Theme Park Insider

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July 16, 2016, 11:46 AM · A Walt Disney World cast member was fired — then got her job back — after a controversy over a sign advising other cast members how to handle guest questions about alligators.

Gators are a sensitive topic at the Walt Disney World Resort these days, after a Nebraska toddler was killed by an alligator in the Seven Seas Lagoon near the Grand Floridian Resort. Disney has responded by roping off lakes and waterways, posting warning signs, and removing references to alligators and crocodiles in some attractions.

But gators are a natural part of the Central Florida ecosystem, and with so many miles of waterways crisscrossing the resort, it's inevitable that guests still will see gators from time to time. Heck, I wrote here on Theme Park Insider about one memorable encounter with a family of gators when I worked on Tom Sawyer Island.

The topic of alligators in the Rivers of America inspired someone who works on the west side of the Magic Kingdom to post a sign in a cast member breakroom:

Shannon Sullivan, a cast member in the WDW College Program, tweeted a picture of the sign. "I was very offended by it and I was pretty vocal about it," Sullivan told the Orlando Sentinel. For that, she was fired. But when a Sentinel reporter asked about the firing, Disney officials responded that sign was not authorized and that it did not reflect company policy toward guest communications about wildlife. Then Magic Kingdom Vice President Dan Cockerell offered Sullivan her job back.

Two things here: First, everyone's right that it's ridiculous to lie to about the presence of alligators in the Rivers of America, or any other waterway in Central Florida. Disney World has reacted aggressively (and appropriately) to warn people about the possible presence of gators on property, so it makes no sense to avoid the issue inside the Magic Kingdom. That shouldn't make people afraid, though. But it should keep them out of waterways where they don't belong.

Second, while we're happy for Sullivan getting her job (and, one assumes, her internship class credit) back, let's take this opportunity to remind cast and team members to never publish photos from backstage! As this cast member discovered, that's a firing offense. But there is an easy way to publicize something newsworthy that happens in the parks... and that won't get you fired.

Leak it us. Seriously, we've lost count over the years of all the stuff we've posted from theme park employees who wanted to share news anonymously. Just email us at themeparkinsider@gmail.com. Or create an account and drop the news on our Discussion Forum. (Just don't use your real name or an account name that is otherwise associated with your real name anywhere else online.) I've worked for many newspapers and taught college journalism classes, so I understand the importance of protecting anonymous sources. We never have revealed our anonymous sources to others and never will.

Keep in mind that we will do our best top vet information leaked to us by email before publishing it. If we don't think a leak is credible, accurate, or relevant to our readers, we won't publish it. And we won't publish "not safe for magic" backstage stuff just for the sake of it. Ultimately, we are trying to help theme park fans have better vacations by giving them more accurate information about the parks and vacation planning, while holding parks' feet to the fire in providing honest value. This photo was newsworthy, so we would have been happy to tweet it without credit, to get the news out and to protect this cast member.

So if you've got real news that you think can help visitors, please share it with us. Just don't put yourself at risk to lose your job over it.

Replies (13)

July 16, 2016 at 12:49 PM · excellent advise. In these times, creating/maintaining some "magic" is vital for Guests' getaways from the world outside.
July 16, 2016 at 1:14 PM · I'm having trouble seeing what was so offensive about the sign. Is there something I'm missing here?
July 16, 2016 at 2:16 PM · The sign told CMs to say they didn't know if there were gators and to say they hadn't seen them before, even if they did.
July 16, 2016 at 2:52 PM · Glad they did the right thing and gave her her job back.
July 16, 2016 at 8:39 PM · In saying don't joke about it, sounds like a joke nonetheless.
July 16, 2016 at 8:45 PM · This is a good case of social media not applying the principle of charity. It's clearly meant as instructions to avoid the topic, rather than to lie. CMs dodge questions all the time - it's part of their job. At worst it needs a run by legal for wording tweaks, but there's nothing offensive about "We respond to any report of an alligator by calling for Pest Management to remove it."
July 17, 2016 at 12:22 AM · What is wrong about being honest?
Just tell the guest Disney is aware gators could be in any body of water and if one is spotted a removal protocol will be in place to guarantee the safety of the guests. I would feel more assured then when lied about a fact by now everyone is aware off.
July 17, 2016 at 4:27 AM · The sign increases the liability of Disney by demonstrating that they were actively hiding a risk from guests. That changes the death of the child from accident to intentional tort. (Hiding a dangerous condition from an invitee - guest).
July 17, 2016 at 11:56 AM · Everything... EVERYTHING about Disney is about maintaining the magic. The presence of this sign (right or wrong) where the public could see it was an embarrassment, and that's why the young lady lost her job. Why they re-hired her is a puzzlement to me.
July 17, 2016 at 10:29 PM · How absolutely it bringing back a series similar to true life adventures custom to WDW that highlight and tell the story of wildlife at the park. As part of the story, embed some true life education about being safe around wild animals, of course starting with alligators.

There is plenty of wildlife in the area to talk about. Disney could also feature its other work to protect wildlife and wetlands. Distribute it in with their marketing tv channels in area hotels. Also a good tie to Animal Kingdom. It's not about scaring people, its not about fantasy in this series, it's about educating while entertaining.

July 18, 2016 at 12:51 PM · She was re-hired in order to avoid potential backlash from the public, especially since people are now aware that there is dangerous wildlife within Disney World.
July 18, 2016 at 6:01 AM · Just out of curiousity, what's the likelihood of there being a 'gator in Universal Orlando's waterways? To built an area, or feasible?
July 18, 2016 at 6:09 AM · In that part of the world Grant, I believe the rule of thumb is "If there is a waterway big enough that it could fit a gator, you should presume that it does".

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