2020, blog, blog post, blogpost, disney, disneyworld, myblog, Uncategorized

5 Lessons I Learned from Watching Disney's “The Imagineering Story”

Recently I watched “The Imagineering Story,” a new docuseries on Disney+ about the history of the Disney theme parks. I grew up going to Disney World every year with my mom and when I wasn’t at the park, I was reading about all things Disney and watching TV specials about the Behind the Scenes of the park. Even to this day, I watch YouTube videos of Disney cast members talking about their experiences. So, “The Imagineering Story” was right up my alley.

As I was watching it, a lot of the senior executives and Imagineers started to say familiar advice that I’ve seen in my career. I was surprised that Disney employees faced similar issues at work. I wanted to take a moment to highlight some of the takeaways and lessons from “The Imagineering Story.”  

Encourage Failure and Bad Ideas

The Disney Imagineers, or WED Enterprises as they were formally referred to, were encouraged to take risks. I should stop to clarify that Imagineering is a term unique to Disney and is the combination of creative imagination and technical knowledge.  

In Episode 4, called “Hit Or Miss,” Imagineers recalled how in the 1990s there were dedicated teams focused on exploring new technologies, different attraction layouts, and new ride vehicles. 

“Succuss is about many many failures,” said Jon Snoddy, an Imagineer with Advanced Development. He goes on to talk about how they created a culture that doesn’t judge if things fail. In fact, they intend to fail! If over half of the projects succeed, then they aren’t trying hard enough. This experimentation helped them when it came time to create Tokyo Disney Sea. I love how much Disney prioritizes and values experimentation and risk. And moreover, how their team leaders support that innovation. That’s where the magic happens.   

But, Imagineers aren’t naive. One senior Imagineer, Joe Rohde (the guy with the incredible left ear piercing) acknowledges that Imagineering is very frustrating for business-minded people. There is a permanent tension between Imagineering and the business department. “Core components of creativity do not reconcile with efficiency-based business theory,” he said. How do you balance these two? 

This tension is not new. According to Disney folklore, Walt Disney was always asking his brother Roy for more money so he could do more creative ventures and Roy was skeptical and nervous. Roy was business-minded and Walt was creative and risk-taking. 

Design for the final level of the marketing funnel

In episode 3 “The Midas Touch” the Imagineers go into detail of how Euro Disneyland, later called Disneyland Paris, was built. They wanted to create the most beautiful Disney theme park and spared no expense. 

They returned to their history when building this new park, using tried and true principles. Walt Disney had four levels of detail that he preached to Imagineers. Design Imagineer Coulter Winn describes these principles as:

  • Detail Level One: You’re in the country, you see over the trees some tall buildings, maybe a church steeple 
  • Detail Level Two: You’ve walked into town, now you’re on Main Street
  • Detail Level Three: You’re looking closely at the colors and texture of the buildings  
  • Detail Level Four: You’ve gone up to the front door and you’re grabbing the handle, feeling the texture and temperature of the material 

All of these detail levels need to work together. Coulter says that at Disney they have to get to Detail Level Four to immerse guests in their story. This is where people fully buy-in and believe what you’re selling. 

These different levels of details reminded me of the Buyer’s Journey or Customer Funnel. First, you have the awareness stage when the buyer starts to hear of your brand in the distance, then they become interested and learn more about your brand, thirdly they are intent on buying your product and last they purchase what you’re selling. Just like with Disney’s design levels, your customer journey has to lead them to that purchase or Design Level Four.   

You don’t need to re-invent the wheel

With budgets as large as Disney’s it’s hard to think of them scrimping, saving and repurposing things. But, they are first and foremost a corporation focused on pleasing shareholders. I was surprised to learn in Episode 3 “The Midas Touch” that Disney Imagineers reused animatronics and set designs from an old 1974-1988 Disneyland attraction called “American Sings.” The happy singing birds, frogs, turtles, alligators, and rabbits found a new home at a more exciting ride called Splash Mountain. They fit right in next to the other Song of the South characters. Disney probably saved millions in time and money not having to design and build new characters for Splash Mountain. 

Take a look back at work you’ve previously made, whether it’s a template built that wasn’t used or a draft of a design. Could you repurpose that work? 

Don’t get siloed and stuck in your department 

When Imagineers were building Michael Eisner’s Disney’s California Adventures, they worked on a tighter budget than they had on Euro Disneyland. They were also divided between two projects. One team worked on California Adventures while the other worked on the new Tokyo’s Disney Sea, which had a much larger and looser budget. 

One Imagineer, Bruce, recalled the short-lived, much hated, ride Superstar Limo and how it was built by Imagineers who were in these tight pods, not consulting with anyone else. They had adopted the mindset of, “This is my attraction.” They stopped checking in with their peers to ask if this was good enough. They lost touch. Whereas, in previous Disney theme parks, rides were built more collaboratively. Superstar Limo only lasted one year and was later remodeled into a Monster’s Inc themed ride.

Take time to chat with or eat lunch with people in other departments at work so you can share what you’re working on and collaborate. 

Your work needs to make an impact 

One of the head Imagineers for Animal Kingdom, Joe Rhode, stated that he’s most proud of the projects that have a non-entertainment payback within them. He’s proud of the conservation station, a working research lab and a conservation fund that resulted from Animal Kingdom. 

Profits, entertainment, metrics aren’t enough to make a long-term meaningful impact. Richer rewards are needed. Who are you helping? How can your work give back to the community?  

As a kid at Disney, you don’t think much about how the theme park rides are built. They just kind of appear one day. As you get older, you realize that the project of building a theme park attraction isn’t all that different from working on a project at your work. Everyone has to collaborate, think creatively, first you build a mockup, you try to repurpose things, and you need to have a sense of purpose behind it all. 

I thought “The Imagineering Story” would be similar to the “One Day at Disney” movie that blatantly and blindly praised Disney CEO Bob Iger. But no, in “The Imagineering Story,” mistakes are acknowledged. A key takeaway from the docuseries is that when theme parks like Euro Disneyland, California Adventures and Hong Kong Disneyland were built for half the price, to please shareholders, the quality suffered, attendance shrank and guests were not happy. This modern cost-cutting mindset becomes more frustrating knowing it violates Walt Disney’s wishes. Walt is quoted as having said “Disneyland is a work of love. We didn’t go into Disneyland just with the idea of making money.” I hope that in the future, Disney can continue to balance creativity with profitability, in order to continue its legacy and because many other businesses look up to Disney. 


This blog post was also published on my LinkedIn.

blog, blogpost, debbie, disney, disneyworld, list, photos, tips

Disney World Tips

I recently went to Disney World with my mom and best friend, Emily, and I wanted to share some of my tips for having an amazing Disney vacation. 
Tip #0: This post is a thinly disguised way of me to show off my vacation photos and tell you how much I enjoyed/ am missing Disney World. These tips are pretty non-earth-shattering.
Tip #1: Be a kid. I thought lollipops were only for little kids but no, they can be for anyone and they are always wonderful. I recommend splurging on a Disney lollipop and enjoying the Tomorrowland Transit Authority ride. It slowly takes you around Tomorrowland and allows you to enjoy you lolly. 
Tip #2: Meet the characters. You’re never too old to take the time and meet the Disney characters. And I found myself talking more about my interactions with the characters than the rides, when people asked me how my trip was. In the Magic Kingdom, they now have a talking Mickey. Yup, the Mickey that we met “talked” to us and it was a pretty neat use of some fancy technology. 

 Also, when we met Anna and Elsa from Frozen, they were incredibly friendly and Anna would call little boys “little snowmen.” How adorable!

Tip #3: Go swimming. We took advantage of the nice weather and the fact that we weren’t in snowy Ohio by going to our hotel’s pool. Most Disney resort hotel pools are so incredible and even if you’re only at the pool for an hour or so, it’s a great thing to include in your vacation. 

Tip #4: Make unique photos. Be more creative than everyone else by thinking of neat photo ideas. So like we spelled Ohio with the Epcot ball as our last O. And we also mimicked Anna and Elsa when they were displayed as flowers in Epcot. Have fun in your photos. 

Tip #5: Make weird faces in your ride photos. Emily and I are experts at this. Whether it’s on Buzz Lightyear or Spaceship Earth, know where the camera is and make the strangest face you can think of. Emily and I laughed so hard when we saw the face that the other one had made. 

Tip #6: Treat yo self. I’ve been trying very hard to spend less money recently but I did treat myself to things like a t-shirt, a photo frame and a mocha from the Epcot Starbucks. I was very excited to experience Starbucks at Disney World. Pretty much the only difference is the cup. 

Tip #7: Enjoy the gift shops. They sell some incredible stuff at Disney. I’m not saying you need to buy any of it, but you should at least look at it. I mean, how amazing are those wine glasses and that beer stein? 

Tip #8: Stay on Disney property. It’s not cheap but the perks make it worth it. You get free transportation by bus, free parking at the theme parks, extra magic hour perks, and really nice accommodations. We stayed at a DVC room at Old Key West and it was a gigantic hotel room with a lovely porch that overlooked “Turtle Pond.” It also had a full kitchen, two bathrooms, two bedrooms and a washer/ dryer which we used. 

disney, disneyworld, tips, travel

Hidden Mickeys: Oh look, there’s one!

If you’ve gone to Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you’ve perhaps noticed the Hidden Mickey phenomenon. A Hidden Mickey is a Mickey Mouse shaped three-circle design that is somewhere disguised in an attraction or around the park. Some are more obvious than others. Entire books have been written about finding these Hidden Mickeys. Once you find one, you continue to see it every time you return. I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite Hidden Mickeys and funny signs that I always notice at Walt Disney World.

In Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger spin, look at the planet that seems like Earth. Notice the Mickey?

In Mickey’s Phillarmagic (in Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom) look at the right side of the stage to notice this Hidden Mickey in the French Horn.

If you stay at a Disney Resort, look around your room for Hidden Mickeys like in this lamp. 

At the Boardwalk resort, Mickey is in the carpet riding a roller coaster. 

Note the pink Mickey heads in the left and right side. 

Okay this isn’t a Hidden Mickey, but in Monsters Inc. Laughfloor in Tomorrowland of Magic Kingdom, read the notes in the pre-show room. 

A funny note from the Laughfloor waiting area

A funny sign from Rock n Roller Coaster

Another funny sign from Jungle Cruise

The Jungle Cruise is hilarious. Look for this sign before you get on the boat. 

2014, debbie, debbiegillum, deborahgillum, disney, disneyworld, gillum, packing, tips, travel

Pack with me

Make little clothes people on your bed to plan outfits

Tomorrow I’m leaving for Disney World! We go there every year so I’m an experienced Disney traveler. For tips about Disney World see this post. For tips about how I pack for my adventure, read on. (Note that some of these packing tips are specific to females.)
How to pack:

  1.    Do laundry. This way you can see all of the clothes you have to work with and so you don’t come home to smelly clothes. You’ll be shocked at how many clothes you actually own. If not, immediately go on a wild shopping spree with your dad’s credit card. 
  2. Try on the clothes you’re thinking of taking. I find that a top that sometimes looks great on the hanger, doesn’t look as good on me. (Meaning, I probably shouldn’t have bough it in the first place. Oh well.) Or I’ll find that my weight has changed and pants fit differently. (If only cookies were healthy for you…) Put on the clothes you’re thinking of bringing and look in the mirror. 
  3. Lay them out on your bed. Make piles for each day you’ll be away. This helps you visually check you’re packing shirts, pants, underwear, socks, shoes, bras, camisoles, etc for each day. Plus then it will look like you have six stylish friends laying on your bed. 
  4. Be sure you pack pajamas or comfy clothes you can also sleep in. Do not forget your pajamas. Not that I’ve ever done that or anything. Puh-lease. What kind of idiot would forget jammy jams? Psh. 
  5. Put socks and underwear inside shoes to help the shoes keep their shape and to save room. Ain’t nobody want their shoes to get crushed in their luggage. That sucks. This also makes it easy to find your socks and underwear when you arrive. No more pawing through your luggage for clean undies. 
  6. Figure out what you’re wearing the day you leave, on the plane. Wear your heaviest clothes and layer to save room in your luggage. If it turns out to be hot in the airport, be sure to make a spectacle of slowly and sexily stripping off your excess layers.  
  7. Roll up pants tightly and fold shirts. Use rubber bands to keep them rolled up. Pack pants first in the bottom of your suitcase.  Carefully place clothes in suitcase. Don’t just throw them in there. How would you like to be thrown into a suitcase? 
    Cram your socks and undies in shoes

  8. What jewelry wil you wear? Place earrings, necklaces, rings, and bracelets in baggies. Then pray to God that they don’t become a tangled mess when you arrive at your destination. 
  9. Pack toiletries. If you’re flying and checking a bag, put all your liquids in that bag. If you’re not checking a bag, put liquids into a baggie and keep them under 3 oz. My dermatologist and dentist give out tiny samples that are perfectly travel size.  Be sure to reminisce on the days before Sept. 11 when you could carry on any liquids you wanted. 
  10. Pack stuff to do. Airports are treacherous boring hellholes. So, I packed two books, my ipad and my journal to keep my occupied. I used to bring my Gameboy with me, but I’m “too old” for that now 😉 I’d encourage you to bring whatever Gameboy, Pokemon, Walkman, Tamigotchi, Furby or other 90s toy you have. Don’t bother bringing headphones, your neighbors will immensely enjoy hearing whatever you’re doing. 
  11. Play liquid Tetris inside a Ziploc baggie. New high score!

  12. Make sure there aren’t any liquids in your purse or backpack. I’ll never forget when TSA confiscated a bottle of apple juice I forgot was in my backpack. I cried for weeks. Be sure to take out your hand sanitizer, dump out your water bottle and move liquids into your little liquid baggie. Heck, even empty the liquid in your bladder, unless it’s less than 3oz. 
    Tightly roll pants and shirts while humming “Roll up”

Be sure each day you have what you need to wear. Or else.
 What I usually Pack aka Packing list for female Dummies: 

TOILETRIES

  • Facial Cleanser
  • Moisturizer
  • Foundation
  • Loofa in a ziploc bag
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Razor
  • Lotion
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush
  • Comb
  • Trial sizes of shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel

CLOTHES  

  • Walking Shoes
  • Flip Flops
  • T-shirts
  • Tank tops
  • Jacket or Cardigan
  • Swimsuit
  • Underwear
  • Bras 
  • Socks
  • Shorts 
  • Jeans
  • Pajamas

EXTRAS

  • Purse/ bag 
  • Books
  • iPad
  • Sunscreen
  • Camera (plus charger)
  • Sunglasses
  • Journal
  • iPod (charger)
All photos taken by me. Admire my awesome point and shoot photography skills. 
debbie, disney, disneyworld, tips

My Disney World Fun Facts and Tips


Planning on a trip to Walt Disney World soon? Impress your friends and family by reciting some of these fun facts and save time with these helpful tips. I’ve been going to Disney all of my life and enjoy reading books, magazines, and blogs about Disney World.

Green font = Credit goes to this Mousejunkies book

  • The voice of the ghost host on the Haunted Mansion is none other than Paul Frees, the voice of Boris from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show. 
  • The voice of the daughter of Carousel of Progress is Debi Derryberry, the voice of Jimmy Neutron and the grumpy cousin Orville is Mel Blanc, voice of Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig.  
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh rides makes a subtle nod at the Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride which used to stand in its place when you go through the first set of doors inside the ride to your back left you can see a painting of Mr. Toad delivering the deed to Owl. 
  • My mom and I did a Segway Tour
    in Epcot because we’re that cool, yes.
  • It’s a Small World is sung in English, Spanish, Japanese, Swedish and Italian.
  • In Haunted Mansion, the farthest left singing bust in the graveyard is voiced by the guy who did Tony the Tiger. 
  • Pirates of the Caribbean has 125 audio animatronic figures. 
  • Look for the Hidden Mickey on Soarin’ in the PGA West coast golf scene. Mickey is on the golf ball. 
  • There are 325 animals in the Tree of Life in Animal Kingdom. It took artists 18 months to build. 
  • The song they play on the radio on Kilimanjaro Safari is called “Hapa Duniani” by African Dawn 
  • In the pre-show video for Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom, the woman is Phylicia Rashad from The Cosby Show and the guy is Wallace Langham from CSI. Who knew? 
  • The most expensive restaurant at Disney World is at the Grand Floridian’s Victoria and Albert’s. 
  • People used to toss loved one’s ashes on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. 
  • A horror film called Escape From Tomorrow was secretly made in Walt Disney World. You can buy the film on iTunes. Knock on wood but Disney hasn’t sued them yet. It’s a psychological thriller that adult Disney fans can enjoy.  
  • The Tower of Terror is the most popular ride for employees to work at because they don’t have to smile when they work there. 
  • Employees used to joke that EPCOT stood for “Every Person Comes Out Tired.” It actually stands for Experimental Protocol City of Tomorrow. 
  • You can get married in front of Cinderella Castle…if you’re willing to say “I Do” at 8am before the park opens.  
Surprisingly, no one in Denmark
wore hats like this.

Walt Disney World Tips
  • To boost your score on Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin aim for targets that move, small or far away. If you hit the back of the first room robot’s left wrist or Planet Z Zurg’s space scooter you’ll score 100,000 points. 
  • Try on the funny hats in the gift shops and take a picture. It’s cheaper than buying the $20 hat and makes for a cute memory.
  • In general, choose the line to the left. Most people go right. 
  • To avoid crowds, start in the back of the park and work forward. 
  • Send one person ahead to get all of your Fastpasses. 
  • We like to go early in the morning, nap in the afternoon and go back to the park at night
  • Start your day early in the park which will have Extra Evening Magic Hours. So, basically do the opposite of what you would normally do. 
  • Tip: On Spaceship Earth, make a goofy
     face when they take your picture.

  • Don’t be afraid to make an ugly or goofy face. Rides like Splash Mountain, Spaceship Earth, Buzz Lightyear and more take your picture in obvious spots so pose for the camera. Then, sneakily take a picture of that picture.  
    • We bring a small backpack and share it between the two of us. It contains essentials like gum, candy, fruit snacks, granola bars, a small water bottle, phones, cameras, and wallets. 
    • To save money on food, go to a nearby grocery store and stock up on snacks. Bring said snacks into the park with you and sneakily eat them on boring rides such as the Tomorrowland Transit Authority or the Hall of Presidents. 
    • For a unique souvenir, ask the characters to sign a baseball cap, t-shirt or something like that. This way, you can show off the signatures and they won’t just sit in an old autograph book. Note: they won’t sign the t-shirt if you’re wearing it. 
    • Talk to the characters. Don’t just shove the autograph book in their face, smile at the camera and walk away. Ask Belle what book she’s reading, call Aladdin a street rat (see what he does…), bring a frog stuffed animal to Tiana, compliment Pocahontas’ necklace, or compare muscles with Gaston. Characters are always ready to play with guests. (Belle asked me what book I was reading and then I asked her what she was reading. She and the Beast were reading Romeo and Juliet.) 
    • If you wear a name tag, cast members will call you by name. We bought name tags that resemble cast member name tags and we often get called out for it by friendly employees. You can go to Guest Services and tell them it’s your birthday to get a neat personalized birthday button. Everybody will refer to you by name. 
    • All counter service restaurants will give you a free cup of water  or a free cup of hot water.
    • Attractions don’t close when the parks close. This means you can get in a 90-minute line at 10:59 p.m. when the parks close at 11 p.m. and be in the park well past closing. 
    • If you see a tree heading down the sidewalks of Animal Kingdom, stop and watch. It’s actually DiVine, an incredibly talented and camouflaged performer. Also, if you see a trash can roaming around Tomorrowland, stop and chat with it. His name is Push. See if you can spot the cast member talking into his backpack nearby.
    • My final tip is to stop and smell the roses. Take your time in the park by looking up, down and all around you at all of the details that the Imagineers have put in. Notice the Hidden Mickeys, listen to the music, and talk to the cast members. It’s the little quirky details that are the things you remember most. 

    The Main Street band plays the Princess and the Frog song “Human Again” 
    It’s unpredictable moments like this that can be the most fun. 

    I’ve been going to Disney ever since I can remember. 
    Here’s me when I’m 13. You have to love the classic photo in front of Cinderella castle. 

    Last year at Animal Kingdom. This is one of the least crowded parks. 
    Me when I’m 13. Please note the Disney T-shirt, hat, pin lanyard
     and Donald Duck stuffed animal. I love my Disney stuff. 

    Me and Aladdin. Note my name tag, pin and Belle t-shirt. 🙂