In the nearly three years I’ve worked for Disney, I’ve learned that no amount of training can accurately prepare you to answer guests’ questions, and the most effective way to learn the answers is to spend as much time as possible experiencing the parks from a guest’s perspective. When guests ask questions like, “Where’s the best place to view the parade?” they’re not looking for a general answer like, “Oh, go to Frontierland. It’s less crowded there.” They want specifics. They want a personal story. They want to know where you as a cast member would stand if you were in their shoes right now. That’s really what creates magical experiences, when you allow guests to become like family. Now I’m not saying that all trade secrets should be revealed (because if we all told guests the best place to stand, that place would no longer be the best place), but it certainly helps to a least know the park inside and out. It helps to know multiple answers to one question, if multiple answers exist, because maybe one answer will be more helpful than another. For instance, the first time I walked into Magic Kingdom looking for a Fastpass+ kiosk, the cast member in Town Square Theater started to direct me to the “closest” place in either Fantasyland or Tomorrowland. But noticing the disappointment on my face that I would have to walk all the way there, she added, “If you know how to use the kiosk, there are two kiosks inside Guest Relations across the street. They’re not manned, so there’s no one to help you, but if you know what you’re doing you can use those too.” Details like that aren’t found in a tell-a-cast. That’s the sort of thing that only a knowledgeable cast member can tell you from personal experience, and it’s been one of the best and most useful tips I’ve received yet.
Despite how long I’ve worked in Disney and how much time I’ve spent in Magic Kingdom, I am definitely aware that there is still a lot for me to learn about my new home. There’s plenty of places I haven’t been, plenty of things I haven’t done yet, and this weekend I made it my mission to do and see as much as possible in my new home, starting with the opening ceremony. I’ve never been in any of the parks early enough to witness the rope drop ceremony, with the exception of Typhoon Lagoon because I once had an opening shift and my job was to participate in the rope drop near Leaning Palms. But Magic Kingdom is somehow different. To me, it seemed much more important to witness the opening ceremony here of all places because it’s something that my Main Street family takes part in, despite the fact that I will probably never have anything to do with it because I will most likely only work closing shifts. But still. I woke up before the sun was up, and I watched the sunrise as I drove onto Disney property. I arrived at the Transportation and Ticket Center early enough to receive a front row parking spot (!!!) and I was so early that the monorail wasn’t even running. So I waited patiently for the ferry boat to make its way across the lagoon.
Boarding the boat and feeling the cool morning breeze gave me a sense of excitement; the same sort of excitement I get when I see the castle after being gone from Disney for several months. I felt like I was embarking on an adventure! Watching all the families waiting eagerly to spend the day in Magic Kingdom, I couldn’t help but smile.
The nice thing about arriving so early is that I was incredibly relaxed. I wasn’t in any sort of rush. There were no crowds to push through yet. There was nothing to rush off and do because nothing was open yet. I was able to just pull out my camera, sit on a ledge, and snap some pictures. I chatted with one of the survey folks, took some pictures for families that were attempting to get a family-photo-minus-dad shot in front of the train station (I’ve noticed it’s always the dads who end up the photographers for the rest of the family), and watched an eager group of new Magic Kingdom cast members going through their Once Upon a Time tour of the park, just as I had done last week.
And then it was finally time to open the park! The mayor of Main Street himself made an appearance on the train station platform, accompanied by the Main Street dancers.
After their little introduction, the train came chugging along down the tracks bearing some very important passengers, including the boss-man himself!
And of course, no Magic Kingdom show is complete without some fireworks:
Then it was time to enter the park! I became a girl on a mission, and my first order of business was to see the Main Street Trolley show, which only takes place in the morning, and to ride in any of the Main Street vehicles that were out and about. As a member of PAC, I learned that we own a number of very old vehicles that are maintained by Disney, and a select few cast members (who are part of the PAC family) are trained to drive them. From what I understand they are very difficult to drive, and they are only out on Main Street for the first hour or two after the park opens because the crowds make it difficult to navigate safely. So since my main objective was to experience everything Main Street has to offer, I knew I had to get a ride. The first vehicle to make an appearance was the horse-drawn trolley, so I hopped on board immediately.
It surprised me how few people wanted a ride. There were only five of us on the trip up to the castle, and only two people took the ride from the castle back down to Town Square. I guess it just goes to show that people are in such a rush to get where they’re going that they won’t stop to enjoy the journey there. It was a short trip, probably only a minute or two in length, but it was definitely the coolest experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels like getting to the parks as soon as they open.
With that successfully checked off my bucket list, I walked back down to Town Square again, where I found an old firetruck waiting just for me. Not wanting to be rude, I didn’t ask for a ride in case the driver was waiting for someone in particular, or if he was trying to make a magical moment or something. So I walked around the truck, taking pictures from all angles. But then sure enough, the cast member approached me and said, “Would you like a ride to the castle?” My face lit up and I nodded enthusiastically. I thought he would also look for more people to enjoy the ride with me, but as soon as I was all settled he started up the car. I had my own private chauffeur!
It was a fantastic trip. I got to experience all the glory of 1910, with the traditional horse-drawn trolley and the newfangled horseless motorcars. I truly felt like I was living Walt’s dream for Main Street.
After disembarking once more in front of Cinderella’s castle, I walked again towards Town Square, anticipating the start of the first trolley show would be in front of the train station. As I was stopping to take pictures, however, a few citizens of main street walked right past me. I knew something was up.
Then sure enough, there came the trolley! And I was able to watch the fall version of the trolley show right on the Main Street Bridge. I was insanely jealous of the amazing dancers.
After a fabulous show, it was time to get some breakfast. And I knew exactly what I wanted. I made my way to Gaston’s Tavern, the “new” home of the famous Main Street Bakery cinnamon rolls. Once upon a time, long ago before Starbucks set foot on Disney property, there used to be a wonderful bakery on Main Street that was filled with all the best pastries and lattes and sandwiches. I had the absolute pleasure of picking up a few extra shifts there, shortly before it was turned into Starbucks, and I discovered that they sold these ginormous cinnamon rolls that had a bit of a cult following, much like the dole whips and turkey legs. People looked all over for them, and they were made and sold only in the bakery. When the bakery closed, I was sad because I had only ever served the cinnamon rolls, I never got a chance to try one. But then when Gaston’s Tavern opened up, lo and behold the cinnamon rolls reappeared! So since I had already been up for several hours and was already hungry again, I decided that I would go have a second breakfast and finally find out what all the fuss was about.
Let me just say, the fuss was worth it. It was warm and gooey and amazingly delicious! And then as soon as I had finished and stepped outside, I saw the pompous grin of Gaston. But as I stopped to take a picture, Gaston was on a mission.
He stopped to say hello to the group of new cast members who were receiving their tour of the Magic Kingdom. Gaston had done the same thing to my orientation group just a few days before, stopping his meet and greet to inform all of us “newcomers” that this was his village, and how wonderful it was that we came out to admire him. It was a fabulous interaction, and had made me happy when I was on the tour. It was a nice little welcome, even if the welcome did come from a villain.
The rest of the day proceeded much like any other Disney trip. I booked some FastPasses, mostly for things that I don’t normally do because people don’t want to do them with me, like Peter Pan’s Flight, and a meeting with Rapunzel and Cinderella (because I hadn’t seen Fairytale Hall yet). That’s one of the nice things about going to the parks alone: I can do things that I want to do without worrying that I’m the only one who wants to do them. Anyway, I then took a leisurely ride on the train and got off in Frontierland to have lunch in Pecos Bill (they have this burger with bacon, onion rings, and barbeque sauce on top that I wanted to try. It wasn’t as good as it looked). I stopped to watch the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob, because I’d never really gotten a chance to see their show. And then I headed back towards Main Street to take in more of the sights and sounds of my new home. In particular I really wanted to sit and listen to the pianist at Casey’s Corner. Did you know that Disney employs a professional pianist to add to the wonderful sounds of Main Street? He plays a mix of old rag-timey songs, as well as jazzy versions of well-known Disney songs, and it just makes you feel like you’re really living in turn-of-the-century America. To get an idea of how great he is, I recorded just one of the songs in his repertoire. Unfortunately WordPress won’t let me post videos, but you can see it on my Facebook page. It’s definitely worth a minute of your time, and will make you feel like you’re standing in Disney World with me. 🙂
After his wonderful performance, I took a stroll down Main Street and ran into one of the lovely citizens of Main Street! Her name is Hilda, if I remember correctly, and she was thrilled to learn that I had just moved into this part of town. She wanted to hear all about where I came from and how I was liking Main Street, and encouraged me to come out to one of her Women’s Suffragette Association meetings. I assured her I would. Which is why we then struck a women-are-strong-and-can-do-anything pose. As she said, “Flex it, sister!”
After our lovely chat, I hurried up to castle to the beginning sounds of Dream Along with Mickey! Of course I had seen it before, but I wanted to get some good photographs. Perhaps I take too many pictures, but with the rate at which Disney changes I want to document everything. 10 years down the road, I’ll be able to show these pictures to other young cast members, and say things like, “Back in my day, Disney was a lot different . . . ” Anyway, the show was splendid as always, although the ending fireworks were omitted due to the large crane next to the castle with cast members hanging up Cinderella’s Christmas lights. And then after the show I wandered up the parade route to find a good place to watch the 3 o’clock parade.
And then as Merida’s float approached, I silently judged the Highland dancers. For the most part they passed my judgement, although there was not nearly enough butt-kicking. 😛
Such a fabulous parade!
If there’s one thing I learned from my 15 hour excursion in Magic Kingdom, it’s that guests don’t get enough credit for what they do. By the end of the night, I was so thoroughly exhausted that I couldn’t even enjoy the second step-off of the Main Street Electrical Parade. I sat on a bench next to City Hall and just stared blankly at the floats. I may have waved once or twice, because I can never resist waving to characters, but I couldn’t wait for the American flag to pass by me so I could just get back to my car and go home. If that’s how I felt — me, the ever-optimistic Disney fanatic — then I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a parent who rushed to the opening ceremony so that their little girl could be first in line to meet Anna and Elsa. I understand why so many guests that I talk to in the evening are frustrated and cranky, and I know that I need to be even more patient and courteous with them than anyone else.
The second most important thing I learned is that Fastpasses are most effectively used when you plan them as early in the morning as possible. If you use all three fast passes by noon, then you can book as many as three or four more that afternoon and evening! I think I ended up using 7 or 8 fastpasses that day, but of course it’s much easier to get a Fastpass for 1 instead of 4 for the same time.
And thirdly, I learned the importance of just enjoying the day by taking in all the “little” moments that make Magic Kingdom special, from riding on the trolley to taking a moment to listen to the Dapper Dans. Disney plans so many things that create a magical ambiance, but many people hardly notice them because they are in such a rush to get from one place to another. Every land has something special that might go unnoticed, and that’s the real difference between Disney and other theme parks. It’s not the rides that make Disney stand out, it’s the little moments of magic. It’s the attention to detail, and the efforts of cast members to create happiness.
All in all, it was a fabulous day. I ended the day with an All-American Sundae from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, and I sat in front of the Confectionery to watch the Electrical Parade so I could follow the parade up to the Hub to watch Wishes. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. 🙂