One of the great things about Disney parks is that there is so much more to do beyond the rides. From immersive character experiences to nighttime spectaculars to hunting for hidden mickeys, there is a never ending supply of magic waiting to be uncovered. I spoke with Disney aficionado and current cast member Ashley Hill to get some inside secrets from inside the parks.
What’s your job title? What does an average day look like?
My official job title is an attractions hostess. I’ve been in attractions for three years, which is my entire time with the company. I am currently positioned at ESPN Wide World of Sports as a guest operations cast member, but I have worked at all four theme parks as well. My favorite part of working at Wide World of Sports is that no week is ever the same.
One thing that is consistent regardless of where I am working is the exemplary guest service that is expected of all cast members. I have witnessed proposals, and weddings. I’ve greeted guests celebrating their defeat of cancer, their birthday, or even their divorce. But alternately, I’ve been the first one on the scene for everything from a guest fainting, losing their child, or receiving a phone call informing them of a family member’s death. And crazily enough, that’s just “a part of the job.” Every single one of the thousands of guest interactions I have had has been completely individual, and each one has to be handled in an entirely different matter. Regardless of where I am positioned during the day, that one thing remains absolutely constant. I am there to do whatever I can, in any situation, to make the guest’s day better, and I am expected to be energetic and enthusiastic, compassionate and understanding, or stern and unwavering at any given moment.
What is something that not many people know about?
One thing a lot of people know about, but they don’t take advantage of, is the fireworks viewing 15 floors above the Magic Kingdom at the California Grill inside the Contemporary. The California Grill is notable for its expensive meals, and hard to get reservations, and the strict policy that only restaurant patrons are eligible for the fireworks viewing, so most people skip this one. What they don’t realize however, is that there is a bar in the restaurant, and you don’t need a reservation, and that makes you eligible for the viewing platform. If you can’t make it there for the fireworks, grabbing a $12 drink is also worth it for the sunset views as well, although I don’t recommend dining at that time, because you can’t enjoy your meal and the sun shining right in your face simultaneously.
What are your favorite hidden bits of Disney Magic?
My all time favorite bit of hidden Magic is on Main Street in Magic Kingdom. The shop windows, mostly on the second storey, host names of some of the most influential contributors to creating Walt Disney World. The best part however is on the ground floor. There is one special door, that no one can actually go through, captioned with the Walt Disney quote, “it takes people to make the dream a reality.” This door is dedicated to us. The cast who are out there every day maintaining that dream that Walt had.
Other little secrets that I love include Cinderella’s drinking fountain, just behind Cinderella’s castle. There is a statue of Cinderella in her pre-princess outfit, with drinking fountains strategically placed around her. The secret part is that when you bend over to take a drink, if you look up at Cinderella, they used forced perspective to place a crown on her head.
Magic Kingdom holds most of the best hidden magic in my opinion, because I also adore the Kiss Goodnight. It won’t be posted on any times guide (to my knowledge) but if you’re on Main Street after the park has closed, at some point there will be a short castle projection show thanking you for spending the day with us. Not many people get to see it because they’re too busy getting last minute shopping in.
Can you give us any info on Pandora, the new land that just opened in Animal Kingdom?
There aren’t many easter eggs, there aren’t any secret places, and there definitely aren’t any hidden Mickeys. The only WDW name tags you’ll see in there are on custodial cast and the Wilderness Explorers. Everyone else will proudly tell you that although they come from Earth, they are members of Alpha Centauri Expeditions, a group of people assisting with ecotourism in Pandora.
When you exit flight of passage there are three red handprints on the wall, the first is Joe Rohde, notable Imagineer and lead designer of Animal Kingdom, as well as Pandora, the second is John Landau Avatar producer and huge contributor to the land, and the third is James Cameron, the writer and creator of Pandora.
What’s a big park mistake you see people do all the time?
The biggest mistake I see every day is when people don’t take precaution in the heat. Florida is very hot, and very humid. And it is hot and humid from the beginning of March all the way through the beginning of November. You have to drink water. Constantly. Any food place that offers soft drinks will give you a glass of ice water for free. Avoid walking around the parks during the hottest parts of the day. That’s a great time to wander around the stores in the air conditioning, see all the indoor attractions, or head back to the hotel for a swim. If there’s a ride with a long wait that you’re dying to ride, and the queue is indoors, that is the time to ride it. And drink two cups of water while you’re in the queue. It sounds so intuitive, but I see someone getting sick almost every day, and I’ve called 911 more than a couple times strictly due to the heat.
That goes hand in hand with the other mistake people make all too often. There is no reason to be at any park from open to close unless you’re there for two days or less. Your body can probably forgive you for running it ragged for two days, but anything more than that and you’re just going to ruin your trip. Meltdowns happen constantly. And I’m not just talking about the three year olds. Everyone will get cranky if they’re getting up early, staying up late, standing in lines, in the heat all day, and walking miles a day just to see everything. This comes back to my earlier point about prioritizing and revolve your day around it. That way if you know you’ll be at the parks late into the evening, you can sleep in that day. Don’t plan to rope drop on a morning following a Magic Kingdom Kiss Goodnight. You will be cranky all day. For some reason people think that Disney Magic will somehow power them through the days, but the cast keep that Magic for themselves. We need it more.
Ashley Hill is a travel blogger for the site www.DashinAsh.com and a current Walt Disney World cast member. You can view her instagram at @_ashhill, and get all her updates either on twitter @dashin__ash or on her facebook page @DashinAsh.