23 Secrets Disney Employees Won’t Tell You
Disney cast members spill their best insider secrets about the Happiest Place on Earth!
We’re cast members—not employees
At Disney, every employee is called a cast member because every interaction and experience is a show at Disney. As for the visitors, we call them guests. “Guests are not considered ‘customers’ because we are welcoming you into this immersive experience and fantasy,” says a former quick-service employee at Disney World. You may even hear us occasionally call a visitor a “real guest”—it’s an unofficial code word we use for rude guests.
Eat breakfast with the Disney characters
Start your morning off right eating breakfast with a princess at Cinderella’s Royal Table or Winnie the Pooh at The Crystal Palace in Magic Kingdom. The prices for character-dining experiences can range anywhere from $20 to $60 per adult, but breakfast typically falls on the lower end of the price spectrum than dinner. And don’t worry about missing out on your favorite characters because the characters usually remain the same no matter what time you go!
Walt Disney inspired the ‘Disney point’
As cast members, we are taught to properly point by placing our index and middle finger together (aka the ‘Disney point’). We are told that pointing with your index finger may be misconstrued as rude to some guests. But the real reason for this specialized finger point lies within Walt Disney. The story goes that old photos used to show Disney pointing to various attractions with a cigarette between his two fingers. But the company reportedly airbrushed the cigarette out of his fingers in pictures when the company wanted to dissociate itself from smoking. Now, the pictures just look like Disney always pointed people in the right direction using his two fingers. (Here are 12 more etiquette rules that every Disney employee must follow.)
Custodians are the go-to cast members for directions
No one knows how to get somewhere in the park better than a custodial cast member. Disney has a very strict policy that prohibits any of us from wandering away from our post. But custodians are the exception to the rule because they need to move freely around the park to maintain order and cleanliness. “If you don’t understand the directions a cast member gives you, a custodian can walk and talk with you,” says a former Disney World College Program participant. “An attractions, merchandise, or food cart cast member doesn’t have the same freedom to go around with you.” All you need to do is look for the man or woman dressed up in a pristine white jumpsuit.
You can only meet the Beast in one place
Unfortunately, you won’t ever see the Beast step foot in any park. Sorry, Beauty and the Beast fans! In fact, the only place you can catch him is at the Be Our Guest Restaurant in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom during dinnertime. But we’ve heard that dinner reservations go fast and you may have to book a table as early as 180 days in advance!
Order off the kid’s menu
Don’t let the words “9 years and younger” discourage you from ordering off the kid’s menu at a fast food joint in Disney. “I used to get a kid’s meal on my lunch break,” says a former Disney World guest relations cast member. “It’s a good deal because the food is better for you, you get snack options, and you don’t need this quadruple serving of food.” You can buy a kid’s meal for about half the price of a regular meal. But keep in mind that table-service restaurants are typically less lenient about letting adults eat like a kid.
We use code words for everything
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We use secret lingo to alert our colleagues about ride difficulties, gross accidents, and other mishaps. For example, a “Code P” means someone accidentally urinated in the park and a “Code V” stands for vomit. We even make up our own silly codes sometimes like “405 in Line 2” which means there’s someone attractive standing in line. Of course, codes of this nature are not Disney-approved in any park. (Make sure you know the three words Disney cast members are never allowed to say.)
Get a character’s autograph first thing in the morning
Mornings are the best time to get up close and personal with your favorite Disney character before you spend all day standing in line. Not only will you get your autograph fast, but you may also be rewarded for being the first fan to arrive. “I once saw Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter take a little boy on the teacup ride with them,” says a former quick-service employee at Disney World. “There’s no other time you would see that.” Unfortunately, not every Disney character goes on a ride with the first person of the day, but they may strike a special pose with you!
Download the Disney app
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The app makes it easy to plan your day at Disney. Many of us download the My Disney Experience (for Walt Disney World) or Disneyland apps to navigate the parks, find times and meeting places for character photo-ops, and check ride wait times and show schedules.
Don’t be deceived by long wait times for a ride
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“The ride line waiting times are kind of like the stock market,” says a former quick-service cast member at Disney World. “When it gets high, it’ll likely see a significant drop.” She frequently checks the ride wait times on the Disney app to map out which ride to head to next. For instance, a 200-minute wait for a ride often scares people away so it drops quicker than a more consistent time where everyone is constantly hopping in line. On the other hand, low wait times may work against you, especially if you’re far away from a ride, because everyone else will also be rushing over to get in line. Then, by the time you arrive, the wait will be even longer than before. Remember that everyone on the Disney app sees the same information, so keep that on your radar when calculating your next move.
Think before you ask a question
There is no such thing as a “dumb” question, but at Disney, we have been asked a few notable ones. The most common one we get asked is, “What time is the 3:00 parade?” “One guest told me they couldn’t find Cinderella’s Castle,” said a former guest relations cast member at Disney World. “I sarcastically said, ‘Did they move it on me?’ We walked outside and the castle was right there at the end of the street.”
Don’t lie to us to get free stuff
Lying like Pinocchio never bodes well in Disney, but some Disney guests have stooped to some low levels in an effort to score free perks. “One time a woman told my manager that I said her face looked like a Halloween mask,” says a former guest relations cast member at Disney World. “There were always people making up things like that to get something for free.” (Make sure you never bring anything from this list of 15 banned things from Disney parks.)
Halloween and Christmas Party tickets are a bargain
If you book in advance, the tickets for Mickey’s Halloween Party (offered at both Disneyland and Disney World) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (only offered at Magic Kingdom) tend to be cheaper than day pass tickets by up to $20. “My favorite thing in Magic Kingdom is Mickey’s Halloween Party,” says a former Disney World College Program participant. “The coolest thing is you’ll never see the special Halloween fireworks or Halloween show outside of the exclusive Halloween party.” Plus, the earlier you go, the more money you save because the parties are thrown for several weeks leading up to Halloween or Christmas. (Don’t miss out on how to spend the holidays in Disney World while beating the crowds.)
Mind your manners
We deal with irate and irrational guests on a daily basis. It’s unfortunately the nature of the beast, no pun intended, which is why being kind may pay off for you. One former cast member gave a little girl and her father free ice cream and balloons because the little girl sweetly said her dad’s breath smelled like Skittles. “The nicer you are, the more people will want to listen to you and figure out a solution for you,” says a former guest relations cast member at Disney World.
Catch rare character appearances at EPCOT
Disney characters sometimes train at the International Gateway in EPCOT located between the United Kingdom Pavilion and France Pavilion. “It’s a cool way to meet characters you wouldn’t get to see normally,” says Amanda, a former seasonal cast member at Disney World. “I saw Flynn Rider once. He usually only comes out for the Halloween or Christmas parties.” Another, surprisingly, lesser-known character hang out is in EPCOT’s Character Spot where you can meet Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, and Goofy. Plus, you don’t have to stand outside under the beating sun for an autograph or picture because the Character Spot is inside.
You’ll never see two of the same characters at once
The last thing Disney wants to do is ruin the magic of the theme park. Each and every character has a set time throughout the day to prevent two Mickeys from showing up at once. “Disney wants to maintain the integrity of its characters and keep that magic alive,” says a former quick-service employee at Disney World.
Go to guest relations in the morning for the most accurate information
“If you go before noon, they’re going to be super helpful because you get the full-time cast members who have been around the longest,” says a former Disney World College Program participant. “Later in the day, you typically get the college students who are either not as knowledgeable or haven’t been there as long to know the park well enough.”
Nighttime is prime time for Disney visits
The lines for rides typically die down at night, especially during the fireworks display. We always take advantage of visiting the park at night because of cooler temperatures and fewer crowds. (Here are the cheapest and most expensive times to visit Disney World throughout the year.)
Beat the crowds with Extra Magic Hours
Guests staying in select Disney Resorts can access any theme park before or after operating hours with Extra Magic Hours. The Magic Hours vary by day, time, and theme park, but they typically occur anywhere between the hours of 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. or 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. “I’ve never had to wait longer than 15 minutes to get on a ride during Extra Magic Hours,” says a former Disney World College Program participant.
The cast members give the best recommendations
Think of us like a Yelp review for Disney. Unlike most 9 to 5 office jobs, we actually love visiting the place we work on our days off. When we try out different rides, restaurants, and shows throughout the parks, it gives us an opportunity to provide you with only the best recommendations. “Also, the more people you know at different parks and resorts, the more you find out about what places are good,” says a former guest relations employee at Disney World.
Alternate between indoor and outdoor rides
Many of us like to switch between indoor, air-conditioned rides and outdoor rides to beat the sweltering summer heat when we visit the park. It helps us stay cool and keeps our energy levels up.
Be aware of your surroundings
The magical world of Disney is full of surprises wherever you go. “Not everything is on the schedules,” says a former quick-service cast member at Disney World. “Sometimes a character or a five-minute show pops up out of nowhere because the park may be trying to give the rides some relief time.” (Check out these 15 impressive words you can learn from Disney songs just by singing along.)
Buy a meal plan for the family
If you’re staying on Disney property and have a family that likes to eat, one of the Disney Dining Plan options may be right for you. The standard Disney Dining Plan includes two snacks, one quick-service meal (fast food joint), and one table-service meal. In 2017, the plan cost about $70 per adult, $25 for kids 3-9 years old, and kids under 3 could get away with sharing a plate with their parents. “My family and I would use the snack in the morning, quick-service for lunch, and the table-service for dinner at night,” says a former quick-service employee at Disney World. “We would almost always have extra food.” Some entrees at restaurants can cost $50 alone so that could be some major savings, depending on your vacation budget and how much food you consume. (Don’t forget these nine things you need to book in advance before going on a Disney World vacation.)