Disney employees are, in a very
cheerful sort of way, the most tightly disciplined group in the
travel industry, and part of that discipline involves the use of
euphemisms aplenty, and learning the code must be part of the
initiation into the Mickey Mouse Club.
An employee is a
cast member, their timeshare program is a vacation club, and an
advocate guest is what others might call a Disney nut. Those who
create new attractions are imagineers, and one activity that
imagineers engage in is placemaking.
The concept of
placemaking is positioned as a subset of storytelling, and
storytelling is rooted deep in the legendary status of Walt Disney
During the 48 hours
of revelry at the recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of
Disneyland, Walt was quoted more often than Chairman Mao at the
height of the Cultural Revolution. And the phrase I heard most
often was that Walt Disney used to describe himself as a simple
But it occurs to me
that placemaking, not storytelling, is the most important concept
to understand in order to crack the Disney Code. One way to
understand just what exactly has been accomplished in Orlando is to
engage in a bit of storytelling oneself.
Imagine that you
are a 24th-century archaeologist who unearths the ruins of Epcot,
perhaps starting with the high-design of the Mission: Space facade.
Its symbolic suggestion of our solar system would signal that
something momentous took place there.
fieldwork shows that it was part of a 47-square-mile complex of
ruins, researchers might believe theyd discovered something as
important as the Valley of the Kings. Cinderellas Castle would
undoubtedly be thought of as the likely seat of government. (Id
give them about 100 years to figure out it was an amusement
But Disney parks
engage in other forms of placemaking. Having brought my 4-year-old
son, Dash, to Orlando during the celebration, I began to appreciate
that the experience is equally about establishing places in the
often present scary places or situations, but ones that can be
experienced in utmost safety. Dash wanted to repeat attractions
that initially frightened him most, like Splash Mountain and the
caves on Tom Sawyer Island.
familiarity breeds content. Ive noticed that since weve come back,
hes less afraid of the dark at bedtime.
With that in mind,
its possible that theres one piece of the Disney Code thats not
quite right. The success of the storytelling that goes on in its
attractions is due to the guest becoming part of the story rather
than being a passive observer. That is, the guest, as much as the
employees, become part of the cast.
" " "
congratulations to the 51 finalists of AAAs Travel Challenge, a
contest that awards $100,000 in scholarships to the high school
students who are the most knowledgeable about geography. The event
took place at Universal Orlando on the heels of the Disney
festivities, and I was honored to be a judge.
that support the program include Continental Airlines, Hard Rock
Live, Holland America Line, Marriott, MBNA America, Pleasant
Holidays and Universal Orlando.