For 50 years, Mike Larson has worked in Disneyland Resort Custodial Guest Services – with no plans to retire. Mike’s gentle, friendly approach to guest service is anchored by his enthusiastic admiration for Walt Disney. I recently met up with Mike to journey down memory lane.
What was it like to work at Disneyland while Walt Disney was alive?
“He was on television every week, but he also was the CEO of the company and my boss. It was like working for the first rock star. I take a lot of pride in working here, and I still tip my hat to Walt every day.”
Did you ever see Walt Disney at work?
“I saw him three or four times while he was walking down Main Street, U.S.A. He was always on Main Street because he would park his car behind City Hall and walk into Disneyland from his apartment. When I think about all of his awards and accomplishments, it’s remarkable to know that I saw him in person, and it was so exciting because all the cast members would know when Walt was in the park.”
Can you share a special experience you’ve had as a cast member?
“I’ve had many, though the one that stands out is working at the 1995 premiere of “Pocahontas” at the Great Lawn in Central Park in New York. I joined a team of custodial cast members all hand-picked by our peers to keep the event clean. Working there felt like we brought Disneyland to Central Park, which was fascinating.”
What has kept you at Disneyland Resort for the past 50 years?
“What really keeps me going is a sense of laughter when interacting with guests and fellow cast members. I think you have to have a good sense of humor to work here, and the people here have kept me laughing. If I am having a bad day, a quick chat with a guest will turn it all around.”
Disneyland Resort Merchandise Presentation Manager Quincy Strattman enhances Disney storytelling by creating exciting shopping environments and displays at merchandise locations throughout Disney California Adventure park and the Downtown Disney District. In this “Every Role a Starring Role,” see how Quincy helps inspire guests to take home a souvenir of their visit!
Aside from caring for our four-legged cast members at the Disneyland Resort, the team at Circle D Corral also takes personal interest in caring for the environment, and what better occasion to spotlight this than Earth Day!
“Our cast members are passionate people who love to care for our animals and environment,” said Andrea Raney, a Circle D Corral stable attendant who initiated their composting program. “We are always looking for new ways to reuse our equipment and reduce our waste.”
Now, more than 90 percent of waste collected at Circle D Corral is composted or recycled. In fact, the entire facility collects only one 50-gallon trash can of waste every two days! Animal waste and bedding, coffee grounds and filters from food and beverage locations and laundry lint from the Disneyland Hotel are part of the composting mix. Each of these help Circle D Corral reach its goal of becoming a zero-waste facility.
Programs such as these have helped contribute to a 50 percent decrease in waste sent to landfills by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. For more information on this and other environmental accomplishments of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, check out the recently released 2013 Citizenship Performance Summary.
Happy Earth Month! This green installment of “Every Role a Starring Role” spotlights cast member Helen Jaco, an Environmental Integration Representative at the Disneyland Resort. Helen helps reduce waste at the Disneyland Resort by working with various departments to increase environmental awareness and help them find creative ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
From donating at least 50 pairs of shoes per day to Goodwill to recycling seven tons of food scraps per day into animal feed, the Disneyland Resort continues to minimize waste thanks in part to Helen, who tells us more about her role and the programs she supports in this video!
In the early years, Disneyland park had costumed balloon vendors who sold 25¢ balloons in three areas of the park: Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, and near the main entrance. Of course, guests can still purchase the time-honored souvenir from balloon vendors like Nick Lanham in Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure park. In this “Every Role a Starring Role,” Nick talks about his tricks of the trade and memories as a balloon vendor at the Disneyland Resort!
A few months ago, I shared with you original artwork by our cast members that was featured in the Disneyland Resort Line, our publication for cast. This time, the Disneyland Resort Line asked cast members to send in a photograph of their ‘happy place’ — an image telling the story about their favorite spot at the Disneyland Resort. Nearly 50 photos were received and eight were selected for a resort wide cast vote to determine which photo would be featured as the cover of the Disneyland Resort Line.
The results are in! Cast member Andy Neitzert’s striking photo of his 4-year-old daughter, Lilly Belle, in Frontierland (yes, she’s named for the Disneyland Railroad train car Lilly Belle, which Walt Disney named after his wife) is the cover of the current issue. When asked about the image, Andy said, “Originally, my ‘happy place’ described a location that made me happy every time I was there. For many years, Disneyland itself was one enormous happy place for me. On Jan. 15, 2010, that all changed. My daughter Lilly was born and she changed everything. Lilly Belle is now my happy place.” See the below collage of the other featured entries!
The magic and beauty of the Disneyland Resort is always sure to create romance for our guests, and those who work here are just as susceptible to its power. Indeed, many of our Disneyland Resort cast members have found “the one” working right here alongside them. Today, as we count down the hours to Valentine’s Day, I’d like to share one of these sweetheart stories with you!
Disneyland Resort Ambassador Sachiko White met her Prince Charming – Imagineer Danny Handke – during her Global Ambassador Training in 2012. On a tour of Walt Disney Imagineering, Danny led the group in a presentation on Mystic Point at Hong Kong Disneyland. Some time later, the two met for lunch to discuss Danny’s involvement as a guest presenter for The Ambassador Program Presents – a special event series for Disneyland Resort cast members.
“We got along like peas and carrots,” Sachiko told me, “and a few days later had an epic, 12-hour date here at Disneyland; we’ve been together ever since.”
Danny knew that he wanted to propose to Sachiko here at the Disneyland Resort – not only because they are both cast members and it was where they had their first date – but also because Danny is a huge Disney fan and always wanted to get engaged at Disneyland. So he planned a surprise for Sachiko, enlisting her fellow Disneyland Resort Ambassador Megan Navarette. They convinced Sachiko to attend what she thought was a work-related event in Fantasy Faire. Dressed as a king, he presented a dozen roses to Sachiko when she arrived, asking, “Are you the princess I’ve been looking for?”
The two plan to be married next month – March 21, the first day of spring. “To us, the new season means new beginnings, new growth and the beginning of a new chapter in our lives,” Sachiko said.
When I think of the Plaza Inn on Main Street, U.S.A., in Disneyland park, I can virtually smell the fried chicken … yum! However, there’s so much more to this iconic restaurant if you take the time to look around when you stop in. The video below features Steve Valkenburg, who has had the pleasure of working there for more than 30 years, along with historical footage of Walt Disney describing what would eventually become one of his favorite restaurants in Disneyland.
What’s your favorite feature at the Plaza Inn?
Earlier today, a group of our Walt Disney World Resort cast members were featured on “Good Morning America” helping to create an amazing magical moment for Give Kids the World, a local nonprofit that has provided vacation experiences for thousands of children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.
Shouting “Move that bus!” dozens of cast members helped unveil a Give Kids the World “Extreme Village Makeover” on live TV. For this one-of-a-kind project, Disney cast members dedicated countless hours to redesign and renovate the building. This beautifully re-imagined space features a registration area and lounge, as well as a floor-to-ceiling inspirational mural created with hundreds of photos of personal moments between volunteers and families.
The Walt Disney World Resort and its cast members have been involved with Give Kids the World for more than 25 years, with the resort donating theme park tickets or providing Disney character entertainment, and cast members volunteering their time through the Disney VoluntEARS program.
Chef de Cuisine Bill Orton oversees culinary training, chef recruiting and special dietary programs at the Disneyland Resort, including a new Culinary Apprentice Program he helped develop!
As the first three cast members selected for the program, Chefs Albert Esparza, Joanna Aguayo and Sean Harper are about two months into their six-month journey to become certified culinarians with the American Culinary Federation, learning culinary skills at a different Disneyland Resort dining location every two weeks.
The three chefs will learn how to create everything from pasta with clams at Wine Country Trattoria to fried pickles at Carnation Café, and also will spend a week at an outdoor vending location. Chef Bill explains more about the program and his role in this “Every Role a Starring Role!”