Brett in Resort Enhancement and an iPhone Disneyland App Contest!
by, 02-28-2012 at 04:43 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, we talk to Brett, who worked in Resort Enhancement at Disneyland. On top of his time spent at Disney, Brett has also recently released a brand new App for the iPhone called "Spy Queue: Disneyland" which Disney fans will definitely find interesting! Be sure to read AFTER the interview to learn all about it and to find out how you can win a copy of it!
And now, here's Brett!
JEFF: How did your love of Disney start to begin with?
BRETT: Like many people, my love for the Disney theme parks started with family trips. We didn't have a ton of money growing up, but my parents often managed to treat my little sister and I to a Disneyland day-trip once a year or so. I remember my folks surprising us by waking us up at 4am so we could spend the next four hours in the car driving down to Anaheim from Fresno to get to the park right when they opened. Maybe it's a misguided little kid memory, but I remember it always being a surprise.
But if we want to talk specifics, there are two memories that never fail to stand out above the rest. The less life-changing one took place during the 35th Anniversary Celebration. As we walked through the gate, we were all issued an extra ticket with a Disney character on it. My mom, dad and sister all got tickets that said, "Sorry, no win." Mine had Roger Rabbit on it...and the words, "Go to the Dream Machine."
The Dream Machine was a monstrous cake/stage/slot machine set up in the hub. You would hand a cast member your "winning" ticket and step up onto the stage for a chance to pull an over-sized lever in the hopes of winning prizes ranging from a souvenir coin to a brand new car.
And that is the story of how a nine year old won a brand new car!
The bigger story happened the year before, when Splash Mountain opened. I couldn't for the life of me remember it being there the last time we visited, and could NOT wrap my little kid brain around the idea that a mountain could suddenly appear out of thin air. That's when my dad began to explain that people actually BUILT the mountain! He told me how it started with an idea and they made it from scratch. He explained the basics of rock work and decorative concrete. I was fascinated. And that feeling stuck.
Suddenly everything about Disneyland was even more magical than when I assumed it actually was magical. To this day, I feel like the idea that people, as a species, can literally make anything they can dream up. I spent the next 15 years working towards being a designer for Disney.
JEFF: How did you wind up working for Disney?
BRETT: My first job for Disney was in the College Program at Walt Disney World. I spent the summer of 2002 into 2003 working on Big Thunder Mountain and taking classes. To date, that was hands down the most fun I've ever had at a job and still count the people I met there as friends. After my tour was up in Florida, I went back to California to finish up my Environmental Design degree at UC Davis before moving to Southern California to try to get my foot in the door.
My first day out of college was at an ad agency, but I started working weekends back in attractions at Disneyland just to stay close to the action. For a few months, I worked on the Winnie the Pooh ride and drove the rafts back and forth to Tom Sawyer Island...until finally I got what amounts to a freelance gig in the Resort Enhancement department. I was hired just to supplement the team for the ENORMOUS annual undertaking that is decorating the resort for the holidays.
Luckily, I got to stick around for the next few years, still working on plenty of holiday decor, but mostly on props for the attractions and various special events. I even had the opportunity to be part of the team that put together the first Halloween Time package and the sets for the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage!
JEFF: Can you tell me a little bit about what Resort Enhancement entails?
BRETT: Resort Enhancement is responsible for almost all of the decor you see at the Disneyland Resort including maintaining and updating props in the attractions, anything you see on balconies, most of the resort’s silk floral arrangements and any of the window displays. And, of course, holiday decorations! One of the most exciting things about the department is that it owns projects from concept all the way through to installation. So, not only do you get to dream up and build something to make the guests "oh and ah" but when the time comes for it to go into the park, odds are it will be you driving the lift down Main Street at midnight to wire it to the side of a building.
It makes it very easy to take ownership of a project. The pride you get of walking into the park and seeing people stare at something that's "yours" is unforgettable!
JEFF: Do you have any favorite props or something you created that is your favorite?
BRETT: One of my proudest moments came one year when I took my parents into the park on Christmas day to show off. As we were looking at the Toontown Christmas Tree, four women started raving about how amazing Disney designers were. As they went on and on, my smile got bigger and bigger as I realized they were talking specifically about "my" tree!
JEFF: What were your basic responsibilities there? Can you give me an overview of what a typical day was like there?
BRETT: Unless it was during an installation period, for example the days or weeks leading up to a holiday, most days started at 5:00am so that we would have time to work in the park without guests around if necessary. Mornings often started with making the rounds to check on rides or window displays, making sure everything was up to snuff and swapping out or installing smaller projects. Prop changes, window displays, and so on.
Once the park opened, it was back to one of two locations to work on future projects. There was a small building backstage where most of the attractions related work happened and a large warehouse off property (about three miles from the park) that housed the Christmas team, Window Displays and Floral...and more fake Christmas trees than you could shake a forest worth of sticks at.
When I was there the Resort Enhancement team was about 20 people total and would balloon up by another ten or so during the months leading up to Christmas. It may be a little larger now; I believe they've taken on some added responsibilities since then.
JEFF: I assume you didn't get much interaction with Guests, but if you did, were there any times you can think of that you went out of your way to make a guest's visit more magical?
BRETT: All of my favorite guest stories come from the relatively short time I spent in attractions, but I have several. My favorite by far is about a family that I met. It's a very long story but it’s definitely worth the time.
Our adventure begins on my very first day wearing a Disney nametag, circa 2002, in Orlando…
It’s day two of Florida’s version of Traditions and we begin our tour of the Magic Kingdom outside the main gate. Ohhh pretty…there’s the train station…blah blah blah…berm…blah blah blah, now let’s go through the gate. Look, Floral Mickey, one of the most photographed locations in Walt Disney World. Fast Forward to our tour guide catching eyes with a little girl in a wheel chair wearing a princess hat and a birthday pin.
It was Princess Emily’s 15th birthday. Although she looked nearer to twelve, Down Syndrome had stunted her growth and given her a much more childlike appearance. Her sister, Sarah, afflicted with the same ailment, had also been stunted, but was obviously much more mobile. She was bouncing all over the place, telling everyone how lucky her and Emily were and how Disney World was their favorite place on the planet. After a brief chat, it was decided that the entire tour group was going to sing Princess Emily a round of Happy Birthday.
Randy, I think that was our tour guide’s name, told Emily to count to three so we would all know when to start singing.
“OneTwoThree,” she screamed, excited and without pause, almost before he had time to finish his sentence.
After singing Happy Birthday, we all took a moment to personally give Princess Emily our best wishes as her parents looked on with a mixture of one part pride, one part admiration, and one part barely restrained joy. Finally, we took a group picture with Emily and her family, got our hugs goodbye, and moved on to the next part of our tour, confident in the knowledge that we had just created an experience that family would never forget.
Fast forward one more time, now three years later. I’d just quit working at the ad agency and decided to pick up some extra hours at Disneyland, where I had been working weekends, while I looked for a new design position. Suddenly, I found myself spending a LOT of time at the Many Adventure of Winnie the Pooh attraction. One night, a family came through grinning ear to ear while I stood out in front of the attraction playing greeter. Being a big fan of happy people, I said hello.
Why is that important? Honestly? It’s really not…or at least it wouldn’t be if I hadn’t taken note of them for being so excited, because then I wouldn’t have realized that the same family came through the ride the next day. Or the day after that. And on the fourth day, I was finally in a position where I had a chance to have a short conversation with them before I loaded them onto the ride.
“Wow, I can’t believe you guys are back again! This is awesome!”
“We love this ride!” exclaimed the smallest of two girls.
“That’s great! What are your names?”
“I’m Sarah, and this is my sister Emily!” the excitable, shorter one continued to do all of the talking so I tried to draw out the older looking sister.
“Well hello Princess Sarah, Princess Emil…oh my god!” I don’t know what made me call them princess. They weren’t wearing costumes and that is usually the only time I’ll call kids princess. But it was definitely saying the name Princess Emily out loud that made me realize what was going on. In fact, even though they had made my day three years earlier and 2200 miles away, I would have been hard pressed to tell you what their names were until that moment. Then it all came back.
“You guys were in Florida…about three years ago. And Princess Emily here had a whole group of people singing Happy Birthday to her in front of the floral Mickey at the Magic Kingdom! I was in that group! I can’t believe you guys are here!”
Jaws dropped all around.
“Wow, Emily’s birthday was just a couple weeks ago. We usually go to Disney World, but with the 50th anniversary going on we wanted to come to Disneyland this year.”
I put them on the next ride vehicle in complete shock and then sent them through a few more times just because them being there made me so happy. Yeah, I was being paid next to nothing, but look what I had done for this family. They were all just as excited as I was (…maybe more, but that would be tough) when they realized that someone had shared that moment with them. After a few more rides and a couple of hugs from Emily and Sarah, they went to go meet up with their mom with the promise of bringing her back for a visit the next day.
No sooner had I sat down in the office the next afternoon, just before my shift started, when the phone rings.
“Hey Brett, there’s a family out here looking for you.” A smile quickly cut across my face.
“Tell them I’ll be right there.”
Sarah saw me first, and she ran up and threw her arms around my waist, hugging me tight. Emily followed close behind and then, after we were done exchanging pleasantries, I got a hug from mom too. Then came the group pictures and the kisses on the cheek…more hugs…and finally I had to break away and go back to work.
After signing in for my shift, I made my way toward the loading area and as luck would have it Princess Emily and her family we just getting on…more pictures, more hugs. While they were in the ride, I told their story to Erik, that day’s lead, after which it took no convincing to get him to fill out an NSA (for those non-Disney folks, that stands for No Strings Attached, which translates roughly to “free stuff”) for two princess crowns. Erik watched my position while I met them at the exit and said my goodbyes, leaving them with the NSA.
About an hour later, Erik saw them near the back entrance to the ride looking for me. He hadn’t spoken to them yet, so he took the opportunity.
“Brett told me all about you guys, what a great story. It’s such a pleasure to meet you…”
Defeated, Erik took over my position again. I was once again met with a great big hug! They both looked great in the tiaras they had chosen, on Disney’s tab, and more pictures ensued. Emily’s mom said she would make me a photo album of their two trips and have a copy sent to Disneyland for me.
And with that, and two more kisses on the cheek from the sister’s, they left again…this time probably for the last time. But at least they left me with a couple of days I’ll never forget. Ever.
JEFF: Those are the kind of stories that you can’t help but bring a tear to your eye. That’s what making the magic is all about. That’s wonderful! Do you have any other fun stories, maybe from your time in Resort Enhancement, that you'd like to share?
BRETT: Oh yes…There was a pigeon attack! It happened one year when I was decorating the castle for Christmas with a couple other Resort Enhancement team members. One of us had to climb up through the inside of the tallest turret to get the power cords up there for the lights that the rest of the team were putting on the outside. It's a pretty cramped space on the inside. Just an old wooden ladder running up the middle of a 4ish foot wide space, as I remember it. Also, since the upper most windows don't have any kind of covers on them, the entire ladder and any ledges on the inside are covered in pigeon and/or bat poop.
One of my coworkers volunteered to go up first but got freaked out by something on the way, so I jumped at the chance to climb up the middle of the castle. I can't overstate how gross the inside was. And at night, with only a headlamp for light, doesn't make it any less creepy. I shouldn't call it a pigeon "attack" so much as a pigeon "OHMYGODWHATSCLIMBINGINTOMYHOMEANDHOWDOIGETOUT?!?! " I startled it while it was sleeping and it freaked out and tried to escape despite the cramped quarters. So there was a terrifying flurry and then off he went.
JEFF: So, tell us a little bit about Spy Queue. How did you get the idea for the app? Why did you want to make it to begin with?
BRETT: As a Cast Member, it's very easy to get used to being able to visit the parks whenever you want and work around the crowds. So some of the most frustrating trips are when you want to give friends or family the "full experience" and you are forced to wait in lines that suddenly seem unbearably long when you're used to walking right on. I used to try to keep my friends entertained by pointing out interesting props or details that people might not necessarily notice and filling them in on the history of the attractions or designs. Sometimes people overhear and start asking questions and tagging along on the impromptu tour of the queue. I realized that was actually an experience that people really appreciated and were unable to get on the average visit.
Add to that every cast member's frustration with misinformation (which is especially funny because I would bet most of that misinformation actually comes from the cast members themselves joking with guests) and I decided to build something that could keep people entertained while waiting in line AND reward them with interesting facts that can actually be backed or otherwise verified.
JEFF: How long did it take you to develop it?
BRETT: It took much longer than I would have expected. Although, it's been a labor of love. I spend a lot of time working on it after work (I no longer work for Disney), drawing icons and graphics, editing photos, researching facts, and so on. I paid an amazingly talented acquaintance to do the bulk of the coding. All told, from concept to app store, it took almost a year, but that's including a handful of false starts.
There's still lots of work to do though! Much like Disneyland, Spy Queue will never be completed. I'm always adding new photos and fun facts and the next big steps on the functionality front will be adding achievements through Game Center and building out the map function more fully.
AND, if the Disneyland version is well-received then DCA and WDW Magic Kingdom versions are right around the corner!
Thank you, Brett , for sharing with us! Read below to find out more about SpyQueue and how you can win a copy of it.
According to its iTunes description, SpyQueue is "...one part guide book and one part Disneyland-wide game of hide and seek!
Tired of standing in line with nothing to do?
Spy Queue gives you close up images of props and decor in the lines of the most popular attractions at Disneyland. While away the time looking for these hidden gems and when you find them, you'll be rewarded with a little known fact about the attraction or the surrounding land!
Great for kids who need something to do, but even more fun for grown-ups with an interest in the history of the happiest place on Earth and a sense of adventure!"
You can check it out in the iPhone app store by clicking right here!
I spent a lot of time this past weekend playing around with the app, and right off the bat, I can tell you that I love it. Much like most of you folks, I'm a tested and true Disney fan, and I've spent a lot of time at the Parks. Waiting in line can sure be a downer, but SpyQueue gives you a great way to pass the time while waiting for your favorite attraction.
The app is broken up in each land, with attractions for each listed in them. Simply select the attraction you're standing in line for, and a bunch of photos hidden inside the queue pop up! Spend some time looking for them, and you'll be rewarded with some great little facts and tips.
Granted, this app is for Disneyland, and my usual go-to Park is Walt Disney World. However, that didn't make the app any less enjoyable for me. I broke out my photos from my last Disneyland trip to see if I could spot any of the things hidden in the queue that the app listed. I had a blast doing that, so I can only imagine how much fun it would be actually standing in line!
Brett has graciously offered us a few promo codes to give away so some of you can experience SpyQueue for yourselves!
To win, follow these 3 simple steps:
1 - Leave a comment below with one of YOUR favorite hidden things in a Disneyland or Walt Disney World queue.
2 - Go over to Facebook and LIKE the From The Mouth Of The Mouse fan page.
3 - And finally, leave a comment on the Facebook page saying "Brett sent me!" along with your MiceChat user name.
I'll pick some winners in the next week or so, and contact you via Facebook!
If you win, or purchase the app, please be sure to leave a rating on the iTunes page! Every little bit helps, so let people know what you think about it!
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
Jeff also co-hosts the VidCast Communicore Weekly on MiceTube.
LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/ftmotm
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: www.twitter.com/jeffheimbuch
FRIEND ME ON FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/jeffheimbuch