Disney World Investing Millions on Cast Morale
Josh D’Amaro, the new president of Walt Disney World, has revealed plans for improving Cast Member morale. The goal is to inject millions of dollars into upgrading backstage common areas and break rooms with better technology, more space to relax or mingle, and improved, healthier dining options. In this, we’ll take a look at some of D’Amaro’s initiatives for Cast Members, and offer belated commentary about his rise to WDW president.
As background, D’Amaro began his Disney career in 1998 as a senior business planner at the Disneyland Resort. His initial stint there lasted 8 years, with roles in operations, business planning, finance, sales and marketing. Following that, he held a number of positions with Adventures by Disney and Hong Kong Disneyland before relocating to Florida for VP positions heading up Resorts and Transportation, followed by Animal Kingdom during its huge Pandora – World of Avatar expansion.
D’Amaro began his new role as president of Walt Disney World last November after occupying the same position at Disneyland Resort in California for the last two years. In Florida, he replaced George Kalogridis, a Disney lifer who also held roles on both coasts. Since coming to Walt Disney World, D’Amaro has already been highly visible, sharing some of his activities on the Disney Parks Blog and via his prolific Instagram account…
The illuminating interview with Josh D’Amaro comes via Orlando Business Journal, which spent one-on-one time with Walt Disney World’s new president in and around the parks. In that, D’Amaro stated that he believes Cast Members are an integral part of the secret sauce that is the X-factor in the tourism business. This is a thesis statement of sorts, and guiding principle behind some of his recent decisions.
D’Amaro indicated that Cast Members provide an important energy to guests, and make the parks feel alive. He revealed that he likes to visit with Cast Members whenever possible to get firsthand feedback about issues and to gain ideas they may have that can help improve Walt Disney World. D’Amaro attributes this to leaders who did the same for him when he was a new cast member himself.
This view of the essential nature of Cast Members is also why D’Amaro is pushing for substantial investments into their morale. As Walt Disney World invests billions of dollars on expansion in three parks and infrastructure around the resort, D’Amaro also feels it’s essential to be putting money back Cast Members to ensure they are equipped to do their jobs and feel good about their work.
In the interview, he also points out new meal plans that Walt Disney World has launched in recent months with healthier choices at lower costs. D’Amaro indicated that it’s important that Cast Members aren’t just in the right state of mind to fill their roles, but also feeling good physically, too.
The full article in OBJ is well worth a read. It’s peppered with anecdotes about D’Amaro’s in-park interactions with front of line Cast Members, his experiences with Disney, and a touching anecdote about his pocket squares. (Yes, really.)
We’ve stressed the importance of Cast Members in numerous posts here, so we won’t rehash too much of that here. Suffice to say, we are firm believers in Walt Disney’s sentiment: “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” Of the myriad Walt quotes out there, this is his most poignant and significant piece of wisdom.
Improvements in morale (and wages!) for front of line Cast Members directly benefit guests. Higher employee satisfaction translates directly to higher guest satisfaction. Beyond that, these enhancements boost Walt Disney World’s ability to attract and retain talented and passionate Cast Members. Here’s hoping that this initiative gains momentum and is further expanded!
As for our thoughts on Josh D’Amaro as president of Walt Disney World our impression is largely positive, albeit also largely uninformed. We don’t normally offer commentary about executive leadership at Disney because it’s tough to do so from the outside looking in. Quite simply, fans see what we want to see. We view things in reductionist terms, and can be manipulated by agendas both internal and external to the company. Consequently, it’s easy to paint leadership in the familiar terms of Disney fairytales.
There’s always a villain–the one blamed for the gratuitous injection of IP in attractions. There’s also usually an underdog hero–the one who “gets” Disney and would save the parks and restore Epcot’s original vision if they just had a little more power. There’s perhaps a kernel of truth to some of this, but just as much is attributable to media savvy (or lack thereof) and how executives present themselves and mold their own public image.
Accordingly, we’re not here to offer some glowing assessment of Josh D’Amaro based upon a passing, superficial interaction with him in the park one day. In fact, we’ve never even talked to him. We have, however, seen him over a dozen times at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. From that, we have a few observations.
Many of these sightings were in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge while we were waiting in line for something or another, and we saw D’Amaro interacting with other guests and front of line Cast Members. Even then, we remarked that it was interesting how he took the initiative to stop and talk with Cast Members. In other words, this wasn’t simply a performative act for the interview.
We’ve also noticed that Josh D’Amaro often appears in random places and without a huge posse. It’s one thing for him to be out and about on opening day of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, a new attraction, or the debut of an event. Touring various areas of the park with large teams from the other coast is pretty typical. However, it’s another to see him wandering through Epcot, picking up random trash in DCA while no cameras are on him, or having dinner at Takumi-Tei.
That brings us to the final observation–D’Amaro is on the ground, in the parks a lot. That we’ve seen him by happenstance in all of those (and other) places isn’t the only basis for this. There are regular reports and photos of him around the parks on social media. While being publicly visible isn’t necessarily the mark of a good leader, it is nice for Walt Disney World to have someone who is exposed to and engaged with the guest and Cast Member experience.
Beyond that, everyone we know who worked under D’Amaro at Disneyland has nothing but effusive praise and glowing things to say about him. By all of their accounts, he’s the real deal. Again, this is only a partial picture, and one based entirely on anecdotes and our observations, which are far from conclusive. Nevertheless, it really doesn’t feel like D’Amaro is simply going through the motions to sculpt a favorable image or positive press. He sure seems like the type of leader Walt Disney World needs, one poised to improve not just Cast Member morale and facilities, but also to lead the resort into its 50th Anniversary and through the massive projects that are currently ongoing.
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Any thoughts to add about these initiatives and investments in Cast Member facilities and morale at Walt Disney World? Any thoughts on Josh D’Amaro? Are you likewise optimistic that he’s well-poised to lead Walt Disney World through massive expansion and into its 50th Anniversary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
I could be snarky and make some very obvious criticisms of your post and point to some possible motivations for it. I could be nice and say you make some good and fair points. I could also point out that being seen or not seen is generally something decided behind the scenes for various corporate reasons. Some posts above make mention of Michael Eisner and Paul Pressler and share examples of them being seen. Josh’s predecessor, George ‘the vanquished evil queen’ Kalogridis, literally played both roles depending on what resort he was working at and what exec role he was in. From roles where he was always seen (Anaheim, second stint, EPCOT etc.) to roles where he was never seen (DLP) to roles where he was barely seen (WDW Prez) to roles where he was seen at the start, only to disappear (DLR, second stint).
Being seen is part of the entire game of being a Disney exec. No different than playing other roles … right now, the idea is for Josh to be front and center, so he is. All it will take is one phone call or email from Burbank and you’ll never see him again outside an official setting.
It’s all about motivation and what you want people (now, people like you) to see … I think you get that.
My son worked at Disneyland Tokyo a few years ago. Our daughter was getting married at home in Pennsylvania. He got his shifts covered and was only coming home for the wedding (from Friday night and leaving Sunday morning). He tried for weeks before the wedding to be able to have off to come home. They made it so difficult for him to come home and after seeing multiple managers over a few weeks, they finally agreed. It was so unfair and upsetting for all of us, especially for him since he was afraid he would miss his only sister’s wedding, which he was going to be in.
Also, thank you for this article. It is encouraging to know that he is so focused on the CMs and wanting to improve things for them.
Where I appreciate the proposed upgrades, one of the easiest things they could do to lift morale is stop blocking cast members from parks.
My son, who has a bachelor’s degree, works in entertainment and has specialized skills, is a full time employee (with benefits, yay!) and works almost exclusively at Hollywood Studios. Cast members are BLOCKED from going to Studios for the entire spring (through April so far). I’m not talking about their guest passes for friends & family, I’m talking about the cast members themselves! He gets to clock in, do his shift, and immediately clock out. If he wants to spend the day there, he has to purchase a full priced ticket. He can’t even have a meal with his family if they’ve ponied up the full cost of admission just to see him perform.
It’s even more difficult on College Program participants. They have very little down time and little to no money left from their paychecks after paying their exorbitant rent. Most of them spend their down time at the parks because it’s free and fun. But the spring CPs are blocked from Hollywood Studios for their entire program! Some broken hearts there.
Higher pay would certainly lift morale, and, yes, their break facilities are pitiful (particularly in some of the more remote locations) and need improvement, as well as their very poor wi-fi (good wi-fi is reserved for guests). Disney is making massively expensive improvements to all the parks (particularly Studios and Epcot) and they have justified that with higher ticket prices and tier pricing …. but some of those upgrade costs could and should be invested in their cast members. They work really hard under not the best circumstances (cranky guests really are a problem).
They really gouge the CP participants on rent in the CP Housing units. Six to a three bedroom apartment that is really tiny and in poor condition.
So sad to hear. One of the things my sister loved about her externship at Disney, was visiting on her off days.
If your son is a full time Cast Member then he receives winter and summer complimentary tickets that can be used to get into Hollywood Studios for free without having to purchase a ticket.
That’s horrible! I did the college program 20 years ago and LOVED being able to visit all the parks on my days off.
LONG,LONG over due.
I applaud Josh DeMaro for at least starting to do something! I think it is the most important to bring back the Disney university to a full week , like it used to be. You can tell in the CM’s who only have a day or so of DU. That is where the magic starts. The break rooms, etc, are nice but the starting education needs to be brought back to a full week.
I also agree about the managers needing training and someone to answer to for their actions or inaction! The front line CM’s need to be empowered to handle difficult problems at their level. They should not have to take what is dished out to them by rude mean people.
You are so right.
As a guest I have seen so many uniformed CM giving me bad directions and incorrect answers. I do my research and expect the CMs to know what is going on. It’s hit or miss in the parks these days.
As a former CM reading how Josh interacts with the front line cast members is fantastic! I worked at the Disneyland resort during a time when most mangement could care less about us. It was all about how do we save money. I’m reminded of two separate instances with high level execs during that period.
When the new Autopia first opened (summer 2001) Michael Eisner was coming into the park to check it out before the park opened for the day. The managers had us scheduled to come in a half hour earlier than usual so we could make sure the ride and queue was spotless for him. I’d never seen management care so much about how the ride looked and how we acted. We do our job and make sure the everything looks spic and span all the while marveling how the ride managers and land managers were hovering nearby.
Eisner came in and was on and off the ride in no time. He had little to no interaction with us front-liners not evening stopping to say hi or acknowledge our presence. It’s almost as if he could care less who we were and the fact we came in early just for his arrival.
The other instance was that same year around the holidays. I was finishing up a test and adjust shift on California Screamin as we were due to begin CM previews within a few short weeks. Paul Pressler was in DCA that evening to check on things. We both happened to exit the coaster at the same time. He was the exact opposite of Eisner. Extremely friendly and personable, taking the time to address me by first name and having a conversation for some time before he headed off to another part of DCA.
Don’t forget the biggest reason most people work for WDW the perks. And there are plenty of them. One of the biggest is free admission passes. The employee sell these passes for a cheaper admission ( the people in Florida can get a yearly pass ) that might be an idea to stop this perk practice. Double perk.
I disagree completely. The passes are one of the FEW perks the cast members get that they can actually use. It’s against policy to sell them (a termination offense). And they block the park to cast members whenever they wish. Right now, no cast member can get into Hollywood Studios for the next four months without paying full price for a ticket. (BTW their discounted tickets are about 10%)
Plus after you work all day, you don’t feel like going to the parks most of the time. Our son mostly used his passes when friends came down to visit him.
Mr. D’Amaro took part in the memorial held for Aunty Kau’i (long time Poly cast member and originator of the luau show on both coasts, among other things), and as shown in your photo, kept to the Hawaiian tradition of tossing a lei into the water in honor of the deceased. For that alone, I give the man credit.
I hope he also raises wages for cast members, especially servers, who receive a low hourly wage, relying on tips, the amount of which is at the whim of the guest, who, through no fault of the cast member, may have had a crappy day. Or maybe the guest comes from a country where tipping is not routine.
As the cost of living increases, one shouldn’t have to depend on others to offset their pay. Servers, like the rest of us, have mortgages and the usual monthly bills. Disney has no qualms about raising prices on their parks and hotels as the mood suits them, so they should have no qualms about their cast members receiving a fair pay for the jobs they do. After all, they are the face of the brand; the people we interact with. I do on occasion see Bob Iger walking around, but we do not interact, nor does he make my vacation special. That job is left to the cast member.
I’ve been to the Disney World parks several times and Disneyland California in my life with my most recent trip just a few weeks ago. The trip was great and we had no complaints or issues. I did, however, have two separate cast members tell me they were interviewing at other amusement facilities that treat their staff more like family and less like a number or cattle (their phrases). I was honestly shocked as I had never heard a negative word about working conditions at the parks or stores. This has been the thing that has stuck with me the most from cast member interaction this trip. I hope this can become a thing of the past.
My son’s friend who was an Imagineer who did the CP twice, interned and then, after working for a Disney contractor, was hired full time. She was an engineer who worked on Toystory Land and had been working on other projects since that was completed. She starts at Universal in a better position, making more money with more responsibility in about a week.
There are a lot of employees who make low wages and don’t ever get tips from guests. Housekeepers make more than most of the park employees, especially the CP employees.
As with most corporations, financial reports tell the story. Guest prices continue to climb, while on-site benefits are reduced. CM wages remain low and division profits skyrocket. I expect the pressure to keep internal costs low at the US parks will persist, especially in light of the forecasted revenue losses resulting from the Corona virus-related closures in Asia. The park access is a tough issue. While I like the idea that the CMs would have unfettered park access, 62,000 people with free tickets to Galaxy’s Edge would probably light up this blog with “the park is too crowded” complaints. Personally, I’d rather see CMs receiving a better wage. That way they could have the freedom to choose to spend their money on summer park tickets to D0HS or basic things like mortgages and student loan payments. I’m not naÃ¯ve enough to think that Disney is alone in squeezing their employees to maximize profits, but they do ask more of their CMs than is expected of most people in low wage jobs.
So he starts by blacking out cast member passes to Galaxy’s Edge until April or later! My daughter has worked for WDW for 10 years now. There was never a wage increase.
Not just Galaxy’s Edge, the whole of Hollywood Studios! They are blocked through the end of April so far …. May is TBD.
“or having dinner at Takumi-Tei.” Speaking of… any chance of getting a review soon, Tom? 😉
Within the next couple of weeks!
I do believe that Josh’s efforts to see what all the people in the park see’s is very important on his judgements on how to fund and make changes for the visitors and the employees. As a nurse the best run hospital floors were the ones where the manager shows up on each shift to see how the people and patients are fairing and what things needed to be done for both the staff and patients. Things were rolled out to maximize the best for both when the manager had his or her finger on the pulse literally to make the best changes for all. This CEO has the right stuff to do the right thing for Walt Disney World just as the originator had. Raising the price of everything in the park will be a mistake without looking at how the visitors are treated and of late the customer service has a lot to be desired in the park and at the hotels and restaurants and I’m in hopes that this CEO can get the customer service up to par where it was twenty years ago. The decline has been sharp and because all Disney CEO’S were looking at was the bottom line and not the visitors in the park or the cast members. The hotels at best are not at the standards that they can charge the prices they do for room rates and if they thing a few Disney prints on the walls are going to bring up the price point they are wrong. It was the outstanding customer service and going the extra mile for the visitors that made spending the amount of money needed for the trip worth while. Everything has gone down hill in the past 25 years and if someone does not change for the better their is no reason to stay at Disney Hotels or eat Disney food. I am going with my Daughter and grandchild to Disney in May and spending three days in the parks with a park hopper ticket. I am somewhat handy capped so I will see how the elderly are treated as it seems they are all but creating a no fly zone for the elderly with the changes they are making. This was not Walt Disney’s idea for a park for everyone from one to ninety-one. All people’s should be able to go and enjoy all the atmosphere and most of the rides as they are paying for them on the tickets otherwise seniors should pay far less for a ticket that the younger generations. I hope this CEO takes this all into account and makes good and fair changes to Walt Disney World for the better !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Legit though, never forget that Henry Ford paid his workers enough that they could buy his cards. Disney has enough funds tso pay more than $15 per hour… Doing the bare minimum for such a large corporation shouldn’t be applauded.
Like any large corporation, Disney is motivated by media coverage, both good and bad. As such, I think it’s worthwhile for outlets to cover investments like this–it helps incentivize more of the same in the future.
It’d be one thing if we only covered the positive, overlooking the contentious union negotiations…but we had articles about that, too, and advocated for Cast Members to be paid a living wage.
Excellent point, Tom. You are fair in your coverage of things, not just your reviews but also in other areas.
IF this investment happens (some CMs are still waiting on that pay raise, some will see it over 5 years) it would be a boost for the quickly diminishing morale. It’s difficult to make magic for others when you are worried about making your rent.
They’re not applauding Disney. They are applauding Josh. As someone who worked under Josh for his entire two years at DLR, I can tell you that he had a real, noticeable impact on cast morale. He was behind expanding childcare for cast members, behind part of the launch of Disney Aspire, started the same break room enhancement initiative that he’s bringing to WDW, brought back Disneyland admission for cast members and their families for the holidays (Family Holiday tickets had moved to DCA only prior to him taking the role). He also eased tensions with both the unions and the City of Anaheim. He cut all tax breaks and incentives for the resort. He’s the one that pushed for the resort to offer a higher pay rate than the $13 that was originally on the table. When we got word Josh was walking our area, cast members weren’t nervous. They instead tried to find him just so they could see him, and then he’d walk over and ask how their shift was going.
Josh is a real leader, but he doesn’t make every single decision, and not every person reports to him. He does what he can within the massive machine that is The Walt Disney Company, and the fact that someone like him not only is tolerated in the organization, but is applauded by his leaders and promoted time after time is encouraging.
This is WONDERFUL to know, Robert. Thank you! (Pierce = no relation)
So sad to hear. One of the things my sister loved about her externship at Disney, was visiting on her off days.
Great to hear your perspective as a CM. Thanks for sharing.
OTOH, stating such things in the Orlando Business Journal, which is more of a business weekly rather than a local newspaper is a big sign. Most large corporations would tell the OBJ and the Wall Street Journal how they’re working on the quarterly revenue projections and save the platitudes for the Orlando Sentinel and the Sun-Sentinel.
Spending this much money directly on park Cast Members in areas that the general public can’t see seems like a big change for Disney. Time will tell whether the business follows through, but this is much better than a Powerpoint slide in a Anaheim ballroom.
A new break area isn’t going to do it. What they need to do is improve supervisors and managers. My son used to work at WDW, started as an Intern, then moved to full time. He has since gone on to get a masters degree in Landscape Architecture. He was the one always making suggestions on how to fix the problems, but was ignored. The supervisors and managers are set in their ways and not that eager to change. Operations funds are wasted all the time. Tools disappear all the time, so they just buy more. Most of the time new hires (when they get them) come from the contractors who work there, but really don’t have any experience in performing the duties of the job.
The increase in wages will help, but it also means that the lazy ones will still get the pay increases and not fixed. You’d be surprised at the number of workers who sleep on the job, especially when they start work at 4AM. What many of the employees really need is a supervisor who backs them up, especially when they get the jerk of a customer who wants it their way. They need supervisors who are on the move watching what is going on and not just sitting in an office somewhere. Not spying on the employees, but supporting them.
Can’t say I disagree with any of this. One of the common refrains we’ve heard from front of line CMs is that they aren’t empowered and that far too often management sides with guests in disputes, rather than having the back of CMs.
I definitely don’t doubt the latter point one bit–Disney seems like the ultimate example of “the customer is always right” run amuck.
Good point. Supervisors should be managing their employees and making adjustments, firing employees who are not fulfilling their responsibilities. The CMs suggestions should also be considered and the company should have an online portal where employees can offer input and ideas to help .
Morale will increase when they are well paid and can stop worrying about lack of money. Having a nicer break room isn’t going to do it.
This. Absolutely this. Nice breakroom and cheaper meals are great, but how about cast members not living in their cars or sharing a tiny apartment with a ton of room mates (and I’m not talking about a young 20 something, more like in their 50s)
Exactly. Use this money to pay them more and they’ll be plenty happy. The end.
I don’t disagree with your main point that Disney should continue to raise CM wages to attract and retain talent, as well as ensuring higher morale.
I do think that nicer workplace amenities can help make a difference in feeling valued. As can having leaders who are present, accessible, and actively listening to employee concerns.
Walt Disney World needs to improve its workplace culture and conditions just as much as pay. It all matters.
The leading point about increasing wages seems a bit misguided. As an educator, it always pained me when debates were framed around more pay. Pay was just a piece of the puzzle. I recognize many of the complaints: the administrator who never leaves their office, the parents are always right, that’s not standard operating procedure, no one uses the breakroom anyway, why are you complaining about free coffee,… It would seem CMs and teachers share a common theme, 99 problems and the kids aren’t one.
This is a great idea. They desperately NEED it, dealing with the difficult public and demands of the guests every minute. I have seen a decline of happy cast members over the last few years. Not that I blame them, but they are definitely a huge part of the magic of the trip, so we need them to keep happy !
I think this is a great investment. Employees want to and should feel valued. I would imagine it’s easy to feel unappreciative and insignificant working in the machine that is Disney. Just from what I’ve seen in the parks, people on vacation aren’t always the kindest people but I’ve never seen a cast member be rude. I know it happens. But I really feel like this is a great investment and will pay off for the guests just as much as the cast members themselves.
If they really want to boost moral. Try paying them decent wages. Walt Disney World has the lowest wages and more demands i.e. maditory on call 24 /7 for just barely above min wages. I have worked my career that required 24/7 on call but I was also making 80k a year not 22k. I have family and friends who. Work for disney and the requirements are harsh and yet the CEO and other Corp individuals show online and in the news that they are making a ridiculous amount of money. But without the staff at their park there IS NO Disney. So start taking care of your staff. And you will surely boost moral. Most of the low moral is due to them seeing how much the people whom DONT MAKE THE PARKS WORK make vs the ones whom really make the park work. It is high time CEO’s realize whom makes the money. It is not those in higher seats. It is always those doing the grunt work.
“Walt Disney World reached a deal last year to increase the park’s minimum wage to $15 by 2021.” so ….your wish has been granted.
Its also getting the Right people to be a Cast Member! It takes time to do back ground checks, training, and making sure someone really wants to be there as compared to just showing up for a job. So many individuals aren’t happy with themselves and they in-turn make it rotten for visitors.
As a family, we all make a point to be demonstrably appreciative of every cast member’s efforts. On the whole, the cast members are excellent. Unfortunately, when there’s a bad experience with a cast member, it sticks with you. We still talk about the ones that were obviously having a bad day (or consecutive bad days), and years later. It’s amazing how negative interactions impact the trip experience so much.
I think knowing they have a leader who is on the grounds with them and with their interests and well being in mind is a great start.