Friday, August 26, 2011

Talking Mickey Mouse?

Videos of the talking Mickey Mouse have been popping up on the Internet for some time now. Testing began at Disneyland a while back, and recently Mickey Mouse was talking at the D23 Expo this summer. 

It's clear that Imagineering is doing some great work with this technology. Mickey is doing a much better job answering Guests' questions and creating fun interactions with younger Guests, but there are still awkward moments. Mickey doesn't seem to like to answer strict 'yes' or 'no' questions. Guests often ask Mickey a question and he doesn't know how to respond. He thinks about it, and offers "Gee, I don't know" as his response. 

Having spent over four months working as a character performer, I understand how difficult it can be to answer certain Guest questions without being able to simply say 'yes' or 'no.' Guests ask some pretty outlandish questions to their favorite Disney characters! "Belle, where is the bathroom?" "Goofy, what is Cinderella doing?" "What did you have for breakfast today?" "Is it hot in there?".... (the answer to that question is always "In where???") I understand WDI is always trying to top themselves. To be the biggest and best, and offer the highest-quality entertainment "on this world or any other." But as a fan of character meet-and-greets, I don't think talking characters is a step in the right direction. 

Just thinking about the logistics of this technology gives me a headache. I can see from the many videos that the technology is improving, and these meet-and-greets with a talking Mickey can be accomplished. But when the technology becomes advanced enough and is able to be brought into the parks, will it be for Mickey only? The Fab Five only? What will younger Guests think if they can talk with Mickey but they can't talk with The Incredibles or Buzz and Woody? Guests aren't always the smartest, but they get it. They get that the Princesses and other face characters are the only characters who can interact verbally. But to offer this new technology to the Guests, I feel that WDI would need to integrate it into every character meet-and-greet for the sake of character integrity.

Character meet-and-greets work so well the way they are! A non-talking character leaves everything up to the Guest and their imagination! There's a great quote from John Hench from the book Designing Disney: "We give power to the guests' imagination, to transcend their everyday routine." Just as John Hench said, Disney Parks give power to the Guests' imaginations. Guests hear what they want to hear, in their head. They ask a character a question, and know what they want to hear back. And character performers are smart, and know how to answer those questions through their "animation." You can say a lot without speaking at all. 

During my four months as a character performer, I had a lot of truly great Guest interactions. One day working at Animal Kingdom, Goofy was a Camp Minnie-Mickey and was met by a teary-eyed mother. The mother explained to Goofy that her father had been taken to the hospital from the Park, but he was going to be okay and just needed to recover in the hospital. He wanted her and her son, his grandson, to enjoy the rest of their day in the Park instead of the hospital. But he had one request: that they go get a picture with Goofy, because Goofy is his favorite. She held back her tears, and gave Goofy a big hug, and said "Goofy, you have no idea how much I needed that hug." 

That woman opened up to Goofy because of the simple yet powerful trust that people have in Disney characters. Disney characters represent the highest, most uplifting values of the Disney Company, on their own accord. I know it sometimes sounds silly, but people really do hold Disney characters in high respect, and have very sentimental feelings connected with their favorite characters. 

That entire interaction happened without Goofy talking. Goofy was there to listen and react accordingly, but did not need to offer any words. All Goofy needed to do was be there for her and give her a hug. It was a great moment I will never forget. 

So why does Goofy, or any other character, need to talk? Guests go into a character meet-and-greet knowing what they want to say, and get their answers from the characters by interpreting their gestures and "animation." But what's so great about those gestures is that they can be interpreted however the Guests want them to be interpreted. Why take away that power from the Guests and their imaginations?

Thinking about this technology also brings up the question of international Guests, who don't speak English. They very often speak with the characters, and have seemingly understandable conversations. This happened to me on a number of occasions. While I may not have understood what the Guest was saying, Goofy understood exactly what they were saying. And the Guest understood what Goofy was saying to them through his gestures. Goofy, Sulley, Frozone and all of my other Disney "friends" had a number of conversations in Portuguese, Spanish and other languages that I myself do not speak. But my "friends" are able to converse with these Guests through their animation. And those Guests use their imaginations to hear what they want to hear. Why should they be forced to hear what the character wants to say verbally? 

Getting back to the logistics of this technology, I can only imagine that it is very expensive. And how can it be integrated into all of the character experiences offered in the Parks? Will characters only speak in certain meet-and-greet areas? So Mickey can't talk to you during breakfast or dinner, but he can speak to you in Town Square Exposition Hall? What about the rest of the characters beyond the Fab Five? 

I commend WDI for wanting to add more magic to the Guest experience. But I really think this technology is ruining the magic. The magic of character meet-and-greets is exactly that... meeting your favorite character! There's no need to "plus it." Why can't WDI leave some things alone?

And that is why I think Mickey Mouse should keep his mouth shut. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Video Memories: My Disney College Programs

Monday, August 15, 2011

Looking Back on My Disney College Program

Growing up, I always told myself “someday I’m going to work at Walt Disney World.” It was always a dream, but entering college I finally found the platform to pursue that dream: the Disney College Program! I attended the on-campus presentation, applied online, and was soon accepted to be a Cast Member on the Disney College Program at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida!

Thinking about the entire process and internship as a whole, I have nothing but positive things to say about the Disney College Program. It was a journey that led to so many new and exciting opportunities to further both my Disney heritage and my career goals in general. With the myriad activities, learning opportunities and special events for Disney Cast Members, my internship was filled with experiences that allowed me to advance as a student and as a professional. Considering all that went into the internship, my growth as an individual is truly based on the resources available.

My internship with the Walt Disney World Resort began at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, a quick-service restaurant in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom Park. I worked as part of a multi-functional team that successfully runs North America’s busiest quick-service restaurant. It was in the first few weeks of my internship where I was introduced to the Disney Quality Standards. These business standards, also known as the Four Keys of the Disney Show, are safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Safety is always put first to promote secure experiences for both Guests and Cast. Courtesy is providing friendly, personalized service to each Guest. Show is delivering flawless and captivating experiences for every Guest. Efficiency is striving for the most effective and efficient processes to provide quality experiences. These “Four Keys” work hand in hand in every part of our daily procedures, in each and every role across property.

Working at Cosmic Ray’s was a wonderful environment for developing transferrable skills I can use for the rest of my career. Clearly, time management always played a key role in delivering quality Guest Service in an efficient manner. Time management also went hand in hand with multitasking skills. There was always work to be done, and it was important to keep busy while performing numerous tasks at once. In all of this, it was important to remember the higher purpose: helping deliver the Walt Disney World vision of positive relationships with our Guests and making those connections last.

The first half of my internship provided me countless opportunities to develop these skills and put them into use on a daily basis. Each day presented new challenges and I thrived on working to find solutions to exceed Guest expectations. After a few months of my role at Cosmic Ray’s, I then transferred from Food and Beverage over to Entertainment, where I would have to learn how to put these skills to use in a new way.

As a Character Performer, the few seconds spent with a child become part of the story of their lifetime. Disney Characters, worldwide, provide joy, reflect the uplifting family values of The Walt Disney Company, and bring quality entertainment to people around the world. The transferrable skills I developed during my time at Cosmic Ray’s were important in successfully transitioning into my role in Entertainment, but were utilized in different ways. Time management now meant keeping track of set times to ensure characters were on time for meet and greet experiences. Partnering skills became a large part of daily operations. The partnership between Character Attendants, Character Performers, and Disney Photo Imaging Photographers helps ensure more impactful Guest interactions, as well as a consistent show flow between each interaction.

The Disney Quality Standard of “Show” became a very important aspect of my daily routine. As a Character Performer, the few seconds I spend with a child in a meet-and-greet interaction become part of their memory for the rest of their life. Every move and gesture I made as a Performer must be “part of the show” and help tell the story with which Guests are familiar.

A large part of my internship experience has been the educational offerings. Disney University and the Disney College Program Education Team offer a number of professional development, career exploratory and accredited collegiate courses. I was lucky enough to be enrolled in four classes: Marketing Exploration Series, Disney Heritage Exploration Series, Guest Relations Exploration Series, and the Entertainment Professional Development Study.

My Marketing Exploration Series course was a look into the marketing tactics of the various business units within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Guest speakers from multiple lines of business, including Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club, spoke about the marketing strategies and campaigns used to promote growth while maintaining the core equities of the Disney Parks brand. The amount of time and effort put into such small details in these marketing campaigns, in order to maintain the rich content and uniqueness of the Disney brand, is astonishing.

The Entertainment Show Production Professional Development Study offered me an opportunity to explore how Walt Disney Creative Entertainment develops, implements, and maintains their productions. Specific topics included business planning and creative investigation, concept development, show development, production and opening, and operations. In-class activities allowed me to partner with other students to solve detailed issues pertinent to show production.

One of the most influential aspects of my Disney College Program was the opportunity to network with Disney leaders. I was lucky enough to meet the Entertainment Manager for Fantasmic and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Melissa oversees the daily operations of both productions, among other live events, and serves as the shows’ stage manager during most performances.

Melissa was gracious enough to give me a personal tour of both performance spaces. I was able to get a close-up, behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of both productions. It was daunting to see how complex, (and at times, how simple,) each production ran. Melissa then invited me to shadow her during a performance of each show. I was able to sit in the control booth and take notes on how each performance is run. That, for me, was the most influential part of my experience in Orlando.

I look back on my experiences and I truly treasure the wealth of knowledge shared with me by passionate leadership teams and Cast Members. Looking forward, I can honestly say that my participation on the Disney College Program has been one of the greatest journeys of my life thus far. With my foot in the door with the Walt Disney Company, I feel very optimistic about a successful future with the Company, or any other path I may take in the future. Knowing myself, and my passion for Disney heritage, I know I will stay with the Company after college. Whether it be Parks and Resorts, or any other number of divisions of the Company, I know my graduation from the Disney College Program will help me secure a position with the Company.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Catching Up with Myself

"So, it's come at last. At last it's come, the day I knew would come at last has come, at last." (From Bye Bye Birdie)

I'm almost 21 years old. I remember thinking to myself, in middle school and high school, about how my life would be when I was in college. I always had this "grown-up" version of myself, to which I would compare my then-current life. I would always compare myself to this grown-up Zach. 

I figured, gee, I have quite a few years until I actually become that older version of myself. I have time to get everything figured out and put in place. I have time. 

But I suddenly realized this summer that I am going to be a junior in college! I only have 2 years left, and then I'm done! . . . How did that happen?

It dawned on me that the Zach I am today is that same Zach to which I would compare myself. The same Zach I pictured myself being. 

No, I never put a specific timeframe on that future Zach. But realistically, that's who I am today. I always pictured myself as an upperclassman in college, with a plan, and a purpose. 

Did I meet my expectations? 

Let's see........

I went into college unsure of a major. Well, I've got that figured out. I'm a theatre major, and I love every minute of it. Theatre has always been a large part of my life, and it's something I love doing and see myself doing for the rest of my life. I'm not sure what capacity theatre will play in my life, but it will most definitely play a role. 

I never had a "regular" job in high school, but I figured by late college I would have some sort of work experience on my resume. I worked at a photo studio for a family friend from late middle school until the summer after I graduated high school. I had a lot of freedom, since I was really the only employee at the studio. But with that freedom I had the opportunity to explore my interests in media and web design, and helped the studio make the transition from film into the world of digital photography. 

But once I went off to college, I didn't have a lot of work experience on my belt other than working at the photo studio. Luckily, I had the opportunity to combine my love of Walt Disney World with a chance at adding relevant work experience to my resume! 

The Disney College Program was where I did a lot of growing, exploring, reflection, self-discovery, and changing. No, I am not a different person coming back from my 8 months in Florida. But looking back on my time there, I don't think I have ever felt more sure about anything in my life. I was optimistic about the future, content with my place in the world, and truly happy. I found a wonderful group of friends, and learned a lot about the world from meeting such a diverse group of people. I did a lot of growing up as well. 

They say when you're in Disney World, you're a kid again. That is definitely true. But on the same note, I really grew up working at Disney World. Sure, Disney isn't the "real world." Yet for me, it was very much the "real world." I woke up each day, went to work for 8 hours, went shopping for myself, and made food for myself. I went to class, learned as much as I could, and even did some job shadowing. I tried to make the most of the opportunities that were in front of me. 

I had a lot of "firsts" in Florida. And from these "firsts" came seconds and thirds, from which I learned a lot about myself. I learned what I liked, what I didn't like. What worked, what didn't. I was able to reflect  on the past, but prepare myself for the future. 

One of my most rewarding yet difficult experiences while in Florida was coming out to my family. I was already out with all of my close friends, and started my life in Florida with a blank slate since I didn't know anybody. Since I didn't know anybody, it didn't matter. I wasn't "coming out" to them, I was just myself.

That "blank slate" perspective was really encouraging. It's so refreshing to just have a fresh start. It's not starting over, it's just a different chapter in the same book. It's taking everything you know about yourself and applying it in a new way, trying new things. Trying not to make the same mistakes, knowing that you'll make new mistakes. Trying to take what you learned from your past mistakes and applying them to make corrections. 

Coming home from Florida, I felt like I was taking a step back. I felt like I was abandoning this great new life I had created for myself. It didn't feel good driving away from that. But once I sat down and thought about it, I realized that I would always have a life in Florida. Disney will always be there, waiting for me. I wasn't throwing it away, I was just stepping aside to finish what I had started in Michigan, so I could return to Florida an even smarter, more prepared individual. 

I know that one day I will return to Florida to start from where I left off. I know the friends and connections I made will always be there for me, even if it means putting that on pause for a few years while I finish school.

So..... getting back to my question. 

How did I do?

Well, taking it all into consideration, I think I did pretty well. 

I now have a resume full of relevant job experience, both at Walt Disney World and in the world of theatre in Michigan. I experienced happiness, sadness, stress, success, and failure in those 8 months in Florida. I reestablished certain priorities in my life. I developed life-long connections with a few people that I know have changed my life for the better. 

So am I really all that different? Or am I just the same old Zach I was in high school, but just with a few more hairs on my chin and a few more entries on my resume?

Well, I think the lyrics to one of my favorite songs can sum it all up, where the title of this blog comes from:

Everything's changed. 
And nothing's changed.
I mean I'm different, but I'm still the same.
I still complain.
But I'm not the same that I was,
Except I'm the same that I was,
but different.
At least I hope I'm different.                                                                             
  -From A New Brain, a musical

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Video Memories: Disney Character Snapshots

Friday, May 20, 2011

Video Memories: Disney Entertainment

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Video Memories: Studio Backlot Tour

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Video Memories: Character Meet-and-Greets

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Video Memories: Cosmic Ray's

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Any Dream is Possible... Wishes Do Come True!

Entertainment training week was... in a word... a workout.

But it was definitely full of surprises, fun, a lot of hard work.... and MAGIC! (of course!)

After our Welcome to Entertainment class at Disney University, Entertainment training was held over at the Maingate Complex. The bulk of our training was in-room work, before finally heading out into the Parks at the end of the week.

Each day we had new trainers, though a few were with us throughout most (or all) of the process. Anne, Danielle, Scott, and Vivian were my favorites. Danielle was friends with Belle, and Scott was friends with the Mad Hatter. All of them were outgoing and very helpful to us rookies.

My training group was phenomenal! We formed such a great bond with each other in that short week. It was great that we were not all College Program kids..... there was definitely a variety of statuses and ages!

Tommy, Frankie, Erin and I were the four CPs. All four of us had extended our Programs from the Fall. I met Tommy at auditions, and actually saw him quite a bit at work at Cosmic Ray's. He worked merchandise in Tomorrowland, so I often saw him in the Tomorrowland break room. Frankie had been an attractions host at Animal Kingdom, at Kilimanjaro Safaris. Erin had worked attractions in Magic Kingdom on the Jungle Cruise!

Tracy, Carissa and Josh were newly-hired Cast Members. All were full-time, I believe, and had skill codes high enough to be trained in shows and/or parades. None of them knew whether or not they would be trained in parades, but all performers go through character training regardless. Tracy, Carissa and Josh were three of the nicest people I ever met. They were truly wonderful people with great personalities, and I am so happy to have had the pleasure of being able to get to know them.

The last two in our group were Jennifer and Dulce. Jennifer was a mom who had worked attractions at Epcot at Mission Space, and decided to give Entertainment a try. She was a bundle of fun, and always gave us something to laugh about. Then there was Dulce. Oh, Dulce. What a sweetheart. She had actually worked as a character performer years back, and left the Company to work at Universal. She decided to make her way back to Disney, but had to go through training again.

Through all of our group activities and lunches together, we really connected well with each other. But at the end of the week, it was time to say "see ya real soon" to each other. We had all made it through the tough process together, and it was time for each of us to go out on our own into the world of characters.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Welcome to Entertainment

Where to begin? Week One of Entertainment training was a whirlwind!

Never before in my life did I feel so optimistic and nervous at the same time. It was truly a magical feeling... those butterflies in your stomach like you are auditioning for a role... and those same butterflies like you are about to perform onstage in front of an audience. Yes, I already had the job, but training had not begun!

Entertainment training began at Disney University, where we met our training group. Our class was made up of performers, photographers and character attendants. We also met our Welcome to Entertainment class trainers, Kelly and Kirk. Kirk was a photographer and Kelly was friends with Cinderella. They were wonderful people with such bright and positive attitudes... I knew this was going to be a great class.

After the standard Company history presentations and safety training sessions, we got into the fun stuff... Entertainment! We learned about the history of live entertainment in the Disney Parks and how we would now be a part of that legacy... it was a great feeling.

From Disney University, we took a bus over to the Magic Kingdom and went up into the park. This was my "home park," having spent 4 months working in Tomorrowland. But I had a new perspective, walking onto Main Street USA in my professional attire. No longer would I be able to talk to Guests about their favorite parade. No longer would I be able to walk through the park and help Guests find their way. I was now going to have to use my communication skills in a whole new way.

Once we were all gathered together on Main Street, we headed toward the Castle. And boy were we in for a treat! The Castle Show was about to start! Never before had I been so excited to see "Dream Along with Mickey." To think that I would soon be a part of that same tradition of live entertainment was so exciting! I'll never forget how excited I was to watch Mickey and the gang in front of the Castle, as me and my new friends sang along with our favorite characters.

After the Castle Show we headed back to Disney University to wrap up the day. It was a day full of positive messages and reminders that we were all part of a team that truly reflects the values of the Walt Disney Company. I couldn't wait for the week to begin!

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Mini "Vacation"

Last Monday and Tuesday I got to take a mini vacation from work, and entertain my theatre director from home and her mom, who were on vacation for the holidays. It was such a treat to be able to take them around the parks and show them a good time.

I was able to book them a hotel (Port Orleans French Quarter) at a 40% discount with my Disney ID. (Gotta love those Cast Member benefits!)

So I met them Monday afternoon at their hotel, and helped move them into their room. We then began our little vacation by heading over to Animal Kingdom to catch the last showing of Festival of the Lion King... they loved it! That's always a great show.

Then we headed over to Epcot to walk around World Showcase and grab a bite to eat. So I made reservations for the new Mexican restaurant in the Mexico pavilion, La Hacienda de San Angel. The restaurant was really nice, and we had a gorgeous view of the World Showcase Lagoon. The food was great too... and it was nice to eat some real food for a change!

Then we walked around through the countries and stopped in France for some dessert. I always have to stop in the little pastry shop for their chocolate mousse... delicious! Afterwards we headed back to Mexico and stopped to watch Illuminations... always a treat.

The next morning I met them at their hotel and we started our day at Hollywood Studios to see Beauty and the Beast (seeing as Tiffany directed BATB last summer, it was a must-see!) Tiffany's mom insisted we see the American Idol Experience, since it's one of her favorite shows, so that was next on our list. After that, we saw Voyage of the Little Mermaid and went to meet Sorcerer Mickey in the Animation building. We ended our time at Hollywood Studios with the Great Movie Ride. They definitely enjoyed all of the shows.

We then drove over to the Magic Kingdom, parked at the Contemporary Hotel, and took the monorail into the park (I thought it would be more fun than walking.) We headed over to Tomorrowland so I could show them where I worked, and we ended up grabbing a quick bite to eat at Cosmic Ray's. Then we did a bit of walking around just to see the sights, and watched some of the castle show, and then made our way over to meet Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen. Those two are always so much fun!

After that, we did a bit of shopping on Main Street, and then decided to spend the rest of the evening in Downtown Disney. So we headed that way, and made reservations for dinner at Cap'n Jack's restaurant. We did a bit of shopping, and then went and enjoyed a nice seafood dinner. After a bit more shopping, our night was coming to an end, and I took them back to the hotel.

We had such a wonderful time! I love being a tour guide and showing people around the parks. Tiffany hadn't been to Disney World in 15 years, so it was definitely fun showing her around.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Last Day of Work!

This past Wednesday was my last shift at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Café. It was definitely a bittersweet moment. While I was excited to move on to Entertainment, it was really sad to say goodbye to everybody. It was the last day for a lot of us, so there were a lot of hugs throughout the day, and a lot of pictures too!

The day was easy, since the park was pretty empty. I was on the cash register for the first few hours, and then went on counter. It was weird to think that it was the last time I would be standing behind the counter serving people their food. Looking back on the last four months, I most definitely had a good experience at Cosmic Ray's. The managers are great once you get to know them. The people are awesome -- that's what really made work fun. Sure, some of my co-workers weren't the greatest, but that's how it is wherever you work. But I made some of the best friends from work, and I feel lucky to have been able to work in a place with so many amazing Cast Members.

After work, a whole group of us went to Buffalo Wild Wings. That's when the emotions started to set in, because it was the last chance we all had to say goodbye to each other. But it was nice to be able to all spend our last night together, having a good time at "Club B-Dubs."

I am definitely going to miss my Cosmic Ray's family!

The Busiest Time of the Year

The last two weeks were most definitely the busiest I've ever seen the parks since I've been down here. Christmas week and New Year's week were just out of control! We had crowd control at work almost every single day, and it went until 5:00 on some days instead of the usual 3:00.

One afternoon during the week of New Year's Eve, I met my friend Krista's two brothers, Jason and Charlie, and Jason's girlfriend at the Magic Kingdom. Boy was the park crowded! Right when we walked in, the parade was going on, and you couldn't even move. Every square inch on Main Street was filled. So they had us go around Main Street through a backstage area, and re-enter the park in Tomorrowland.

We weren't able to do much, because the lines were all a mile long. We waited about 30-40 minutes for Mickey's PhilharMagic, which didn't seem too long. We then waited about an hour for the Haunted Mansion. It was interesting because they had the line go all the way down by the water, and then back up into the regular queue.

We also grabbed a quick lunch at Cosmic Ray's, which wasn't too busy, but still pretty packed in comparison to what most of December looked like.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Christmas Morning at Disney World

Though I couldn't be home with my family for Christmas morning, I didn't have to spend it alone. Our family friends, the Findley's, were staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge for a few days, so I was able to join them on Christmas morning. 

Their hotel room was absolutely beautiful. It was a Disney Vacation Club Villa, so it had two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. But the best part about it was the view. Right outside their window was an area where live animals were roaming. So I walked into their room and saw zebras and giraffes eating their breakfast! It was so cool!

The Findley's brought some gifts from home, so I was able to open my presents from my family. I then joined them for a home-cooked breakfast... nothing beats country cooking for Christmas morning!

It was just so nice to watch the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade, see the animals outside the window, and enjoy a hearty breakfast, in the company of good friends.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

College Program Graduation!

I definitely have been neglecting my blog during the past few weeks.... so it's time to start out the new year with a new blog post! 

College Program Completion Celebrations (aka Graduation) were held at Mickey's Retreat in mid-December. There was free food, characters, a DJ, and of course all of my friends from work. Walking into the party, you were given your graduation Mickey ears, as well as your "Mouseters" degree. 

It was a wonderful afternoon, spent with good friends. We met Goofy, Pluto, Minnie and Mickey, all dressed up for the occasion. There was also a raffle, and I won a caricature drawing of myself (as a superhero!) 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Epcot Candlelight Processional

The Epcot Candlelight Processional was one of the highlights of the last few weeks. I went on one of the nights it was being narrated by Jodi Benson, who is the voice of the Little Mermaid, as well as Barbie in the Toy Story movies.

The program started out with songs played by the Walt Disney World Orchestra. It was a 50-piece orchestra, and they sounded phenomenal. Then the orchestra was joined onstage by the Voices of Liberty from the American Adventure Pavilion at Epcot, the enormous Walt Disney World Cast Choir, as well as a Guest Choir from local high schools.

The Candlelight Processional is the retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator, accompanied by songs and music from the massed choir and orchestra. It felt like I was at Christmas mass at church, since the entire story is about the baby Jesus being born. It was interesting to hear that story being told in Disney World! But it's an accurate reflection of traditional American culture, and it's not being forced upon you as a guest.

The choir was simply amazing. There were so many people on that stage, and Jodi Benson did a wonderful job telling the Christmas story. Despite the cold weather (in the 40's!) it was most definitely a night well-spent.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Kingdom Keepers

So it's been a while since I've blogged, so I thought I should get back on track with something new.

For the last few months, I've been listening to the audiobooks of the Kingdom Keepers book series. The books follow a group of kids who are trying to save the Magic Kingdom (and the rest of Walt Disney World) from being taken over by Disney villains who come to life after the parks close. I usually get distracted when I read a book, so I decided to subscribe to Audible on my iPhone, and I downloaded all three books in the series.

The books are really interesting and well-written. They're like the Harry Potter books (not quite as detailed and complex), but still full of story lines that keep my interest. And plus, it all takes place at Walt Disney World! It's so cool to hear phrases like Utilidor, Cast Member, Cinderella Castle, Main Street, and so on... and they even mentioned Cosmic Ray's!

I've finished the first two books, and am currently listening to the last book. The first two books were really good. Basically, the books follow a group of kids who got hired by Disney to become digital hosts at the parks, called DHI's, short for Disney Host Interactives (or Digital Holographic Images.) Park guests can rent a DHI, and the hologram will take them on a tour of the park, much like a Guest Relations Tour Guide does in real life. And when the parks close, the Disney characters and Audio-Animatronics all come to life. But the Disney villains have been attempting to take control of the parks. So it becomes the mission of the kids to save the parks from the villains, called the Overtakers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party

It's been a busy past few weeks, with Thanksgiving week giving me 50 hours of work, and picking up extra shifts this week. But I thought I'd talk a little bit more about Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party!

I went once with my friend Krista's parents, and then went again to do more of the special holiday meet-and-greets. I started out my night by heading over to Toontown to visit the Disney Princesses, because the Princes would also be with them. I met Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip, Cinderella and Prince Charming, and Snow White and The Prince. I then headed over to the Judge's Tent to see Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse dressed up for the holidays.

After that, I made my way over to Adventureland to meet Lilo and Stitch. Then, walking outside, I saw some of the Country Bears walking around, so I stopped for some photos.

I then made my way into Fantasyland to meet the Seven Dwarfs, my favorites.
Then it was time to meet the characters from Winnie the Pooh. Tigger, Eeyore, Pooh and Piglet all had on winter scarves.

I made my way back to Toontown and got in line to meet the Fairies. I met Rosetta, Tinker Bel and Vidia. A wonderful character attendant also let me skip the Princess line and go straight to meet Princess Belle and the Beast, since they had taken the place of Snow White and her Prince.

Afterwards, I headed over to Tomorrowland to stop by my home, Cosmic Ray's. I caught some of the Cosmic Ray's Jingle Dance & Play dance party with Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale.
Add in free cookies and hot chocolate, it was a great night! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

And the Wait is Over!

So the wait is finally over... I found out about my request for a College Program extension: and I got accepted to extend my program as a character performer!

I'm so very excited to have this opportunity! I get to portray a Disney character, and I think I'll make really good friends with Goofy and some of his taller companions like Jafar and Mr. Incredible.

It will definitely be a different experience than working at Cosmic Ray's. I won't be able to talk (at all), and all of my communication will be through large gestures and by signing autographs. But knowing that I'm actually bringing the magic to life will be a rewarding experience, and I feel quite lucky to have been given this opportunity.

My current Disney College Program ends January 7, and my extension begins January 9. My new departure date is May 13, 2011. I know it will be strange going back to school next fall being a year behind all of my classmates, but I couldn't turn down an offer like this.

Now I have a little over a month left, and then it'll be time to start my new role as a character performer! I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Thanks, Disney!

Last week, all Disney employees were treated to a free Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack of Toy Story 3! And not just any combo pack, but a Studio Commemorative Edition with a special message on the back:

"Once again, the incredibly talented creative team at Pixar took audiences to infinity and beyond. Thank you all for making Toy Story 3 such a phenomenal success across our entire company. -- Bob Iger"
What a great way to start the holiday season -- a copy of one of the best Disney movies in a long time! I'm so honored to work for this company!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

List #16: Disney Character Autographs

One of my favorite things to do when I go to the parks is character meet-and-greets. There's just something special about meeting Disney characters and interacting with them. And I love getting their autographs. So I bought an autograph book, and I never visit a park without it.

It's my mission to fill up the autograph book, and so far I'm doing pretty well. Here's a list of all the autographs I've collected so far:

  1. Timon
  2. Baloo
  3. Tarzan
  4. Jane
  5. Terk
  6. Aladdin
  7. Abu
  8. Donald Duck
  9. Daisy Duck
  10. Mad Hatter
  11. Buzz Lightyear
  12. Pinocchio
  13. Gepetto
  14. Goofy
  15. Stitch
  16. Mr. Smee
  17. Captain Hook
  18. Pocahontas
  19. Meeko
  20. Mary Poppins
  21. Mr. Penguin
  22. Mickey Mouse
  23. Mrs. Incredible
  24. Mr. Incredible
  25. Frozone
  26. Green Army Man
  27. Minnie Mouse
  28. Pluto
  29. Rafiki
  30. Snow White
  31. Mulan
  32. Alice
  33. Princess Jasmine
  34. The Genie
  35. Princess Tiana
  36. Prince Naveen
  37. Lotso
  38. Duffy the Disney Bear
  39. Belle
  40. Queen of Hearts
  41. Tweedledee
  42. Tweedledum
  43. Jafar
  44. Chip
  45. Dale
  46. Max (Goofy's son!)
  47. Winnie the Pooh
  48. Eeyore
  49. Tigger
  50. Thumper
  51. White Rabbit
  52. Rapunzel
  53. Flynn Rider
  54. Woody
  55. Jessie
  56. Drizella
  57. Anastasia
  58. Lady Tremaine

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Fun-Filled Week

Here's a recap of last week, a week filled with Christmas and Disney characters:

On Sunday, I went to the Magic Kingdom after work to see the first Cinderella Castle lighting ceremony of the year. At 6:15, "Cinderella's Holiday Wish" took place, and the Fairy Godmother lit the Castle in beautiful lights. I stayed in the park to watch Wishes, and then went down into the tunnel to wait in the Tomorrowland break room until the Christmas parade preview. A bunch of us from Cosmic Ray's then went to see the Cast Member preview of Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, which shows during Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. The parade was awesome! It was so magical to be standing on Main Street with all the Christmas lights on, and watching the Christmas parade. AND, it was snowing on Main Street. What a great night with great people.

On Tuesday, I had my Entertainment Show Production class at Hollywood Studios, where we toured the Fantasmic stage (the second time for me!) It was great to get another look at the mountain and the control booth, as well as the basement of the mountain. After class, I stayed at Hollywood Studios and met a couple friends from work. We had fun going on rides and interacting with the Citizens of Hollywood. We then went to the Animation building for character meet-and-greets. This was perhaps the most fun of the day! I met Belle, Jafar, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Frozone, Mr. Incredible, Pluto, Chip & Dale, Minnie Mouse, Goofy, Max, Aladdin, Jasmine, and Genie. Afterwards, we stayed to see the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. That was really cool. I had never seen it before, and I was quite impressed.

On Wednesday, I visited Animal Kingdom for a few character meet-and-greets. I met Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Tigger, Thumper, Safari Mickey, and Safari Goofy. I also went to see Festival of the Lion King, which is always fun. Then I stayed to see the last showing of Finding Nemo the Musical, one of my favorite shows at Walt Disney World.

On Thursday, I went to the Magic Kingdom before work. I met the White Rabbit outside Cosmic Ray's, and then watched the 3:00 parade. After the parade, I went to the Tangled "play-and-greet" to meet Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. They were a lot of fun! Afterwards I headed over to Frontierland to meet Woody and Jessie, and then saw the 5:00 flag retreat in Town Square.

On Friday, I went to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party with my friend Krista's parents. They were visiting from Michigan for the weekend, so I was able to get discount tickets for the party, and I thought I'd join them for the fun. We saw the castle show, Celebrate the Season, twice. We also saw the parade twice. And not to mention the Holiday Wishes fireworks. Those were great, especially the perimeter fireworks that go 180º around the castle. We also enjoyed the free hot chocolate and sugar cookies (perhaps a bit too many....) After going on the Haunted Mansion, we met Cinderella's stepsisters and stepmother in Fantasyland. That was a lot of fun.

All in all I would say that was one of the most fun-filled weeks I've had in a while. And I especially love all of the Christmas decorations and music now taking over the parks!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Character Performer Auditions

So it's at the time during our College Program when we can apply for an extension to stay through the spring semester until May. You can request to stay in the same role you currently have, you can request a new role, or you can audition to be a character performer.

Since I come from a theatre background, and I want to get my foot in the door within the entertainment department, I decided to audition to be a character performer. Given my tall height, I had a feeling I might have a good chance of getting through the auditions, since most of it is purely based on height.

So last Wednesday morning, I went to the College Program extension auditions at the Animal Kingdom rehearsal facility. I got there at 8 am, and left at 1:45 pm. It was a long process with a LOT of sitting and waiting.

About 330 people auditioned. After filling out some paperwork, being measured and having our picture taken, we were taught a simple dance routine. It was basically marching and jazz squares with some basic hand movements. In groups of four, we performed the four counts of 8 routine to a group of 3 casting directors. After we went, we were taken into a room and told to wait.

After 30 minutes or so of waiting, a casting director came in and started calling numbers. When your number was called, you were asked to leave the room. After they called out a bunch of numbers, there were only about 17 of us in the room (there were about 100 or so in the room to begin with, as they split us up into different rooms.) I'm not sure exactly what happened with everybody whose number was called, but I'm assuming they were sent home from there.

After they had made their first round of cuts, there were maybe 100 of us left. They took us into a room and taught us a second, more intense dance routine. The first few counts of eight weren't bad; but the second half of the routine was more technical and proved difficult for most people. But they weren't looking to see how good or bad we were at the routine. It still had a lot to do with height. But if we did have good dance skills, then we might also be considered for parades or more dance-intesive roles.

Along with our dance routine, we had to pantomime planting a tree as well as pantomime being a monkey. Then we put it all together: two counts of 8 planting a tree, the dance routine, two counts of 8 being a monkey, and the dance routine once again. This is what we would perform in front of the casting directors.

Once everybody had learned the routine and practiced a number of time, we all left the room and lined up in the hall. They then took us in groups of 9 to perform our routine in front of 3 casting directors. It wasn't too bad. Everybody had a positive attitude, and I didn't feel like I was being judged. All of us were in the same boat, and we all felt lucky to have made it past the first round of cuts.

So after we went in front of the casting directors, we were told to wait in the main rehearsal room until further instruction. We just kept sitting and waiting. Sitting and waiting. After about 40 minutes or so of waiting, one of the coordinators came out and started calling people's numbers. A small group would go into another hallway and return with pieces of paper, and then leave. I believe most of these people didn't make the cut, most likely due to their height being too common.

After they kept sending home small groups of people, there were about 25-30 of us left. They took us all into a hallway and explained to us that we are in the "pool" for potential character performers! So we made it all the way to the end of the audition process. Now we aren't guaranteed a role by any means. But once they offer extensions to current character performers and figure out how many open slots are available in each height range, they will then turn to the pool and pick from there. So I'm definitely feeling optimistic about being extended as a character performer! Sometimes it helps to be tall!

Friday, November 5, 2010

This is What it's All About!

Some days at work are better than others. Some days are slow, some days are quick. Some are more fun than others, some are more stressful that others. But in the end, I have fun. And I remind myself that it really isn't about me; it's about the Guests. It's about providing them the best possible experience possible. So what can we do as Cast Members to provide them exceptional Guest Service?

At Cosmic Ray's, one of the "magical moments" is singing a song to Guests wearing a birthday button:

Attention Cosmic Ray's! Today is a very special day! Does anybody know why? Because today is _____'s birthday!
Cosmic Ray's is here to say today's a day to celebrate! It's a very special day so have a happy birthday!

It only takes a few seconds, and it makes the Guest feel special. Sometimes it takes them by surprise. They aren't expecting Cast Members to run from all over the restaurant to join in the song. It's loud and fun, and it makes the day a lot less mundane.

So one night, a Guest approached me and handed me a postcard. He wanted to thank me for making his family vacation feel extra special by singing the birthday song. But I hadn't sung it to anybody in his family. He just saw me singing the song to couple of kids, but he wanted to thank me for doing that. It was so nice to be recognized for doing something so simple: just singing happy birthday!

He then returned a little later and took a picture of me holding the postcard. Hmmm....

When I got home, I took a closer look at the postcard. It was a custom-made postcard, with an Epcot Monorail stamp on it. Also on it was a web address, where I could see my thank-you note and photo. Aha! That's what the picture was for!

So I checked the website, ( and found this note:

So a few weeks later, I checked again, and saw my name!

When I clicked on my name, I was taken to a description of my "magical moment" with the picture he took of me and the postcard!

I am so honored to be considered a memorable Cast Member from this gentleman's vacation. It's nice knowing that the smallest, simplest things we do as Cast Members can really make someone's vacation that much more special.

I will forever treasure the postcard he gave me. It is a shining example of why I love being a Disney Cast Member.