Disney Hodgepodge Two

Jack Spence Masthead

Today’s article contains another collection of unrelated odds and ends. Enjoy.

So You Want to be an Imagineer

Over the years, I have received a number of letters from readers asking me for advice on how to become an Imagineer. First, I am not, nor have I ever been an Imagineer. Therefore, I cannot share any personal insight with you. But I do know several current and former Imagineers and I can impart some of what they’ve shared with me. So here goes.

First and foremost, STAY IN SCHOOL. Get a college degree. It would be helpful if the degree was in a field you’d like to pursue in life, but any degree is better than no degree. Without a college degree, your chances of becoming an Imagineer today are practically nil unless you have a VERY unique talent that Disney finds essential.

Computer skills are very helpful.

Imagineering is not a training ground. Everyone that is hired into these positions either has had some applicable prior experience elsewhere or comes with their own sought-after skill set.

Disney has its own unique business philosophy and its own way of doing things. This is not always compatible with everyone. Many become frustrated when they find Disney’s philosophies not matching their own.

Disney likes to promote from within. The four Imagineers I know all worked at Disneyland with me in the 1970’s. This put them in the right place at the right time. Epcot and Tokyo Disneyland were in the works and the Imagineering department was expanding. These individuals all had marketable skills and came into contact with people who could help them. Like so many jobs in the real world, it’s who you know that gets you promoted. That’s not to say that you must work at Disneyland or Walt Disney World to become an Imagineer, but it can’t hurt either.

So how did these ordinary cast members prepare to be Imagineers? Joe (not his real name) took creative writing in school. He even wrote a book and had it published. My friend Jim (also not his real name) studied film and animation. For a class project, Jim created a one-minute, hand-drawn animated piece (this was long before computer animation). Joe and Jim were both able to graphically display their talents to their Disneyland supervisors and then at interviews to become Imagineers.

The vast majority of Imagineering positions are located in Southern California. Is this where you want to live?

Okay, this next part is VERY important.

Many of us have been to D23 conventions and seen Imagineers onstage, telling us all about their dream jobs. They laugh, joke, tell stories, and make us believe that every moment at work is magical. And I’m sure they have a lot of fun on the job. But they also work very hard and often, very long hours – sometimes in the middle of the night when testing a new ride, shop, or restaurant.

I would bet that most of you who dream of becoming an Imagineer imagine yourself as a show designer. You picture yourself planning the next, fantastic attraction slated to “wow” millions with your creativity. But this segment of the department is just a small part of the total team. Most Imagineers are unsung heroes. These include audio engineers, graphic designers, and lighting technicians just to name a few. One of my Imagineer friends was an Inventory Coordinator. He was charged with creating a tracking system that would handle and identify the shipping of all Disney-provided items and their movement from the West Coast to East Coast. Jessie (once again, not his real name) loved this job and excelled at it. But Jessie’s Imagineering job was behind-the-scenes. You would never see an Inventory Manager at a D23 convention, laughing and joking with the audience.

I am in no way trying to discourage any of you from becoming an Imagineer. This is a fantastic dream – one worth working for. I just want to make sure you have realistic expectations. It’s like those who want to be a professional actor. If you make it, you’re on top of the world. But it’s best to have a backup plan as well.

Best of luck to all of you.

Dirt & Water

Because of new “green” regulations, Disney cannot fill in (decrease in size) any portion of a lake, creek, or canal on their property without creating an equal area of new water someplace else. For example, construction of the new Grand Floridian DVC created the need to extend usable land out into Seven Seas Lagoon.

Grand Floridian DVC Construction

To compensate for this encroachment, engineers increased the size of Bay Lake in an area located between the Contemporary and Wilderness Lodge Resorts. Take a look.

Excavating Bay Lake

It’s All in the Details

As we know, Disney Imagineers are the “Kings of Detailing.” Storytelling is everything to them, right down to the tiniest element. But sometimes details pop up in the most unusual spots. Take for instance the construction wall that currently circles the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Ride found in Fantasyland.

An 8’x4′ piece of plywood is pretty boring. So Disney spruces things up with some simple flourishes suitable to the surroundings. Now instead of calling this wall ugly, we can call it acceptable.

Construction Wall

Disney surprised me with the construction of this new attraction. Normally, they don’t want the public to see any “behind the scenes” work when building a new ride or attraction. But in this case, they have created a couple of peek holes in the construction wall and given them a “Seven Dwarfs” theme. In the pictures below, we find ourselves at the entrance of a boarded-up mine. Between the slats we get a glimpse of what’s taking place on the other side of this fence.

Peek Hole

Peek Hole


I think what I have to share next shows great creativity on the Imagineers’ part.

Three large “billboards” have been placed along the construction wall, each near a Fantasyland attraction.


The billboard near Dumbo features Sneezy about to sneeze. Dopey is aggravating the matter by holding Dumbo’s magic feather beneath Sneezy’s nose.

Sneezy about to sneeze

Across from the Mad Tea Party we see Happy and Grumpy painting the roses red.

Painting The Roses Red

And finally near The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh we find Sleepy and Dopey enjoying some hunny.

Enjoying Hunny

I love the amount of work that Disney went to just to make a temporary wall more attractive. My hat’s off to you.

White Powder Alert

The following is not a joke. This is true.

We all love our vacations at Disney World and the other Disney resorts around the world. We treasure our time in the parks and hotels. And when our holiday comes to an end, we desperately wish we could stay a few days longer. The moment we get home, we start planning our next trip to these magical places.

Many of us secretly wish we could live at Walt Disney World if there was just some way to swing it. I know I’ve fantasized that I discover my parents had purchased land in Central Florida years before Disney began buying property here. And by some quirk of fate, Disney missed this parcel and now I’m the legal owner of the ground beneath Thunder Mountain or Spaceship Earth. This of course would give me great bargaining power. I could leverage this situation to my advantage. I could demand that Disney convert the suite in Cinderella Castle into my own, personal home. Or I could take up permanent residence in a suite at the Grand Floridian. It’s a wonderful fantasy, but of course, this isn’t going to happen. Sigh.

But wait, there is still the lottery. I could play Power Ball and win $200M. This would allow me to buy my way into permanent residency at WDW. But alas, Disney has this covered. Disney limits the amount of DVC points any one individual can buy. And even if you bought points for all your family members to cover a full year, Disney requires guests change rooms after several weeks. The same is true with a standard hotel room. Disney caps length of stays. They do this because they don’t want the ultra-rich to take up permanent residency at one of their resorts. (I’m dismissing Golden Oak in my fantasy because technically, it has been de-annexed from Disney.)

So I guess my dream of living at WDW is never going to happen. But wait, there is another way — and numerous individuals have already tried this – and here’s how.

Warning, if you’re queasy about the topic of death, stop reading now.

Many people, more than you would think, request that their loved ones bring their cremated ashes to WDW. Some ask to be sprinkled in the flowerbeds of their favorite resort, but a more popular final destination is Bay Lake. Family members rent a pontoon boat, sail to a quiet spot and hold a private memorial. After warm words are spoken, the loved one’s remains are sprinkled over the water before a cast member riding in a Boston Whaler gets too near and puts a stop to the proceedings.

Of course, this is illegal. WDW is private property. You can’t be depositing your loved one in Reedy Creek without Disney’s consent – and they’re not going to grant it. If you get caught, you’re going to get in trouble.

The Haunted Mansion is a favorite attraction of many. It’s a Disney classic. For most of us, it’s a “must see” on every vacation. We never tire of the stretch room, the ballroom scene, and the singing busts.

The Haunted Mansion is also a favorite spot for those looking for a place to deposit their loved one’s ashes. After all, the attraction is all about death and the afterlife. And if you pay attention, the Ghost Host practically begs you to come and stay here with the following lines:

“There are several prominent ghosts who have retired here from creepy old crypts all over the world. Actually, we have 999 happy haunts here, but there is room for a thousand. Any volunteers?

“White Powder Alert” is the term cast members use when it’s discovered that someone has dumped their dear departed Uncle Hezekiah’s ashes in the Haunted Mansion graveyard or some other location along the attraction’s route. Guests figure there is already so much fake dust in the Haunted Mansion that no one will notice a little extra.

Remember folks, EVERY ride at WDW is monitored with cameras. Cast members are constantly watching you. You can’t be misbehaving when riding on a Disney attraction. You especially can’t be dumping your loved one over London on the Peter Pan attraction or in the burning of Rome scene in Spaceship Earth.

So what happens when a “White Powder Alert” is called? First, the attraction is evacuated of guests and closed. Then, cast members arrive dressed in protective clothing with vacuum cleaners and unceremoniously suck Uncle Hezekiah’s ashes into a bag for later disposal. And even if you were able to conceal your activities from the cameras, all attractions are routinely cleaned. One way or another, Uncle Hezekiah is going to end up in a Hoover and eventually a landfill.

Of course, this is hardly what Uncle Hezekiah had in mind when he asked his family to scatter his ashes in the Haunted Mansion. But this is the reality of the situation. So folks, if it’s your dream to spend eternity with Madam Leota and the gang, think again. It ain’t gonna happen.

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21 Replies to “Disney Hodgepodge Two”

  1. Hi Jack

    Any idea when Disney World and AllEars will post the dates for the September 2013 Mickey’s NOt So Scary Halloween Party? I am going 9/15-9/22 and kept Tuesday Sept. 17th open for this event.

    Jack’s Answer:

    Tickets for MNSSHP usually go on sale in early May. Look for the dates to be posted in a couple of weeks.

  2. Hi Jack

    Thank you for this blog, it has reminded me about my ‘bucket list’. I plan to visit all Disney Parks before I die and if I don’t manage to do that, I’ve told my kids they have to take my ashes to the remaining parks I didn’t make it to. They have to bring me back intact though.

    Thanks again
    Heather 🙂

  3. Thanks Jack,

    Wow, this was a fun blog this week. I actually emailed it to some Disney friends.

    Though I never really thought about death and Disney in the same breath, I guess others have. Talk about the ultimate Disney fan!

    Just got back from WDW last week and man it was HOT!!! Unusually hot? Not sure but it was to this girl from Vermont. Did have some amazing food and the parks were not too crowded but we did have some technical problems with the new card system

  4. Hi Jack!

    Another great blog post! I would love to know your sources for all of this great information! We were at Disney World duirng the Easter holiday and had a wonderful time! I enjoyed sharing some of your interesting facts with my family while we were on our trip! Keep up the great work as always! Can’t wait to read more!

    All the best!
    Stacy Hines

    Jack’s Answer:

    I get my facts and information from all sorts of sources. Books, cast members, Disney literature, and my own observations just to name a few.

  5. Jack–

    Speaking of Imagineering, water/lakes, and hodgepodge, do you have any information about the “water bridges” on WDW property. I know of two: one near the Contemporary, and the other near the International Gateway. Any others? How deep is the water? Why not save the expense and build an overpass?

    Thanks in advance!

    Jack’s Answer:

    Actually, there are three water bridges at WDW. One near the Contemporary and two near International Gateway — one for guests and another backstage for cast member use.

    I have no information on the water bridges other than my own observations.

    The first water bridge was built when Seven Seas Lagoon was being excavated and connected to Bay Lake. I suspect that the Imagineers thought a roadway overpass would be far more intrusive on the landscape than the water bridge. The water bridge kept everything at “ground level” as far as the eye was concerned.

    I suspect the same was true over near the Boardwalk and Beach Club Villas. An overpass would have been very visible from the rooms that face this direction. The water bridge is not.

  6. Hey Jack,
    My daughter’s dream is to be an imagineer so I know she will read your blog again and again and again. Any information on imagineering she wants to soak up. She is 13 but has wanted to be an imagineer since “forever”. I don’t think it will put her off, but will make her work harder to see that only by sticking in at School will she achieve her dream. At School her friends and teachers didn’t even know what an imagineer is/was or does, but she educates everyone who asks her “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and she is off telling them about her favourite subject. It’s a complete joy to see her face light up the minute she starts to talk about it – and if you could get a job based on enthusiasm alone, she would be there now!
    In our local Starbucks (Dalton Park in County Durham, UK) one of our favourite staff members is coming to work in the Rose and Crown in Epcot from 4th June 2013 for a year so make sure you look after her for us.
    Your blogs are what keeps us going over the long winter months – thank you so much.

  7. Thank you for another entertaining/informative blog. I’ve always been a huge fan of Disney’s attention to detail, even in their refurbishments. It’s so much more pleasing to the eye than just seeing construction everywhere. I did not know about the dirt/water rule; that’s actually really interesting to me.

    As far as the ashes, I’m not surprised that people try doing this. I have actually joked around with my mother that if she decides she wants to be cremated, I’m dumping her ashes in the waters of “it’s a small world” so she can spend eternity listening to that song. (We are an unusual bunch.)

  8. About living at WDW: I guess I’ll have to give up our dream of moving into one of those buildings at the top of the Canadian pavilion. Realistically, a cast member once told me that a few people are living permanently in RVs at the Fort Wilderness campground, reserving 30 days at a time. Seems costly.

  9. Jack,
    What an interesting collection of topics this week, Jack! Loved reading all of them… It is nice to know that no one can permanently stay anywhere at WDW.

  10. Jack –

    I can honestly say that I have never, ever even remotely given the burial item a moments thought… However, with a small bit of ingenuity, it could be pulled off. Not on the floor of your favorite attraction per Se, but in the ground of your resort of choice. I think you could actually get it done in some areas of the parks, with adequate advanced planning and a strong stomach for mixing up an ash-cocktail with water for quick absorption into the soil…

    It troubles me that I have put this much thought into something so, we’ll, peculiar in the first place!

    Good stuff, no doubt.


  11. blog
    I too have dreamed of being left in WDW in one way or another after I kick it over. My solution is to have my ashes mixed with a little quickcreat and made into not to large rocks for skipping across bodies of water. They sink never to be seen again or even in water ways in the parks themselves

  12. Love the “hodgepodge” format! But I have to say – after your April Fool’s post I almost didn’t believe the last part despite your warning. But I guess it makes sense. I have joked with my family before about wanting to be scattered in the Seven Seas Lagoon or dusted under the partners statue – but alas – I must rewrite my will. Wouldn’t want anyone getting in trouble on my dead behalf. And as my father always said “We do not lie to Mickey Mouse”. Keep up the great work, Jack!

    PS: On the note of making construction walls “acceptable” I recently took a group of newbies to Magic Kingdom and they were so impressed with the construction facade in and around Sleepy Hollow when we ate our waffles. They thought for a moment that the buildings were complete. I reminded them to tip their hats to Disney’s amazing Imagineers who leave no stone unturned.

  13. Hi Jack,
    I enjoyed your blog entry! Regarding imagineering: I remember being in my high school algebra class once where (for whatever reason) we were having a rambling conversation, and the teacher asked us what we thought the number one priority at theme parks is. After a few incorrect guesses, he told us it is Safety. I had been to WDW numerous times even that long ago, and I remember thinking how un-fun the idea of safety was in the context of being on vacation at WDW. As adults we can all understand the truth of that idea. It means that there’s a lot of hard-core engineering that goes on behind the scenes, as you said, to make sure we have a safe AND fun time at WDW. I suppose it’s good news for those wanting to be an imagineer–there’s plenty of work to be done both on stage and off to make sure everything functions properly and contributes to the magic!

  14. Great article love the Hodgepodge theme. If all rides are so closely monitored by camera why doesn’t Disney Cast say something to those who repeatedly refuse to follow the no flash photography requests on certain rides especially Spaceship Earth where the reduced lighting combined with constant flash every single scene wrecks havoc on your eyes. Sorry had to get that off my chest. This has happened so many times and it gets more and more annoying.

    Jack’s Comment:

    I agree with you on the “flash photography” issue. It is annoying.

    I believe cast members don’t say anything because it would be more annoying for guests to hear their constant “no flash” announcement over a loud speaker than suffering through with the flashes.

  15. Another great blog – I would love my ashes to be spread somewhere in WDW but, as I live (and will probably die) in the UK, not sure if my ashes would even get past the x-ray machines at Manchester (UK) airport or Orlando airport never mind cast members at WDW. Ah well – might have to go to plan B but hoping it won’t be put into operation for quite some time yet – I still have far too much living to do! Lol.

  16. hahahaaha! That was the best trivia ever. I’ve read comments about the ashes issue before, but don’t think much about it. Pretty hilarious that it’s a common occurrence enough to have said protocol.

  17. Jack-
    In the above picture of two of the seven dwarfs painting the roses, I believe you mean that Happy and Grumpy are painting, not Happy and Doc! Great Article as always!

  18. The powder idea merits some comments.

    I live on the coast and people take people (or the powdered remains of people) out to sea on their private boat. They stand on the bow and release the urn. Lots of the time the powder blows right back on them. It is hard to get the dust out of your hair, etc. Quite a surprise.

    Here would be my suggestion if Disney would do it. Take my remains and then extract nitrogen, phosphorus, calcium, etc and then add it to the water used to grow the hydroponic plants in “Living with the Land”. I love that ride. Plus some of the plants grown there get used in the restaurants. That is a real “Circle of Life”.

  19. hey Jack
    Another well informed informational blog. Of course I have always wanted to have my ashes spread around the Haunted Mansion but since that can’t happen, I’ll have to figure out another spot lol. I also like the information on becoming a Disney Imagineer. This has always been a goal of mine so it is much appreaciated. Can’t wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

  20. Wow, Jack, you cover it all! The living at WDW section struck a chord. My son has the dream of becoming a professional baseball player. I’ve always kidded him that when he makes it to the bigs, he can buy his dear mother a permanent room at the Polynesian. I never realized that the folks at Disney realize that people would do this and have made rules so that it would be impossible. Darn! On a brighter note, I like this HodgePodge format and look forward to more in the future!

  21. Jack…..

    Enjoyed the Disney afterlife blog. Didn’t
    realize people were doing this. I guess it makes sense after a fashion. I would seem
    the Flower and Garden show would be another perfect opportunity or someplace on Tom Sawyer
    Island. Looks like something to think about
    if doing pre-arranging – lol!