Disney Now and Then: Civilian vs. Cast Members

For the entirety of my 20’s, whenever I visited the Disneyland Resort, I was visiting as a cast member. I was a part of the Disney community, and I’ll tell you something…there is nothing like visiting Disneyland when you ARE a cast member. Prior to working at Disney, I was a civilian. And I loved every second of it. I was an annual passholder from the minute I was conceived, and I have more family photos of me with characters than I do of me with family. On my visit to Disneyland last month, it was my first visit to Disneyland in 4 years and it was also my first Disneyland visit as a civilian since I was 18. Let me tell you, there are a ton of differences between being a civilian and a cast member. Here’s how it all went down!


Getting into the Park!

When you’re a cast member, you just walk into the park. Whenever you like. Well, as long as you’re not on the clock. Disneyland is yours to play in. On my last trip, I was lucky enough to score sign-ins from my extremely generous and lovely friends who still work for Disneyland. While just walking into Disneyland isn’t as simple as it used to be for me, there was something kind of special about getting signed in. It added more meaning to the trip and it made me truly realize and understand the fact that not everyone (including myself) gets to visit all the time, and each visit should count.

Meeting characters!

I worked in the character department for a couple years. I knew all of the hosts and I knew all of the characters AND I knew a lot of the performers in the parades. It always added that special touch whenever I visited with family, and a character would recognize me and create a special moment for my family. Since it’s been a few years since I’ve worked at Disneyland, there are so many new faces. There were moments on the trip where I felt like a stranger to a world that I used to know so well. The really cool part, was that Disney characters always have a special way of making you feel at home whether you’re new to town or an old friend. It turns out that a bunch of familiar faces still hang out at Disneyland. A storm trooper had spotted me over at Jedi Training Academy, and I quickly realized that him and I used to be on opposing sides of the force back before I retired from being a Jedi.



When you know everyone who works at the parks, you can usually find a show hook-up for specialty seating, or at the very least, you know the ins and outs of the park so well that you know where the secret spots are. I’ve had an opportunity to sit right next to the stage management booth in the VIP seating area at Fantasmic! back when I was dating someone involved with the show. I also knew the park well enough to know that the docking location for the Tom Sawyer rafts was THE BEST VIEWING AREA for Fantasmic!, since it was quiet and out of the way of the crowds (this was before the fastpass system and before the AP’s caught on to what the cast members were doing). On my most recent trip, there were moments when I thought to myself, ‘Oh goodness. I have to figure out the secret rules of this crowd control game and I don’t know what to do because EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT.’ I ended up talking to an old friend who is now a supervisor of Main Street crowd control. She was awesome because she gave my group some tips on where we should stand for the best view of the parade/fireworks. What was so great about this moment, was that she wasn’t just giving me insider info because I knew her and we went way back. I knew that because she was GREAT at her job, that she gave this info to others and made them feel special, and made their trip better. I’ll tell you though, I went to visit friends over at Disney Jr, and my mom and I got our names on the same VIP list that guest relations utilizes with their groups. Which meant we didn’t have to wait in line, we got let into the show first, and we were able to snag the bench seating right next to the stage, AND I got to meetup with the cast afterwards

Enjoy your day!

When I visited the park as a CM, I was never in a rush to do anything. Even when I brought my family into the park with me, we never hurried. We would sometimes visit in the evening just to grab a coffee, watch Fantasmic! and go back home. We were lucky enough to get to go to the park all the time. I figured since I don’t get to go all the time now, that I would be rushing through the park at break-neck speed like I was trying to race through a Disney bucket list or something. I was surprised that my mellow Disney attitude is still there. On my first visit back, my friends and I enjoyed sangria on the wharf at DCA and we spent most of the evening eating ice cream and hanging out on Main Street. When I went with my mom, we raced to get a Haunted Mansion fast pass, then we ended up sitting on a bench in New Orleans Square waiting for our window and just talked and caught up on life. It was amazing! I love that Disney is still that place that clears my head.


The biggest thing that I learned, is that Disneyland is the old friend in my life. Disneyland will be maid of honor at my wedding, Disneyland will go through the birth of my future kids and see them grow up and Disneyland will see me through heartbreak and happiness. It doesn’t matter that I no longer work at Disneyland, because it will ALWAYS be the place that makes me feel like myself, and for that reason alone, it no longer matters that I’m a civilian. Being a civilian means you get treated special BECAUSE IT’S DISNEY and they WANT to treat you like you are special because you are. While there were little things that were different along the way, the big thing is that my group and I always got treated with care and magic was made wherever we went. I can’t wait to go back home.

Erika Jenko
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Posted on September 7, 2015, in Articles, Disney Now and Then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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