Guys, I'm super excited to share this interview with you featuring my cousin Cindy; about her experience as a former Disneyland cast member.
Cindy performed in various parades throughout 1985-1987: as a dancer in the 30 Year Anniversary Parade, as Alice in the Fantasy on Parade and in the Totally Minnie Parade where she played drums.
Can you explain the audition experience ?
I first auditioned for a Disneyland parade in 1985. It all began when our high school band was invited to perform at Disneyland. Dirk, the supervisor in charge of showing us around, told us about an upcoming parade audition and asked if anyone was interested. So, I thought, why not, and went to the audition. There were so many guys and girls there and I wasn’t sure I’d be chosen. It was a little scary since I went alone...I didn’t know a single person there.
They first taught everyone a dance routine then broke us into smaller groups. Eventually they narrowed it down once they had chosen their “cast”, then they gave each of us a card assignment, as either a character or dancer, along with what days we would be working. It was Disneyland's 30th birthday parade and I was assigned as one of the ribbon dancers for the summer. I was excited!
How long were rehearsals after you were cast in a Disneyland parade?
For each parade, you have several weeks of rehearsal for several hours each day, with breaks of course. It’s great because you get to meet new people, of all ages, from all over!
I became really close with two girls, Teri and Kim. We were the three blonde musketeers and all three of us were “ribbon dancers” in the summer parade. We worked most days together, which was so fun! I was just newly 17 and it was definitely one of the best summers of my life! I got to experience and learn a lot of new things and really became a more confident person.
Back then, I drove the old green “Colt” my grandparents gave to my older brother, but once he got his new car, I inherited it! I was super excited and grateful even though there was NO power steering! ( I didn’t realize I was lacking upper body strength). We would park in a designated parking area off of Ball Road, which no longer exists, then punch in with our time card and walk around the gate to the back area behind Disneyland considered, the “backstage“ area. I lived in Downey and of course you could always count on there being traffic on the 5 freeway to Anaheim.
Did you audition for Alice or were you assigned a character?
I auditioned for the Christmas Fantasy on Parade and again they narrowed it down, but this time I was chosen to play “Alice in Wonderland” on the float. I was super excited about this! Me, an actual Disney character...how cool!
Were you responsible for your own wig styling and makeup?
Once we arrived “backstage”, we gave our name, then would go into the costume area to get our clean costume for the day. We would take it to the locker area where we each had our own locker assigned. Once changed into our costume, we would go straight to the make-up/hair area to put on any make up and/or wigs required for our role as needed. We were given guidelines so that our makeup was always fresh and natural, even the nail polish (unless our character required something specific) and we were always to be in complete costume. There was no adding extra items or jewelry unless it was part of the costume.
When I was Alice in Wonderland in December, I was given a white scarf and white gloves to keep warm BEFORE THE PARADE. I remember trying to wear them while performing on the float, but was quickly reminded that they were NOT part of the “Alice” wardrobe.
Once everyone was ready for the first parade of the day, we would meet out front of the costume/make-up area and were transported on a tram to the first start location. The first parade of the day, began at the Small World gates, near the back of the park. We would end in Town Square, near the front entrance of the park.
The second parade of the day, would begin at the Town Square gate working it's way back to It’s A Small World. We were told that this was strategically orchestrated to help draw guests into the park as they would follow the parade down Main Street towards Fantasyland. There were always three or four supervisors dressed in suits who would walk along the parade route. Others were atop the Main Street buildings, keeping an eye on performers, making sure everyone was doing their part with energy and happy friendly faces.
Is it true that cast members have to smile all of the time?
As we were supervised, we were always encouraged to smile and be VERY friendly towards all of the guests. For me, this was the best part... especially interacting with the excited, happy children. Unfortunately at one point, I got the chicken pox! Apparently I shook the wrong child’s hand and was off of work for a little while.
Do cast members eat in food cafeterias?
Usually, we would have around 4-5 hours inbetween the two scheduled parades each day. Some cast members stayed behind Town Square and ate at the cafeteria to relax or they took the tram back and hung out in our “backstage” area until the next parade. A lot of the time, Teri, Kim and I would drive to lunch and/or a mall. My favorite was to drive across the street to the Disneyland Hotel and lay out by the pool until it was time to go back to work. No one would check if we were actual hotel guests back then and we met a lot of people at the hotel poolside.
Were cast members permitted behind the scenes, (i.e. underground tunnels systems) during or after shifts?
Other times, we would go into the park and ride rides and hang out with our friends who operated the rides (we didn’t have to wait in lines ether!). The three of us also made friends with one of the male singing groups that played the (underground) Tomorrowland Stage. We were able to go backstage (underground) and hang out with them a few times.
We would also go to one of the dancer’s house, who lived close by, just to hang out before we had to get back. After the last parade, we loved getting dressed up, and meet up with people to hang out in the park till late at night. No matter what, it was always a really fun time!
There were other auditions for other parades. The following year, I was a peasant dancer, a patriotic tap dancer and a drummer in Minnie’s all girl band float for the “Totally Minnie Parade”.
At one audition, I was chosen as an understudy where I had to learn several different parts for different dancers. That way in a particular parade, my job was to fill in for whoever called in sick for that day.
I was also assigned as an atmosphere characters and filled in for one of the chipmunks, as well as one of the Jungle Cruise characters and believe me, those are tough! The costumes can be hot, smelly and make you feel a little claustrophobic. You really have to accentuate your movements in those suits, but the best part is that the kids know exactly who you are and they LOVE you!
You can see Cindy playing drums 6:25 minute mark.
Having made some new, older friends definitely had its advantages too. The cast member who played Sleeping Beauty in the Christmas Fantasy on Parade (where I was Alice), was super sweet. She was 21 years old and would let me borrow her ID to go to the “over 21” places because we looked very similar. Fast forward two years later, at 19 years old, I invited her to my wedding the summer of 1987. She gave me her ID as a wedding gift! So funny...little Alice borrowing Sleeping Beauty's ID... only at Disneyland.
Over the years, I made a lot of friends from the parades and had a lot of friends who worked in the park. There was always a party or event to go to. I dated a few guys that operated the rides like Its a Small World, the Matterhorn and the People Mover. I dated some dancers, Peter Pan and even a Prince or two!
I had such a great experience working at Disneyland from 1985 - 1987....after all, it is “The happiest place on earth” and I feel so lucky to have spent a couple of my best teenage years working there!!!
Thank you Cindy for sharing your awesome memories as a Disneyland cast member!
As a cosplayer, I can appreciate all of the time and labor extensive process that goes into constructing and repairing the Disney Park costumes. Mickey Mouse alone has over 230 different costume outfits, for every occasion, season and event. Princess Belle has four different dresses.
Not only are there character costumes for meet and greets, there are parade costumes, stage costumes and cast member uniforms.
What's the first thing you want to do when you visit Disneyland? Me -- Space Mountain! What happens if you are lucky enough to go for a 2-3 day stay? Or if this is your 100th visit? There are some really cool things to check out, off the beaten path. These make great photo ops for your scrapbook or instagram as well because there aren't typically any crowds at these unique "forgotten" spots within the park. Now this is for Disneyland Anaheim, Walt's park. (WDW is Roy's park, since he took over after Walt's passing).
Climb into a classic chassis and sit back and relax as you are transported from one end of Main Street, U.S.A. to the other. Vintage vehicles include:
There are 2 stops in Disneyland park:
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle Walk-through features scenes that are brought to life with special effects. I suggest going first thing in the morning. You can see the VIDEO HERE.
Step into the Story and explore winding passageways where the epic tale of Princess Aurora is told through spellbinding dioramas.
Inspired by the film’s original Eyvind Earle artwork, this iconic attraction features 3-dimensional displays, sound and stunning special effects. Don’t miss the climactic final scene, when Maleficent transforms into a fire-breathing dragon.
Inspired by Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Sleeping Beauty Castle opened on July 17, 1955, along with Disneyland Park. Guests could not actually walk through the castle’s interior until 1957.
The drawbridge has only been lowered twice—once at the opening of the park in 1955 and again in 1983 at the rededication of Fantasyland.
Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough may close to accommodate fireworks performances.
Adjacent to Sleeping Beauty's Castle is Snow White's grotto, comprised of statues of Snow White, the seven dwarves, and a few woodland creatures. Snow White is standing at the top of a cascading waterfall. There is a bridge and walkway in front of the waterfall and a wishing well (the proceeds of which go to local children's charities). The statues were donated anonymously to Walt Disney, and he was determined to incorporate them into the park.
Singing was added to the grotto inside the wishing well in 1984 with the opening of new Fantasyland, and it is the voice of Adriana Caselotti, the original voice of Snow White. She sings the song "I'm Wishing" whenever anyone throws a coin into the well.
The Disney Gallery is located on Main Street, U.S.A. See seasonal art exhibits showcasing attractions and icons from Disney parks around the world. Explore Disney-inspired art by contemporary artists—plus historic and rare theme park concept renderings, models and memorabilia.
To the left of the castle is Fantasy Faire where you can step into a quaint medieval square and spend some time with beloved Characters, enjoy a charming show or just shop and snack like royalty.
Saturday Night put some pep in your step and dust off those dancing shoes! As a glorious band plays on stage, couples in dapper duds show off fancy footwork. Bring your best Swing, Shag, Hop, Jive and Jitterbug—or just have fun checking out the haps.
Royal Hall in Fantasy Faire is home to Disney Princesses from some of your favorite fairytales. Each Princess receives guests in her own special nook amidst magnificent surroundings and resplendent décor.
You can pose for photos, collect autographs and “hold court” with up to 3 of the world’s best-loved Disney Princesses at any given time. It’s a fairytale come true!
Fairy Tale Treasures Shop located in Fantasyland. Enter an enchanting storybook world brimming with royal apparel, toys and merchandise inspired by Frozen, Elena of Avalor and other favorite Disney Princesses.
Main Street Cinema located on Main Street, U.S.A. Venture inside a vintage movie palace for a screening of some of Walt Disney’s earliest animated films.
Classic Cartoons on the Silver Screen. Step under the elegant Victorian-era marquee and into yesteryear. Watch some of Walt Disney’s first animated efforts, playing throughout the day on 6 separate movie screens.
It’s a nostalgic journey back to the beginning of Disney animation!
Starring Mickey Mouse and a familiar roster of beloved Disney characters, the cartoons include:
Steamboat Willie is the short that made Mickey Mouse a star—and introduced the world to synchronized sound! Directed by Walt Disney and featuring his voice in the role of Mickey Mouse, Steamboat Willie was a huge hit when it premiered.
Following its success, synchronized sound effects became the new standard for all animated films and shorts.
Look at the character “turning” the popcorn maker on each cart. Every Land has a different one!
The Main Street Electrical Parade is a nighttime parade, created by Robert Jani and project director Ron Miziker. It features floats and live performers covered in over 600,000 electronically controlled LED lights and a synchronized soundtrack triggered by radio control along key areas of the parade route.
The predecessor to the 1972 Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade was the Electrical Water Pageant, a show made up of fourteen 25-foot-tall screens with electrical lights placed on them. Not long after the Electrical Water Pageant debuted, Card Walker commissioned the development of what became the Main Street Electrical Parade to provide Disneyland with a similar nighttime visual spectacle. The parade's design used nickel–cadmium batteries, which the Disney movie studio had recently started using, and Italian-made miniature bulbs that Disneyland staff had seen in light displays along Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Disney arranged for the parade's original floats to be constructed by Silvestri, the Chicago-based company responsible for those holiday displays.
Two months to deadline, Disney discovered the float contractor was far behind schedule and decided to finish the floats themselves in a backstage area at Disneyland. Disney brought on welders, electricians and other temporary workers to assemble the floats and hand-tint and install 500,000 bulbs. The engineers who helped create the parade also created the first automated parade show-control program. This allowed the 2,000-foot long parade route to contain multiple radio-activated "trigger zones". Using radio-activated triggers as each float entered a zone, the audience would hear float-specific music through the park's audio system. Each zone was between 70 to 100 feet long, and the zoned system meant that every person watching the parade would experience the same show, no matter where they stood along the parade route.
Sometimes you just get lucky!
On our way through Fantasyland trying to catch the train, we made it just in time to see this awesome parade of beloved Disney characters!
Growing up in Los Angeles in the 70s/80s we visited Disneyland on a regular basis and often after school, before "Annual Passes".
Visit our sister blog LADL for MORE Disney in the links below: