I wrote the other day about a very special experience on a double decker bus at Epcot. It came at the end of the park’s operating hours. In this story, we head to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. One of the things that Cast Members enjoy most about working at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is that the park usually closes sooner than the other three parks at Walt Disney World. Most days, minus summer and special holidays, the park closes at 5:00 pm. That means that many can be home by suppertime. It’s a nice perk.
But then comes the long summer when the park closes often at 8:00 pm. Most cast members are ready to go home long before that, but many guests like to come during those last hours of the day since the weather has often cooled off a little from the hotter, stickier moments of the day.
That was my experience with my son when we came around 4:00 pm. His itinerary was, of course, to see Festival of the Lion King. Mine was to check out the new Wilderness Explorers interactive game. Less technologically-based than other interactive activities that had been introduced at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom, I wondered if my autistic son would show interest.
On the bridge leading to Discovery Island, we met up with a very lively Kalah, who handed out books to several children, including mine. She taught them all the “Caw Caw Roar”, handed out the Wilderness Explorer Call Badge sticker and sent all on their way. My son was not the least bit interested. We tried another stop or so, but his interest was Festival of the Lion King. So we journeyed on to that location.
Afterwards, we came to Dinosaur, his second favorite attraction. Not the ride—just the pre-show. He’s yet to do the actual ride. After spending quality time with Phylicia Rashad, he mentioned interest in getting something to eat at Restaurantosaurus. It was about 7:35 pm. I wasn’t hungry—I just ordered him a children’s meal (now at $7.49) and waited. And waited.
There were only two or three other people in the restaurant ordering food, but my meal took over ten minutes to come back to us. I watched through the opening in the wall what was going on. They seemed to be chatting away waiting for another food product to be readied for another guest, not thinking about going on to the other orders. When they got around to my order, they pulled out a burger from the steamer, slapped it between two buns and added fries.
I commented on how long I had been waiting to the French Cast Member assigned to the restaurant. She apologized, but offered no explanation.
We sat down and I looked more closely at the meal. Twelve French fries were all that were there at the bottom of the bucket. What was most frustrating was observing the manager on duty, who seemed more concerned about closing up areas of the kitchen and restaurant than making certain that guests had a great experience.
My son finished his meal and we left. Heading back to the entrance of Dinoland, we happened to pass by another Wilderness Explorer station where a Cast Member was busy putting things away—after all, it was now around 8:00 pm. Suddenly she turned, noticed us, and called out to us. “Hey, I met you earlier today at the bridge when you received your Wilderness Explorers Handbook.”
Kalah gave direct eye contact with my son and invited him again to do the Caw Caw Roar. He wasn’t focused on her, and I apologized for his cognitive challenges. But she would not be deterred. She invited him to see the fossils and to name some of the animals displayed there at the Troop Leader Post. Soon he had worked through a very short version of earning the Fossil Badge. I thanked her, and started heading to the exit, when I realized how really she was in no different a position than the cast at Restaurantosaurus. She wanted to get home too. She could have ignored us, or simply waved at us. Instead, she chose to interact.
I found the same thing by the time I reached the bridge at Discovery Island. It was well after closing, but several Wilderness Explorers were helping youth with the final qualifications of their badges.
It’s not easy to give your all each and every day when you provide customer service. It’s even more difficult when you’re exhausted and ready to head home. But sometimes the most important service is offered in the final hours of the day over any other time of day.