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  • Dan Connors

Beyond The Castle- A Disney veteran looks behind the curtain

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

Beyond the Castle: A Guide to Discovering Your Happily Ever After

Have you ever wondered what it's like to work behind the scenes at Disney theme parks? As a past visitor to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, I certainly have. Walt Disney pioneered the idea of theme parks, and he somehow managed to create an institution so beloved and timeless that it has spread around the world and sucked up more tourist dollars in Florida than anything else.

Jody Jean Dreyer was a 30 year employee of Disney, starting as an intern and rising to upper echelons of Disney management. She was elected to the coveted role of Disney Ambassador and given the huge job of opening Disneyland Paris among other major assignments. Beyond the Castle is her story of both her personal experiences and what she thinks are Disney's best attributes that regular people can use in their own business and personal activities.

Dreyer is a good storyteller, and she dishes some interesting tidbits like:

- Disney uses "smellitizers" all over its parks to emit good smelling scents that will connect with patrons emotionally and make its locations unique and memorable.

- There are all kinds of debates that go on behind the scenes, like "should Micky and Minnie ever marry?" (no, it was finally decided- it would get too complicated), or what makes a princess? (Tinkerbell is not a princess).

- Disney's Animal Kingdom relied heavily on professional zookeepers to help design the park and give the concept legitimacy among animal enthusiasts.

- Visitors at Tokyo Disneyland balked at the Asian cuisine that the park offered at its opening. It was discovered that they wanted genuine American food like burgers and fries, instead. But then when Disney opened Disneyland Paris with American food, the French refused to eat it and again Disney had to change their menus.

- Disney cast members will never point with one finger. They always use two or more fingers to point because it's seen as friendlier and less aggressive.

-The Cinderella Castle is deliberately under 200 feet tall so that no beacon light on top is required. It's made of tough fiberglass blocks that get smaller and smaller as you go up, to give the illusion that the castle is even higher. It was used for storage space for many years and now houses a small apartment that's given out to VIP guests.

- When Disney World's Magic Kingdom opened in 1971, admission was $3.50. (It now costs $105!) Early visitors then had to buy tickets for the more popular rides.

- At the very end of the night, when the park is almost emptied out, Disney presents what's known as the "Kiss Goodnight." The Cinderella castle briefly lights up and music is played while an announcer says, “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, on behalf of everyone here at the Magic Kingdom, we thank you for joining us today for a magic gathering of family, friends, fun, and fantasy. We hope your magical journey with us has created wonderful memories that will last a lifetime."

Interspersed with these fun tidbits, Dreyer tries to educate us on what it means to be a Disney employee. She worked closely with Roy Disney, Michael Eisner, and probably knows a lot more than this book comes close to revealing. But it's nice to hear a new perspective on what makes Disney special to so many.

Disney is all about brand management, and its mission statement is to entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling. Somehow they have created multiple theme parks, water parks, and cruise ships that all build on their recognized brand, all while presenting a consistent level of service and telling familiar stories. Dreyer points to this inner core as most important in telling the world who you are.

After defining your core, you need to tell your story, as Disney has. But you need to tailor it to your audience, which most of us forget to do. There is something called the Platinum Rule at Disney- "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them." If you shape your story to something your audience can relate to, communicate it clearly, and back it up convincingly with actions, people will respond, as they have with Disney.

The best Disney leaders, according to Dreyer, stress that the keys to good leadership is to be truthful, present, a good example, encouraging, and kind. Disney leaders make sure that they are prepared for anything, and they empower employees in many cases to make things right for the guests. Employees at Disney have to be prepared for anything, from bad weather to unruly guests to rides breaking down, and they have to do it all with confidence and a smile.

Dreyer made it a point to visit many of the hidden backstage areas of Walt Disney World while she was ambassador, and describes them in my favorite chapter that took in housekeeping, horticulture, music, pest control and key control.

This is a rose-colored view of the Disney empire, from someone who has lived a privileged life and risen to the top. You won't read any negatives here. If you go on the site Glass Door, you will see more honest reviews about life in the theme parks- it's hot, hard work, where management goes overboard in caring for guests while often ignoring the needs and feelings of employees. Most people seem to love working there, but I'd rather keep my childhood fantasies rather than face the reality of smiling 24/7 in the hot, Florida sun.

For some reason, Beyond the Castle was sold under a Christian publishing label, but there is very little Christian proselytizing here. God is mentioned a few times, but the focus is decidedly secular and Disneyfied. I recommend this book for fans of Disney, and wish that the author had gone just a bit further in dishing the inside stuff, but I guess she didn't want to get sued.

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