You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality. – Walt Disney
Disney theme parks offer a one of a kind experience. They surround guests with beautifully designed architecture and landscaping; they fill visitor’s ears with beautiful music; they provide exciting rides and delectable food; they wrap patrons in a world of wonder and luxury. But none of those elements is what makes the Disney experience so special. A park can have thrilling rides, great dining, and breathtaking theming, but those things are nothing without the people who bring them to life.
Disney’s customer service has become legendary. So legendary, in fact, that the Disney company has spun off the Disney Institute to offer “Disney style” training to other companies. And that customer service preparation works; Disney employees are some of the best trained on earth. Guests at Disney have the right to special expectations. A purchase at a theme park store should leave patrons smiling because of their interaction with the person behind the cash register.
Walt Disney understood the importance of people in the theme park experience. He dubbed Disneyland’s workers “Cast Members,” emphasizing that they were actors playing roles. They were part of the wonderful, happy world he was seeking to offer his audience; they were a part of his show. And what a show. Few things are as amazing as coming into Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom at rope drop and being met by a small town Main Street out of America’s dreams lined by friendly people there just to greet you and make your day better.
But there are those few special cast members who go beyond the show and put their hearts into what they do. For them, the warmth and interaction isn’t just a part of their role; it’s a part of who they are. Those cast members give more than a good performance; they touch the lives of guests by giving of themselves. Those people are close to the heart of Disney magic, and, because guests get to see them in the context of the warmth and security that Disney offers, they grow close to the hearts of guests as well.
One of the wonderful things about the rich online Disney community is the opportunity to acknowledge those people. Cast members who might once have been fondly remembered by families are now celebrities of the heart. Take, for example, Art Lark. Art was a greeter at the Walt Disney World Beach Club. Now, in most hotels, a greeter is the equivalent of a restaurant host or hostess. It’s a customer service job with brief, casual contact with customers. Nothing special. But that’s now how Art saw it. Art Lark approached his job as an opportunity to share the joy of Disney, to remind people of the wonder of where they were, and to make them smile.
Because of that smile, Art made an impression. People looked for him when they went to the Beach Club. He became more than a cast member – he became a person to whom guests felt a personal connection. Art exuded Disney magic.
Or take Ranger Stan. For over 15 years, Ranger Stan told the stories of the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World. He acted as guide, storyteller, and magic maker to hundreds of guests. He treated every new visitor as special, and he treated repeat visitors as family coming back home. He combined knowledge and an irrepressible sense of wonder with a love of people. That pairing was irresistible, and Stan became a part of the Disney magic in the hearts of many guests. For him, being a cast member wasn’t just about putting on a good show; it was about sharing a passion and making magic.
Ranger Stan passed away July 26 2011, and he is mourned, not just by his family, but by a massive community who remember him as a part of Disney. It’s not the parks that make the magic, it’s the people.
Remember that it is the people who make the magic…and that you’re part of the show too. In a recent post, Randy talked about being a character in park photos, but that basic truth goes far beyond photography. The greatest Disney magic is in the restoration of hope and fun that the parks give us. Don’t just rush to the next ride or attraction on your agenda; give a little of your heart and interact with the people around you. Be like Art – see if you can make someone smile. Be like Ranger Stan, share a Disney tidbit or a story with someone around you. Disney theme parks are places of wonder, but the thing that makes them magical is the people within them. Find that spark, and you’ll have your magic.
Have you shared that magic? Is there a cast member who touched your vacation with a genuine bit of magic, or better yet, have you had the opportunity to make magic for someone at the parks?