Stories from a Theme Park Insider.One week from tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Walt Disney World Resort. To get ready for the big birthday, all this week I am featuring stories from my book about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom,
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It's become a long-running joke among Disney cast members – the question that, inevitably, you hear any time you work a location on or near the Magic Kingdom parade route: "What time is the three o'clock parade?"
For many, the question illustrates what they consider to be the vacation-induced stupidity of theme park guests. I mean, c'mon, they just answered their question in the question. The parade is at three o'clock. Duh.
But as satisfying as it might seem to think yourself smarter than all those tourists out there, as a cast member, it's not your job to put people down. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's your job to do whatever you can to help them feel like they're having the best day of their lives.
So... no mocking the guests for asking the time of the three o'clock parade. Just fire up that Disney smile and give 'em the answer.
"3:15," I replied, when asked one day early in my Walt Disney World career.
I hadn't mean to say anything other than "3:00," but for some reason, I felt like I should respond with the time that the parade would pass the point where we were standing in Frontierland, instead of the time when the parade first stepped off on Main Street. (The afternoon parades back then stared on Main Street and proceeded around the hub and into Liberty Square before ending in Frontierland.)
The guest smiled and turned back toward his family, happy with my answer.
He'd known that the three o'clock parade started on Main Street at three o'clock. He wasn't the idiot that some short-sighted cast members made folks like him out to be. What that guest really wanted to know, and inelegantly asked, was "at what time does the three o'clock parade get here?"
Reflexively, I'd given him the correct answer.
Lesson learned. The answer you should give as a cast member isn't always to the question the guest asks. The answer you should give is to the question that the guest meant to ask.
From then on, I treated guest questions like I was Encyclopedia Brown on a case: Each one was a potential mystery to be unraveled, then solved.
Turns out that a woman entering Pirates of the Caribbean who asked, "Is this ride okay for kids?" really wanted to know if there were any snakes on the ride, because she had a phobia.
A couple who asked, "How long does this ride take?" when boarding my Tom Sawyer Island raft didn't care how long it'd take me to drive the thing across the river. They wanted to know when they'd have to be back to the island-side dock so that they would make their 1:30 Diamond Horseshoe reservations.
Deciphering a guest question properly can save more than a restaurant reservation. A man outside Country Bear Jamboree who asked me, "Where can I rent a wheelchair?" really meant "My grandmother's passed out from the heat and could you call us a nurse, please?" (Fortunately, I figured that one out almost immediately, and had a medical unit on the way within seconds.)
What time is the three o'clock parade? Maybe it's at 3:15, or 3:25, depending where you're standing when asked. Or maybe the correct answer is "I'm sorry, sir, but the parade doesn't come here into Tomorrowland." Or even, "You'll hear an announcement if the parade is delayed or cancelled due to the weather."
There are no stupid questions, not when you take the time to discover what the guest really wants to know.
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I used to frequently get asked how to get to Big Thunder Mountain. Working at Six Flags over Georgia, there were two logical options and one a bit out there. One of the logical options was the guest was actually asking about Thunder River, the park's river rafting ride. The other was our Dahalogna Mine Train, much more like Big Thunder but without the word Thunder in the name. The much more out there was they really did want to go to Big Thunder Mountain at The Magic Kingdom.
Another question that I had to chuckle inside was when I'd work at "Good Byes" at either Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida. "Good Byes" takes place at closing. Managers from all the departments come to the park exit to thank departing guests and are conveniently on the spot to handle any issues that may come up. Very often exhausted guests would ask as they headed out of the park "Where is CityWalk?" If I got a snap judgement on them that they were up for a little fun I'd say, "Now pay attention, because these instructions can be a little confusing. Are you ready? OK, see those turnstiles at the Exit of the park? Walk through them.......and you are in CityWalk." It frequently got a laugh. It sometimes got a blank look. It always got those guests to their destination.
My smart-mouth answers to the Hawaii questions:
- No, the current usually carries you away from the island at some point, instead of all the way around.
- Hawaiian money looks exactly the same as American money, but it just buys 50% less.
- They're just moving really, really slowly. Haven't you heard of "Hawaiian time?"
A few years ago, a student came into my classroom all excited because he just returned from his first "WDW trip!" "Mrs. Warner! I just got back from Disney and it was awesome!" I of course got caught up in his excitement and asked him what he liked best....."Harry Potter!"
I was at a crossroads...do I take the high road and smile warmly or will he notice my eye start to twitch and ask why? I took the high road that day and listened to his story about Hogwarts and he left none the wiser. I left it for his friends to "point out". ;)
Maybe there are no stupid questions, but I wonder how many cast members at Disney World get asked “Where’s the Harry Potter section?”.
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The word "vacation" means to vacate your mind, to be free of thought. So when on vacation, tourists are not always thinking and sometimes do ask stupid questions. Here are a few questions asked by tourists here in Hawaii, as reported by local workers in the travel industry:
- Does the water go all the way around the island?
- What do you put in the water to make it so blue?
- How do I exchange my American money for Hawaiian money?
- Why don't the Hawaiian islands drift apart?
Yes, sometimes tourists do ask stupid questions.