True Story: I Work at Disneyland

Nikki Jee | Staff Photographer

I went to Disneyland at least five days a week this past summer and all three summers before. It’s a bit excessive, I know, but they pay me, so it’s all good.

I’m a cashier and host for Disney’s quick-service restaurants (a.k.a. fast food). It’s not as glamorous as being a character or performing in shows, but because all of the systems in these restaurants are the same in Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure, I get to work in both parks.

My “home” and favorite location is Rancho del Zocalo, the Mexican restaurant in Frontierland, but I’ve also worked in places like Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor, Tomorrowland Terrace, Toontown and Golden Horseshoe in Disneyland. I’ve even spent time at Award Wieners, Sam Anderson’s Shake Shack, Boudin Bakery and Burrr-bank Cones in California Adventure.

Each shift begins in costuming. All costumes (Disney’s name for uniforms) fit the theme of their respective restaurants; no two are exactly the same, and none quite resemble anything you’d wear in the real world.

There are striped blouses with doily collars, paisley vests, Hawaiian printed shirts, assorted aprons and hats, boxes full of bow ties, a wall of varied belts and aisles full of slacks, all under one roof. We check out what we need at this one-stop-shop, but we aren’t quite ready to go from there.

Disney is committed to putting on a good show for all of its guests, so everything has to be just right before going “on stage.” When costume pieces are combined properly, they make up the “Disney Look.”
Do I have my nametag, belt, apron and tie on? Check. Clean black socks or pantyhose? Check. Then I have to make sure my hair is secured away from my face, I have no more than one conservative earring in each ear lobe, I’ve removed any necklaces or bracelets, and – if it’s sunny – my sunglasses are sufficiently transparent. When I’m sure my Disney Look is right, I’m on my way.

When I am at the restaurant where I’m scheduled and clock in, I hop onto a register. And I do mean hop. On a normal day during the busy seasons (summer, winter and spring breaks) more than 50,000 guests visit Disneyland each day, so we’ve got to be on our toes.

Sure, we need to be efficient as cashiers, but we want to make our guests feel welcome as well. That means we have a lot to say with little time to say it.

I open each transaction with a friendly greeting. The guests like when we fit it to the theme of the land; for example, in Frontierland, I stick with a western, “Hi folks, how’re you doin’ today?”

The kids like attention so I make sure to address them when they come through my register. A simple “Hello Princess, did you see Prince Charming today?” or “Howdy Partner, what was your favorite ride?” usually does the trick.

At the end of the transaction, I apologize to the guests who complain about the price of their meal and thank those who realize (at Rancho del Zocalo anyway) that they’re being charged pretty reasonably. If they’ve paid with a card, I make sure to use their name when I ask for their autograph on the receipt. The little ones always wonder how we know their names and ask why they’re famous. I always tell them that it’s Disney magic.

Then I finish each transaction with, “Thank you. Have a great time!”
I’ll admit, my job is repetitive and sometimes tedious. I get berated by guests for things that are out of my control, clean up their messes and answer silly questions all day long.

Still, I get the opportunity to add something personal to the show while being myself. Cinderella doesn’t get to do that.

I’ve seen Mickey Mouse without his head on and I know he doesn’t actually live in Toontown. Heck, I’ve even clocked in with Santa Claus. But the magic hasn’t died for me yet. Every time I go into the park as a guest – which is rare – I get to watch the show for myself. Nothing makes me happier than knowing that the friendly greetings and impeccable, albeit silly, costumes are just as effective at making the guests’ day memorable as a meeting with the princesses.