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Theme park cast member stories: The company Christmas party

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Published: December 14, 2009 at 9:38 AM

We hosted our annual family holiday party yesterday, which, of course, raises the subject of... holiday parties.

Having been in the workforce now for a couple of decades, I've watched companies' holiday parties deteriorate from expensive blow-outs to family dinners to workplace luncheons to... nothing. The first newspaper where I had a full-time gig rented the largest hotel ballroom in town for its event, serving a prime-rib dinner and hiring a live band. By the time I left the newspaper industry, the company Christmas party was reduced to a pitch-in luncheon in a staff meeting room.

Okay, the newspaper industry is dying, but businesses across the economy have cut back over the years. I don't know what Walt Disney World does for a company Christmas party these days (am I sure that a current cast member will fill us in...), but it used to be that Walt Disney World would rent out, well, Walt Disney World for the evening.

Specifically, the Magic Kingdom, where I worked. Today, of course, you know this event as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. So many people in the Orlando area were angling for invites to the party from cast members they knew that Disney realized there was a market for this kind of event, and converted the cast party into an after-hours hard-ticket event.

I never went to the party, opting to work each night of the event instead. (Hey, someone had to!) I loved working the cast Christmas party, because they were the easiest "busy" shifts of the year.

First, you got to ignore a whole slew of rules about what you could, and couldn't do, on stage. The company figured that even though you were working the event, the party was for you, too. So you could buy the discounted food or go get one of the freebie goodies and eat it stage. Want to sit down on a bench in Frontierland and chat with a friend on break? Or sneak in a trip on your favorite ride?

Go ahead.

Since the whole crowd was cast members and their family or friends, you got almost no grief from anyone, despite the large crowd. Working parade and need to clear a crosswalk? You felt like Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea - wave your arms, and they're gone. Trying to load the theater in Country Bear Jamboree? You didn't need to spiel for folks to slide all the way down to the end of each row. They knew, and did it.

These were park pros, just like you.

Frankly, the Walt Disney World cast Christmas party spoiled me forever on company Christmas parties. Even though I appreciated that first newspaper prime-rib bash, it didn't awe me.

I mean, it's not like we got a free ride on the Haunted Mansion or anything....

Here's the archive of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Readers' Opinions

From Robert Niles on December 14, 2009 at 9:43 AM
I shouldn't overlook the subject of Christmas bonuses, either. When I was at Disney, we got two one-day park hoppers each year at Christmas. (We got another two at the Fourth of July.) CMs with families got more, one for each member of their family, but single, childless folks like me got the two.

The best part about these tickets was that they were good not only at Walt Disney World, but also at Disneyland. We always supposed, but no one tested (to my knowledge), that one could use one of these tickets to visit all the parks at Disney World, hop a plane, they go get in Disneyland on the same day, too.

Now *that* would be one heckuva Christmas present!

Between these tickets I collected, plus the freebies I picked up during the first year Universal Studios Florida was open, I was covered for wedding presents to give to my friends over the next decade.

From Ted Heumann on December 14, 2009 at 6:03 PM
Back when I was at Disneyland in the late 80s, early 90s, Disneyland did the same thing, but they did two nights so that way you could work one and go to the other.
We got the added bonus of getting all the Corporate, Studios and Imagineering cast members as well. Both working and attending. It was always weird to see some guy with long hair and a full ZZ Top beard working Haunted Mansion.
Michael Eisner famously worked at Coke Corner each year on one of the nights (Although he didn't actually do much work, he stood around and made the other cast members work).
I also LOVED the no rules part. You could sit on stage and eat popcorn. I would always try and guess where the people worked. That's how I got to meet most of the character voices (I don't remember much, but I do remember that Mickey's voice was NOT among them).
It was so fun attending too because everyone would say the spiels along with the attractions. Mansion has never been so fun, when EVERYONE is saying the stretching room spiel.
From 76.172.237.107 on December 14, 2009 at 10:09 PM
I was a CM in TDA until my position fell victim to the reorganization this Spring. My wife and I were decorating the Christmas tree this year and came across our ornament that was given out to all the CMs attending the Christmas party last year. That sure made me miss my old job. We had a blast at that party. Working at Disney provided a lot of cool opportunities for Disney nuts like us (attraction previews, free admission, food and merch discounts, etc) but the Christmas party topped them all. There was just so much cool special stuff going on. It wasn't just a night in the park. It really was a special party. At my new job we have two Christmas events: a lunch for just the people in the office (no families) and an event for our clients that I was able to buy tickets to. Times like this make me really miss my time as a CM.
From Joshua Counsil on December 15, 2009 at 1:18 PM
It's a shame that they compromised their employees' Christmas party for this crap. The whole park to yourselves for a night? Amazing. What a nice gesture. But, of course, it didn't make them any money.

Damnit, Disney can be frustrating sometimes.

From Robert Niles on December 15, 2009 at 2:21 PM
To clarify, Disney World held its cast party on multiple nights, for the same reason as Disneyland - so people could have at least one of the nights to attend.

I, however, was a greedy young man and worked 'em all. To me, working the Disney party was a better experience than going to any of the other company Christmas parties I've ever attended.

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