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.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

Your Thoughts

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!

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