How many layers of organization and management are there to running a mammoth operation like Disneyland for a day?
January 3, 2012 9:41 AM   Subscribe

How many layers of organization and management are there to running a mammoth operation like Disneyland for a day?

Me and my sweetie are becoming (have become?) huge Disneyland geeks in the last few years. In fact, as I type this I am physically recovering from our New Year's Eve weekend there (39 hours over 3 days) and I still cant wait for our next trip back to the park.
One thing that impresses me more and more with each visit is the scale of the production, the clockwork precision, and the high, high standard of consistency to the quality of experience.
From simply getting the rides to run to keeping the lines moving (they have a brilliant system for "hiding" their lines actually-so much of the experience at Disneyland seems to work with a magician's talent for directing your attention) to the multiple parades and shows and music acts throughout the day, it seems like it must require layers and layers of managers managing managers managing managers and so on.

I would love to hear some insight, or if you have any links to other reading that would be great too. I am fascinated by how this all runs. Is there one single person at the top of the pyramid overseeing everything? Is it simply too big for that?

What does it take to make a single day at the park happen?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Technology (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Read Mouse Tales and the insider articles at, to start.

I worked in Disneyland Store Operations. This was where the sales of physical stuff, other than ready-to-eat-here's-a-spoon food (we sold wrapped candy and fudge in boxes, but not cotton candy on a stick; we sold cans of coffee, but nor cups of hot coffee) happened.

We had a structure like this:
Store Clerk reports to
Store Lead (there were two or three per store, per shift) who reports to
General Lead (there were two or three per region) who collectively report to
Store Manager (one per major store; the little store in the queue for the Jungle Cruise was counted with the Indiana Jones and South Seas Trader stores across the "street"), one whom per day was responsible for running the entire region, with the help of managers from Entertainment/Characters, Food, and Attractions) and one of whom per shift was responsible for being "Store Operations One" and "Theme Park One" (Store Ops was divided amongst all the senior Store Ops managers, and Theme Park amongst all the senior operations managers)
And all of them reported to the administrative head of Store Operations, who reported to:
President of Disneyland, who reported to
Various structures at various times, with varying degrees of separation between the President of Disneyland and the CEO of the company.

Please note that:
A) I'm not sure if you really mean the Disneyland in California - Disneyworld is more complicated, and the parks overseas I have no idea about. DCA and the Disney Store in Downtown Disney in Anaheim are (or were) fully integrated into a single command structure with Disneyland - this is not true at WDW.
B) I worked there almost 10 years ago, and things always change.

I'm not sure what you'll want to know more about - ask here or shoot me a MeMail.
posted by SMPA at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sure lets keep it to California's Disneyland.
Thanks for the info. I'll start there.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 10:03 AM on January 3, 2012

total from-the-asshole estimate would be that if the org chart looks like a binary tree then number levels would be about ln(number of employees). so if disneyland has 10,000 employees then there would be about 9 levels from guy-emptying-the-trash up to CEO Bob Iger.
posted by H. Roark at 10:10 AM on January 3, 2012

DL used to offer a behind-the-scenes tour that took you into the tunnels and everything, but it looks like they don't do so any longer. They do have "VIP" tours that seem to go "backstage", but they probably cost a ton of money. (Here's a not-very-recent report from such a tour, which gives you some idea of the kind of info you'd get.) But there are a TON of DL nerds (I use that word that fondly) online, including many former cast members, who can answer any question you can think of. Try the forums at MiceAge, or, or MousePlanet.
posted by chowflap at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2012

Best answer: Okay, now I'm on my computer. Sorry for the typos, I was waiting for my lunch check and was somewhat distracted. I will now compensate by being excessive.

Some other points to know about Disneyland operations:

- Things are divided by region:
West: Adventureland, Frontierland, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Tom Sawyer's Island
East: Fantasyland Castle, Fantasyland, Toontown, Tomorrowland
Main Street: Main Street East, Main Street West
The central plaza (can't remember the name offhand): Strollers/etc on DCA side, Strollers/etc. on DL side
World of Disney (I think the various operations in Downtown Disney were one unit for the other operations groups, but I don't know for sure.)

- And at the same time, things are divided by activity type:
Store Operations
Facilities Operations
Food Operations
Entertainment and Character Operations (I was always jealous of their leads and managers, because their call signs were "ECCO whatever," and each shift had an ECCO 1, and I am a huge Star Trek nerd.)
Costuming Operations

Attractions handles rides, ECCO handles entertainment venues, Store Ops handles stores, etc. So your greeter at the old Muppet Show in DCA worked for ECCO and might be trying to become a dancer in the parade, while your greeter at Indiana Jones may also be a Jungle Cruise skipper.

At various times, the amount of importance these divisions carry has varied tremendously. The biggest example I can give is the "home land" issue. At one point when I was working at DLR, I was a stock runner, hat writer, leather writer, and front-of-house clerk who was eligible to work in every single area of Disneyland plus the strollers/wheelchairs rental station in DCA. At another point, I was restricted to working stock and leather writing in the West part of Disneyland only: Adventureland, Frontierland, and Critter Country, period. They sometimes changed their minds on this, largely depending on who was President of Disneyland and who they had just replaced (I was in there during the era of "once and future GAP CEOs;" my last day on the job was the "one year left till the 50th anniversary" party.)

My friends in Attractions had the same issues; I'm guessing things were like that in Food, Facilities, and the rest.

Disney strongly encourages its managers (starting after a year or so of being in any one place) to get experience running different things, such that you often have relatively clueless store managers who moved up the ranks in Food or Attractions "running" things. This means that Leads and General Leads are really important and have tremendous power at times.

There's also a varying level of autonomy in different eras. My era was one of consolidation - decisions were made from the top, for the most part, and communicated to the store managers - but there have been eras when individual store clerks and leads have had an incredible amount of discretion in terms of how things ought to be done, within the context of the Disney Way. Over time the various lands and regions have developed their own way of looking at things that has survived much of what comes down from above; the managers in each region interact with each other (especially Food and Stores) and so there's a sense that the regions have their own "flavor" across the operational grouping. Tomorrowland is far more like Fantasyland than it is like Adventureland, for instance, regardless of who you're working for, and in basically the same ways.

There's usually quite a bit of meddling and territoriality and similar stuff. Costuming wants everyone to wear shorter pants (because kids are walking on their cuffs and there is now an incredible excess of short inseam pants) but Attractions and Store Operations will write their employees up if they can see socks. When I was there (a not-great time in the annals of Disneyland management) it was very easy to get stuck between these kinds of positions, and so it helped to have a good friend in Costuming, for example, who was willing to give you a longer inseam pant than your height ought to justify by their standards. (This is probably where I point out that I was really good friends with a girl from Costuming, and I have very long legs for my height.)

Anyway, there are about 20,000 Disneyland employees. It varies depending on the season - most employees are what you call "Casual Regulars," which means they get 40 to 100 hours a week during summer and Christmas and about 25, on average, in all the rest of the offseason. There are a handful of privileged, lucky older folks (ten years ago, these were mostly ladies who'd actually seen Walt Disney in person while working a shift at Disneyland) who are full time and guaranteed 40 hours a week every week, then quite a lot of people (comparatively) who are part time and guaranteed I think it was 25 hours a week. You had to earn your way up through the ranks. There were also other groups, but they didn't tend to show up in Store Ops so I know less about how they work. Lots and lots of high school kids are temporary workers for the summer season, though. Store managers and everyone above them are always regular full-time workers - and they're exempt employees and work a lot of hours. Plenty of them make less than their General Leads, who are non-exempt. I knew a lead who tried to work over 80 hours every single week for the entirety of summer (he was logging 23 to 26 consecutive days, double shifts, etc.) every year.

There is an entire building of people who run the administrative side of Disneyland. I worked at the park for over a year and a half and I went into that building perhaps six or seven times, all for reasons (after my initial hiring interview and training) that most cast members wouldn't have. The building is stupid looking but it won awards. These people have far more in common with the folks who work in Burbank than they do with anyone, including the store managers, in the parks.

There is also an entire industry of artisans (not that many people,) and other completely behind-the-scenes workers who do stuff like clothe the audio animatronic characters, take care of the horses on the ranch, and repair the trams and monorails. I'm sure that the kids who work in Attractions must have some contact with these folks - I've seen them working in the Haunted Mansion garage and such, so they do come out during the day - but the rest of us (easily 15,000 people) literally never interacted with them. There's lots of siloing in Disney operations, and at the worker level, there is (well, was, I don't know now) absolutely zero attempt to correct for it.

One of the results is a certain amount of duplication of effort: Food people sweep floors, Attractions people sweep floors, Stores people sweep floors, Facilities people come in later and sweep all the floors too. Store Operations keeps its own separate stockpile of flashlights and batteries and bandaids and such in each location; they'll share with an Attractions manager who asks, but the expectation is that every manager's little place is basically independent for that kind of thing. Inventory is pretty much the same way, though I have hopes that by now they'll have moved to the point where it's not pulling teeth to try and find out if someone else has a Mickey hat your location is out of. They give every employee a guidebook listing the extension numbers for every single location in the park - there was great fun the day I called Alice in Wonderland (the ride) looking for the Alice in Wonderland cashier counter (the guidebook had a misprint.) Why yes, I did have to call every single store blindly, not even knowing if they ordinarily carried the darned things.

I wouldn't pay to go backstage, but then again I've been there a LOT and I know how it is. But I will tell you that during the exit of the park on a very busy day (say, five minutes after the end of the 4th of July fireworks) they open the side gates behind the Tomorrowland side of Main Street and let people walk out that way, to avoid a crush on Main Street proper. And most folks are like "ugh, no way." It's pretty much exactly like you'd expect, what with 99% of the money going to making sure that, e.g., light bulbs are always replaced at 75% of their expected lifespan on stage (the public part of the park.)

BTW Disneyland is a magical place to visit and work, really. It's just, you know, you asked.

And you know it's the kind of place that takes over your entire existence when you accidentally type "place to live and work," and then realize that it's actually a fairly accurate description of your early 20s.
posted by SMPA at 4:30 PM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh my HECK that should be Star WARS nerd.
posted by SMPA at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2012

The Disneyland Half Marathon runs part of its route through the backstage workshops; it's a little like running through a light-industrial warehouse district that just happens to have pieces of rides lying around.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:47 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

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