The highlight of my working life occurred while I was working at the Disneyland Resort for Walt Disney Travel Co. (I began working for the company in 2007). The promotion for that year was "The Year of a Million Dreams." This marketing bonanza came on the heels of the very successful Golden 50th Anniversary of Disneyland. Guests could be randomly awarded one of a million prizes being distributed at both North American resorts. The prizes ranged from collectable ears made especially for the occasion (not available for sale), to world-wide trips to all (then) 5 resorts. As a national sweepstakes ran from the state of California this process was highly regulated. To manage the day-to-day operations on the ground, an all-star team would be created from existing Cast Members called "The Dream Squad."
"Dream Makers", as they were called, would spend about a quarter of the day awarding these prizes and following the state and federal guidelines. To give the 125,000 domestic Cast Members more of an opportunity to serve, there would be "Tracks" of teams that would serve several months at a time. The interview process started approximately 6 months prior to each Track. They were looking for Cast Members for whom Disney Magic was more than just a job. The Squad was to be made of people for whom Guest Service was a way of life, and had extensive knowledge of there park/resort.
In late December after just 3 months as a Cast Member I saw the notice. The resort was hiring for "Track 7" which would run April through August of 2008. I wanted this! I had come to Disney specifically to share my love and knowledge of the Disneyland Resort, and to work with the best in customer service. I filled out the long paperwork, chased down my Operations Manager for his approval, and took a cab to TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) to drop of the paper work an hour before the dead-line.
I received an email the first week of January, they wanted to interview me! I was so excited and happy, but that feeling was soon replaced with heartbreak. As I explained in my reply email I wanted this role more than almost anything but my family and future was my priority. I was in my first week of training for a promotion I had accepted at The Walt Disney Travel Co. and could not afford to jeopardize that. I was thrilled when the answer came that anyone taking the position on this all-star team would have their current role protected. My interview was set for the next week.
I am not usually nervous in interviews but I REALLY wanted this. It would prove to me I made the right decision moving to SoCal and working for Disney. As I entered the room that at one time had actually been Uncle Walt's office, I notice that the other 4 Cast Member present for the group interview all had at least 10 years of service, one had 20, and 1 had 40! The interview went well they were amazing people I was sure I would not get the role but I was grateful for the opportunity to meet some of the best. However two days later I received the amazing call I would start training for Dream Squad on March 4th.
It was very detailed involving mostly the legal structure of a national sweepstakes. A computer operated by a third party would produce a location such as; Mad Tea Party, cup 2, far left seat. A couple of us would have to be there by the exact time the prize was to be awarded. If anything did not go perfect Disney would be fined a large some by the government. There would be one time my favorite partner and I had to go from ToonTown in Disneyland Park to The (then) Sun Wheel at Disney's California Adventure Park in 7 minutes. This is difficult under any circumstance but with my health problems I walk with a severe limp, and my partner suffers from CP so we looked very funny running through two parks, but we made it!
The most thrilling job to be chosen for every day was to award the Dream Family of the Day. The computer generated a time and location. Two of us would be there to award the prize, which was much harder than it sounds. First you had to make sure they were of legal age or had a legal guardian present. Then you had to verify they were from a qualifying state or country. Some countries such as Canada required an extra step, some could not participate at all. Then you had to convince them it was worth their while to walk with you from where ever they were to an office at the top of Main Street U.S.A.. All this while not telling them what they had won until all their information was verified back at our office. But it was definitely worth it! The awarded family/group received a Dream FastPass for both parks so no waiting the rest of the day for the most popular attractions. They were made Grand Marshall of that days Parade of Dreams. A dinner was provided at the Blue Bayou as well as Breakfast with Minnie and Friends at The Plaza Inn. Plus the lucky family received a beautiful engraved crystal bowl from Crystal Arts on Main Street U.S.A.. The most coveted part of this prize was staying the night in The Disneyland Dream Suite in New Orleans Square. The suite included an incredible balcony from which to watch Fantasmic!, and an after hours tour of the park. One of the families I awarded the prize to was from Atlanta, GA. John was a Marine on leave from Iraq and had brought his mother and girlfriend to his favorite childhood destination. During our afternoon together he told me he had brought a ring to propose to his lucky girlfriend. So I arranged a private boat for them on Storybook Canal with a PhotoPass photographer, a private guide, and a saxophonist. It was so magical and luckily she said yes!
I was able to award prizes including cruises and visits to parks around the world. But the biggest commotion came while presenting pins. These collector sets were not available to purchase. The computer had sent us to a location that placed us in a corner surrounded by shrubbery. The appointed time arrived and we began to distribute. Within moments guests were jumping over shrubs and each other to get the pins. As safety is always the resorts number one concern, I had to stop the event and return to "the cloud" our base of operations.
One of my favorite memories was awarding a private party. We invited 10 lucky families to an empty theatre and offered refreshments, music, and 20 characters. The ratio of guest-to-characters was amazing! As I watched a group of children and characters play, I spotted a mother in the corner crying. Concerned that we had made some sort of mistake, I sat next to her and asked if there was anything we could do for her. "You've given me everything," she said pointing to a cute little girl of about 6. "I haven't seen her smile in 2 years, and now she is laughing." The mother explained to me the family home had burned down a couple of years earlier. They lost everything including her dad and the lady's husband. Due to challenges with the insurance they had even been homeless for a time. Once the insurance finally came through she booked the least expensive package she could find to get her princess to Disneyland. The girl was playing with Princess Aurora as if her life was full of sunshine. I discovered she had booked her package through my home area, Walt Disney Travel Co., and through my connections we were able to upgrade the pair to the Disneyland Hotel, and extend their 2 day to a 5 day ticket!
My favorite times on Dream Squad were not related to awarding prizes. The other 90% of our time was spent walking the resort, visiting with guests, and making random "Acts of Magic". I was visiting Paradise Pier when I heard a 13 year old boy say "that is ok I understand." Having a son myself I know that was not usual so I stopped to investigate. The boy was visiting with his grandparents who did not feel they could handle riding California Screamin' and did not want him riding alone. I was impressed by the boys attitude so I began giving him some small magic I was carrying with me. He started to recite for me the speed at which the ride moved, the tech that was part of the attraction, even how much steel was used! I couldn't let this kid miss his chance to ride so I offered to take him. Now, dear reader, you need to understand I REALLY don't like roller coasters! The grandparents agreed and I escorted my new friend, Vance, through the exit. I explained to the lead on duty the situation and they happily sat Vance and I in the front seat of the next train. My heart was pumping, and I was sweating up a storm. The look on this boys face as we blasted off made all my trepidation disappear. Although it was a good thing I ran into Vance prior to lunch, hearing him laugh and scream was amazing. As we pulled back into the loading zone I remember thinking 1 time around wasn't so bad to help him with a magical memory. I saw the lead looking at me with her thumb in the air, and let her know how well it went by giving her a thumbs up. To my horror she looked at the Cast Member manning the console and gave him the sign to send our train once more! After the second stomach-churning ride Vance was presented with an artist rendering of the attraction signed by all the Cast Members working it that day. I have a thousand such stories that I will share with you some day
There are things I will never forget from my time as a Dream Maker; such as getting through the parks blindfolded, doing yoga in the Dream Suite, and being awarded the Guest Service Trophy. My experiences and contacts would help me greatly in the years to come back at WDTC. What I remember most of all, is the magic I experienced while bringing it to the guest!