Imagine being at Magic Kingdom for a private party complete with a red carpet entrance, an exclusive fireworks show, and more food than you could possibly want. It’s not a company renting out the park or Club 33 event. It is the east coast Cast Member Service Celebration party and the only way to get in is time. Disney exclusively invited me to see what happens during the event for Cast Members celebrating a milestone anniversary with the company. I have been very fortunate to attend many parties inside Disney Parks for attraction and land grand openings along with corporate events, but this was unlike anything I have ever experienced before.
You may have noticed little pins on Cast Member nametags when visiting Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and other Disney destinations worldwide. These little pins are Service Awards, and they’re given out to part-time and full-time Cast Members. You’ll probably see a small Steamboat Willie pin the most because it’s the first-year Service Award. Additional pins and awards are presented every five years starting with the fifth anniversary. Once Cast Members hit their ten-year anniversary with The Walt Disney Company, they are invited to attend a Service Celebration party.
Service Awards are a Cast Member tradition dating back to the days of Walt Disney. Disneyland Cast Members were presented with the very first Service Awards in 1965 during the park’s Tencennial Celebration. Walt Disney World adopted the tradition in 1971 when the resort opened. The tradition has grown and evolved over the years, but at its core, it’s still about saying thank you to the most dedicated Disney Cast Members.
Fun Fact! Disney Legend Stan Lee was given a Service Award statue with Spider-Man and Mickey Mouse for working 75 years.
The party I attended at Magic Kingdom was celebrating approximately eleven thousand Cast Members who reached the ten-year milestone with The Walt Disney Company. The east coast celebration extends beyond Walt Disney World to corporate-based Cast Members and even Disney Cruise Line. Disneyland Resort holds a similar event for Cast Members based on the west coast. Each Cast Member gets to invite a guest to share the special night with.
Last year’s Service Celebration included twenty-six Cast Members who joined the company in the opening year of Walt Disney World. This year, fifteen Cast Members were celebrating fifty years with the resort. The bigger the milestone, the more perks you get including hotel stays and private receptions in some of the Magic Kingdom table service restaurants.
Why close down Magic Kingdom early to guests and invest so much in a party for Cast Members? According to Rebecca Godsil, Cast Programmer Manager with Cast Activities, Recognition & Experience, “They work so hard to make magic for our guests, so we work hard to make magic for them.” Beyond the Service Celebration, Rebecca and her team work throughout the year on smaller ways to say thank you and show special recognition.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios was home to the Service Celebration party at one point in time, but Magic Kingdom provides a special atmosphere that can’t be matched. As previously stated, Cast Members walk down Main Street, U.S.A. on a red carpet with leadership on both sides applauding for hours. At the end of the red carpet was Jeff Vahle, President of Walt Disney World, who was happily meeting, chatting, and taking photos with fellow Cast Members. Once Cast Members are inside the park, they have the difficult task of deciding what to do until the party ends at midnight.
Just like Disney After Hours or one of Magic Kingdom’s holiday parties, attractions are open in Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland. Cast Members who don’t visit the park often might take advantage of little-to-no waits at the rides, but many were meeting characters. The event is a special occasion and requires a lot of fun characters, but also many rare ones. To really understand the number of characters, check out the list:
Mickey & Minnie Mouse, Donald & Daisy Duck, Goofy & Pluto, Chip & Dale, Clarabelle Cow & Horace Horsecollar, Chicken Little, Mike & Sully, Stitch & Friends, Judy Hopps & Nick Wilde, Buzz Lightyear, Edna Mode, WALL-E, Alice, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, White Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh & Friends, Snow White & Dopey, Belle & Beast, Ariel & Prince Eric, Robin Hood & Friar Tuck, Sheriff & Prince John, Anna & Elsa, Aurora & Prince Phillip, Cinderella & Prince Charming, Mulan & Mushu, Elena of Avalor, Pinocchio & Friends, Peter Pan & Wendy, Captain Hook & Smee, Rapunzel & Flynn Rider, Friends from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Princess Tiana & Prince Naveen, Hitchhiking Ghosts, Haunted Mansion Residents, Ballroom Dancing Ghosts, Woody & Friends, Jose Carioca & Panchito, Mirabel, Raya, Moana, Aladdin & Jasmine, Geni & Abu, Pocahontas & Meeko, Miguel, Villains & Friends.
Most of the characters had little to no wait early in the night. Mickey & Minnie Mouse along with Donald & Daisy Duck had a line the entire night next to the Partners Statue with the Cinderella Castle backdrop. However, The Haunted Mansion was the go-to place because of the Hitchhiking Ghosts and the elaborate choreography of the Ballroom Dancing Ghosts. Getting bored in long character lines wasn’t a problem with DJs and live entertainment set up in every land of the park and the Cinderella Castle stage.
It wouldn’t be a night in Magic Kingdom without fireworks, and Disney really puts on a show. Disney Enchantment was shown in a special presentation, but what makes it so special? The spectacular kicks off with a small section from the retired fireworks show Wishes and the soon-returning Happily Ever After. Hearing Wishes in Magic Kingdom after so many years was a true highlight.
Cast Members who aren’t riding attractions, meeting characters, or catching up with old friends are most likely eating and drinking the night away. Disney makes it really easy to accomplish with buffets throughout the entire park and complimentary quick service food. The star of the night is the Legendary Shrimp Cocktail. Every Cast Member knows about the legendary shrimp, and you’d be pressed to find larger bowls of shrimp cocktail anywhere else. In fact, 5,500 pounds are served at each event. The shrimp is impressive but not as impressive as the themed ice sculptures in every land.
A buffet with salad, slow-roasted beef, braised chicken breast and thighs, and seafood paella is hard to pass up, but very easy when you can eat all the quick service food you want. There is nothing more strange than walking up to Casey’s Corner and ordering Corn Dog Nuggets that cost nothing. If the dessert buffet wasn’t eye-catching enough, Cast Members can walk to Aloha Isle and grab a free Dole Whip. A long night in Magic Kingdom requires carbs which makes unlimited Mickey Pretzels, churros, and popcorn a must.
My first major media event was the opening of New Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom in December 2012. I had never seen a party like it before in a theme park, and it was my first time ever having a drink in Magic Kingdom. The alcohol policy has changed over the years, and now adults can enjoy alcoholic beverages at table service restaurants. During the Service Celebration party, Cast Members were treated to a specialty cocktail, beer, wine, soft drinks, hot beverages, and water at bars throughout the park. The number of bars felt similar to the old adage of Disney trash cans being only 30 feet apart, but the same could be said of the “Legendary Shrimp.”
Cast Members who are fortunate enough to make it to a Service Celebration milestone party are treated to an event they’ll never forget. Disney was not able to share a budget figure for how much this party costs, but it has to be extraordinary when you consider they close the park early, serve unlimited free food and drinks at quick service restaurants, bars, buffets, and carts, keep attractions open, provide more character meet and greets than hours in the night, set the mood with live entertainment throughout Magic Kingdom, and of course, the special fireworks presentation.
Why spend the money on a celebration of that size when Disney could settle for simple gifts? Godsil explained, “The Walt Disney Company is steeped in long-standing traditions, one of which includes recognizing Cast Members, Crew Members, Imagineers, and Employees for their years of service through special Service Awards and Pins, as well as Service Celebrations. Our Cast Members make magic for countless Guests and other Cast Members, so the Service Celebration is a moment where Cast Members can make magical memories with their loved ones and fellow Cast Members.”
Cast Members deserve a party on this level for reaching milestone anniversaries with The Walt Disney Company. Those who are lucky enough to attend one are treated to a party that goes above and beyond. It was truly an honor being able to attend a Service Celebration party at Magic Kingdom and a memory I will cherish. Cast Members are shown recognition through these parties and in many other ways, but guests can also recognize Cast Members going above and beyond with a Cast Compliment through My Disney Experience, popping in at Guest Relations, or writing a letter.