Behind the Scenes at Disneyland: A Day in My Life As a Cast MemberSteven M. Johnson
6:30 am – My iPhone starts screaming in my ear. For once I’m not short on sleep though. Since my job often requires me waking up around 5 am, 6:30 has become my new “sleeping in.” I get ready, put on my business casual for work, then my favorite part of morning prep: I put on my Disneyland Resort name tag.
I’m a fresh Disneyland Resort CM (Cast Member), participating in the Disney College Program, an internship opportunity offered at the Disneyland Resort and the Walt Disney World Resort. You’d be surprised how many misconceptions there are about working at the Resort; the most common FAQs are if I’m Mickey Mouse (which I’m not, there’s only one Mickey Mouse, and that’s the real one!) and if I ride rides all day. No.
To show just what the Cast Member lifestyle is like, I decided to make a timeline of one day, (last Wednesday,) to show my typically atypical schedule here at the Resort. People want to know — do I get to go to the secret hang outs — the exclusive bars and restaurants — do I learn secret handshakes and does Mickey talk backstage? The answer to some of these is yes — of course I can’t tell you everything. But do you want to know where the best and quietest place to get a cocktail is when you visit Disneyland? Do you want to know how to avoid the crowds? Do you want to know what Disneyland has taught me about humanity, and manners, and what I might like to be like as a future dad one day? Well read on…
8:30 – My friend in Resort Parking & Transportation and I join other Disney College Program participants at a nearby Disney office complex, for the first class of Leadership Speaker Series, a seminar introducing us to different Disney professionals and executives.
11:30 am – I have a break between class and work, so I take the tram from the Disney offices behind the parks over to the Esplanade area for a quick Disneyland stop. I had heard that the new Starbucks in the Market House that opened that same morning had a really short line, so I wanted to check out the hours-young location on Main Street, USA. I order my drink, snap a bunch of photos, then return backstage to change into my Mermaid costume.
12:45 – My shift at The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.
The way Mermaid, and other attractions, work is through rotations, keeping the work day engaging since you’re pretty much always on the go. Before I was a Cast Member I took for granted that CMs you saw were doing the same thing eight hours a day, so I was relieved to find out that definitely wasn’t the case! For such a major attraction, there are lots of different positions you can be placed at, giving us a lot of variety and opportunities to create magic for guests.
During work that day, I got to do one of my favorite things as a Cast Member: giving scared little fish (children) magic wands to keep them safe from Ursula. I remember when I was a toddler being scared to go on Snow White’s Scary Adventure, so that is a feeling I can relate to all too well! That doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, it prevents a potential meltdown and instead creates a magical moment for parent and child. These moments also clue me into something I will experience someday as a father, consoling my own children when they are distressed and upset. This simple, everyday interaction will make me a better dad someday.
That day, I also started more actively clueing guests on to the Hidden Mickeys under the sea. There are two (that I know of) that can be spotted from the queue area, and it’s always fun to see guests’ happy looks of pride and satisfaction after finding them.
I also had the pleasant surprise of being visited by some other Cast Member friends today, while I was parking strollers outside Mermaid. They were all attending the parks as guests at that time, which is always a special feeling when your peers go out of their way to find you (in a stroller parking lot, no less) to say hi!
Working here at The Little Mermaid has been such a positive experience for me. I love coming to work dressed in my sailor costume and all the great guest interaction I get to do as this character. Sometimes guests will ask if I work other attractions, so I tell them the truth: right now my only bosses are Ariel and Prince Eric. Another guest asked for my autograph, which was pretty flattering to write my name alongside characters like Belle and Jake.
What’s great too is that the costume is pretty light, so it’s cozy to layer up (now that I’ve found my sailor’s jacket, it’s never coming off) and not too bad in the Paradise Pier sun. It’s much easier to enjoy standing outside as Greeter, interacting with guests and watching the insanity of Phineas and Ferb’s Rockin’ Rollin’ Dance Party when you’re safe in the shade!
I especially liked today’s shift because it was in the middle of the day; apart from Opening shifts, working midday is my next favorite, since it’s a fun mix of guests who are big The Little Mermaid or Disney Princess fans, lovers of Disney classics, or guests just trying to beat the heat in our air-conditioned undersea adventure. It’s also easy to track the waves of popularity, with quick rushes right after the Phineas and Ferb show and Pixar Play Parade. These are usually hilarious free-for-alls, with guests ignoring the stroller parking signs and caravanning in all at once, or the children running up ahead with the parents trailing behind.
A day here at The Little Mermaid ~ Ariel’s Undersea Adventure is always a magical one, with the great opportunity to share a story as special as The Little Mermaid with guests from across the world.
9 pm – Drive back down to the Resort with my Jungle Cruise skipper friend for my favorite bar, Trader Sam’s, located in the heart of the Disneyland Hotel. This is a great, largely undiscovered location at the Resort, since most guests spend their time in the parks but not as much at the hotels. The clientele is often locals and other Cast Members, since a lot of visiting families would not typically end up here (though it is a family-friendly bar). The often small crowds keep this an intimate escape from the masses of guests you experience at the Parks, and one of my favorite undiscovered spots in the Disneyland Resort.
Granted, this Wednesday was a little more exciting than lots of work days, considering new coffee shops don’t open every day at the Disneyland Resort. Being able to explore the Resort in small doses, like popping into Disneyland for an hour or visiting the Resort just for a couple drinks, is a truly unique perspective that I would have never had if I weren’t a CM. I have the opportunity to explore lesser-known parts of the resort, or act on new tips like a short line at the Starbucks opening, which is something most guests including Annual Passholders, don’t have. The sense of accessibility to the Resort and the wonderful experiences they offer are something that have become part of my everyday life now, which is the very best perk of all to being a Cast Member.