Respect for Disney Cast Members

This was all over Facebook recently. I applaud whoever answered this with such dignity and pride to represent Disney Cast Members who truly love their jobs and deserve to be treated with respect. As a Cast Member myself, I can say that even when I leave the company, I will always, always, always have a passion for the brand, product and everything The Walt Disney Company stands for.

Being a part of The Walt Disney Company has been such a great experience in the start of my career.

(From Tumblr)

Q: Guests pay to go to Disney parks.  Why should we [Guests] say ‘please’ and ‘thank you?’

Are you kidding me? Please tell me that you’re just a troll and that this isn’t a serious question.

Just in case it is, though, here we go. Behind a “read more” because it’s not short.

One of the smartest things I ever heard one of my guests say is that “Everyone, at some point in their lives, should be forced to work in food or retail, or in some service capacity, because only then can they understand what it’s like.”

The very fact that you asked this question makes me sad. Are basic concepts like “manners” and the “Golden Rule” (do unto others as you would have others do unto you — or, in current English, treat other people in a way you would want to be treated) so completely lost now that this really needs an explanation?

It may be news to you that a cast member who helps hundreds — if not thousands — of guests per day is a person who, by their very existence as a human being, has earned the right to be treated with dignity. Then they come in to work every day at the Happiest Place on Earth, not because it’s a well-paying job (because it is most certainlynot a well-paying job), but because they want to make people happy. They are there because they want to help create the magic that gives Disney a special place in the hearts of millions of people around the world, and keeps Disney parks from becoming just another set of Six Flags parks or, worse, Universal Studios Hollywood.

These cast members sometimes work 12-16 hours shifts during peak seasons (my personal record was a 27-hour shift one New Year’s Eve, and I had one fellow cast member put in a 117-hour workweek during Spring Break — almost three weeks worth of full-time work in a very physically demanding job).

Without them, Disney parks are nothing all that special. They become full of just a bunch of industrial machinery that people ride on. Walt Disney once said “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.” Walt knew that if his front line staff didn’t buy into his dream and work to make it a reality, then Disneyland would flop. The same holds true today for other Disney parks all over the world.

These are the people you see wearing name tags when you visit the parks (which, in your case, I sincerely hope is a rare event). These are the people who stand out in the rain, who stand out in 100º+ heat, who get permanent farmer’s tans, who spend 8-10 hours on their feet each day, who walk over a mile from their car in the Pumbaa lot to their work location each day, then hike another mile back to their cars at the end of the day, because it’s faster than waiting for a shuttle at K-lot. Not to mention the many miles they walk in the course of their jobs — I often covered 10-13 miles per day as a Front of House Lead in ODV, as I found out when I put on a pedometer.

These are the people who clean up the messes of people who can’t be bothered to use a trash can, despite the fact that there is always one nearby and in view. They deal with people who, after being in the park for hours and riding a dozen rides, still haven’t figured out the answer to “how many in your party?” and have to hold up the line while they count. Again. And all the while, the cast member has to maintain the attraction’s flow to avoid an emergency stop because a vehicle stayed in the station too long.

Cast members are the ones who pick up the dirty diapers that someone decided to leave on a bench because “that’s your job to clean up after me” (an actual thing said to me by a guest who left a dirty diaper right by my churro cart, which I could do nothing with except wait for one of my Custodial heroes to get because, well, doyou want to eat a churro that I prepare right after handling some kid’s poopy diaper?).

These are people who sacrifice their bodies to be a part of the magic. Disney is extremely conscientious about safety, but let’s face it — any time you have thousands and thousands of active cast members, there are going to be accidents. I personally injured my foot, my shoulder, strained my back, and suffered heat exhaustion more times than I can count (as well as heat stroke on a couple of occasions). Then there were the dry ice burns, popcorn oil burns, getting my thumb caught in a winch, various cuts and scrapes, oh, and I’ll never forget that time where I bumped the back of my hand into a hot popcorn kettle and got to see my skin bubble. And it was worth every single one of those injuries to be part of the show.

There have been cast members who have paid a higher price — like being beaten up by guests who thought it would be cool to jump Goofy (that happened on my third day of training when I first hired in), or falling from a catwalk in the Hyperion Theater as Christopher Bowman did while prepping the Magic Carpet for a show.

This is what cast members do for you. They work their tails off to create an experience. And they do it because they believe in Walt’s dream.

But I would be willing to bet that this is all falling on deaf ears. You strike me a the type of person who would say something like “if they won’t do it with a smile no matter how I treat them, there are plenty of other people who would.”

Because nothing screams “quality” like hiring a bunch of people who are totally OK with being treated with scorn, right? Do you really think that someone who is OK with being treated like less-than-a-person is going to uphold the standards expected of a Disney theme park?

But let’s look at it from a greed standpoint, with what’s in it for you, because I have a feeling that this is the only language you will understand. 

Cast Members are fantastic at what they do. And if you don’t say please and thank you, or otherwise they are still going to do their jobs, and you’re probably going to have a pretty decent time despite your efforts to the contrary.

But if you walk up to a churro cart and the cast member says “Hi, how’s your day going?” and you hold up two fingers and grunt while avoiding eye contact, I guarantee that cast member isn’t going to give a damn about you. They’re going to fake-smile and get your churros and take your money and try to get you away from them as quickly as possible so they can focus on someone who isn’t a jerk. And you’re going to sour their mood for the next guest in line. Cast members have thick skin, but can be worn down, and it’s sad how many people seem determined to make their days miserable.

But if you actually acknowledge the cast member, make eye contact, give even a cursory response to the question asked, that cast member’s smile will be genuine. They’re going to treat YOU better because you treated THEM better than that jerk who was there ahead of you. And if you actually return the question and ask how their day is going (and actually listen to the answer)? Whether it’s a conscious decision or not, you’re going to be treated better because that’s how human nature works.

And look, we get it. Sometimes you’re too busy corralling your kids, or in the middle of a conversation with your family about where to go next. That’s totally fine, and cast members can pick up on those things and won’t take it personally at all. Believe it or not, most cast members know what it’s like to visit the parks with their family and are mindful of how stressful it can be.

Cast members don’t always have to be the center of attention. Well, maybe Jungle Cruise skippers do, but they’re a special breed.

But there’s a difference between being too busy to acknowledge a cast member and just ignoring them.

Let’s look at a brief example, then I’m going to wrap this up, edit out the insults that I peppered this with on the off chance that you aren’t actually a troll, and send it off to the blog.

Maybe you’re discussing with your family how you’d really like to ride Space Mountain, but little Jimmy isn’t tall enough and that means someone would have to miss out.

If you’ve been rude to a cast member and treated them with the attitude that “I’m a paying customer so DO THIS!”, that cast member isn’t likely to stop what they’re doing and take a few minutes with you to explain the child switch pass. To put it in a way that fits the way you asked this question, they can just say “I’m doing what I get paid to do, why should I go that extra mile? Besides, the child switch pass is mentioned in the guide, it’s not my fault this person didn’t read it or understand it.”

But if you treat that same cast member with respect, that cast member may stop and ask if you’ve heard about the child switch pass, and explain it to you. And you’ll learn maybe how many people can come back to use the pass after the first group rides, and suddenly you’ve gone from having Uncle Bob thinking he can’t go on Space Mountain at all because he’s got to watch little Jimmy and doesn’t want to make everyone else wait while he gets in line to ride it after them, to everyone in the group who is tall enough being able to ride — some of them twice — while only waiting in line once.

All because you took that extra half second to say “please,” or to just even make eye contact and smile at a cast member.

If you remember that cast members are humans, and treat them as humans, you will get very human service in return instead of being just another herd of tourist cattle to be moved along. You don’t have to bend over backwards for cast members. As we learn in Disney University, “we work while others play.”

But that doesn’t mean that cast members deserve to be treated poorly.

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