8 Lessons Learned from Disney
Event takeaways from the most magical place on earth
Disney is known as “the most magical place” on earth. On July 17, 1955 in Anaheim, California Disneyland was opened to the public and instantly became a huge attraction. People from all over the world started to travel to Southern California to experience the magic of Disney from the characters and cartoons that they loved.
On October 1, 1971 Disney World was opened and now today there are twelve different Disney parks to experience all over the world.
This past weekend my daughter Gemma made her first trip to Disney with my wife, my parents, and my siblings.
It was magical getting to experience everything through her eyes.
Sharing my love of Star Wars, Toy Story, Frozen, and a Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream with her and the rest of my family was something I’ll never forget (my daughter isn’t even four yet so she probably will forget it though).
“Events are what people attend. Experiences are what people remember.” – Sean Specie
If we want to create lasting memories for our guests and attendees there’s a lot to be learned from Disney’s parks and attractions.
Recently I hosted a Clubhouse room about “Event Lessons learned from Disney World.” Strangers and friends alike came to share their experiences and memories, their insights and thoughts about what makes Disney so magical.
Here’s the lessons that we can all learn from Disney parks and attractions to make our event planning and production better.
Lesson #1 – Engage different senses
On Disney’s “Keys to the Kingdom Tour” the tour guides explain that they strategically have popcorn machines and stands at the entrance of Disney’s Magic Kingdom so that you are instantly hit with a nostalgic feeling that popcorn brings – feelings of watching movies with family and friends.
Different rides and themed areas of the parks will have different smells and sounds, music and sound effects. Disney’s Animal Kingdom Pandora area will have different concrete flooring and pathways and sound effects than Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. When you walk from Mexico to Norway at Epcot you will hear different music and smell different foods.
Our events that we plan can be turned into engaging experiences for our guests and attendees if we use:
- Sound effects
- Textures and objects
- Different Tastes
Lesson #2 – Have guests interact in different ways
In the Clubhouse room, Ricky shared that he went on a ride that had “hidden Mickeys” throughout the ride. (A “hidden Mickey” is a subtle shape of Mickey Mouse’s ears somewhere in the scenery. Disney parks are covered with hundreds and thousands of them.) Ricky got to go on the ride three times in a row when there was an hour-long line (a tour-guide helped him) to find as many “hidden Mickeys” as he could.
My daughter rode in my brother’s lap on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger ride at Magic Kingdom and helped him shoot at targets throughout the ride.
Lesson #3 – Take pictures of the guests interacting and show it to them afterwards
After almost every ride at a Disney park you can stop at the exit and see yourself on the ride. Then you can choose to purchase or download that picture as a keep-sake.
Most people will then share these pictures on their social media, sparking conversation and becoming a word-of-mouth marketer for you.
Lesson #4 – Empower staff to create remarkable experiences
Billy shared that one time one of his daughters took one bite of an ice cream Mickey Mouse head and the whole thing dropped. She started to cry and one of the Disney employees ran up, got on one knee, and said “that’s not very magical…let me get you a new one.”
It wasn’t Disney’s fault that the ice cream fell.
But they did something amazing which created a memory and a story for Billy and his daughter.
Lesson #5 – Give the guests once-in-a-lifetime things to do
Only at Disney’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Hollywood Studios can you make a reservation and pay an extra $250 to build your own lightsaber and then be inducted into the Jedi ranks.
Only at Disney’s Magic Kingdom can you ride in a boat while being serenaded by Olaf and Elsa.
The exclusivity of these types of experiences is what brings people to the Disney parks.
Not only that but people will pay to upgrade their ticket to do something that they can only do in-person or at that event.
Lesson #6 – End your event well
Before Covid and soon to return to most Disney Parks are nightly fireworks shows that are world-class.
At the end of a long day full of long lines and magical rides, people get to experience a fireworks show as the parks send them off with a bang.
People record them, take blurry pictures of them, watch them for the whole thing.
This big ending, this finale, leaves people with a great feeling.
It leaves them wanting to come back soon for more.
Lesson #7 – Create names and themes within events and for events
Each Disney Park has a name and a theme.
Then within Disney Parks are zones, areas, and lands that you can visit.
These themes help people navigate, experience and remember different items.
Giving something a name is powerful.
- Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
- Animal Kingdom
These names and themes live on in people’s minds.
They help the Disney Imagineers to create small details that immerse people within that land.
Lesson #8 – Pay attention to what people experience “while they wait”
Almost every ride, show and attraction at Disney has a unique experience before the ride or show starts.
Guests wait in long lines that weave through buildings and outdoor spaces that are uniquely tailored to that land or ride or show.
At the events we plan we need to pay attention to what people do, what they see, what they hear, and what they experience.
At Disney’s Magic Kingdom the line of guests weaves in and out of a pavilion full of animal sounds and safari type of memorabilia while waiting for the Jungle Cruise…all while listening to subtle jokes from announcers and recordings on the overhead PA system.
As we walk through these rides and parks there are lessons all around us.
There’s plenty more lessons that can be extracted from Disney’s Theme Parks, rides and attractions.
What’s your favorite ride?
What’s your favorite park?
What’s your favorite attraction?
What can we learn from them when planning events for our guests and attendees?
Drop us a comment, we’d love to know!