A few weeks ago, my dad texted me that a new Disney Store would be opening at a local mall, and the grand opening would include special appearances and photo-ops with Mickey and Minnie Mouse. Stop the presses, because in my family this is a big deal. How exciting! The question, though, became: How big of a deal? If I was home, attending would be a no-brainer, but I go to school 2.5 hours away. Would it be worth it? Should I even go? I contemplated the decision, and ultimately decided to make the visit. I’m so glad I did. I haven’t ever seen an influential example of what Disney means to people in such a simple, authentic way.
What do I mean? Well, let’s map out the logistics of the event. When it came down to it, the infrastructure for the character greeting was quite basic: ropes forming a queue in the mall atrium, a generic Disney Store backdrop, some balloons, Disney music playing, and some Cast Members on hand. That’s not that many moving parts. Certainly it must have taken preparation, but there wasn’t a whole lot to it. No extravagant lights or choreography. No big fireworks display. Just simple, stripped-back photo-op. And yet the atmosphere was palpably special.
As I stood in line with my family, I could feel that atmosphere in full force and tried to figure out what factors were making it feel this way. What I observed was a solid reminder that the Disney legacy strikes a resonant chord with people universally, and that resonance can be tapped into even without all the fanciness of a theme park. Scores of people came dressed in their favorite Disney shirts, a few children even in costume as Mickey and Minnie. Several adults in line were clearly on their break from working at other stores within the mall, still in uniform but not missing this opportunity. Each time as Mickey and Minnie swapped out positions, audible gasps would emit from the unsuspecting people they passed on their stroll to the photo-op. The contrast of something so commonplace and ordinary as a mall with something as iconic as these characters was striking. They exemplify hope and optimism all over the world, and the chance to experience what they mean to people right in my hometown was inspiring.
Pushing the envelope even further were the Cast Members. Not only were Disney Store CMs on hand from the new store, but other nearby Disney Stores sent in extra help for the big opening day. This totaled about a dozen CMs for the character greeting, and they were phenomenal. They truly made the event exponentially more memorable for guests. Imagine the efficiency you have in the parks with one or two Character Attendant CMs manning a character greeting. Multiply that until you get to 12 CMs. Then add the weight they all clearly felt for honoring guests’ time with the visiting celebrities, and the final product was fantastic. This wasn’t a take-a-picture-and-go deal. The team ensured that the guest experience (from the moment each person stepped foot in line) was a memorable one. Some CMs roamed the line telling Disney jokes, others encouraged the waiting crowd to sing along with background songs, the one taking photos got some great candid shots in addition to posed pictures, and all of them built the excitement of when the moment would arrive to meet Mickey or Minnie. They were all extremely personable; we had some great conversations as my family stood in line twice, once for each character. After we got our picture with Minnie, two of them even yelled, “Photo bomb!” and jumped in for a second shot.
I attended the event with my mom, my little sister, and my sister’s friend (who’s never been to a Disney Park and had never met Mickey or Minnie before). I was surprised by the excitement she had. The look on her face when Mickey hugged her was priceless, and sums up the way everyone seemed to feel about having the mice in town. After getting our photos, my mom and I left the mall while my sister and her friend stayed to shop at some other stores. It turns out they had such a fun time with the Cast Members that they got back in line a third time, and the entire CM team insisted on getting a picture with them.
And, like I said, there really wasn’t much going on to make this event happen. It was a welcome reminder that all it takes to make someone’s day, and to therefore make magic, is a willing attitude to put them before yourself and an execution of excellence (even in the small things) to make it happen. That’s something worth being thankful for.
Thank you to the cast of South Park Disney Store for an unforgettable experience.
(Images belong to author’s personal collection.)
Blake studies Electronic Media and Film at Appalachian State University. He enjoys making his family of six watch the parade in Frontierland and then sprint to Main Street in time to see it again. You can find him on Twitter @olddirtyblake or at BlakeOnline.com.