On Thanksgiving and every day, we’re grateful for the hard work of Cast Members in Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Paris, Tokyo, and all of the other Parks & Resorts destinations and experiences around the globe. You are the magic.
Walt Disney once said, “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–both real and fake–this is the most poignant. It’s the most significant to this day, and should be the guiding principle of the company.
Every time I see the Casting Agency door on Main Street at Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney’s sentiment gives me pause. It reminds me of the devoted people who breathe life into the parks. Yeah, TRON Lightcycle Run and Cosmic Rewind and the PeopleMover are all-time iconic rides. But they’re just that: rides. Every amusement park has rides. It’s the Cast Members who put the Magic into the Kingdom.
It’s important to be appreciative of this every day, but on days like today, it’s nice to be extra thankful. While we are at home enjoying a relaxed holiday with family, there are thousands of Cast Members spending the holiday away from their families so others can have an unforgettable holiday week in the park.
Sure, part of the reason it’ll be unforgettable is the crazy crowds and chaos, as Thanksgiving is one of the busiest weeks of the year. But that’s not the fault of Cast Members, their presence and positive attitude makes weeks like this more bearable. Trust me, our Disney Jollywood Nights Review would’ve had a lot more “ugly” were it not for the amazing Cast Members at the event. They were its saving grace.
In the wise-words of dearly-departed former CEO Bob Chapek, Cast Members are the “secret sauce” and the key to a great guest experience at Walt Disney World. He said that around 99% of the positive guest feedback he received when running Parks & Resorts was about Cast Members.
Towards the end of his tenure, Chapek said that he was “reminded” about the sentiment of Cast Members and the importance of them feeling valued and as if they could relate to the company. “You have to make sure the Cast is at the center of everything you do,” Chapek reflected.
We don’t say this very often: Bob Chapek was right.
I guarantee any of you who have visited Walt Disney World, Disneyland, or any other Disney theme park can think back to a moment when a Cast Member put a smile on your face. Whether it be someone in Guest Relations fixing a frustrating problem or the custodial artist painting Donald Duck with a mop, every Disney Cast Member has the capacity to make the guest experience special.
For me, this is embodied by two things: the regular and consistent hard work that the Cast Members put into the regular aspects of their jobs, and those small moments when they do something that leaves a lasting impact upon a guest. Of these two things, the former is what I feel is the bulk of what makes Disney Cast Members so amazing–and also where they are most under-appreciated.
Many Disney fans, us included, have dreamed about the fun elements, thinking of being Cast Members someday. It’s often a post-retirement scenario in which we fantasize about being able to captain a Friendship boat, enjoying beautiful Florida scenery while feeding off of the laughter and delight of guests enjoying first visits to Walt Disney World.
The dream is a romanticized fiction, much like so many dreams in which we all indulge. While being a Cast Member can no doubt be satisfying and rewarding, it can also be thankless. For every glamorized on stage role like the monorail pilot, there are countless Cast Members in less prolific positions from custodial to parking to food & beverage who play just as integral of roles.
I’m especially thankfully for these unsung Cast Members, because I know I couldn’t do what they do. I’ve seen irate guests berate Cast Members for attractions being down, long lines, overwhelming crowds, and other inconveniences wholly outside the realm of any individual Cast Member’s control.
Ignorance and entitlement are a dangerous combination, and we’ve witnessed Cast Members bear the brunt of the adult meltdowns at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. These meltdowns happen for any number of reasons, but the underlying reasons mostly relate back to the sense of entitlement at the core of the Disney Parks Pet Peeves post, or the stresses and pressures that many adults feel when going on a Disney vacation.
With rare exception, in my experience, these meltdowns are not the fault of the Cast Member who catches the ire of the guest, but are caused by the guest themselves or decisions made by Disney management that are out of the hands of the front-of-the-line Cast Member. Surprisingly and much to their credit, these meltdowns are met with patience, helpfulness, and restraint (…and maybe sometimes a coded “have a magical day”).
It is thus no small miracle that Cast Members are able to deal with belligerent guests while essentially becoming a punching bag. Not only that, but once the unpleasant interaction is over, the Cast Member is expected to resume their role as if nothing happened, putting on a smile and going out of their way to be pleasant to other guests. They quickly set aside those emotions so it doesn’t negatively affect the experiences of other guests.
Let the incredible fortitude and positive attitude that requires sink in for a moment. I’d like to think I’m a pretty level-headed person, but based on some of the guest horror stories I’ve heard from my Cast Member friends, I doubt I would last a week as a Cast Member. I simply don’t have the incredible level of restraint to ‘smile and bear it’ that it takes to handle some of these situations. How many of you do? Can you honestly say that a negative interaction with a coworker hasn’t soured the rest of your workday before?
While their fortitude is impressive, it’s the role of the Cast Member as “magic maker” that’s commonly lauded. That’s probably what brings the sense of satisfaction and joy that keeps them going through those unpleasant encounters. I’m sure this role is no easy task, either, as you never know what will trigger a special moment for each individual guest.
For some people, it’s a Cast Member telling them “happy birthday” or “have a magical day”, for others, it’s being given a sticker or a surprise snack on their honeymoon. The list of potential examples goes on and on. Most of these things are not major in the grand scheme of things, and could just as easily be ‘throwaway moments’, but end up being things that stick with guests for years after the trip.
One of my fondest memories from our engagement trip to Walt Disney World was being congratulated by the Cast Members at Crystal Palace and being presented with a certificate signed by Pooh and friends. We still have this certificate and whenever I look at it, it brings a smile to my face.
We also remember the magical moments during our honeymoon. Not to date ourselves, but both of these trips were well over a decade ago, and there are still specific interactions with Cast Members that we vividly recall. I couldn’t tell you everywhere we ate, which parks we visited on each day, or any number of other things about our Disneymoon–but I still remember many of those Cast Members.
As the details fade from memory, the indelible impression made by Cast Members remains to this day. And always will.
If you’ve ever wondered why this blog is unabashedly pro-Cast Member, that’s why. When readers leave comments bemoaning the supposed decline in quality of Cast Members, we routinely respond with why that might be their perception and why it’s unfair or inaccurate.
Above all else, that it’s been a rough few years for Cast Members and that a little empathy for that goes a long way. It’s worth reiterating this for those who haven’t heard it, as it provides key context. A few years ago, Cast Members were under immense stress, having the difficult task of playing adult babysitters and rule enforcers when health safety protocol was in place. Irrespective of how you feel about that, there’s no denying that the burden was placed on frontline Cast Members.
At the same time, Cast Members saw thousands of their colleagues lost during furloughs and mass layoffs. There was a sense of unease and uncertainty as they didn’t know whether their jobs would be safe. On top of all that, they also bore the brunt of ever-increasing guest complaints about reduced entertainment, Genie+, and other policy changes.
It should go without saying, but we’ll nevertheless point out the obvious: frontline Cast Members made exactly zero of these decisions. Nevertheless, they were the ones who faced the frustration and confusion of guests who were angry about the bad decisions made by employees at a way higher pay grade who work in offices and seldom visit the parks.
Guests being rude to Cast Members only exacerbates problems and degrades the guest experience for those who visit later, as Cast Member burn-out worsens and they become less capable of making magic. It’s a vicious cycle of lower employee satisfaction and lower guest satisfaction.
Thankfully, this has improved in the last year and is now trending in the other direction. The Bob Swap helped, as did the new agreement between Cast Member unions and Walt Disney World. But it’ll take years for all of the damage to be undone. We’ve already noticed improved morale this year, and hope that only continues to improve in 2024.
Anyway, this was meant to be a simply “thank you to Cast Members” post and not a mini-rant. Point being, not every guest treats Cast Members the way they deserve, even though Cast Members are the heart and soul of Disney–the people who breathe life into the parks, making them truly special places.
We can’t point to a single moment or trip that made us lifelong Disney fans. That would be reductionist, as it was undoubtedly a confluence of circumstances. Included among those events were a series of little interactions with Cast Members that left a lasting impression long after our trips were over. Based on what so many of you have said, we know we’re not alone–the outsized impact of Cast Members is probably why many of you are on this blog.
We just wanted to take a moment away from our Thanksgiving festivities to say thank you to Cast Members away from their families, working today–and everyday–and making the magic. The parks wouldn’t be what they are without your hard work and dedication. We try to say thanks by going to Guest Services to leave an official “Cast Compliment” whenever possible (and highly recommend everyone reading this do the same!), but it’ll never be enough to repay all you’ve done for us.
Here’s to you, Cast Members! You carry the torch of Disney’s legendary guest service are Walt’s most enduring legacy. We just wanted to reflect upon and pay tribute to all of you who make (or have made) the Disney magic. We always appreciate everything you do. So, thank you. Merci beaucoup. Arigatō!
Are you thankful for Cast Members at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and beyond? Have any magical memories made by CMs? Agree that they’re the heart and soul of the Disney magic, and the true stewards of Walt Disney’s legacy? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and appreciated by other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!