What do the following three questions have in common?
- 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.
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.
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!