Category Archives: Disney Now and Then

Disney Now and Then: Disney Birthdays!

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I turn 31 this week! And no, 31 isn’t a pivotal age. It’s not ‘sweet 16’ and it’s not the big 21, but in a weird way, 31 is actually a big year for me. When I turned 30 last year, it was a turning point for me. I wished my 20’s goodbye, and while I was actually looking forward to starting the adventure that would be my 30’s, it turned out to be a very difficult year. I felt like I grew up the most last year, and I learned how to juggle adult responsibility with staying young at heart. I’m proud to say that not only did I get through it all, but it truly opened my eyes to what’s important to me in my life, and how I will live my life in my 30’s. And turning 31 is proof that I survived the transition period. It’s gonna be great. For my birthday week, I’m actually indulging in some much needed relaxation in Brooklyn, but I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at my two monumental birthdays that also happened to be Disney birthdays. Here we go!

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21st Birthday!

When you officially turn 21, one big thing happens. You are finally allowed to drink. And it’s exciting. To be able to show off your ID and tell a bartender, “I’ll have a Blue Hawaiian. Wanna see my ID? I’m totally 21. Look!” Turning such an important age HAD to be celebrated near the Disney Parks. My parents booked me a room at the Grand California hotel. Fancy, right? I spent the afternoon hanging out with my parents on the property. I indulged in my very first birthday drink, which was a margarita as I dozed off poolside. In the evening, I actually hung out at Lost Bar. I had no idea Lost Bar would soon become my favorite watering hole. Remember Lost Bar? Quiet place for Disney cast members to grab a post-work beverage? It is now the wildly popular Trader Sam’s, but I will always remember it as this tiny piece of heaven where I kicked off being 21. I hung out all day with my family, and in the evening, my friends met up with me at Lost Bar. I only had about 4 drinks on my 21st birthday, but I didn’t know better, and I mixed tequila with rum with who knows what else. Let’s just say that I was so relieved that I could walk to my hotel and sleep in a comfy bed that night. I turned out to be a Disney light weight.

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30th Birthday!

When I turned 30, I made a goal that I would celebrate by visiting the Magic Kingdom for the first time. It turned out to be a very special trip, because I was accompanied by my boyfriend who had never ever been to a Disney park. Half the fun was sharing my love of Disney with him and seeing him love it as much as me. It was seriously the coolest thing! We arrived at Magic Kingdom as a couple New Yorkers who could figure out the Disney transportation system like pros. We ended up seeing Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios in one day plus Epcot for last call, because why not? The day was full of rides, shows and sightseeing and it was absolutely perfect. The cast members were sweet as can be too. I even got birthday cake!

Alright, kids, now I’m off to start celebrating my birthday. This year, to celebrate surviving a year of my 30’s, I’m heading off to brunch to grab a bloody mary and read a book. Then I’ll probably stumble into a used bookstore and dance through my neighborhood listening to Disney music. I’m thinking later this week, I’ll probably see Zootopia and I’m gonna try to go to this magical place called Spa Castle to get a massage. It’s gonna be a great week. Ok, time for a bloody mary. Bye!

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

 

Disney Now and Then: The Frozen Fever Effect

A lot of people have expressed that they feel like Frozen and Star Wars have completely taken over Disneyland, and I totally get it. You feel like the park you know so well is changing all around you. And change can be great, but comfort can be better. I get it, trust me. When I worked at the Disney parks, it was before Frozen Fever. Heck, it was even before Disney owned Marvel. It was jarring seeing the signs of Frozen everywhere in the park when I visited last summer, and it was weird seeing a Thor meet n’ greet. At first I thought to myself, ‘Am I ok with all of these changes?’ And the answer I’ve decided upon is, YES. And here’s why…

Frozen Fever isn’t a new phenomenon for the Disney parks. It feels like it to you, the grownup who is watching your park change right before your very eyes. It doesn’t feel this way to the little girls and boys who are obsessed with Frozen and jump for joy whenever they see Frozen merch or their favorite characters from Frozen. If we all re-traced our steps, back to when we were a little younger, we might remember that Disneyland went through a Tinkerbell phenomenon about 15 years ago. There were probably adults walking through the park at that time thinking, ‘Enough already. We get it. Tinkerbell is popular now.’ I was obsessed with Tinkerbell during this time. And Disneyland fed into that obsession for me. I had to own any piece of merchandise that had that pouty pixie face on it.

When I started to work at Disneyland, there was an awesome photo location for Ariel. Music would play and mist would fall over Triton Gardens, and a cove would transform into an over-sized shell and Ariel would appear for her meet n’ greet. It was so special and fun. Don’t know what I’m talking about? It’s because this area is now Pixie Hollow, where you can meet Tinkerbell and all of her friends. Pixie Hollow came a few years after my Tinkerbell obsession. The photo location was setup in response to the success of the new Tinkerbell movies. When they first announced that Ariel’s meet n’ greet was going away to make room for Pixie Hollow, we were all disappointed. We thought, great…Tinkerbell is taking over. Then, I quickly remembered that little girl who used to beg her parents for Tinkerbell stuff and I would’ve been thrilled if there would’ve been a Pixie Hollow when I was growing up.

I’ve seen Frozen and most of the Tinkerbell movies. I loved all of them. Better yet, I love seeing little kids faces light up when they see their favorite characters from these movies. It’s truly special. And sure, some of it might feel a little overboard. But next time you roll your eyes at the abundance of Olaf, keep an eye out for the little kid excitedly waving at Elsa in Paint the Night, or listen to little kids singing “Let it Go” at the top of their lungs. It’ll warm your heart. There will be new Disney movies that will get a huge response from Disney fans, and when that happens, the parks will feed into the hype. Things that we know and love right now will change to make room for the new. And that’s ok. Because the great thing about Disney, is they never forget about their classic stories.

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

Disney Now and Then: The Disney Look

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If you’re a Disney super-fan, or have worked at the Disneyland Resort, then you’re familiar with ‘The Disney Look.’ The Disney Look is a set of guidelines that all cast members must abide by in order to look sharp and not stand out from the pack. I adhered to these guidelines religiously when I first started working for Disney, before learning which rules I could bend a little. While working at Disney, I always assumed that as soon as I quit, I would wear black nail polish daily and get a face tattoo and dye my hair purple. I’m surprised at the types of things I decided to change in my appearance after spending a few years at Disney.

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At Disney, we were only allowed to wear neutral colored nail polish. So, basically, neon blue with hello kitty bling is out of the question. At work, I typically wore a baby pink polish and I kept my nails short and trim. Upon quitting Disney, I think I stepped into a salon once to get me some fake claws and crazy colors and I was immediately over it. If you look at my hands on any given day, I don’t wear any nail polish. If I’m feeling crazy, I’ll paint them dark purple then remove it a couple days later.

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I Don’t give a Hair what you think

My typical hair color at Disney switched between blonde and brunette. I had a great colorist who could make me look like a natural blonde or brunette, so I always fit the Disney guideline of “natural colors only please and thank you.” I fooled a lot of my friends when I worked there and they could never guess what my natural color actually was (and to be honest, I still don’t know what my natural color is). Upon quitting Disney, I cut my hair short. Once I moved to New York, my pixie cut got shorter and shorter. I now cut my hair myself, because I get bored with it and need the freedom to change it often. I’ve been shaving the back of my head and leaving the top of my hair long (a style that would get me fired ASAP at Disney). While at Disney, I always kept my locks long and I hated it. It was such a drag to be a girl with a long mane in the middle of summer peak. My ability to change my hair frequently is one of the highlights of my week. Speaking of highlights, I dump about a box of bleach on my head every other week. The other day I added some lavender, because, why not? Sure, I look like a ‘My little pony,’ but isn’t life a tad more fun that way?

Face it, you’re perfect!

I am extremely grateful that Disney was strict when it came to makeup, because to be quite honest, I never really got into the whole makeup thing. Sure, I like wearing it and I definitely look like less of a corpse when I throw some eye cream on, but being forced to wear natural looking makeup in my early 20’s taught me a quick lesson in natural beauty. I realized at a young age that I don’t need to cake on eye shadow to get people to listen to me or laugh with me or like me. I was fine getting by on mascara and some SPF foundation. Nowadays, I keep my makeup to a minimum. The great thing about living in New York, is there is ton of moisture in the air. My skin is the healthiest it’s ever been. I wear a small amount of makeup once in awhile if I’m going out, but otherwise, I keep it light with sunscreen and chapstick and that’s about it.

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The only Pierce I like is Pierce Brosnan

At Disney, you could have one ear piercing and you could only wear stud earrings. If you had more than one piercing, you had to cover it up with a small bandaid. The whole time I was at Disney, I kept thinking, “I bet I’m the type of girl who would be happier with a nose ring and 3 different ear piercings, but no…I have to be deprived.” I always thought that I wanted what I couldn’t have. Here’s the truth of my post-Disney earring situation: I wear earrings so infrequently that if my boyfriend was asked the question on a game show, he wouldn’t be able to tell you if my ears are pierced or not. It’s not that I have anything against wearing earrings. I just don’t like to be tasked with something else that I have to do when I get ready in the morning.

So there you have it. As it turns out, the Disney Look fits my personality type in my everyday life. Except for my hair. My freedom to mess with my hair is a freedom I don’t know if I could ever give back.

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

Disney Now and Then: Technology at the Park

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Being a Disney YouTuber has got me feeling a little old lately. You see, my subscribers have been asking me to include more photos of myself from back when I worked at Disneyland, and I’m starting to realize that I don’t have as much photo documentation of my time working for the mouse, because I wasn’t on Facebook back when I worked at Disney. Yes, that’s how old I am. I still had a Myspace account, and I didn’t get into Facebook until after I quit Disney. What does this have to do with my photo documentation? Everything. Facebook is the only reason we feel the need to take a picture of everything. Heck, if it wasn’t for Instagram, would you actually be taking a photo of your food? Probably not. Technology wise, the times have changed so much since I quit Disney, and a part of me yearns for the simpler times from back when I worked at Disney.

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Technology Back in the Day:
Back in the Erika days of Disney, I wasn’t obsessively taking photos of my every move at Disney for a few reasons. I saw the parade or heard it in the background twice a day. I had Fantasmic memorized. I could almost guess what a princess was going to say to a little girl wearing a princess dress. This isn’t to say that the Disney magic was spoiled for me. What it does mean, is that being at Disneyland was literally a part of my every day life. It would be like taking a picture of me brushing my teeth or cleaning out the fridge. It wasn’t something that I felt like I needed to document, and furthermore, the magic that I was experiencing couldn’t be properly documented on camera. These were memories that I was going to hold in my heart. Here’s the other big thing that I should add: We weren’t allowed to take photos of ourselves at work. How unprofessional would that be?
Hi everyone! Thank you so much for visiting Mickey today! Please take a quick step back while I snag a selfie of me and the big cheese. He’s only wearing the sorcerer Mickey ensemble for a limited time and I need to snapchat this pronto.
 
We could only get photos of ourselves at work if we had a friend visiting the park who could take the photo, or if we were sneaky and took the photos ourselves (which I was atrocious at). Here are the good things that came out of not documenting every second of working at Disneyland: My strongest memories of Disneyland are seriously held in my heart. Cheesy right? But it’s true. I don’t have photos of the most profound things that happened to me at Disney. What I’ve realized is that I have more souvenirs from working there then I realized. Instead of 100’s of Facebook check-ins that read, “Erika is spinning at Mad Tea Party” or “Erika is in need of a towel” at the exit of Splash Mountain, I have piles of notes, pins and mementos that I have collected over the years from working at Disney. The current generation of teens have a lot to worry about. Anyplace they visit, they have the pressure of having to check-in and provide photo updates of their whereabouts. If they don’t post an update, then they might feel like they’re not keeping up with their friends, and at the end of the day, it sucks all of the fun out of visiting places. When I worked at Disney, I actually enjoyed every moment. Every memory sank in. I wasn’t staring at a phone or seeing the world through my camera. I was truly living.

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Technology Now:
I won’t lie to you. Technology is amazing when visiting Disneyland…if used properly that is, and I feel like I’m still getting the hang of it. The last time I visited Disneyland, it was the first trip where I was also trying to vlog everything for my channel. The entire day my thoughts went a little something like this:
Did I get enough B-roll of the entrance to the park? I don’t think I did. That’s ok, I can film it later. But I have to do that before 4PM or it’ll be too dark. Oh, shoot! I need to take a picture of my Starbucks cup so that I can Instagram it. But the castle has to be the background! I should’ve tweeted that we’re waiting in line for the Matterhorn. Oh my god I forgot to check-in that I’m even here at Disneyland! Should I snapchat my outfit? As a video or as a photo? Oh my god I need a theme for this vlog or its just boring footage of me at Disney all day and who will want to watch that?
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I’m sorry, but when I’m at Disneyland, I don’t like to worry about anything. Being a Disney Youtuber means that you have to have a way with technology that is effective, yet won’t spoil your day. I’ve learned that you need to either visit Disney specifically to social media OR to simply enjoy your time. If you’re there to enjoy your time, you don’t need to check-in where you’re at every 2 seconds. Your friends will understand if you’re not buried in your phone all day. You can also #latergram all of your photos that you take so that you don’t feel pressured to post throughout the day. Also, your wonderful friends and family want to see your pretty face smiling at them all day, not smiling down at your phone. If you’re there specifically to utilize social media (and for the podcasters, bloggers, youtubers, I’m talking to you guys), have a plan as to what you’re covering for the day and how much time you’re going to spend covering it. Have a schedule of how many posts you will contribute to each social media site. What’s the one piece of technology I’m eternally grateful for whether I’m visiting for work or play? The Disney app that lists all of the wait times for every ride. Where was that genius piece of technology when I was a cast member?
 
To anyone who has a future trip planned to the resort, take a moment to step back in time and keep your phone in your bag as long as you can. I promise you will have a lifetime of memories if you allow yourself to really take it all in. Have fun out there, everyone!

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

Disney Now and Then: Star Wars Land

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I used to be a padawan at the Jedi Training Academy. And no, I don’t mean I was a little kid volunteering to be a part of the show and now I am grownup and blogging. I mean, I was a PADAWAN in the show. I got to play ‘Star Wars’ as my full-time job. Hello, best job ever. The minute Disneyland embraced the power of the Star Wars storyline as a way of bridging the gap between about 3 generations of Star Wars fans, I was all hands on deck…all hands on Millenium Falcon…you catch my drift?

The minute Star Wars Land was announced at D23 I responded accordingly. My instinct was to jump up and down fist pumping and wondering if I should re-hire at Disneyland in a few years because HELLO, STAR WARS CASTING CALLS. My next not-so-immediate response was still an important one. I realized the weight of what was being announced. Star Wars LAND. Not a star wars ride. Not a new exhibit. An entire new LAND. My blog on this site is dedicated to telling you guys what has changed at the parks from the time I was a Disney cast member in comparison to now. And I can’t think of a bigger way in which the parks are about to change, than the introduction of Star Wars Land.

I consider myself a ‘Walt Disney Purist’ (I have no frickin’ clue if this is even a thing, but here we go). I am a huge Disney fan, but even thought I love Disney, I’ll be the first one to tell you if something that is introduced seems to stray from Walt’s original vision of the parks (and YES, I know what his original vision of the parks were because the day he thought up the idea for Disneyland at the merry-go-round at Griffith Park, I was sitting on a neighboring bench and I looked over at him and asked, ‘Sir, what’s wrong?’ And this guy looks at me and says, ‘I have an idea that will forever change the world. And, hello…MICKEY MOUSE!!) Ok, maybe it didn’t go down that way. Maybe I didn’t even know Walt. But don’t we all feel like we know Walt Disney? Every single person who has ever walked through the gates of Disneyland feels like they know Walt Disney for one important reason: Walt’s vision is entrenched in EVERYTHING you can see, hear, touch and feel at the park. He left behind a legacy.

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Star Wars LAND. Disneyland has always consisted of Walt’s original lands. When I worked at Disneyland, these lands consisted of Adventureland, Fantasyland, Frontierland and Tomorrowland. There are of course other parts of the park such as Critter Country and New Orleans Square and even Mickey’s Toon Town, but the fact is, none of these other locations were titled ‘lands.’ Star Wars Land is creating a brand new LAND that isn’t related to Walt’s original characters or concepts. It is made completely to promote a brand that was previously owned by Lucas Films and purchased by Disney. I can’t make it clear enough how excited I am for this change, but if you take a look at the historical aspect surrounding this decision, it’s even bigger than we thought it was. When the Indiana Jones ride was created, it was based off of a non-Disney franchise and added into Adventureland and it was a HIT. When Star Tours was added, Disney partnered with Lucas Films, and while Disney didn’t yet own Star Wars, Star Tours was also a huge hit. Both of these were individual rides, not an entirely new land.

There are things that I will miss when it’s all said and done. For instance, Big Thunder Ranch is closing on January 10th. Some of you might’ve walked by it in a rush to snag prime spots for Fantasmic!, but if you ever popped in, you would know that it is home to a petting zoo, BBQ and during the holidays, you can walk into a cabin and hang out with Santa. I mean…C’MON HOW FANTASTIC IS THAT? When I was a cast member, I looked forward to that quiet part of the park. It felt so rooted in Disney history, and it never tried to be flashy. It was simply a part of the park where you could breathe. Also, when I was a kid, many of my childhood photos consisted of my brother and I hanging out there with the animals. My mom isn’t too sad to see the Rancho go. Afterall, a goat managed to eat one of my brother’s shirts during every visit. But all the same, it will be sad to see it go. While it’s a wide open space that would be perfect for a theme park expansion, I’ll miss those cute little goats and the picnic tables.

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And don’t get me started on Fantasmic! True, it’s not going anywhere, but it will shut down for an entire year due to construction on Rivers of America. I have a theory, and my theory is that Fantasmic! will be re-invented when it comes back. If they’re doing construction on the tracks in the water it’s going to effect the show in some capacity. Not saying the show is leaving, but I do think that if they’re going to take a year off, that some elements will get a face lift. And if that’s the case, I’d be really sad to see it happen.

The thing I worry most about, is the fact that Star Wars Land will bring in a different crowd to the parks. It happened with Universal Studios when Harry Potter World was introduced. People who hadn’t been to Universal since they were a kid were making it a point to visit the park again to experience Harry Potter World. When this happens, the people visiting are visiting because of Star Wars and not to enjoy the rest of the park. How sad would it be if people were racing to ride the Millennium Falcon, and suddenly riding Peter Pan is an after-thought or something that can be easily skipped? It’s going to change the dynamic of the park. The one thing I am excited about, is the idea of having Disneyland being a larger park due to expansion. And sure, certain parts of the park will be packed to the gills, but hopefully it lightens the traffic flow in other parts of the park.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to see the changes take place. It will add a new immersive level a part of the park, and I hope Disney continues to strive for that level of immersion in the rest of the park. I just really hope that as everyone races to hit their favorite attractions/shows one last time before January 11th that they don’t forget one important thing: It all started with a mouse.

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

Disney Now and Then: Annual Passes

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I have a lot of California friends who are currently pissed. And understandably so. As many of you know, an increase in Disneyland annual passes was recently announced. While this may seem like typical news that we get every single year, this time around, the increase poses a significant change for Disneyland Resort Premium Pass holders….because their pass type will no longer exist once their current pass expires. That’s right. If you had a Premium Pass, which got you no blackout dates, your pass no longer exists when it comes time to renewal, which means if you would like the Premium experience, you no longer have the option of paying $779, but now instead you would have to purchase the new equivalent which is called Signature Plus, and costs $1,049. Almost $300 more for the same product. The one good thing, is that the monthly payment plan option still exists for SoCal residents.

I’m not a finance person. But here’s what I do know: I used to be a Disney cast member, meaning that I got into all Disney parks for FREE. The normal stress of “Did we reach the maximum amount of fun for what we paid for this trip” did not exist for me. I could walk into Disneyland, have a cup of coffee and walk by “Peter Pan,” decide I don’t want to wait in a line and go right back home and it wouldn’t have mattered. I had coffee at Disneyland. Day well spent.

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I don’t work at Disneyland anymore. I don’t even live near Disneyland anymore. I live in New York. Getting to Disneyland requires a plane ride, time off work, planning, hotel stays, etc. I’ve been extremely lucky to have friends who still work at the parks who sign me in when they can. It’s extremely generous and nice and I always appreciate when friends are able to help me or my family out. As wonderful as the sign-in process is, it’s not something I can always rely on. I’ve been in the market for a Disneyland Pass, and while the price raise isn’t making me act like a 5-year-old by declaring “Well, fine! I’ll never go to Disneyland ever again! (which is what a lot of people are claiming), I still feel like it’s time to decide what kind of Disney experience I need now in comparison to then.

I need to go to Disneyland every single day. That is what would make me happy. It’s not a reality though, seeing as it takes a 3-hour plane ride for me to hug Mickey Mouse. When I do go to Disneyland, I need to focus more on the quality of the trip. If I were to purchase a Signature Plus Pass, I would have to go to Disneyland 10 times in 1 year to make the pass worth it. This is something that is simply not feasible living so far away. The plan then turns into one in which I would purchase a ticket every time I visit. So, you figure I’d be spending approximately $100 or more for 1 day in the park. It all comes down to the price of the daily rate. Are you getting enough worth in 1 day at Disneyland for what you paid? Some families think Disneyland is too expensive and absolutely not worth the price of admission even if you spent the entire day in the park. What I’m about to say might make a lot of people cranky: I think the cost of admission is worth every penny even after the price raise. Sure, the Signature Plus Pass is really expensive, but it’s not for everyone. It wouldn’t have enough value for everyone. It’s not a good use of money to everyone unless you’re the person who goes to Disneyland all the time and needs every single calendar day of the year available to them. If you need the Signature Plus pass, then chances are you live close to Disneyland, therefore qualifying you for a monthly payment option. If you’re a huge Disney-holic, those payment plans aren’t too bad.

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Here’s where I’m coming from: I work in a Broadway theatre full-time. My side gig is working for a Broadway sound company that sends me to different theaters a couple times a week where I get to see Broadway shows for free. The average price of a Broadway ticket is $75-$150. Broadway shows are also trying to shorten their running times, so many shows are picking up the new trend of a smooth 90 minutes with no intermission. Think about this. $150 for 90 minutes. If you buy a drink, the drink will be $15-$20. Candy is $5. Water is $5. You will probably go out to dinner. Dinner is another $30-$40 because you’re in the theatre district. And to be honest, the show could be terrible. Yes, terrible shows happen on Broadway. I’ve seen a LOT of Broadway shows. They’re a spectacle and they’re amazing and if you’re in New York, you have to see the show. But high cost of the ticket doesn’t guarantee you that you will have the best time of your life….even though this is the standard that Disneyland is held to. If you go to Coney Island and decide to check out Luna Park, you will spend approximately $5 per ride. Yes, it’s a fun experience if you want that quirky Instagram update that you actually went on the ‘scary’ ride, but other than that, it’s not a life changing experience.

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Let’s put it all into perspective. People are upset over the price increase of an annual pass because Disneyland is truly important to them. It’s something they budget for. It’s something that they need in their life. Now that I don’t work at Disneyland, I see the one-day park hopper pass as the best value for me. In one day, if I manage to see one show (and we all know that Disney shows are held to Broadway level quality, in fact, many argue that the Hyperion version of “Aladdin” is better than the Broadway version) and go on a couple rides and see the fireworks, then I have reached the value of the price of the ticket. The cost it takes for the fireworks display to be produced alone is worth it. The tons of performers that go into 1 parade performance is worth it. The care and time that goes into every single scenic element, flower, detail. It’s all worth it. The price of one ticket is the price to enter a different world for an entire day. In New York, you will spend $150 to see a Broadway show. $40 on dinner. $30 on a cab with a driver who will get lost. $20 to see a museum, etc etc etc. $100 for a day at Disneyland doesn’t seem too bad. And yes, the Signature Plus pass sounds high because of course you hear the number $1,000 and go, “say what now??” You have to break it down into the number of visits you can feasibly accomplish and what you accomplish while you’re there. The park is too crowded to not raise the prices. And they’re not lowering the quality of the park, sounds like they’re improving on it. Anyway, it’s a nice problem to have isn’t it? Having a Disneyland pass implies that you plan on going multiple times in 1 year. Sounds like a good year to me.

Erika Jenko
Twitter | Instagram | Facebook |YouTube

 

Disney Now and Then: Guest Questions

Fact 1: Disneyland instills some of the best customer service skills in their cast members than any company imaginable.

Fact 2: Disney also hires people who lean toward being on the friendly, helpful and happy side who soak in customer service skills like sponges.

Fact 3: Neither Fact 1 nor fact 2 kept me from fantasizing about the things that I wished I could say to guests but would never ever say because well…I’m not a terrible person.

When you work at Disneyland, you genuinely want to help people have the best day possible. You genuinely want them to be happy and to come back. You genuinely want them to find the magic that you found there as a kid and continue to find as a grownup. With all that said, wanna play an awesome game of make believe with me? Below are the main questions/comments I would get from guests while working attractions or entertainment. You’ll see the ‘THEN’ response, which is how I would’ve answered the question/comment as a cast member and the ‘NOW’ response, which is the way the question should never ever ever be answered but hopefully the answers will entertain you so here we go!

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Location: Town Square. 1 hour before the parade. Most of the characters are wrapping it up for the day.

Guest: “Why won’t you let me see Mickey Mouse? I have to leave to catch my cab to New Zealand in 5 minutes, and this is all your fault.”

Then: “I’m so sorry to hear that. Mickey really has to get back home to feed Pluto, but I want to make sure you see a character before you go. Goofy is just across the way and he’d love to say goodbye to you.

Now: “You waited til the end of the trip? Seriously? And we all know you’re not on your way home. You’re on your way to Downtown Disney to grab a cocktail and come back in.

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Location: Snow White’s Scary Adventure

Guest: “My child cried on this ride. Can she get a free churro?”

Then: “Oh, I hope the little princess is feeling better. You know, Snow White gets nervous around the Evil Queen too.

Now: “I would cry on this ride too, because it’s called ‘Snow White’s Scary Adventure’ NOT ‘Snow White took a delightful romp through the forest and happened upon 7 nice friends where absolutely nothing bad happened to her.’ And I don’t think she should get a churro for free. They’re all mine. It’s a ruling created by the queen.”

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Location: Rivers of America 30 minutes prior to FANTASMIC!

Guest: “Why are all these people standing around here?” 

Then: “They’re all waiting to see Fantasmic! The show starts in 15 minutes and its been my favorite since I was a kid. I would definitely stick around to see it.”

Now: “You mean why half the park is standing at the same location at the same time? Gee, I dunno, maybe they’re all waiting for their fast pass to Haunted Mansion to come into fruition. You should beat them to it and head straight to the ride. Nothing at all exhilarating or life changing is about to happen right here 

Location: The castle.

Guest: “Are you a princess?”

Then: “That’s so sweet of you to say. I’m a royal Paige right here at the castle and I get to assist all of the princesses on the royal court. Who is your favorite princess?”

Now: “Who me? I can guarantee you princesses don’t wear name tags or wear black flats from Payless. You seriously made my day though. Why weren’t you behind the casting table the last 10 times I auditioned? Ah, well. We can only hope they make an animated film about a German/Ukrainian girl who owns two cats. Wish me luck!”

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Location: Critter Country Winnie the Pooh meet n’ greet

Guest: (looking at Pooh) “Is it hot in there?”

Then: Thanks so much for worrying about Pooh! We actually chill his honey snacks so that he can have frozen honey pops, so Pooh actually loves this time of year.

Now: Can we just savor the magic for one split second? Why are you here if not to have the time of your life? Do you also tell your children that Santa doesn’t exist and that not making the bed leads to bed bugs or something terrible? Let’s have some fun shall we?

Erika Jenko
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Disney Now and Then: The Rides

 

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I used to be a very spoiled Disney girl. After work in the character department, I would high-tail it back to the breakroom to change clothes and run back into the park. You would think that I would be sick and tired of Disneyland after spending 40 hours a week there, but as a college-kid, an affordable date night or hangout with friends meant heading right back into the park. When you go to Disneyland all the time, you start to develop your favorite rides that you don’t mind riding a million times. I’ve noticed that my ride palette has changed a little bit since I worked at the parks, and when I have the chance to go once in awhile, I choose wisely, and sometimes differently. Here’s my DISNEYLAND RIDE: Now and Then based on lands!

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FANTASYLAND

Then: If I had a small amount of time to kill, I would hit Fantasyland first, because I knew I could see a lot in a short amount of time. Pinnochio and Snow White were the rides I always hit because the lines would be short, and I’d make it a point to not leave without going on Mr. Toad. Unless I was hanging out in the park til closing, I usually gave up hope on going on Peter Pan even though it’s actually my favorite ride in the park. What I always replaced it with, was my 2nd favorite Fantasyland ride, Alice in Wonderland. The ride I would usually end the night with, was the carousel. There is nothing in the world like riding that beauty late at night seeing the park lit up.

Now: My Fantasyland habits are pretty similar, except I do everything in my power to make sure that I go on Peter Pan. I will plan an entire day around waiting in that line if I have to, because I don’t know when my next visit will be. While Alice is still a huge favorite of mine, the Carousel is the one that I can’t miss, so in a sense, Carousel is the experience that stays exactly the same for me.

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ADVENTURELAND

Then: This was the land that I spent the most amount of time in after work. Between the Dole Whips, close proximity to Fantasmic! and Bengal BBQ, it was an ideal choice when it came to the perfect hangout spot. My favorite thing was riding Jungle Cruise at night. My friends and I would usually wait until one of our favorite skippers was on, so that we could get a special trip. Indiana Jones was the other must-see for me. Something about that ride never gets old.

Now: Adventureland is so crowded! I used to be able to navigate it like a pro, but now when I head into this land, I get a little overwhelmed. While I used to make it a point to never miss Jungle Cruise, I feel like it’s not a ride I need to hit every single time anymore. To be honest, I’ve heard those jokes a lot. When I do go on the ride, I love taking a Jungle Cruise Virgin with me so that I can experience the ride from a newbie perspective, or, I have to go on the ride at night. It’s hauntingly wonderful. Indiana Jones is still a must-see. The boulder, the fire, the snakes. It’s all gold.

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CRITTER COUNTRY/NEW ORLEANS SQUARE:

Then: Splash Mountain hands down. That ride never gets old. It didn’t matter if I pulled a full shift at work and was exhausted and it was a freezing 70 degrees out, I would always risk pneumonia for this ride.

Now: Splash Mountain didn’t happen on my first trip to WDW this year and it also didn’t happen on this recent visit over the summer. It all had to do with the fact that my party didn’t like drops. As much as I thought that I would lose sleep over this one, I have re-discovered my true favorites. Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Carribean are the rides I HAVE to go on every single time. It’s Disney Imagineering at its best. Give me a ride full of animatronics and I’m on-board. Also, I have fallen back in love with the Walt Disney Rail Road. I took a full loop and a half trip last time I went to the park. It’s the best way to see the park on a busy day without sitting in a crowd.

FRONTIERLAND:

Then: Thunder Mountain was my jam. At night. What is with me and going on rides at night? I think it’s my preference because that was the time of day I went on most of these rides due to work.

Now:  Thunder Mountain keeps getting skipped. I’m not doing it intentionally. I actually really like this ride. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. It’s like I don’t want to be 100% happy when I visit the Disney Parks. I’m so sorry, Thunder Mountain!

TOMORROWLAND:

Then: I would always make it a point to visit Innoventions. Not only did I work there, but they have a spectacular view of the fireworks on their exit ramp.

Now: I will usually visit the Jedi Training Academy for a nostalgic throw-back, but ride-wise Star Tours is always top of the list. I love the upgrades to the ride and it’s a different experience every single time. Plus…Star Wars. It never gets old.

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BOTTOM LINE: I would be happy walking around Disneyland with a cup of coffee looking at flowers all day. Seriously. Disneyland is my happy place. Any ride there brings a smile to my face. If I could only go on 1 ride when visiting the park, I’d pick Peter Pan. As a kid, my mom would pull me out of school to go on this ride, and it’s impossible for me to experience this ride without hearing her voice in my head as the jolly roger flies over Neverland, “Erika, look we’re flying!”

Erika Jenko
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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!

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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.

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Shows!

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.

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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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Disney Now and Then: Crowd Control

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A few years ago, I would frequently get called ‘bumblebee’ fondly by tons of Disneyland guests as I waved a lightsaber around and wore a yellow striped polo. Can anyone guess what job I was doing? That’s right! I was guest control for Fantasmic! On top of the plethora of jobs that I had while working for the Disneyland Resort, one of the jobs I jumped for to pick up overtime pay in the summertime was guest control. Back when I worked there, it felt like the size of the park was shrinking before my very eyes as the crowds grew and grew. There was no way for me to comprehend how the guest flow issue would change in years to come, and I’m so excited to announce a few really cool changes that I saw on my Disney trip about a 2 weeks ago.

When my summer visit came around, I hadn’t been to Disneyland in 4 years, and you can imagine how much I was trying to stuff into my itinerary.

I HAVE to see “Paint the Night,” the new fireworks and I CAN’T MISS Fantasmic!, because that’s my JAM.

I knew the crowds were going to be hectic…it was a weekend during summer peak season. I used to tell people they had to wait behind a rope following Fantasmic! then re-route them through the front of the park in bumper to bumper walking traffic only to have them double back just to get into Fantasyland. I am happy to say I conquered the evening entertainment crowds on both nights. Here’s how I did it:

DAY 1:

I spent my first Disneyland day with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, and Paint the Night was our top priority. Back in my day, the evening entertainment roster used to happen back-to-back, meaning, fireworks would immediately follow the parade and Fantasmic! would follow the fireworks. What you ended up getting was every single person in the park desperately racing in the same direction toward the same show to make the same start time. If you wanted to see the face of California traffic, you didn’t have to look further than the entrance of Adventureland where the entire park bottle-necked and I would fear for the well-being of the Tiki birds. Here’s the big thing that has changed: The evening parade and Fan! (The cool way to say Fantasmic!) happen at the same time, which separates the massive traffic locations into two parts of the park rather than one. It forces guests to choose which show they would rather see and at what time. If you choose the parade over Fan!, you can still catch Fan! on a 2-show night, but you will see it much later in the evening. Whichever option you choose, you can see the fireworks immediately after (which is what they did when I worked there), in either the parade or Fan! viewing locations.

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On DAY 1, we kept things simple. We opted not to do Fan! at all, and we caught the first performance of Paint the Night. We camped out on Main Street starting at 7PM, where we were in view of both the castle and the tops of the Main Street shops (you’ll want this view for fireworks). After Paint the Night (and I was SO grateful for our awesome Main Street view. We were RIGHT NEXT TO IT), crowd control now has everyone who wants to see the fireworks step into the street off the curb. This simple change is incredible. What happens, is that the curbs become a clear walkway, while Main Street becomes a convenient viewing area. The fireworks begin 5 minutes later. If you’re looking for a way to ado the Main Street parade viewing option, this is it. Stick to the sidewalk in the middle of Main Street (somewhere near the Arcade maybe!) and once the parade ends, you take two steps into the actual street and have a perfect fireworks view. Wanna leave the park after? Just stay on the curb and walk right on out.

DAY 2:

I spent my 2nd Disneyland day with my mom, who was celebrating her 60th birthday, and it was also her first time to the parks in 4 years. We figured we didn’t want to waste time waiting around for shows, so we tried out the new fastpass system for Fantasmic!

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It’s a dream! Our fastpass told us to return to the BLUE area between 8-9PM for a 9PM show. We grabbed a casual dinner of bread bowls in New Orleans and around 8:30PM, we checked in at the BLUE area and we were escorted to our viewing location, which happened to be DEAD CENTER next to the stage management booth. When I worked at Disneyland, there was no fastpass system for the show. You camped out hours in advance, and that was that. Now, the viewing locations are divided by different names like BLUE, RED, etc. Any cast member can direct you on where to meet your leader for the viewing location that coincides with your ticket. The leader escorts your group to the location, and within that location, you can stand anywhere you like. Some people like to arrive at the beginning of their fastpass window to get even closer to the front of their assigned location, but honestly, we got a GREAT spot 30 minutes prior to the top of the show. After the show, we decided to stay in the exact same spot to watch the fireworks, and it was so cool to see the Fan! projection system used to project imagery from the fireworks show directly onto the water. While we didn’t have a view of the castle, we still had a view of various effects utilized in the show (no details, I don’t want to spoil), just a different angle.

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After the fireworks, I noticed the crowds still re-route through the front of park. I asked a CM is I could just walk straight toward Frontierland to get to Fantasyland. She explained I still had to re-route through the front of the park. My response to this was to tell my mom to close her eyes and grab my arm because we were going to move fast. What I ended up doing was walking toward Frontierland as if I was heading toward Golden Horseshoe. By the time I got over there, I noticed they were dropping the crowd control ropes and you could actually walk behind Thunder Mountain directly into Fantasyland. Can you guess where we were heading? That’s right, Peter Pan. You used to either have to wait in the Hub for clearance and race through the castle (which was impossible if you were coming from Fan!), or you would have to wait at the ropes behind the carousel (which you could only access if you were coming from Tomorrowland). Either way, it used to always be a mad dash for the ride once those ropes dropped. Here’s what they do now: They start forming the line for Peter Pan, and once the rope drops, the line gets escorted to the attraction. By the time I raced over with my mom, the line (which starts near Mr. Toad area) had already looped past the tea cups. They cut off the line when it gets past tea cups and ask you to return directly to the ride later. They do this mostly so that they don’t block a major walk-way across Tomorrowland. We ended up skipping Peter Pan, but I gotta admit, I love that they have an organized line, because the stress of pushing your way through crowds used to be unbearable. Since we didn’t have a ride to visit, we visited the restrooms behind Alice in Wonderland. What we noticed was that people were starting to line up along the Matterhorn for the final showing of Paint the Night. We ended up snagging SEATS on the bench by the restroom and only waited 30 min. for the start of the parade. Not only did we have a perfect view and SEATS, we were at the part of the route where the performers could only interact with one side of the route due to the fact that the Matterhorn was on the opposite side, which meant that the side I was sitting on got 100% of the attention from all performers. It was pretty perfect.

At the end of the day, Disneyland is still crowded at night, but it was amazing to see what a difference tiny tweaks made. We really had a magical trip!

Erika Jenko
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