The 3 Words Disney Employees Aren’t Allowed to Say

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If you ask a Disney park employee a question, don't expect this lackluster response!

Disney parks aren’t “the happiest places on earth” without reason. Behind all of the magic, there are tens of thousands of employees (or, as Disney calls them, Cast Members) making it all possible—from the rides to the food to making sure you don’t see mosquitoes at Disney World. Needless to say, with that many employees and such a commitment to creating a magical experience, there are all sorts of Disney secrets that go into making the magic happen. That includes how employees—whether they’re playing a character or not—interact with guests.

What three words can’t Disney employees say?

The three words that Disney employees are trained not to say are “I don’t know.” “If a guest asks you a question, you always have to have an answer, no exceptions,” an anonymous former Cast Member shared online. “If you don’t know it, find out, but don’t say you don’t know. If it’s a silly question, make up a silly answer.”

It’s not so much about the words themselves as it is the idea that you’d be quashing someone’s question. Just imagine: You’re a young child on a Disney trip and you want to know where Winnie the Pooh goes after he’s done having breakfast with guests. You ask a character attendant Cast Member, who says…I don’t know? That’s a bummer, and exactly the opposite of the personalized, magical employee-guest interaction that you want from a Disney park.

Why Disney employees can’t say “I don’t know”

Like many of the aspects of the Disney park experience, it dates back to Walt himself. Walt Disney was perhaps the epitome of a showman and a businessman rolled into one. “He was a storyteller—that’s what he was very good at,” says Christoper Lucas, author of Top Disney100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney. So when Walt was building an entertainment company, “he believed that everything you do should advance the story.”

So if you’re an employee at Disney World or Disneyland, you’re part of the story. That’s why Disney park employees are called “Cast Members” rather than employees—even if they’re not playing a character. And that’s why avoiding “I don’t know” is so important. Cast Members are trained to “say something to move the story forward,” says Lucas. Even if they truly don’t know, they can say something like “I can find out for you” or “That’s a very good question.” Then they’ll either come up with a whimsical answer that suits the question or engage the asker’s attention with, say, something else fascinating about Winnie the Pooh, to make the asker (especially a kid) feel like they still got an answer. They have to toe a line, though, because they don’t want to give an answer only to have the child ask another Cast Member the same question and get a different answer! Learning to navigate guest questions in a way that keeps the magic alive is a major part of Disney training.

And perhaps surprisingly, “the rules of behavior apply to the entire company, not just the parks,” Lucas elaborates. “If you work at Disney corporate in the accounting office, you’re still expected to act like a Disney employee.” Again, this comes from Walt. One of the philosophies Walt had was that any single person you encounter represents the entire company. “Everybody should be acting the same way, behaving the same way, and answering questions the same way,” Lucas explains. “It helps if the company has that policy across the board.” Walt had those policies for Walt Disney Studios employees, even before the parks were up and running. But at the parks, where children’s curiosity is a big part of the experience, they’re perhaps the most prominent. That’s true for both Disneyland and Disney World, but do you know the differences between those two parks?

Are there other things Disney employees can’t say?

Again, it’s not so much about certain words. Disney Cast Members are trained to create the best possible experience for the guests, and any and all things they say to guests must align with that. “They never want the guests [to] feel like they asked a stupid question,” Lucas says. And he says if you’re a Cast Member, whether you’re responding to a question or not, “you always have to make the [guest] feel like…they’re the most important person you’re gonna meet all day.” Cast Members are supposed to make people feel like they’re “part of the magic,” essentially.

And the rules for Cast Members depend on where in the parks they are, too! For instance, Lucas says, “Every Cast Member [working at] the Haunted Mansion is acting like a funeral director…If you try to make them smile or laugh, it’s very hard to do!” But, needless to say, that’s far from true for the rest of the park—that same Cast Member could be working at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train the following day and be cheesing up a storm. The book One Little Spark!, written in 2015 by a former Imagineering ambassador, provides a comprehensive look into the extent of the training Disney employees receive and how that creates the park environment we know and love.

That’s not the only Disney secret that’s been discovered. There’s also a hotel suite hidden inside Cinderella’s Castle! Who’s up for a much-needed Disney vacation? We’d certainly love to be there for the Disney World 50th anniversary! Next, check out the 15 etiquette rules all Disney employees must follow.

Sources:

Brittany Gibson
Brittany Gibson is a regular contributor to RD.com’s culture, food, health, and travel sections. She was previously an editorial intern for RD.com and Westchester Magazine. Her articles have appeared on Buzzfeed, Business Insider, AOL, Yahoo, and MSN, among other sites. She earned a BA in English from the University of Connecticut
Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for RD.com since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.