10 Amazing Cast Member Secrets From Disney World and Disneyland Paris

in Disneyland Paris, Walt Disney World

cast member secrets

From the smells of Main Street U.S.A. to the shocking speed of Space Mountain, Disney Guests are always searching for the hidden secrets behind their favorite Disney Park. If you’re lucky enough to have worked at a Disney Resort, you know how well Disney protects its secrets and backstage magic.

My time at the Walt Disney Company was truly life-changing. I was honored to be chosen to do Disney’s International College Program back in the summer of 2010, and hired later to work over the Christmas period at Disneyland Paris managing Christmas festivities and theme park Food and Beverage.

The two experiences allowed me to compare the Paris and Florida Resorts, and so, here are some secrets and stories from my time working at both Walt Disney World in Florida, and Disneyland Paris – I won’t tell Mickey if you don’t.

Sleeping Beauty Castle
Credit: Disney

Disney has its own “University”

Every College Program participant must go through a Traditions class at Disney University – getting your very own degree in Magic!

The University is located behind the Magic Kingdom Park with other Cast Member buildings like Cast Connections (the discount merchandise shop), the Transportation Centre where the Monorails are stored overnight, and other secret places. Buildings are also located at Disneyland’s Team Disney Anaheim, and Burbank’s Team Disney Headquarters. Disney University does not have its own specific building at Disneyland, but the training classes are held inside of conference rooms Team Disney Anaheim.

disney university cast member
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

Newly hired Cast Members, Disney College Program student interns, and Disney International Programs participants attend employee orientation, known as “Disney Traditions”. The class shares the importance of Disney’s culture, heritage, integrity, and policies, as well as our first exciting glimpse backstage! The two lessons I remember most are that as Cast Members, “We Create Happiness” and “SafeD begins with me”.

This is also the day Cast Members receive their treasured name tags, and back in 2010, our “earning our ears” training ribbons.

Over in Disneyland Paris, the Disney University is a lot smaller and located at Hotel Cheyenne. Surrounded by a huge wall of Walt himself and a photographic history of the theme parks, Cast Members receive their name badges and IDs, as well as similar lessons to those in Walt Disney World – albeit all in French.

disney university france disneyland paris
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

The Magic Never “Turns Off”

In Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, I worked in Food and Beverage. In Disney’s Hollywood Studios, I worked at Backlot Express, the Quick Service Restaurant located between the Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular show and the Star Tours attraction.

In Disneyland Paris, Hotel New York was my home, specifically the Manhattan restaurant’s breakfast, and banqueting team. Apples, yellow taxis, and American icons envelop the restaurant unless you’re standing in the underground secret offices. I was also lucky enough to pick up some shifts at the Lucky Nugget Saloon and Cafe Hyperion in Disneyland Park, with some amazing costumes at each location.

cast member costumes
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

During my time working in Food and Beverage the Parks, I would often have to arrive in the early hours of the morning. And I can tell you that the magic is never switched off. The music, the lighting, the atmosphere feel the same at 5 A.M. in the morning as they do at 5 P.M. in the afternoon, of course with fewer people. I arrived for work one day as the sun was rising in Disneyland Paris and got to experience the magic empty walk down Main Street U.S.A. with not even another Cast Member in my vision of the beautiful castle.

Backlot Express also played Indiana Jones music on a loop all day back in 2010, even after hours, and let’s say I was not rushing to watch Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) on my return to England!

disneyland paris cast member
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

Disney Has Some Cast Member “Basics”

Many Disney fans are aware of the Disney Look, a set of guidelines for Cast Members that aligns the Disney brand with our own appearance choices. It is clean and approachable, and enhances the experience of Guests in the Disney “show”. On my first day at Walt Disney World, I recall trainers examining my glasses to ensure they were “Disney Look” as they had a small logo on the side. Recently, of course, Disney has relaxed some of these guidelines, including the allowance of tattoos, facial hair, and gender-inclusive styles.

At both Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World, I was also introduced to the “Disney Basics”, which are important values of the company reiterated everywhere backstage. They are: “I project a positive image and energy”, “I am courteous to all Guests, including children”, “I stay in character and play the part” and “I go above and beyond”. In Disneyland Paris, these are the “Disney Quatre Clés” – the Four Keys – of efficiency, spectacle, courtesy and security. Similar to Walt Disney World’s “Disney Basics”, with a slightly different approach. Disneyland Paris has now added a fifth “key”: inclusion.

These “Disney Basics” encourage Cast Members to become part of the show, to feel empowered to give that free dessert to a child on their birthday, or make someone’s Christmas extra special by going above and beyond.

cast member magic kingdom
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

Mickey Mouse Has Two Jobs

Working at Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened my eyes to so many hidden facts and secrets around the theme park, both backstage and onstage.

From the giant hidden Mickey that the original M.G.M. Studios Park map made, to the fact that the Park was meant originally to be a working studio, the Park is full of fun tidbits. One of my favorite things to learn was that the Mickey Mouse on top of Crossroads of the World right inside the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios serves a second purpose.

Based on the original structure from Sunset Boulevard, Mickey is 5’3” tall while the spinning globe he stands on is 6 feet in diameter. Not only does Mickey wave to all who enter and exit, one of his ears is made of copper to attract the lightning and serve as a lightning rod!

crossroads hollywood studios mickey
Credit: Disney

Disney Points You In The Right Direction

Not so much a huge Disney secret, but that fun two-finger point Cast Members use? We are taught that in training so Guests don’t interpret our gestures as being rude. It takes a while to get used to, but once you’ve been a Cast Member it takes a very long time to get out of the habit!

Hula Hoops and High Fives

I mentioned empowerment earlier, and the immense confidence I gained while being a Cast Member at Disney. One of my favorite roles in Food and Beverage was on the counter, a filler role between the kitchen and the register. I always loved being on the counter and being able to talk all day and be paid for it.

Disney always encouraged those special, unique memory-making opportunities with Guests, from high-fiving children who told me they went on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, to magical moments when a colored tray came through from the kitchen and the Guest got a free dessert. It was always lovely seeing their surprised face and their smile. Our restaurant also had hula hoops that we could bring out when the Park was quiet and let Guests in the lobby get spinning!

disney cast member backlot express
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

One major difference, however, between my experience working at Disneyland Paris and Walt Disney World was the freedom given at each Resort for Guest interaction. There were multiple times at Backlot Express when I was meant to be bussing tables or cleaning, but would end up talking to Guests or providing Park advice for lengthy periods. My managers would always praise me for going “above and beyond” for “creating happiness”, but at Disneyland Paris, these long periods of Guest engagement were more frowned upon (I guess actually cleaning or serving food is important too).

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Has A Unique Shape

This one blew my mind in training at Walt Disney World.

We all love to pretend we aren’t aware of the “secret” Utilidors underneath Magic Kingdom, or that the theme park was built on the second level. Well, what if I told you that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is built in a bowl?

The Park was sunken especially into the ground to create a climate suitable for all the animal species in the theme park. Once you enter Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you have to cross a bridge to get to Discovery Island, and this is why the temperature inside the Park is much warmer than outside.

Tree of Life Animal Kingdom
Credit: Disney

Secret Parade Spot

Guests are always searching for the best place to see Disney’s famous parades and nighttime spectaculars. From Fantasmic! in Disney’s Hollywood Studios to “Disney Stars on Parade” at Disneyland Paris, Disney has some amazing entertainment options and shows.

Working at the Parks always gave us some wonderfully different perspectives, including a secret little hideaway to watch the end of the Disney’s Hollywood Studios parade. Backlot Express is located at the end of the parade route, with the large doors between our restaurant and Star Tours providing the parade’s entrance backstage. Our break area and outdoor dining tables were situated right behind these doors, so we always had a fantastic view of the parade if our break time aligned correctly!

woody hollywood studios parade
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

Throw Your Mickey Ears Up!

At the end of the College Program, participants are invited to a fun graduation event that celebrates their achievements and completion of the work program.

Our event was held at Mickey’s Retreat, a Cast Member only recreation area with a beach and pools. Yes, this fun hidden gem is located on the banks of Little Lake Bryan, and offers the perfect combination of the great outdoors and recreational opportunities. Visitors (who must be always accompanied by Cast Members) can enjoy a children’s playground, swimming pool, marina, tennis courts, basketball courts, volleyball courts, and a large sports field.

At the graduation, we received special Mickey ear hats, a poster, and a certificate, and then ate lots of Mickey-shaped food. Characters such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Daisy Duck attend in their graduation gear – a very different experience to my real university graduation.

cast member graduation college program
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

Guest Service Fanatics

One of the best things about working at Disney, whether in the United States or France, is Guest interaction. Making someone smile is incredible, but being recognized for your hard work makes it even better.

If you ever encounter a Cast Member who makes your trip a little extra special, you can give them a Cast Compliment to show your gratitude. Nowadays, using technology aids this process. All you need to do is send a tweet with #CastCompliment and mention the Cast Member’s name and where you met them, then tag @WDWGuestService. You can also visit a Guest Relations location in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Disney’s Animal Kingdom, or at the Resorts, to share your compliment.

During my time working at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris, I received many Guest Service Fanatic cards, given to Cast Members for recognition of great service to Guests. These came from Guests going to Guest Relations or to my managers and complimenting a magic moment I had created. These go on a Cast Member’s record and help them when it comes to promotion or cross-training.

disney world welcome
Credit: ITM Melissa C.

For any aspiring Cast Members, even in these difficult times, I encourage you to apply. I hope these stories and secrets capture the magic of my experiences working at Disneyland Paris and on the Disney International Program at Walt Disney World. I made the most amazing friends, the most wonderful memories, and made Disney magic for so many Guests. It is an incredible experience that would make any Disney fan learn another side of the magic.

Have you ever worked at a Disney Park? Let us know your experience!

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