Cast of the Kingdom: an insider’s scoop on making Disney magic

Maureen Wolff  |  Editor-in-Chief

Emily Elledge  |  Contributing Writer

The air hums with an electric vibrancy as mingled sounds of conversations, footsteps, music and food vendors spill across the walkways. Bright-eyed children scamper in uninhibited delight, eager to spot the next character in an evermore complex kingdom that has been 60 years in the making. Though Anaheim is but a city, it contains an entire fantastical kingdom, breathed to life by an enormous population. To the average company, the men and women of this kingdom would be called employees. But to Disney, they are cast members.

The Walt Disney Company ranks number 11 on Forbes’ list of the “World’s Most Valuable Brands,” with 180,000 employees worldwide and a net worth of nearly 180 billion dollars. Disney Careers employs individuals in a wide spectrum of jobs, from engineering to theatre and from public relations to food service. No matter what the position, however, the company puts a huge emphasis on storytelling, calling many employees “cast members” to indicate their part to play in the Disney kingdom narrative.

Mysteriously Magical

Visits to Disney attractions have become a family tradition for some and a bucket list item for others. What causes this cultural obsession with Disney, and how does it seep into our minds and hearts so easily yet so permanently?

According to Azusa Pacific University alumna Drew Nellie, who worked for Disney’s Public Relations program and media outreach, it’s all about the feelings involved. Whether you’re devouring an oversized turkey leg from Disney’s California Adventure Park or people-watching down Main Street U.S.A..

“I think regardless of what you’re doing, it really is a magical place,” said Nellie. “People just love Disney.”

Part of Disney’s success is how universal it has become. The company’s indelible mark upon entertainment culture has spread across the country and the world. The company has offices for media and entertainment in places like Venezuela, the Czech Republic, Japan and Australia.

“It’s awesome that Disney has the ability to reach out to wherever you are,” said Nellie. The continuous growth of Disney’s corporation has allowed it to become one of the most successful companies of all time. But the company owes its efficacy to more than size and resources alone.

“I think it also comes from the mysterious portion,” Nellie said, explaining that Disney has an intricate way of revealing just enough so that visitors come back wanting more. In fact, Disneyland purposefully blocks out any sight of the outside world to give the feeling of being in an entirely different kingdom.

Tourists and regular Disney park attendees aren’t the only ones affected by the euphoria of Disney “magic.” Those who work in Disneyland feel it too.

“I think the cool thing about Disneyland is everyone is so excited and so happy there, and even people who are working as the ride operators, they really love their job!” said Nellie.

Food in the Fantasy Land

At Flo’s Cafe in Disneyland’s Cars Land, guests aren’t just customers eating. They are racers. Brea resident Sabrina Serna, a food service worker at Flo’s, says that many Disney lovers may think that working in the park might ruin the magic. For Serna, that has not been the case.

“It’s a magical place. It’s full of so much imagination,” said Serna. “There’s never a dull moment.”

From the story that each park area tells, to the lingo that different attractions require, Serna points to guests’ experience as a transport out of reality.

“They’re not in an amusement park,” said Serna. “They’re in a different world.”

At work, Serna becomes a cast member of the imaginary diner depicted in the Pixar movie “Cars,” assuming the role of a diner worker as would be imagined in the 2006 film.

But her work is far from just playing pretend. Disney’s Four Keys for cast members include Safety, Efficiency, Show and Courtesy, which keep Serna working hard to maintain quality service and to contribute to a special experience for each guest who walks into the diner.

Serna recalls one such moment when a little girl helped her pass out menus, and Serna brought her a milkshake and button to say thank you. These types of interactions, Serna said, will be remembered by guests every time they come back to visit the park.

Safekeeping Sparkling Waters

For all the non-merpeople who visit Disneyland, junior communications studies major Lucy Franco works as a lifeguard at all three Disney hotels, ensuring water safety for guests. Franco was hired into an eight-month position through the Disney College program, giving her the opportunity to take classes, network within the company and go on exclusive tours of Walt Disney Studios.

“I think it’s very interesting being on the other side of the magic—being a magic maker as opposed to someone who lives through the magic,” Franco said.

Although it was initially challenging to maintain an upbeat energy while meeting new people and taking on training, Franco has enjoyed learning Disney secrets like the “Disney point.” In order to avoid offending those whose cultures consider pointing rude, cast members point with two fingers. Franco observes that it is this attention to detail that sets the Disney standard apart.

“I have no issue putting myself out there like that for the safety of our guests,” Franco said, emphasizing her efforts to communicate a family-friendly environment on the Disney pool decks. “And I think that’s the difference—I think Disney cast members want to maintain that excellent standard of Disney, and so that’s what we’re all working towards.”

Looking ahead, Franco hopes that internal hiring will work to her advantage so that she can work her way up in the company.

Dancing Disney

Cue the intricate costumes, lush floats and tantalizing colors. After three and a half years as a parade performer, senior communications studies major Alyssa Cain has danced in a variety of parade roles, from Pooh to Jesse from “Toy Story.” Cain is part of the choreography in both the Soundsational parade and the Christmas Fantasy parade, pulling late-night and early-morning rehearsals amidst a full load of classes at APU. Behind the mystical aura of Disney, Cain believes that it is important to remember that the park employs everyday people for everyday jobs.

“We’re putting on a show but it is like a job, just like any other nine-to-five office type job. There’s things you like, there’s things you don’t like, there’s people who think they’re entitled, there’s people that can have their lazy days,” said Cain. “Everyone has a bad day, so it’s not all fun and happy like we make it out to be. And I think that’s where it gets hard—you have to learn to put on the show when it’s necessary.”

Despite difficult weather conditions and the high-impact task of dancing on concrete, Cain believes her job to be a reminder of how privileged she is to spend time in the park, to have family support and to attend APU. Even when Cain is having a bad day, giving high-fives to children and watching their faces light up can be a turning point. It is not just the guests having the magical experience—the guests, in turn, can make Disney magical for its very own cast.

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