Friday, August 13, 2004

On Castmembers at Walt Disney World

Being married to an ex-castmember, I am a little biased towards them. But, I think that is justifiable. I have interacted thousands over the years and have rarely been disappointed. My visit in June 2004 was different though. The vast majority of castmembers I came across were either in the College Program or were from other countries. Let me comment on the College students first.

While there were many that fit the mold, there were also a large number that did not. Since my daughter was interested in the program, I often engaged the College Program members in conversation. I heard a lot of negativism about the program and about Disney mid-level management in general. There were also a fair number of comments about the "new boys network". I didn't think much of it until I heard it the umpteenth time and finally asked what it was. Evidently, there is a feeling that many of the gay managers give preference to other gay castmembers, over females and hetero males, in the same way that the "old boys network" often did in the sixties. I had heard about this from ex-castmembers, including some management-level people, but this was incredible hearing it from so many current College program members!

Also, I noted that the "customer service" attitude often wasn't there with these students. Sure, there were exceptions and they were absolutely great, but lets face it; you expect the exceptions and don't notice them as much as those that don't have it.

As for foreign-born staff, my experience was generally very positive. However, I did notice that it was an entirely different experience than I had had in the past. Other cultures don't put the emphasis on servicing the client as we do in the US, much less at Disney. It was very transparent in most cases and completely absent in others. I had one castmember at Downtown Disney who would not even engage in friendly chat ("How are you?", "Hope your day is going well.", etc.). She barely mumbled a thanks as she handed me the receipt. There was also no eye contact during the transaction.

All of this speaks to how the real world is encroaching on one of the last places on Earth that people go to escape it. Walt Disney World was once a place almost like the movie "Pleasantville". Staff always smiled, were pleasant, and no matter what the day was like you always felt better after talking to one. Where else could you drop $100 on stuff you'll never use again and walk away feeling good about the experience? Soon, I fear that this will go the way of the Dinosaur. Where will we go then?