My family loves Disneyland.
I know that we are not alone in this, but seriously, we are total nerds (or at least I am). I must warn you that this is a pro Disneyland article, and it is filled with all kinds of joyful propaganda that may inspire you to plan a trip to Disneyland. It is a special place for my family, so I share these words with sincerity and fondness.
We went for the first time when my youngest daughter was just about to turn three years old, and we have gone every year since. There is truly something magical about that place, but that magic does not happen by chance. This magic is intentional, and the responsibility to keep this magic alive lies not only on the shoulders of the employees, but also on the shoulders of the patrons.
For the patrons, we must enter Disneyland with an acceptance of the things that are, an imaginative mind, and a childlike sense of wonder. We must accept that it costs money to get into the park, and more money if you want to get food or souvenirs in the park. We must accept that there are thousands of other people next to you that have invested a lot of time and money to get to the park as well, and everyone has high expectations for their Disney experience. You have to bring an imaginative mind that can see Mickey Mouse as a celebrity even though you know that there is a person in that suit, as well as step into the story of each ride and see the robots and decor as being “alive”. You must have a sense of wonder so that you can appreciate the lights, music, shows, fireworks, and the castle.
Each person who steps through those gates can choose to see Disneyland through the lens that Walt Disney intended which was “…a source of joy and inspiration to the world”, or it can be seen through a lens of cynicism. The magic is kept alive through those who choose the former. Walt Disney also believed that it was the people in the company, as well as the people who enter the gates of Disney that make the magic.
You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it takes people to make that dream a reality. – Walt Disney
I recently went to Disneyland with my oldest daughter for father’s day, and I was struck with the realization of the impact that the employees have on the experience of the people there. If you look around at the folks who work the rides, booths, stores, gates, and so on; you will realize that they are like you and me. They may not be the performers who sing and dance throughout the park, or even the people who dress up as characters, but their role in our experience is extremely vital.
Every person we came in contact with that day had the choice to be kind, they had the choice to put our needs above their own needs, and they had a choice to own their attitude. From the first person we greeted to the gentleman sweeping up the trash, everyone treated us as if we were special; which is a crazy thing when you think of the amount of people they interact with each day. No matter how whimsical the decorations, or how impressive the shows are, if you have someone treat you poorly, the magic can dissipate.
Did you know that every person who works at Disneyland is referred to as a cast member and not an employee? This distinction in itself shows how much Walt Disney wanted this place to be a magical place, and how much he expected from his “employees”.
Now back to acceptance, imagination, and wonder; because I think that we need to own the role we play in the Disneyland experience, and know that it is intertwined with the cast member’s role.
If you can accept that there are real people working the park, you will find yourself showing grace if someone slips up and does something unDisneylandish. If we can accept that fact that not only us, but everyone around us has the expectation to be treated special, we can empathize with the cast member who has to smile and greet (on a max capacity day) up to 80,000 people! Through this lens, acceptance takes the form of grace and empathy, both of which will impact the experience for everyone in those gates.
We all have bad days, and we all know what it feels like to put on a smile to get through a day at work for the sake of getting the job done as well as for the sake of our coworkers and/or customers. As most of us have experienced as well, when someone treats you with respect, it makes you want to treat them with respect. On a side note, let’s make sure that we don’t blame the hot dog vendor for the $7 hot dog, or ride operator for the 60 minute wait for Space Mountain; sometimes that’s just the way it is.
If you aren’t careful, you will find yourself believing that you are in a different place in time when you walk through the park. You may also find yourself very happy. The music softly playing in the background of the park ranges from Pixar movies, to dixieland jazz, to old time western, maritime fifes, to ambient sounds of what can only be described as the sound of pixie dust; or you could just hear noise, the choice is up to you. If you can stop and enjoy the barber shop quartet (the Dapper Dans) on Main Street, and the traveling group of Pirates singing (and possibly pick pocketing?), and if you can pretend that you are on a ship soaring through space with C3PO as your pilot, then your imagination will continue to soar as you are met with numerous encounters of creative design throughout your day.
Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, dreams are forever. – Walt Disney
The world around us is amazing if we approach our days with wonder. We will see either chaos or beauty based on how we approach our days. It is no secret that the intent of Disneyland is to transport you into a different world. They expect to see people light up and get excited as they see Goofy or Donald Duck walking down the street, or see Winnie the Pooh in the hundred acre wood. They expect us to be swept away into a story, and find ourselves filled with excitement as Mickey Mouse defeats a dragon with the power of imagination. They expect us to believe that we are in New Orleans as we eat jambalaya while a jazz quartet plays music for you. We are supposed to be overwhelmed as the fireworks explode over Sleeping Beauty’s castle and scenes from our favorite Disney movie moments are projected onto the castle and down the storefronts of main street. Enter with wonder in your eyes, and the cast member dressed as a pirate as you enter the Pirates of the Caribbean adds to the experience of that ride.
Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old. – Franz Kafka
I want to share a special photo with you:
This photo is special because it took place a few minutes after I got to experience two cast members who were committed to making Disneyland magical. They approached my younger daughter (front and center) with a special message from Mickey Mouse. They said “the boss” had requested that the “Princess” and her party get taken to the front of the Soarin’ Over California ride for immediate boarding. The ride had over an hour wait, but thanks to a little bit of magic, we got to step right on. As you can see in the photo, the princess felt pretty special in that moment.
The reason I decided to write this article, is because I believe that we can find life lessons everywhere we go. When we experience something amazing, we must share that story so that the moment can live on and inspire others. Obviously, I have a spot in my heart for Disneyland, and that is because it has been a place of unity for us, it has been a place of healing for us, and thanks to the people who work to make it happen; the opportunity is open to all.