not being able to even apply for promotion for months.

      Since people are concerned about the complaint process – here’s a bit of helpful information I can add (I’ve worked for 3 different theme park companies and in customer service for most of my life).

      If you have an issue with a cast member, don’t let your emotion guide you. You may be angry, and rightly so, but that’s not the best way to approach the cast member, their supervisor or guest relations.

      If you feel the need to make an official complaint, speak to the supervisor or guest relations calmly. If you’re overly dramatic, your comments will possibly be discounted. Guest relations is very used to dealing with unreasonable people who make unreasonable demands. People who know if they make a dramatic play out of a small issue, Disney World, etc. will give them something to appease them. Cast members HATE this practice, but it’s the way it is. But even though the hot heads will be appeased, their complaints may never make it past guest relations. If they act unreasonable and their complaint is, in reality, rather insignificant, guest relations will “let it go”.

      So if you have a real issue, calmly speak to guest relations. Make sure to get the name of the cast member and where they work. Describe the issue and don’t start asking for stuff.

      Reply
      • August 20, 2014 at 11:14 pm
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        The flipside – if you get particularly noteworthy and great service, do the same thing. Speak to the supervisor or guest relations, make sure to get the name of the cast member and where they work, and give the praise that is due. I have worked in enough service related job to know – those commendations from guests really matter to everyone involved.

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        • August 21, 2014 at 12:19 am
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          EXACTLY.

          Think of it this way: Supervisors are busy. They are also not always trained effectively on the importance of praising their staff. If they see a worker doing wrong, it’s easy to correct, but unless the supervisor is watching carefully (and without the cast member knowing it) they are unlikely to see superior guest service, which means they are not going to praise the cast member in the official ways.

          When a guest gives a compliment (especially directly to guest relations), a document is created. The supervisor will take the compliment at face value and the cast member will be praised, have it placed in their permanent record and might be rewarded with through a company incentive program.

          Here’s a suggestion: During your next vacation to try to find one cast member (or staff of any of the theme parks) that gave you an excellent interaction and note their name, the time, the location and stop by guest relations before you leave the park to report it.

          I promise you there are many excellent cast members who give quality service every day who will never get a guest compliment. To paraphrase Dirty Harry: Go ahead – make their day.

          Reply
  • August 23, 2014 at 10:34 am
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    I had to visit Guest Relations in City Hall whilst we were in the Magic Kingdom last month. There was quite a queue and I had to wait about 10 minutes to be seen. Whilst i was talking to the cast member the lady behind me in the queue was called forward by the cast member next to the one who was dealing with my query. The guests query (and bearing in mind she had stood in the queue for a good ten minutes) was ‘What is this queue for?’

    Reply

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