That Little Something Extra

By Joshua Olive, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 22, 2006, Issue #361 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

You know what "Magic" is. It's that little something extra -- something that someone does or says that makes us feel special. Magic comes in all shapes and size, just like people. And at Walt Disney World, people are one of the primary purveyors of Magic. Sure, the castle is beautiful, and Peter Pan brings back amazing memories from our childhoods, but it's flesh-and-blood human beings who provide the majority of the magic -- those Disney employees known as Cast Members.

Walt Disney World employs thousands of people, and your visits to the parks will expose you to hundreds of interactions with Cast Members (CMs). Are all of them smiling and cheerful all the time? No. But give credit where credit is due! The majority of the Cast Members you will meet are friendly, outgoing, helpful people who are trying to make sure your vacation is a dream come true. The overwhelmed CMs at the turnstiles first thing in the morning, the Jungle Cruise Skipper shredding cheesy jokes, the creepy servants at the Haunted Mansion who invite you to "step into the dead center of the room," the animal-loving guides on the Kilimanjaro Safaris, the actors who drag you into their impromptu productions on Sunset Boulevard at Disney-MGM Studios, the captains who take you back and forth across the Seven Seas Lagoon in the FriendShips, and the folks in those stifling hot Mickey Mouse, Pluto, Friar Tuck, and Captain Hook costumes: these are the people who really make your vacation a magical one.

More often than not, the CMs you meet are friendly and helpful. They're usually someone you see momentarily as he/she makes sure you're safely buckled into a ride, brings your food to your table, or rings up that princess tiara your daughter has been dying for, and those interactions don't normally take more than a few seconds. Sometimes these folks catch abuse at the hands of frustrated park guests who are disappointed over something that, usually, isn't in the control of the CM they're talking to. This is not to say that there are no valid complaints -- there certainly are, and I've had a few -- but I always try to remember to treat CMs with respect and courtesy.

On a recent visit to Animal Kingdom, I was visiting the Maharajah Jungle Trek and stopped to speak to Patty up at the Tiger Viewing Platform (just past the giant fruit bats). What was originally intended to be a quick question about the tigers turned into an intriguing discussion about the tigers and the rest of the animals along the Trek and in the Flights of Wonder show. Patty was knowledgeable and friendly, and we spoke for more than an hour. Yes, she continued to help other guests as they came through, but it was a fairly slow January day, and we were able to continue our conversation until we exhausted the subject. She really made that day a memorable one, and I learned more in that conversation about the animals and how things really work there than I had in half a dozen previous visits combined. The next day, I visited Animal Kingdom again (I love the park -- what can I say?!) when I ran into Patty again, this time over in Africa. She was off work that day and was visiting the park with her family, but she recognized me from the day before and went out of her way to stop and talk to me some more. I don't know that it was a magical moment, per se, but it sure helped make that trip to the World a magical one.

One type of CM you see most often is one of the most-often overlooked: the bus drivers. Those drivers haul people all over the property, from one park to another, to Downtown Disney, and to the myriad resorts. They don't get a lot of credit, but they do their jobs well and they deal with hundreds of tired, sore, and frustrated people every day. Some of these folks really go above and beyond the call of duty, entertaining guests on their drive to or from the parks. Ken is one of those drivers. After an exhausting day at Epcot, Ken kept everyone entertained with his personality and wealth of trivia, and his antics and anecdotes made it seem like the day at the parks wasn't quite over yet, which was much appreciated. It made the long drive back to the resort seem much shorter, too, which was also greatly appreciated.

At a Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, I spotted one of my favorite villains of all time: Maleficent. And right in front of the castle, too! There was no one in line waiting to meet her at that moment, so I ran over and asked if she'd let my wife take a picture of me with her. I was clearly thrilled about the prospect, but she, being in character, grimaced and replied, "Only if you STOP smiling." It was fantastic! Unfortunately, being in character, I couldn't ask for her real name (would've been rude -- and they're not allowed to tell you while they're in character anyway), so I can't give her the credit she really deserves, but she really contributed to that wonderful evening we enjoyed so much.

Another late night in the Magic Kingdom, we decided to close down the park on one of our favorite attractions: The Jungle Cruise. On one of the last boats departing civilization, we were expecting the usual cheese-filled spiel (say that three times fast!) and a good laugh. What we weren't expecting to find, as we rounded the bend on our way to see the back side of water, was another boat floating dead in the water where we had just recently passed through, with a handful of CMs in a boat in various poses, motionless -- victims of giant spiders, crocodiles, or a poor trade with the ride's "head salesman." Our skipper was as surprised as we were, and we all just absolutely cracked up -- the rest of the ride's jokes just about all referred back to that moment, and we laughed about it for days. I wish I could do it justice in my description, but suffice it to say that it reigns as one of my favorite Disney moments, and that magic was completely and solely the work of a handful of CMs who wanted us to enjoy a unique experience on their Jungle Cruise.

Normally, I make a mental note of these sorts of things when they happen, but I haven't, historically, done anything about it. I decided recently to change that. I decided to write letters to the Disney Guest Relations Department whenever a Cast Member really goes above and beyond the call of duty to make my visit to Walt Disney World a wonderful one. All it takes is making a note of the CM's name (very kindly printed on their badges), where they were working when you met them, and what they did that made your interaction with them special. Disney does have a system that rewards these Cast Members and, let's be honest, they deserve some recognition. When the Cast Members do a little something extra to make your great vacation a better one, it's nice to do a little something extra to make sure they are recognized for their efforts.

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Guest Columnist Joshua Olive, 30, is a 6'6", 380-lb. man whose inner child is bigger yet. He's been a BIG fan of Walt Disney World since his first visit in 1979 and he's now a 15-trip veteran. A program manager for a robotics integrator by day, Josh was also a peer reviewer for PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs, written by Allears.net's Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma.

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Read Josh Olive's other articles for Allears.net: http://allears.net/btp/josho.htm


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.