It’s fair to say that Disney resorts are magical places where kids and adults alike can live out their greatest childhood fantasies. And the people who are responsible for fulfilling these dreams are of course the parks’ staff themselves. So in order to maintain this happy atmosphere, they use a secret code to address difficult visitors.
For many kids who’ve grown up loving Disney, working at one of the company’s theme parks may seem like a dream job. However, keeping the magic alive at these attractions is no mean feat. In fact, it involves great dedication to the role and possibly even forcing a smile from time to time.
Given that Disney staff are required to adopt a joyful persona no matter what, when they begin their shift they acquire another character separate to their own personality. With this in mind, they are not referred to as “employees” but “cast members,” who completely embody the so-called magic of Disney.
However, given that Disney parks exist in real life, and not in the movies, not everything can be perfect all the time. But even when things might not be going to plan, cast members are charged with preserving the magic. As such, they employ a number of secret codes to deal with negative situations, including one which refers to disruptive or downright rude visitors.
But before we get to the codes that cast members use, let’s explore what working at a Disney resort is really like. First of all, before staff are employed at the park, they must project the “Disney Look.” This term refers to a strict set of appearance guidelines to which employees must adhere in order to maintain professionalism.
According to the strict rules regarding what Disney staff should look like, cast members are only allowed to sport traditional piercings. This basically means that female employees are allowed ear piercings only. Wacky hairstyles and colors are also out of the question, as are unsightly, outgrown roots.
And male employees are not exempt from strict regulations over their appearance. While they are allowed facial hair, it must be kept neat and under a quarter of an inch in length. Hair should also be trim, ensuring it doesn’t cover the ear or reach the collar. Both men and women can have tattoos, but they have to be covered by a costume or by using concealer.
If you fit the Disney look, then you seemingly stand a better chance of being employed. However, before workers are set loose in the park, they must attend the so-called “Disney University.” This training brings them up to scratch with the company’s history and values and teaches them how they’re expected to behave when “onstage” at the park.
During training, employees are armed with a whole host of new phrases that make up the Disney language. As part of this lingo, just as staff are referred to as “cast members,” visitors to the resort are known as “guests.” “Onstage” is the term applied to all parts of the park that are visible to the public, while behind-the-scenes is known as “backstage.”
Once employees graduate from Disney University they can start work. In February 2020 an anonymous former Disney World employee shared their experience at the park in a self-penned piece for website PopSugar. And they revealed that Disney workers are under constant scrutiny to ensure they maintain the company’s high standards.
The ex-resort worker revealed, “As a cast member, I got evaluated by a manager often. Definitely more often than at any other job I’ve held, mostly because Disney’s guidelines are so thorough and rigid. There was a checklist that I was supposed to run through with each and every guest interaction.”
So while hanging around the park each day may sound like fun, the job isn’t easy. The hours can be particularly arduous, with shifts starting as early as 4 a.m. or not finishing until 3 a.m. Disney doesn’t pay a lot of money either, so some employees may be required to work long hours to make ends meet.
Furthermore, the heat at Disney World can be extreme. The ex-employee told PopSugar, “Obviously central Florida gets especially hot during the summer, but working outdoors in a full costume can be brutal. I was also required to wear all-black shoes, and one day, because it was so ridiculously hot, the soles of my shoes melted to the ground.”
And of course, a lot of effort goes into keeping the Disney magic alive in the park. Part of this is ensuring that staff maintain their happy demeanor and are always approachable to guests. When it comes to Disney, the customer is king; as such, it’s important to ensure that their experience is nothing short of enchanting.
One way that Disney employees make their guests’ experience special is through small personal touches. And as PopSugar’s source divulged, “One of those things was to use a guest’s name whenever possible.” But how do they know what their many visitors are called in the first place?
Well, it turns out that Disney employees pay great attention to detail in order to address their guests on a first-name basis. The former worker revealed, “When you paid with your room key or credit card, we took a quick glance at it to get your name. That way, when we hand you your bag of stuffed animals, we can thank you by name and tell you to have a magical day.”
In a feed on the question-and-answer website Quora, some former cast members also shared their experiences to reveal what working at a Disney resort was really like. And former Disneyland employee Miguel Valdespino said, “Smiling wasn’t mandatory, but encouraged. Your job is to serve the guests and keep them happy.”
According to Valdespino, it was the cast members’ task to create memories to last their guests a lifetime. He explained, “One of my trainers said that for some people, this is something they only get to do once in a lifetime. They save for years to be able to come here. You have the ability to be the person that made their trip worth every penny.”
However, for Valdespino at least, maintaining a happy demeanor while working at Disneyland came naturally. He explained, “Even though you are working with a lot of people, most of them are enjoying themselves and this can be contagious… Even though it could be hard work, I often drove home with a smile.”
Though some staff may not have to fake a smile while working at Disney resorts, they may have to act the part somehow. For instance, if they work in The Haunted Mansion attraction, they’re expected to take on a spooky aspect. Meanwhile, if they’re based on the Pirates of The Caribbean ride, they might have to put on a suitably buccaneering vocal style.
As well as remaining approachable to guests, cast members are also charged with maintaining Disney resorts’ magical atmosphere. This means that employees should never break character while “onstage.” With this in mind, there’s a system of underground tunnels running below the site which allows staff to get to their station without crossing a part of the park to which their character doesn’t belong.
Explaining the tunnel system in their PopSugar piece, the anonymous former Disney employee said, “Cast members shouldn’t be seen outside their area because it hinders the experience. It doesn’t make sense to see someone in a Frontierland costume walking across the park to Tomorrowland to meet up with a friend. Thus [sic], the tunnels.”
As previously explained, these tunnels are considered to be “backstage,” as they are hidden from public view. Likewise, cast members have their own dressing rooms and cafeterias to use so that they don’t have to change or eat in front of guests. After all, that might spoil the impression that Disney has worked so hard to create.
This separation of onstage and offstage areas at Disney parks is integral to maintaining the magical atmosphere. And the backstage areas are so secretive that staff members can be fired if they ever share an image of them online. It’s clear that the company regards adhering to these rules as of the utmost importance.
Writing on Quora, one former Disney employee named Matthew Burr explained, “Understanding the ‘onstage’ aspect of the resorts is a key to understanding the experience of working at one of the Disney resorts. The resorts are a show, like a giant theatrical production, and everyone is a cast member.”
Burr added, “When you are ‘onstage,’ you’re expected to keep up the appearance of the show… When you detract from the show (except for cases of safety and service), you diminish the experience for the guests. You tarnish the ‘magic’ a little, just as an actor destroys the illusion of a production when they step out of character.”
Meanwhile, PopSugar’s anonymous informer explained, “Inside the parks is considered onstage, outside the park is backstage, employees are cast members in costumes, customers are guests. All of this contributes to the Disney magic. Once you set foot onstage, you have to follow all the Disney rules and live up to the Disney image.”
Part of keeping guests happy also involves shielding them from some of the more negative aspects of life at the park. In order to do this, they employ a number of code phrases. These secret terms are understood by other staff members but will go over the heads of blissfully unaware guests, so that they can simply enjoy their experience.
For instance, given the heady mix of excitement, junk food and fast rides on offer at Disney resorts, unfortunately vomiting can’t be an irregular occurrence at the park. As such, cast members have a couple of secret codes at their disposal for this eventually. They euphemistically call it a “protein spill” or a “code V.”
Apparently, a “code V” can be more generally applied to all kinds of messes, not just necessarily vomit. However, the use of such a phrase will certainly save any embarrassment on behalf of the sick visitor. Furthermore, hearing that there’s been a “protein spill” also tells the cleaning team that they’re required.
While it may seem obvious that Disney employees wouldn’t want the whole park knowing about a messy clean-up incident, there are other things they want to keep under wraps as well. With that in mind, a “white powder alert” tells staff that someone is attempting to scatter human ashes on site. This is completely illegal.
It’s not unusual for people to want to scatter their loved one’s ashes at Disney parks, given the emotional ties some people form with the resorts. However, besides being illegal, doing so can create huge problems in the park. For instance, if ashes are spread on a ride, it must be evacuated and closed while staff clean up the remains.
Another instance that might put a downer on guests’ Disney experience is the closure of a ride. With that in mind, you’ll never hear that a ride is out of order due to a technical or mechanical issue. Instead, staff will report a “code 101,” which means that an attraction is “temporarily unavailable.”
Likewise, when an issue has been addressed, it will not be explicitly announced that the ride in question is back open. Instead, a “code 102” is declared between cast members, who can then pass on the good news to guests. That way, they can avoid a stampede at the reopened attraction.
One more potential cause for panic in Disney resorts is the possibility of a child going missing. However, given how busy the sprawling parks can get, it’s easy for kids to become separated from their parents. When that does happen, staff will say that there’s a “lost adult” rather than a lost child, in order to maintain a sense of calm.
Revealing the reasoning behind this code, the ex-employee told PopSugar, “Children are never lost at Disney. Adults are. If a child gets separated from his/her parents, cast members will always treat the situation as a lost adult, never a lost child. How could a child be lost at Disney? It’s the happiest place on earth!”
While some codes serve a very clear purpose in ensuring guests can enjoy their Disney visits undisturbed, the rationale behind others is less obvious. For instance, cast members will never reveal what character they’re playing. If asked they will simply say, “I’m friends with Mickey” rather than “I play Mickey.”
Meanwhile, there are other codes Disney staff use simply to disguise their true feelings towards problem guests. It’s been rumored that after dealing with a particularly challenging customer, they will part ways by telling them, “Have a Disney day.” But what they really mean is, “You’ve been annoying.”
However, Disney workers reserve their most brutal code for their worst visitors. Cleverly though, problem customers might not realize that they’ve got on the wrong side of cast members as the insult is disguised within a compliment. That’s because, if a visitor is particularly difficult, they will be described as a “treasured guest.”
There are reportedly rules regarding cast members’ use of insulting and negative language around guests. However, Disney staff have got around this regulation by coming up with their own terms that sound like compliments, but in reality mean something quite different. As such, they can get something off their chest without causing any real offense.