21 Things You Didn't Know About Disney World, From a Former Employee
This story originally appeared on ThisIsInsider.com.
There's no denying that the magic of Disney is infectious. Guests spend years saving up and travel from places all over the world just for a couple days of excitement and no matter how old you are, you can't ignore that giddy feeling you get when you step foot on Main Street and set your eyes on Cinderella's castle for the first time. Disney is a place where adults can act like kids and kids can go to live out their fantasies. It's also a place where you can wear mouse ears and eat turkey legs the size of your head without receiving judgmental looks.
Growing up in Orlando I spent a lot of my time walking the streets of Disney World, but it's not until I spent my summer working there that I truly realized how much goes into making the magic happen. From all of the effort cast members put into making guests feel special to the inner working of the locations themselves, these are 21 things you probably didn't know about the Disney parks.
Disney is just one big never-ending show
When guests step foot in any Disney park, they are really stepping into a live show where everything from the costumes to the trash cans play a part. Disney even has their own lingo , which is why you may realize that visitors are called "guests" and workers are "cast members." When you walk through the streets of a park you are "onstage," and for the most part, "backstage" remains hidden.
Nothing should compromise the feeling that Disney guests are a part of the show. If a cast member is dressed in their work clothing, they are not even allowed to cross a certain the line from their section of the park into the next because it would make no sense to see someone from the future (Tomorrowland) walking around the Old West (Frontierland).
Magic Kingdom sits on top of a set of tunnels
Many people don't realize that when they are standing on Main Street, they are actually on the second level of Magic Kindgom and working their way up to the third when they head for Cinderella's castle. This is because the park sits on top of a set of tunnels known as the utilidors where cast members can walk around freely without ruining the "show."
If you're really itching to get a look at these not-so-secret tunnels you can sign up to take a backstage tour for a pretty penny, but prepare to be rather unimpressed. The utilidors aren't exactly what you would call magical, but you can get a look at all they have to offer for cast members from the cafeteria to a barber shop.
There's a strict "Disney Look"
Reputation is important to Disney. This is why cast members are expected to maintain a specific appearance known as the "Disney Look." Extreme hairstyles, over-the-top makeup, visible tattoos and body piercings beyond the earlobes are strictly prohibited. If you're a male with facial hair prior to starting at Disney, you can keep it as long as it is neatly trimmed, but if you were clean shaven when you got hired then say goodbye to switching up your look with a moustache because that's not allowed.
If you're hoping to get casted as a character, you must meet strict requirements when it comes to looks. People interested in playing Mickey Mouse should be no taller than 5'2". Given this height requirement, chances are the person behind the Mickey Mouse costume is actually a girl.
Disney is actually one of the cleanest places on earth
You'd expect a place that's crawling with sweaty tourists and sticky children to be extremely unsanitary, but Disney is actually one of the cleanest places you could ever visit. Everything in the park is hosed down on a nightly basis, rides and all. Plus, there are trash cans every couple feet that are even decorated to blend in with their location. You may also notice that nothing is covered in gum and this is simply because Disney doesn't sell it, and for good reason.
While custodial team members do most of the dirty work, all cast members are required to do their part to keep the parks clean. Cast members even learn the "Disney Scoop," which is just a fancy way of saying they discreetly pick up trash.
Staying in character is an absolute must
This doesn't just apply to the actual characters. All cast members must be committed to the Disney story, meaning if you work in Tomorrowland you better do everything it takes to convince guests that you're from the future. Children will do everything in their power to get you to admit that a character isn't real. Being able to think on your toes a necessary skill to posess if you want to be a cast member.
There are hidden Mickey's almost everywhere you turn
If you've ever been to one of the Disney parks, chances are you've walked past countless hidden Mickey's without ever even noticing. Extreme Disney fans could probably spend their days just hunting them down, but if you want to spot some you'll have to look very closely. While some won't be too difficult, others are so hidden that they'll take a serious detective's eye to get a glimpse.
Guests who are interested in seeking out Hidden Mickey's on their next trip to Disney can purchase a guide book or download an app to help them out.
Cast members must sit through an 8-hour-long class just to learn about the history of The Walt Disney Company
Before they can head to the parks to start creating magic, all new cast members must report to Disney University for an 8-hour-long class known as "Traditions." This is where you'll learn everything that you could possibly imagine about The Walt Disney Company, from history to magical moments, and even backstage secrets. You'll also get your first official tour of Magic Kingdom and the "secret" tunnels that are found below it.
While it may seem long and tedious, it's all worth it at the end of the day when Mickey Mouse himself shows up to inform you that you are well on your way to "earning your ears." And yes, this also means an actual pair of your very own Mickey ears.
Employees are encouraged to create magical moments
Magical moments are by far the best reason to work for Disney. Not only does it embody what the company is all about, but there is nothing quite like going home after a long day knowing that you made a family feel special. Cast members are encouraged to create spur of the moment acts of kindness. This could be anything from surprising a child with free ice cream to upgrading a family's hotel reservation.
Magical moments shouldn't be planned or demanded, they just happen. They also shouldn't be given out all of the time, but on a good day of work it's hard to stop yourself from making others feel special.
Most of the parks offer Extra Magic Hours
Different parks offer Extra Magic Hours on different days, giving Disney resort guests a little extra time to enjoy themselves. Magic Kingdom's late night hours are offered up until 2 or 3 a.m. typically on a Saturday or Sunday, so guests can enjoy the park without any crowds. Not to mention that this is probably the most beautiful time to see all of Magic Kingdom.
January is the prime time to visit
If you're looking for reasonable crowds, temperatures, and prices, you should consider taking a trip to Disney World sometime in January. Especially the last two weeks in the month. At this point, the holidays are over and guests have already made their way back home for school, meaning you won't spend your days waiting in long lines.
The entire month of September is also a great option, but be prepared for high temperatures in Orlando, and possibly lots of rain.
Working as a seasonal cast member is challenging, yet rewarding
Working at Disney World for a summer may seem like a dream come true, but it'll probably be one of the toughest summer jobs you could get. As a seasonal worker, you might get dealt some of the worst hours. In my experience, closing every night was the norm.
Standing for that many hours in the heat while you deal with large crowds is exhausting and there are also lots of rules to follow, but that's what happens when there are thousands of employees to manage.
While it's challenging work, it's all worth it when you're able to say you were a part of the magic at Disney World.
The perks are worth all of the tough work
It may not always be the magical work you'd expect, but the perks you get as a cast member make up for any of the downsides. Cast members receive free park tickets for themselves and up to three guests, sneak previews of new attractions, discounts within Disney and at surrounding business , and much more.
Cast members also get exclusive access to what can be considered a Disney shopper's paradise at Cast Connection and Property Control. Head to one side of the building and you'll find Cast Connection where cast members and up to 6 guests can shop discontinued or overstocked Disney merchandise at prices of up to 75% off. Located on the other side is Property Control where cast members (no guests) can purchase broken merchandise and unclaimed lost and found items from the parks.
The Walt Disney Company is one of the best companies to work your way up, but you’ll probably have to start in a position you don't necessarily love
It's absolutely possible to go from working 3:00 a.m. closing shifts at Casey's Corner to landing a VP role, I've seen it happen, but it'll take some serious time. Seniority is a big deal when it comes to Disney so the longer you've been working for them, the better your chances of landing a top spot.
Once a cast member has been working in a position for at least six months they are free to move around , even if the desired role has nothing to do with the role they were previously in.
Cast members are never allowed to point with one finger
Given that guests travel from all over the world just to vacation at Disney, it is important for everyone working in the parks to be sensitive to different cultures. This is where "The Disney Point" comes in.
In some cultures pointing (with one finger) is considered rude . This is why cast members must only point with either two fingers, or their entire palm — an action that is ingrained into the workers' minds during "Traditions" and official training.
Legend also has it that Walt Disney was often pictured pointing with two fingers as he walked around an unfinished Disneyland. While many believe that this is because he was usually holding a cigarette between his fingers, photos tend to show otherwise. Some are convinced that Disney's public relations department airbrushed the photos to remove the cigarettes and maybe that is the case, but ask any cast member and they'll likely tell you it's because Walt Disney was simply a polite man.
“I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer
Working at Disney means you're bound to be asked what seems like never ending questions and "I don't know" is never an acceptable answer. The most reasonable solution to dealing with this is to simply memorize every nook and cranny of the park from the minute you start working. You should know that Liberty Square might not have bathrooms, but they do have the only place you can buy funnel cake in Magic Kingdom, or that you can hear interesting character conversations if you pick up the phone that's next to the Astro Orbiter.
Many guests will ask what time the 3:00 p.m. parade starts, and as crazy as it may seem, this is actually a reasonable question. While you may be inclined to discreetly roll your eyes and respond with the obvious 3:00, the correct answer is actually "it depends on where you're at in the park." If you're standing on Main Street, be prepared to wait up to 45 minutes after the parade begins to get a glimpse of the magic.
The costumes can be pretty uncomfortable
Wearing a heavy wool softball costume or a polyester turtle neck in the middle of 100 degree days is not by any means ideal, and the character's costumes are even worse.
There is a social hierarchy among cast members
As the "lowly" food service worker that I was, I understand better than anyone that there is an unspoken social hierarchy among cast members. Step into the employee cafeteria (or Mouseketeria as cast members call it) located in the tunnels and you'll feel like your stepping into a scene of "Mean Girls," where food service or attractions workers shouldn't even dream of sitting with the princesses.
The Carousel of Progress will never shut down no matter how many changes are made to Magic Kingdom
The Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom is one of the only attractions at Disney World to be created by Walt Disney himself. It's believed that this was actually his favorite ride, which is why it'll probably never be touched other than to undergo some light refurbishments.
The Disney tunes never end
If you don't absolutely love Disney music, then working in the parks is probably not for you. "Let it Go" from "Frozen" can even be heard blasting through the tunnels because the numerous times you heard it at your location clearly weren't enough.
Children are never lost
Children can never be lost in the happiest place on earth. If a cast member comes across a child who has been separated from their parent, then they must treat the situation as if it's the adult who's truly the lost one. This requires remaining calm and positive as not to upset the child any further than they might already be. You can still keep the magic of Disney alive while searching for the child's parents!
If a cast member is approached by an adult who can't find their child, they should immediately call the "Lost Child" number to alert other cast members to be on the look out. Cast members are aware that Disney World can be quite the distracting place for children, but all workers know the best steps to take in order to reunite a family.
There's a special treat for guests that arrive before the park opens and leave after it closes
Guests should arrive before the park officially opens if they want to receive a proper welcome. Mickey Mouse, followed by many other beloved Disney characters make their way out into the park to greet the guests and kick off the day with a little extra excitement.
If you can survive the heat and exhaustion, you should also consider staying late into the evening. Not many guests are aware that the magic continues even after the park closes. Following the fireworks, those still remaining in Magic Kingdom can catch watch Cinderella's castle light up for "The Kiss Goodnight." While it's nothing too fancy, it's the park's special way of saying goodbye to guests after a long day.