The first day of work for all Disney cast members is called ‘Traditions’. Cynically speaking, it’s a five-hour-long brainwashing session where a couple of just-a-little-too-excited cast members tell you about how amazing Disney is, how important the company is to the world and that we are now all one big happy family who smile all the time and make dreams come true for little kids.
Despite all that, I loved every second of it. And not just because of the feel-good video, or the fact that we got our first set of Mickey ears, or that we got to take a secret peek behind the curtain and see how the parks actually operate. It was slightly more nuanced than that, although all of it helped.
Because Traditions isn’t your usual first day of training. At other places, you’re drilled about things like workplace safety; responsibilities; how to check in, check out; and so on and so forth. Not here. (Well, some of that.) Traditions was less of a training day and more of an introduction of expectations. “This is our company; we have these ideals. Live up to them.”
A special bus picks you up in front of your apartments, which then takes you under the arch and behind the Magic Kingdom to Disney University, a special facility designed for training classes and other learning opportunities for cast members. We were separated into groups, and then once more into even smaller sub-groups. The entire experience felt very intimate, although, obviously, Traditions is one of Disney U’s largest classes.
After a brief safety orientation, we were treated to several hours’ worth of Disney history, their ideals and how we, as new cast members, now belonged to that same set of morality and expectations. (Several people teared up at this part, and I don’t blame them.)
We then went backstage in the Magic Kingdom and walked the Utilidors, a labyrinthine set of tunnels and pathways underneath the park proper. Nearly all backstage stuff is located here, hidden out of sight of the guests enjoying themselves a couple feet above them.
Our group then assembled outside one of the backstage gates into the park, and everyone who had never visited Disney World before went to the front so we could experience our first time without any heads blocking the way.
Then, we stepped through the gates… and everything shone.
There’s seriously no other way to put it. Everything literally shone with yellow bulbs, decorations, and the smell of cinnamon cookies. The cacophony of guests, from the laughter to the excited talking to the distant music of the parade, spun me around until I could no longer tell which voices were whose. I stood still, lost in the twinkling lights and the sensory overload, for a good long minute before I turned the corner – and there it was.
As someone used to the diminutive scale of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland, the sheer size and scope of Cinderella’s counterpart was jaw-dropping. The spires reached far above me, higher than I could’ve ever imagined. I felt like a religious wanderer who had found his Western Wall, a parched traveler coming across an oasis in the desert. Although it loomed above me like all grand monuments do, it was inviting at the same time; big, yet friendly.
Alas, my first visit was to be short-lived. We barely had a chance to ooh and ahh for five minutes before we were hustled down a backstage entrance, herded back onto the Disney buses, and taken back to our classrooms. The magic wasn’t over yet, though: the best was still to come, in the form of a small, white, oval pin with some letters on it.
And that word, in all honesty, sums up Traditions for me (and, I suspect, many others as well). Yes, at face value, it’s our first day of work, it’s our training day, it’s nothing more than where we get our nametag and Mickey ears.
But nothing at Disney should be taken on face value alone, and if you make that mistake, your stay here is going to be a whole lot less memorable than it can be.
Because, like my nametag says, Disney World is the place where dreams come true. Mine, yours, and everyone else’s, whatever they are.