How does Disney deal with bad behavior in the parks?
January 9, 2017 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Are there specific guidelines for how Disney employees should handle difficult patrons? I'm looking for responses to situations ranging from bratty kids all the way to hostage-taking.

Everything I've heard about Disney theme parks has reiterated the commitment to making them "the happiest places on earth". How do they respond when unhappy things happen? Does it vary from park to park? I'm thinking of the following sort of scenarios:

- Family of four eats at a restaurant in the park, gets the bill, complains to the head waiter that the service was too slow and that they refuse to pay.

- Two teenagers cut in line and refuse to leave or admit they cut.

- Large family is singing obnoxiously loud in line to the point where everyone is annoyed.

- A couple is making out on a bench and getting past the PG zone.

- A woman gets a text from her ex husband that he is following her in the park and has a gun.

- Teenage boy is walking around the park wearing a t-shirt with explicit language on it.

Who specifically would handle these scenarios? What do they wear? Do they have a lot of code words? How do they intervene without causing a scene and disturbing the other patrons?

Any Disney park (Disney World, Disney Land, Euro Disney, etc) info is happily welcomed!
posted by amicamentis to Human Relations (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Definitely does not apply to present-day, but Disney KGB (never an official, or even widely known term. Acutally coined by myself and my fellow Annual Pass holders/scions of Disney execs) would walk around in suits, name tags, and ear-piece communicators busting pot-smokers and very politely asking amorous couples to get a room.

I took about a 10-year hiatus from Disneyland from the mid-90's to mid-aughts and, when I returned, Disney KGB had disappeared. Or had gone deep cover.
posted by bluejayway at 3:02 PM on January 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

I spent a lot of time in the parks here in Orlando. I have seen Disney security seem to materialize out of thin air when a guest became belligerent. At least in Orlando, the Disney KGB still exists.
posted by Lokheed at 3:04 PM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

At Disneyland I've seen giant security dudes in suits just *appear* and shuffle unruly guests (it was hot day and two dads were in each other faces about to get into a fist fight about "disrespect" or something just as stupid) out of sight into unmarked doors. Apparently the entire park is just a few steps away from doors that take you "backstage". That way any "scene" that had to happen, happened out of sight of rest of the guests.

I expect all of your examples, besides the one that would required an armed response, would be resolved the same way.

Maybe it's changed, but one place that handled this stuff the opposite of the best way was Six Flags Magic Mountain circa 1997. I worked as one of those photographers that took your picture on the way in, and therefore I spent a lot of time observing how Magic Mountain Security dealt with people being denied entry into the park.*

So, instead of hustling people out of view, Security would stand, arms crossed, and let the rejected patrons just *scream* at them for an hour. And this was right in front. People who hadn't even bought their tickets yet would have to walk past this.

Magic Mountain was going after the "your entire day will be magical" market, but I'm sure some people went back to their cars after the literal first experience at the park was seeing people hysterically yelling.

*This was the summer MM had a gang-related shooting in the park, so they cracked down on gang affiliated clothing. Yeah it was profiling, but it was groups of people dressed head-to-toe in the exact same shade of red or blue. Shoes, hats, pants, shirts, bandanas, sunglasses, backpacks, everything.
posted by sideshow at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2017 [6 favorites]

Well, one way they deal is to kick people out, or even ban them for life. Various good links here.

How Disney staff are trained to respond to unhappy customers.
posted by beagle at 3:05 PM on January 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

It is possible, I suppose, that I have simply stopped doing the things that summon Disney KGB...
posted by bluejayway at 3:33 PM on January 9, 2017 [11 favorites]

My brother went to Disney World for his honeymoon. He was 23 and his wife was 20. He bought some wine at one of the parks (Epcot Center?) and let his wife have a sip of it. Suddenly two security people appeared and took my brother and wife through a side door into a security area. They asked for ID and threatened to ban them from the parks for life, but ultimately let them go with a warning.

I have no idea how they were watching, but they definitely were.
posted by tacodave at 3:36 PM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just wanted to mention that some of the bad ("bad") people may end up in Disneyland jail.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:05 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have no idea how they were watching, but they definitely were.
The parks are saturated with high-quality video cameras that are constantly monitored.
posted by erst at 4:27 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to mention that some of the bad ("bad") people may end up in Disneyland jail.

I have a whole raft of cousins that grew up in and around Anaheim and a couple of them have definitely been to Disney Jail a time or two. They told me all about it while hotboxing in the car in the parking lot >_>
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:39 PM on January 9, 2017 [10 favorites]

When I was a teenager, my friend and I thought it would be funny to play/swim in the fountains. A number of scared looking young workers came out to tell us to get out of the fountains but we were having too much fun so we ignored them. All of a sudden 2, maybe 3 scary looking dudes in black suits and sunglasses came out of nowhere and we're heading straight for us. We jumped out of that fountain and ran as fast as we could out of Epcot.

This was in 1998 I think? I haven't caused any trouble there since ;)
posted by katypickle at 5:12 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've heard reports from various blogs and such that Disney has a large number of plain clothes security as well.
posted by Jacen at 6:07 PM on January 9, 2017

There was an AskReddit about this too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:32 PM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

My former Disney cast member friend replies:
Of course I want to answer the question, but what if I want to work for Disney again when I retire?! They don't like cast members to divulge their state secrets. ;)

Remember, all this is WDW info only. Sometimes, they do things VERY differently at other parks.

Family refuses to pay: yeah, they'd probably just comp them. See: swimsuitgate [when she had to comp a guest for a "stolen" brand-new swimsuit that had very obviously never existed].

Line cutters getting belligerent: you call security for that. Extra staff around holidays SPECIFICALLY to call security to deal with aggressive guests. Line cutting is such a nebulous thing. Like, if I'm off in the bathroom while my sister is waiting in line, and I catch up to her, is that line-cutting? So really, line-cutting is mostly policed by the other guests. The exception would be if the cast member actually sees it happen, which would be at the merge point or load zone. Honestly, at WDW, the wristband system eliminates a lot of line-cutting.

Make-out session: probably would be ignored, unless/until guest complains, then, a manager or security would tell them to cut it out.

Most security is costumed; they wear Disney cop outfits. Those are the host/hostesses. Loss Prevention dress up like tourists. Shorts/t-shirts. They hang around the entrance to the parks. They wear Secret-Service-style earpieces. That is the only way you could tell them apart from a tourist. The vast majority of unruly guess behavior would be dealt with by the typical costumed security host/hostesses. The plainclothes folks are there for theft/fraud. Criminal behavior, as you know, they have the sheriff on-call.

They will, in fact, take shoplifters backstage to "Disney jail." One time I had to relay a call to custodial to clean up at the security office because a suspected shoplifter wet his pants!

Family singing loudly: Disney's not going to do anything about that. People are allowed to have fun. This I know because large Brazilian tour groups FREQUENTLY sing/chant loudly, which can be annoying, but hey, humans annoy each other sometimes when 50k+ are crammed together in a swamp!

Ostensibly, the kid with the obscene t-shirt shouldn't get past the gate. That is the park greeter (ticket taker)'s job.

The woman who thinks she had a stalker with a gun? That one, I don't know. Who does she tell about this text message? Remember that ever since 9/11 they check all bags, and they have metal detectors at the front of the parks, along with the uniformed and plainclothes security. Not that a determined individual COULDN'T enter the parks with a gun, but realistically, a homicidal husband PROBABLY has easier access to his target almost anywhere else.

My favorite unruly guest story is the guy who refused to fold his stroller on the tram. He asked for a second opinion, so I had my supervisor, who was driving the tram, ALSO tell him to fold his stroller. He wouldn't budge. Supervisor went to call security, while I got on the PA and said, "Sorry for the hold-up, folks, but we're unable to move this tram until the man in the third car, second row, red shirt, decides to fold his stroller!" A 6 foot-something guest got up and told the guy to fold his stroller of get off! :D That was probably NOT the Disney-approved way to handle that situation, but the parking lot tended to be a bit of the Wild West.

The bottom line is that Disney cares a LOT about guest behavior that is unsafe. They care a LOT about theft. Everything other than that? They care a whole lot less about.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:40 AM on January 10, 2017 [14 favorites]

My brother went to Disney World for his honeymoon. He was 23 and his wife was 20. He bought some wine at one of the parks (Epcot Center?) and let his wife have a sip of it. Suddenly two security people appeared and took my brother and wife through a side door into a security area. They asked for ID and threatened to ban them from the parks for life, but ultimately let them go with a warning.

I have no idea how they were watching, but they definitely were.

I was thinking that the wristbands might have something to do with that, but I'm not sure how anyone would be able to use that data just by looking at them unless they had a HUD giving them info on everyone they looked at, a la the Terminator ("AGE: 20" "PRONE TO SEIZURES" "GENERALLY BAD ATTITUDE"), which would be kind of cool (albeit in a Brave New World sort of way) but unlikely, so I'm guessing that she'd already been carded and the same server who'd done that happened to catch them.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:39 AM on January 10, 2017

Lifelong Disney World weirdo here. On my most recent visit (end of September) I noticed even more security than usual. Uniformed security, the black suits, even some security dogs. TONS of security, and that was just the visible stuff. There are also the bag checks at all park entrances, and now there are metal detectors as well. Disney takes security really seriously.

Lesser offenses, like your examples of the angry dinner family or the public make-out session (which, to be honest, just sounds like EPCOT on any weekend during Food & Wine Fest) are quietly handled by Disney castmembers/staff, or uniformed security if necessary. The dinner family would either be comped or sent to Guest Relations, where they'd probably also be comped. No one will do a thing about loud singing, and I've seen some questionable shirts there over the years, so I'm not sure how much is done about that kind of thing.

My only real encounter with Disney security was about six years ago when my friend and I kind of just...didn't leave EPCOT at the end of the day. All the Christmas decorations were up, and the park was empty, and we ended up lying on the main walkway between Future World and World Showcase under the Lights of Winter display just watching the lights and listening to the music. We were trying to see if we could stay until they shut everything off (and we were totally sober the whole time, I swear -- we were high on Disney magic), but eventually a uniformed security officer appeared and sternly sent us toward the parking lot. (They stopped putting those lights up after that year, and I've never forgiven them for that.)
posted by QuickedWeen at 8:14 AM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Former cast member, and all of Snarl Furnillo's answers are correct, though I believe in Orlando, at least, if the woman with the stalker texts reported it to cast, it would be referred to security who would call Orange County Sheriff and they'd take care of it from there.

Front line cast members are empowered to make guest recovery decisions up to a certain dollar amount without any management approval; that's why if your kid spills his popcorn, the outdoor vending cast member standing three feet away will usually replace it before he can even start to cry. Those amounts can vary by role or location, and if there's a greater need for guest recovery a manager or guest relations can & will take care of it, but there are internal guidelines as to what's appropriate and leaders learn pretty quickly how to sniff out scammers.

Security is everywhere, and if they're not there, cameras are. If that honeymoon above was during the Food and Wine festival or Flower & Garden, you can bet that there were plenty of extra cast members on duty watching carefully specifically for underage drinking. Food & Beverage cast get an immediate reprimand (discipline is on a point system; x points = a reprimand, y reprimands = termination; attendance is on a similar but separate ladder) and risk termination for even minor or accidental alcohol violations -- security's watching them as closely as they are guests.
posted by ThatSomething at 8:52 PM on January 10, 2017

To build on ThatSomething's comment about the OC Sheriff...

Many indoor/outdoor venues where there are mass gatherings of people conduct training and exercises to deal with many threats, such as active shooter threats, these days. The venues generally have the security forces that (at least, should) train and exercise with local law enforcement for these and several other types of scenarios.

That said, yes, the lady would likely inform park security and then they would inform local LE who would then put a plan into action.
posted by foxhat10 at 11:39 AM on January 13, 2017

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