Disneyland Cast Members and The Cost of Living in Anaheim – The Other Side of the Story

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Todays topic is going to be somewhat controversial, as it deals with the news that has been spreading around major media news circles. That topic is the ongoing discussion about the working conditions of the Cast Members at the Disneyland Resort. I want everyone to come into this article with an open mind, as I did when researching this topic. What I wanted to do was to show the other side of the argument, that not every one is reporting on. Most reports are reported in a very one sided fashion, so my approach was to at least introduce the other side of this story.

In prepping a story about this ongoing labor debate, I contacted Disney for a statement. Disneyland Resort in turn offered an opportunity to speak to Anthony Pacini, a Program Coordinator for Disney University at the Resort. We spoke on his career with the resort, and what it is like to be a Disneyland Resort Cast Member as well as advice he would give to someone just starting their career at the Disneyland Resort. Below is my interview with Anthony:

WDWNT: How did you begin your career with the Disneyland Resort? 

Anthony: My initial time here I was actually an operating participant, so before I became a full fledge Cast Member, I worked in Downtown Disney first in a store called Illuminations, where the new Disney Home store just opened recently actually. That was my preview to the Disneyland Resort, and it’s what got me interested. So I wanted to just try it out. I had so many good relationships with the property management team that I really wanted to consider a second career with Disney so I did, so I applied. And I found myself in the Disneyland Hotels as a lifeguard. 

WDWNT: Over the course of your career at the Resort, what have been your different roles you have had over the last 10 years? 

Anthony: Oh ah, lets see I will try to list it out. I started as a lifeguard, and i started off part time originally, so I was working multiple jobs, and I was really interested in building my career so I set up some times with my managers, asking what type of opportunities  are out there, and at the time there was an orientation facilitator. So I became a Traditions Facilitator, I still had my lifeguard role, but I got to go facilitate as needed which was awesome. And then after that I got promoted in my area, so I was slowly was able to go full time, then I became a Lead. 

Then after that, I was going to (Hospitality School), there was a temporary role working for the Disney University. I was covering the operations and some leadership classes, so I did that. I did that as a temporary role, right before California Adventure (was rededicated) in 2012. So I did that, then I went back to my area after that assignment, and I decided I really wanted to build my career and get some new experience so I went into Guest Services for the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. So I would work front desk, phone room, concierge, lounge, it was all the guest services for the hotels.

So I did that for a out a year then I applied for an ongoing role with Disney University, which I worked for before. And that was supporting leadership classes this time around instead of the operations. So I moved into that role, I got it and was very excited, it was very different. This role was backstage, instead of on stage with guests. And then right after that, I have been apart of that for 4 years now, but I also had a temporary assignment where I got to work with Disney College Program. I worked in the housing in downtown Anaheim, and then I came back to the Disney University and moved into supporting the orientation program, Traditions. 

WDWNT: What would you say was your initial drive to work for the Disneyland Resort? 

Anthony:  I came from Northern California, and I worked in Hospitality in Hotels and quite a few theme parks in Northern California as well. And I got the chance to work on property as an operating participant, and there was something about it. I just wanted to work for the company. It just seemed like a good fit, I mean the idea that they might have a role for me. That I could build a second career, and I can try something new. Its just such a different company to work for. Its a different culture, its 2 theme parks, downtown disney district, the 3 hotels. I mean, at that time, I was learning how big it was and I hadn’t been to Walt Disney World at the time too. So it was just a giant different experience, that I said I just really want to work with this company. There is just something about it. The people, the culture, the relationships I had built as an operating participant made me want to apply, and I did and it worked out. 

WDWNT: During your time at the resort, were you encouraged to look for opportunities to advance your career at Disney, and if so, what kind of opportunities were there for you to go for? 

Anthony: Yeah, absolutely! It started with talks with my managers. I was really serious about the company so I think I had quite a few conversations, frequently with my managers. And my managers, most of them were promoted from within, applied, worked their way up. Became trainers, became leads, and then eventually managers in the area. And they had so many years of service too. I mean one manager I believe had about 25 years of service, started when the Disneyland Hotel was acquired. So there was all this interest and experience. And so when I asked them about it they said there was so much opportunity, whatever you are interested in, if you are curious about something, pursue it. Which, you know, is how I became apart of the Tradition team, became a facilitator. And I guess when you put yourself out there you start to learn a lot too. They also showed me Disney Careers internal application, applying online, finding whats available. You know, what are these positions outside of the Disneyland Resort, what are these inside the resort, what are you familiar with, how can we find out. And it was really nice too, because they had a good network of people they had worked with, in their past career. So I could really find out as much as I wanted, it was really nice. 

WDWNT: Do you believe Disney as a company, and Disneyland in particular, does its best to provide you the best working environment? 

Anthony: Absolutely! I say yes to that. I am a technology guy, so I am always curious about whats next and how we can use it. And I work in Learning & Development right now, so we are even looking at ways into how do we evolve, how do we change. And I think we work for the right company. This place, from benefits, to backstage things, we have banks backstage for use. We have heath services, we have a pharmacy now, there are all these things that are available. I mean we have a backstage Starbucks, those are kinda nice perks too. But its a place that you can come and use that stuff. And I see the company evolving, you know if you work for the company, you get perks like the ABC app you can login and watch shows. There are these things that they give us, and they try to take care of us and I really value that. 

WDWNT: What would you say is the main factor that keeps the magic alive inside you, every day  working at Disneyland?  

Anthony: So I think I really have a unique point of view. Because I get to be with Cast Members on their first day, and I mean there is something about it. They’re excited! I really feed off of that and I get to experience it 2-3 days a week. Which is really good, and I get to build up and prep for that. And I get to look at how I can improve that and how I can make it a better experience, and thats really important to me. I have worked for this company just over 10 years now, and thinking back at my experience, I was completely excited too and I want to make sure its awesome. And thats something, working in a backstage role, again I don’t get to see guest all the time, so its huge for me. Thats how I get to enjoy it. 

WDWNT: What would you say is the best thing about working for the Disneyland Resort? 

Anthony: Oh my gosh, the best thing? Lets see. I was talking a little bit earlier about how I love technology, and I am really a big fan of evolution of our theme parks right now specifically. I get really excited about Fastpass+ at Walt Disney World , when I go out there. I have gotten to use MaxPass a few times now here at Disneyland. I got to bring my family and fiends to come experience it. I am a huge digital guy, so I like all of that stuff. Its neat to see the evolution of all of the new rides, and overlays and like Food & Wine. I just love that there is just so much variety, its makes it really fun to keep coming back. And even working here, I cant keep up with all of it, there is always something new to look forward to. 

WDWNT: What advice would you give for a new Disney College Program Cast Member or brand new Cast Member, just starting his/hers career at Disney? 

Anthony: Great question! I think looking back at my own career. I would ask questions, get to know people. Ask about their experience. Especially for Disney College Program, having worked with some of the participants there are so many opportunities, like going to the Walt Disney Studio Lot, or going and doing the Hollywood tour, the ability to take extra classes when you are enrolled in the Disney College Program. To see those Leadership speakers come to talk to the class. Anything that you can do, especially coming into the Disney College Program, if you are interested in it and want to pursue it. Go for it. Because I think it would make it a better experience for you. And its only going to build your career  and experience to beat your own expectations. 

WDWNT: Thank you so much Anthony for talking to us today!

Anthony: Yea, it was a lot of fun talking to you. 


As a former Disneyland Resort Cast Member, I can tell you I know of ways I could have expanded my career within the Disneyland Resort if I chose to. The most popular program was the Emerging Leaders program, which took Cast Members(who applied for the program), into Managerial positions within the Resort. This gave entry level Cast, the opportunity to learn how to become a successful and knowledgeable leader within the Resort. At the end of the program, they are able to then transition their role into a permanent Managerial role within the Resort. In a statement from the Disneyland Resort: “Many of our salaried Cast started in hourly roles at the resort. Last year alone, more than 2,200 Cast Members moved from part-time roles to full time status, and hundreds of hourly Cast Members were promoted to salaried roles”. The lesson I took from researching this topic was the opportunities are there for advancement within the Resort.

The City of Anaheim itself is what, in my view, is the biggest hurdle when it comes to the living conditions of Cast Members in entry level role. I believe this is what needs to be addressed first, as this is the main reason most workers in the city of Anaheim, not just the Disneyland Resort, find trouble with living conditions in relation to their pay. If the City of Anaheim addressed the outrageously priced living conditions in the city, then we would see the living conditions and livelihoods of all employees in the city of Anaheim, start to rise. Here is some information gathered from a few websites on the average of the cost of living, and the average apartment cost in the city of Anaheim;

From bestplaces.net:

” Cost of living indices are based on a US average of 100. An amount below 100 means Anaheim, California is cheaper than the US average. A cost of living index above 100 means Anaheim, California is more expensive.

Anaheim, California cost of living is 165.20.

COST OF LIVING Anaheim, California United States
  Overall 165 100
  Grocery 106.3 100
  Health 108 100
  Housing 287 100
  Utilities 110 100
  Transportation 113 100
  Miscellaneous 104 100

From areavibes..com:

  • The cost of living in Anaheim is 4% higher than the California average.
  • The cost of living in Anaheim is 44% higher than the national average.
  • The cost of housing in Anaheim is 118% higher than the national average.

 

From numbeo.com:

Rent Per Month Average
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre $1,587.50
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre $1,281.25
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre $2,472.22
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre $2,000.00
 

There is a sense of pride with someone who works at the Disneyland Resort. It is the only Disney park in the world that Walt walked in. And that sense of pride is abundant throughout the Resort no matter what Cast Member you encounter. Disney is a place where your passion, and your hard work, will get you many places just as it did for Anthony. I don’t want anyone to come away from reading this, like I don’t think the Cast at the Disneyland Resort should get paid better. Of course I do, but there needs to be more conversation about what opportunities are given to the Cast to earn more at the Resort. As well, there needs to be a larger conversation about why it needs to cost so much to live within the City of Anaheim. I love the Disneyland Resort, and I love their Cast.

During my time there, my fellow Cast Members were my family. And like any good family we are going to come to some disagreements from time to time. I do not disagree with the fact of the Cast needing a deserved wage increase, but I do disagree with some of the rhetoric being reported on about the working conditions and the lack of opportunities  given to the Cast. They are there to find. Work hard, be passionate, and that will pay off. I can’t wait to hear of the stories coming back from within Disney, once the Cast take advantage of the recently announce program, where Disney will help pay for college to Full-time hourly employees. This will do amazing things. Again I would like to thank Anthony Pacini for talking with me about his role at the Resort. I hope this article starts a conversation from both sides, and not just one side of the story. I end this article with a fantastic video shared by Disney recently:

I don’t know about you, but there are times when planning a Disney vacation can be overwhelming! There are so many options, where to stay, when to go, is this the best price. So, I want to introduce you all to Cindy Minor and the team at Small World Big Fun. They will help you plan your Disney vacation for FREE. Contact them today!

About the author

Grant Myers

Traveling to Disneyland Resort every month since 2001, and the regular traveler to the Walt Disney World Resort. Disneyland Resort Cast Member Alumni. Love talking all things Disney related and Disney history related!

20 Comments

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  • The Army (and Reserves) needs 80K people this year, and will even pay college debt up to 65K, and give you a bonus… steady pay, healthcare… and many other things. Just saying…

    • Better hope you don’t get injured though since the VA won’t cover crap and will leave you out in the cold.
      Nice try, recruiter.

    • As a 10 year veteran who has worked his *ss off working full-time and going to school at night. I’ve had to work my way up since I finished school and fortunately now live comfortably, but the solution to have the city impose on the housing prices is absurd. The problem with our younger generation is they are not willing to put in the hard work and time required to be successful in the competitive area we live in. Yes, the Army partly paid for my education and I don’t think it’s bad advice if you want to build character and grow as a person.

  • As a current Walt Disney World cast member the only thing I need to say is that most people need to understand a majority of positions especially those in theme parks are considered entry-level the cast members who are most vocal about the lack of wages and such I would challenge them to consider how many opportunities they have had for promotion of any variety whether it’s just moving into a different department or line of business or any of the other opportunities presented to them and then consider again the lack of drive in that aspect while I do agree that there are many industries that pay not necessarily at the full list of standard of living wages most of the jobs at Walt Disney World are considered either unskilled or semi skilled positions and most people need to understand that this conversation would be the exact same as saying that a fast food worker who has done nothing to improve their life in any capacity deserves 15+ dollars an hour when you consider most skilled positions including those of nursing and EMT Are in that kind of wage right now

    • Hey, perhaps you could learn to formulate a sentence with a period once in a while instead of a unreadable run-on paragraph. I gave up after a few lines. Maybe you made a point but your writing ruined it.

  • “If you can’t appreciate what you’ve got, you’d better get what you can appreciate.”

    – Professor Henry Higgins

    • Extremely naïve but instead of engaging the topic and it’s details, it’s easier to rubber stamp a quote.

      • Hardly naive, Ed. It’s easier to rubber stamp a quote because it is true and contains all you need to do if you don’t like the situation you’re in. Nobody is forcing anyone to work for Disney. Nobody is forcing anyone to live in Anaheim. I’m not saying that it’s easy to change one’s situation. It’s hard as hell. Many people work for Disney because of the “magic.” That’s part of the trade off of working for Disney and not earning a “living wage.” Here’s another rubber stamp quote that is also true. ” You can’t always get what you want.”

  • Jared, clearly you do not live in Southern California. It’s not that the cast can’t afford to live in Anaheim. They can’t afford to live anywhere within a reasonable commute. So no the problem is not specifically Anaheim. Using your reasoning you might as well say the problem is California. The cost of housing is simple supply and demand. There are people that continue to be able to “afford” it so the price goes up.

    Cast members should be paid better. But only so much. At the end of the day operating an attraction isn’t a career and it was never meant to be. Yes they should be able to afford an apartment and food but many of the roles are entry level. Cast members just love what they do so much that many never move on.

    • I love the fact that everyone agrees that Disneyland is a wonderful place to work and to experience.
      I am glad to hear that Anthony found his “Dream Job” . I hate to burst the bubble but not everyone is able climb up the ladder being in roles that give prestige and a sense of higher regards and that are better than others because they went up ladder. Here is a shocker. Some choose not to be the center of attention. But I do see hard working honest individuals that care about the vision that Walt Disney saw in this place ” that he called “Our” land.. I have to say the majority don’t even desire to move up the ladder. Does that make them unworthy of a decent living wage? of being denied it? I congratulate all the castmembers that moved up the ladder. We all think its great if that is your dream go for it. Be proud! But you know what? There are allot more castmembers that are fantastic in their jobs that don’t exactly have the desire to be a manager or an executive or work in Traditions with the College Program castmembers and they come to work everyday happy and living “Their Dream” of doing what they love…they are great at it. It’s their role and they do it with pride and without complaining. Except for the fact because they are stereotyped as unskilled and semi skilled when they have put hours and hours into their work areas and years of devoted service to the company and they have PRIDE in what they do because they LOVE what they do. And they must be doing something right because Disneyland Resort is thriving…and they aren’t doing it without these castmembers. Walt said he couldn’t do it without them….and he wasn’t just talking about a few he was talking about ALL of his castmembers. Who decided that Castmembers are Entry level even after years of service we are professionals….Don’t talk down to us. We deserve Better. We deserve to be paid and treated with respect and dignity. Somewhere…Walt’s words have been lost in a way. He would never talk down to his castmembers. Ever. I have an idea….this all can easily change by working together and appreciating each other. Instead of Disneyland getting a bad reputation they can EASILY turn this around and do the right thing. Struggling Castmembers, Castmembers with Families. Castmembers that want to feel independent and self sufficient. Yes, California has a major problem and Anaheim as well with the rents sky high. But Disney voted against the affordable housing in Anaheim… so looks who is calling the kettle black. We love our jobs…just because they aren’t full of pixie dust and you prestige We are important to this Company… shut your eyes and see what the parks would be like if they didn’t have these positions, Custodial, Store Clerks, Food and Beverage Actors and Singers and Musicians,.Candy makers, Make up artists and hairstylists Hotel staff at our hotels to name many Really honestly….the park would go under. Stop the stereotyping and Be Fair….we aren’t asking for huge enormous amounts of money. Just to be able to survive and have living wages.

      • “not everyone is able climb up the ladder being in roles that give prestige and a sense of higher regards and that are better than others because they went up ladder”

        So who’s fault is that? Ah yes, it must be everyone else’s fault that you didn’t have a drive to move up in the company. It is easier to whine about it and hope that they make a change in the laws.
        Sorry, but your laziness isn’t an argument.

        • With 33,000 employees competition for roles exists.

          In fact most people don’t even know how many applicants with unique degrees and skill sets there are waiting in “entry level jobs” at Disneyland

          The employees there are far from lazy, and moving up in the company is far more than just working hard.

          I don’t blame Disney for competition, but I do blame them for low wages. Come on now Mickey Mouse makes less than $12 an hour.

        • It’s not a “laziness” thing for everyone. For some people it just works out that way to balance work and family life. I knew one woman who was capped out and making very good money and great money when overtime. Why move up if you can make plenty of money in an entry level position.
          It’s also very difficult to obtain additional education while working for Disney and you have to bid for your work schedule every 6 months. Can’t move up without the right education and skills and you can’t get the education when your work days constantly change and the time of day changes too.

  • American labour law and social security is one of the worst amongst the “developed countries” worldwide.
    Even when there exist differences between states.
    That’s the starting point.

    With interviews full of corparate fairy tales (….. During my time there, my fellow Cast Members were my family ….) you will not reach credibility as a research reporter. You clearely show that you’re not.
    Sorry

    • Have you ever actually worked at Disneyland? I have for 20 years and many people there are like family. So I ha have agree with that statement. The large majority of people that o know that choose to leave the company say they will miss the people they work with the most.

    • It just sounds like you’ve never had a work friend. Wonder who’s fault that is…

      Sorry. :(

  • Let’s not act like you have to live in Anaheim to work at Disneyland. Santa Ana and Buena Park skirt anaheim, and are only 2-3 miles away. You could live in Anaheim and have to drive farther to get to Disneyland.

  • I’m not sure I understood the point of the article. I figured one side would be cast members wanting living wage and better backstage conditions and “the other side” as titled in the article to be perhaps Disney’s view on current pay and benefits. What was the point of the article just to have someone fro Disney say there are advancement possibilities. I didn’t see the point of that interview. You mentioned at the end that there’s a new program to help with tuition, report on that id like to hear it and ways Disney is trying to help employees. Do most cast members live in Anaheim? What’s the cost/time for commuting? What’s the shuttle from the cast parking to backstage like? Or the cost/loss of time from parking further away. What if any benefits does Disney provide to help offset a possible lack of pay?

  • For most, it’s about choices

    If you decide you want to work at Disney, because you like it there and don’t want to look outside of Disney for work – that’s a choice
    If you’re happy at your present position and don’t want to advance your career – also a choice
    If you’re not willing to move and have a non-Disney career in another area or state, even though the cost of living is lower – that’s a choice
    If Disney isn’t paying enough for you to live in southern California by yourself in a 1 bedroom and you really want to work there – you may need to make a choice of having a roommate, having a 2nd job, etc
    If the compensation package (wages plus benefits) at any position isn’t good enough to provide the life you (or your family) want/need – you need to make choices. (For example, It may be that a part time job at Disney and a full time job elsewhere is an option.)

    I have great admiration for those working at Disneyland and love filling out the online survey, when available, praising those individuals that made the day at the resort enjoyable. If someone is happy and wants to work there – great! But, it is a choice.
    No one is forcing anyone to work at Disney (or anywhere). No one is forcing anyone to continue working at Disney.

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