Friday, July 16, 2010

When you're no longer a Cast Member

By Robert Niles

Published: July 13, 2009 at 8:22 PM

At what point do you stop being cast member?

Sure, there's the last day at work in the parks. But not always. My last summer at the Magic Kingdom, I worked as a "CT," or seasonal, employee, pulling weekend shifts at Tom Sawyer's Island and weeknight shifts at parade audience control. (On weekdays, I was working as a news intern for Orlando talk radio station WDBO-AM.) I didn't take special note of my final shift as a Disney World cast member because I hadn't thought it would be my last. My plan was to come back from graduate journalism school and work the Christmas holidays at Disney. But the local newspaper up in Indiana hired me instead, so I called up and quit my Disney job, to start my journalism career.

But in some sense, I never stopped being a CM, even after that day when I quit. Obviously, my love for theme parks has endured, and I continue to use this forum to help folks get the most from their theme park visits, just as I did (in a far more limited way) working inside the parks.

And when I visit the parks themselves, whether I am at the Magic Kingdom or another Disney park, I still find myself... slipping into the CM vibe. On Natalie's birthday at Disneyland last week, I chased down one of the Main Street Vehicles to return two hats to a mother and daughter, after they'd blown off in the street in front of me. Later, at Small World, I smiled silently at an older woman whose friend was fumbling with a camera while trying to take a group picture. The woman asked her friend to hand me the camera, and I took the picture, with everyone included. A couple of lost guests stopped to ask me questions. I picked up a piece of trash from the street.

I don't slip into this same mode when visiting other companies' parks. And frankly, I don't feel it as strongly outside the Magic Kingdom and its older twin, Disneyland. But five summers of working in the Magic Kingdom taught me habits I, obviously, have yet to break. 

You know what? I'm happy with that. Creating magic is really just about creating a friendly environment where folks are always ready to help one another. At one point, that was my job and Disney paid me to do it. Today, creating that magic is its own reward, helping me feel the friendship and appreciation of folks whom I can have an opportunity to help, in whatever way. (And since I don't work for Disney anymore, that can include talking about rival parks, too.)

Maybe some people never stop being a cast member - at least not entirely. Thank goodness for that.

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