Theme park cast member stories: When you're no longer a CM

July 13, 2009, 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.

Replies (17)

July 13, 2009 at 8:44 PM · Having worked at the 'competition' as well as the Mouse House, it's all CM to me. I'd feel the CM start to come out, and I'd be more outgoing than usual, and more prone to doing the ever-so-famous Disney scoop anywhere I am. I do keep saying I'll eventually go back one day as seasonal just to relive some of those memories I have working there.
July 13, 2009 at 8:48 PM · I am still a Cast Member at the Disney Store and found that I starting cleaning up in the World of Disney. Strange I know....
July 13, 2009 at 8:58 PM · I feel the same way. I still will help people out when they need it and do the "two-fingered point" when giving directions there.
Disney and the Disney Way are great training. Any hospitality business should follow the same type of customer care, but any business could learn (and help their business to do better) by following these procedures. It's too bad that so many don't get it.

I came and went a few times, as a casual seasonal and part time cast member. One time, I was covered in all sorts of food on my last day. I was called into the supervisor's office to explain what had happened (while trying to hear what they were saying through the food that was still stuck in my ears). I didn't want to get anyone in trouble, but wanted to be able to be re-hired. I don't remember specifically naming anyone. When I came back a year later, I found out that one person had been fired and the lead had been demoted. I guess they took it all (and any "pranks") pretty seriously and wanted to make a point.

When I finally left for good, I think it was the same - leaving on a part-time basis, and thinking I would be back.

July 13, 2009 at 9:20 PM · Once you're a park employee, you will forever be a park employee. After just two seasons of working in Rides at Cedar Point I will forever look at things in an operational light. I'm forever doomed to analyzing operational details like what kind of shift they're running, how they rotate, seat checking patterns, etc. You just get so conditioned to that way of thinking when that's your life for the entirety of coaster riding season. Of course I wouldn't trade those two summers and the knowledge I gained for anything, I just sometimes wish I could drop my thought process for one entire trip to a park.
July 13, 2009 at 9:29 PM · I havent worked at disneyland, but i have noticed the same kind of things after working retail for 3 years during college. i still clean shelves without thinking about it while i am shopping.
July 14, 2009 at 6:09 AM · God bless you Mr Niles. Great story.
July 14, 2009 at 6:42 AM · Ahh, Working in a theme park. Weather its a Disney Park a Six Flags or one of the many around. Your trainning never goes away. So much gets instilled in you and I even now having been out of it for 10yrs. Still do the two finger point. Wear a cast haircut. And still go out of my way to help people. Six Flags and Disney give me some good foundations for guest services, Even now working for a large big box retail company I still to this day use all that I learned working for them. Some of my co workers hate the fact that Im always upbeat, smile and am overly polite to our shoppers. But hay its in the blood and mind set.
July 14, 2009 at 8:18 AM · I totally agree. As a former Cast Member whenever I return to visit the Parks, I often find myself giving directions to guests and looking to see whether the Parks are clean or not. I also laugh everytime I walk past Spaceship Earth and wonder if all of those photos guests asked me to take of their families turned out well. The customer service training Disney provided continues to be exceptionally valuable in my current professional life.
July 14, 2009 at 9:34 AM · I worked for more than a decade in retail, and even though I've been out of retail for more than 10 years now, I still pick up trash off the floor in stores and straighten shelves as I shop.

This same thought carries over to amusement parks. If I see trash on the ground, I pick it up.

July 14, 2009 at 11:31 AM · Robert:

Short answer: Never.

As a Disneyland CM from Adventure/Frontier Attractions (Jungle Cruise, etc.) back in the 1980s, I lived and loved the Cast Member experience. So much so that I went back after a 21 year hiatus and jumped onto the Jungle Cruise as a skipper again---while still working as a full-time self-employed attorney. Sadly, my litigation schedule become too hot to handle as summer approached, so I had to take leave from Disneyland employment again.

But in my heart of hearts, I never leave, and I always, always long to go back!

---Mike (

July 14, 2009 at 12:19 PM · How about the Disney 'Manurisms'.

I still find myself doing the '2' finger point...

I still find myself calling people I dont know 'guests'..

Whenever I hear a radio page, I always reach for my motorolla and put my fingers on my ear piece that dont exist...

And last but not least, whenever I am visiting a park, I never use my cell phone thinking that I am still in costume...

July 14, 2009 at 1:24 PM · I'm a former CM, and my wife finds it hilarious that I still break out the two finger point whenever we're in a Disney park. It is forever wired into my brain that when I'm "on stage" one finger never comes out alone.
July 14, 2009 at 3:07 PM · Hey I got one......

Sometimes before I go to the parks, I always shave the "Disney" way. Why, I dont know. The brainwashing at Disney I guess, LOL.

July 14, 2009 at 6:35 PM · Not a former cast member (or theme park worker), but I used to work for the National Park Service. Got so used to walking in crowds in uniform, saying "hi," "good morning" or whatever to everyone. Then, weeks later, out of uniform walking down a city street, getting strange looks from complete strangers after I said "hi."
July 15, 2009 at 6:32 PM · I am a current hospitality major, and have worked for 4 of the largest theme park companies: Disney, Universal, Busch, and Six Flags. Apart from wanting to "tap" trash can lids that have trash teetering on the edge, the overwhelming urge to "attack the maps" comes out whether I am on the clock or not.

The article was a great read. Thank you.

July 17, 2009 at 9:02 AM · This is a great post--as are all the other comments. I thought I was the only one. I recently worked for a few weeks at another hotel/resort and found myself calling my uniform a costume and the uniform room was wardrobe to me. And, of course, there was always the two finger point and calling guests "folks!" Working for a competitor (and a four-star one at that) made me realize yet again, even 15 years later how amazing and valuable the customer training I received is. But, on the other hand, it makes it impossible to ever be just a guest at Disney or any other theme park. I am constantly evaluating the safety, courtesy, show, & efficiency. I notice the trash in a restroom or to long a wait time and employees with red nail polish--which other guests would not. As the creator of TPI you have the perfect job now, you can be a CM for every theme park!
July 17, 2009 at 9:42 AM · WOW. All I can say is WOW. You hit the nail on the head, except I often step forward and ask if they would like me to take a photo. I always felt that when you do that, you make "Magic" moments last forever, frozen in time.

As the designated family photographer, I often lament not being in many photo's and the opportunity to make a memorable moment, for the photographer, as well as the entire family/friends, is priceless.

But as you said, picking up trash, giving directions or advice and smiling or helping whenever you can, is second nature. In DRC Training class, our leaders Pat and Wade described it as the "Disney Gene" and your either born with it or not.

BTW, I drove the Cruisers' and the Launchs' in Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon and worked for nearly a year at the DRC, Disney Reservation Center.

Great article!


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