I lived in Orlando, which outside of theme parks, hospitality and time shares there is not much left in the job market. So I got a job at the Walt Disney World Resort’s Grand Floridian Hotel. I was working the front desk dressed in a Victorian Style suit, with bow tie and vest, and sherbert colored striped shirt. And anyone who knows me knows that I am not a “Disney” person. I am sarcastic and I point with one finger, deal with it. How I got the position at the fanciest of Disney hotels, I will never know. Maybe I looked Victorian enough and didn’t speak with too much of a New York accent.
I was told that they had a “Fast Track Management Program” during the interview process and wanted to immediately sign up for that the moment I hit the front desk. If there was any program I should be on, that was it. When you are a “Cast Member”, no matter what your job is, you have to attend “Disney University”. At Disney U if you have not yet been brainwashed, this is where they force feed the “Magic” into your ears. There were people from all walks of life, teenagers, college grads, new starters, and retired all in this room waiting for the “Magic” to happen to them. I remember an older couple in their fifties who literally sold the farm, bought a trailer and told me that their dream was to work at Disney World, they were living their dream. Apparently their dream consisted of working for
minimum wage at a concession stand serving hot dogs to tourists. They were the people Disney wanted, I was not.
At Disney University you learn how to point. If you’ve ever been to Disney you will know what I mean. They do not point with one finger, supposedly that’s offensive to some cultures. The only one finger point that I know is offensive to all cultures, so just don’t point with that finger and all should be fine, but not at Disney. You had to point with two fingers, your pointer and your middle. What if you were missing your pointer fingers, well for those folks you had the whole hand point. Thumb tucked in your palm of course, as to not offend and old school umpires that may be vacationing.
Everything is “magical” at Disney. Except of course if you don’t want to see the characters with their heads off, smoking Marlboro’s outside the employee cafeteria. That’s not magical, but rather hysterical. The instructor asked the class if anyone would be offended by seeing the underground tunnels, because that my break the magic. I was thinking, surely you can’t be serious. Do people really
say “yes, I want to work here, but I really can’t see what goes on behind the scenes because I might loose my mind If I see characters with their heads off and carts of food and merchandise being pushed
around. I’d rather pretend the characters are real and the merchandise gets there with Pixie Dust.” Those are Disney people, I am not.
Then there is the “Disney Look Book”. This is the Bible of personal grooming and appearance. It goes on about shoes, “costumes”, hair color, earrings and of course, hygiene. They tell you that they are very strict about the Look Book rules and any violation could result in a written warning or termination. Luckily I had my own hair color, and washed my ass every day, I looked Victorian to them for Christs sake, I would have no problem following the “Look”. But I always wondered what they did
to the people who violated the rules. Did they strap them in a boat to the “It’s a small world” ride for hours and hours? Or did they get really harsh and strap them in a chair, like in a Clock Work Orange,
and show them images of perfect cast members all while listening to Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah? One could only hope.
After passing all the rigorous tests, and listening to all the testimonials I was ready to get to work. I arrive at the Grand Floridian, ready to learn my way around and get on the Fast Track. I am shown where the “costuming” department is, where the time cards are, where the break room is, where the smoking section is and the employee cafeteria. While the guest part of the hotel is pristine, the employee part is far from it. I guess they use all the magic for the guests paying through the nose rather than the people supplying the magic. I got it.
Training at the Grand Floridian was just as eventful. Smile, smile, smile, do everything with a smile. Now I am not a very happy all the time person. But I figured why not try. I was “shadowing” a
young girl in her early twenties, who was super peppy, super happy all the time. She smiled at everything. If you told her that her hair was on fire, she would be smiling. Told her she had the clap,
she would be smiling. She was that type of person, I am not. But I wanted to be on the Fast Track, so I listened and observed.
After two weeks I complete training. I can check guests in, two finger point them to their rooms, take their money and tell them to have a magical day all on my own. I am now a real “cast member”. I am checking people in, answering questions, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to deliver the packages. I was gonna learn the “mail” room. When you were on mail room duties, you didn’t have to wear the neopolitan ice cream outfit. You got to wear shorts and a polo shirt and drive around in a golf cart all day. That was more up my alley. So I asked to do that for at least three of my shifts, but
only received the mail room for only one or two of them. The front desk managers did not like me for some reason, maybe because I did not have a perma-grin. Maybe it was every time I asked to get on the
Fast Track, they would tell me “just put your name on the list and we will consider it for review when the time is right.” Whatever the reason, after a few weeks I was not a happy camper.
The is a rule at Disney that you are not allowed to ask famous people for their autographs. Well I broke that rule with every famous person I ever checked in. Johnny Unitas walked right up to my
position at the front desk, I greet him with big eyes and checked him in and then asked him for an autograph. He said “sure, at least you know who I am.” Then there was Jimmy Page, he was under an
assumed name. He was brought to my station by a handler, that’s what I called the employees who take the rich and famous around. They gave me the fake name and I said it was a pleasure to meet him may I have an autograph. The handler looked at me as if I asked to have sex with his wife. He said yes and signed a slip of paper. Well guess what happened, the handler moused me out. I was written up for violating policy. I didn’t care, I got one of the greatest guitarist of all time’s signature. I’ll gladly put mine on the write up form.
It was very busy morning at the most expensive hotel at the happiest place on earth when this couple, newlyweds from New Jersey, showed up to my position at the front desk. They saw my name tag which said Steven New York, NY. I made some small talk about Manhattan. I was checking their reservation for any special notes and noticed they had a request for a room with a view of the Magic Kingdom. Those rooms are difficult to get and are by request only, not guaranteed. There were none available. I explained to them, in my best Disney way, that I was sorry that the room the requested was not available, would you like to stay in the main building or the outer villas. The new bride was getting angry, I could see it in her eyes. She gets New Jersey loud and says “we made these arrangements over six months ago, why can we not get a room with a view of Cinderella’s Castle?”
I explain to her that “it is only a request, not a guarantee.”
“That’s not good enough” she huffs.
“I apologize, let me see when the guests in those rooms are leaving”
The husband chimes in “you better.”
I say “It’s your Honeymoon, do you really need a view of the Castle?”
“Get your manager, now” she demands in a very New Jersey tone.
“Gladly.” I say with a giant smile on my face.
I get the manager who hates me the most, tell her she is needed out at the desk and wait in the back office for her to return. And she comes back about ten minutes later, three shades redder than when she left the office. She was fuming mad, I was laughing, which made her more angry and I didn’t care one bit. She told me that I was being insubordinate and disrespectful. Maybe I was, but again, I did not care. She told me that she was going to “write me up and I would have to talk to the hotels general manager. We don’t take things like that lightly.”
Shouting at her “Lighten up, I don’t care, I quit!” and “here’s your two finger point” as I flip her two birds. She then calls security and I am escorted off Disney property.
That night I vowed to never go to Disney, ever. But later on in life I would have children and they would ask us to go and I caved. I will say that I do give credit to the people that work there, because it really is a tough job to be that happy and friendly to people all day long. That’s why if you go just outside the gates of Disney there is a bar called the Orlando Ale House, you will find cast members getting their own kind of happy on. Make sure you buy them a drink or two