I’m pleased to be meeting you all! My name is Bruce and my initial memory of Walt Disney World (WDW) is from 1966. I am just old enough to have watched Walt tell me about his plans for “Disneyworld” in all the splendor of our black and white TV. My first visit was during the Magic Kingdom’s (MK) first year and it was obsession at first sight. I enjoy discussing the Parks’ and the company’s history, current operations and plans. My passion is the details and my reward is the resulting magic.
83 years ago Walt Disney released “Flowers and Trees.” (I was not there for that.) It was one of the company’s earliest critical and commercial successes. I am borrowing its title to frame this example of WDW details.
Recently my wife and I were able to visit the WDW nursery. It was early spring and it was surreal to see topiaries of favorite characters being shuttled about on forklifts in preparation for the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival. It was explained to us by our Disney Institute Host that the 70,000 or so individuals who work as Cast Members are not the only living Cast Members – at WDW the flowers and trees are part of the Cast as well.
Throughout the Parks, Resorts, Restaurants, Shops, etc. there are approximately 3200 hanging flower baskets. These Cast Members perform a Role in the Show as important as any other. Predictably, that Role is to provide color and fragrance. As we were being told this we walked into a massive greenhouse – a temporary home to 1600 additional hanging flower baskets. And this is where operational detail meets operational culture. These 1600 Cast Members are waiting for their chance to go Onstage. If a basket at a bus stop or elsewhere loses its blossoms, one lucky Understudy (seriously!) will be performing in the Show the next day. Meanwhile the tired and displaced perennial performer returns Backstage to join others not in bloom. (These are known as auditioning Cast Members!)
Surrounding the nursery is the WDW tree farm. Disney grows many of their own trees for several reasons including: economy; quality control; and convenience. If a palm tree at the Caribbean Beach Resort were to be struck by lightning, a similar Cast Member is cheerfully available. The same is true for a Scotch pine or spruce at the Wilderness Lodge, and so on.
And in this tree farm is a special Understudy. It has been patiently rehearsing for 44 years. It has never been Onstage and may never be. It’s an oak tree, maintained to the same stunted dimensions as the Liberty Oak – the centerpiece of Liberty Square in the MK. If ever needed, it is willing to be uprooted and relocated at a moment’s notice. Much like its predecessor, we are unlikely to notice its undersized pruning which boosts the illusion of the “full-sized” Colonial buildings surrounding the Square. It too will hold the 13 lanterns that represent those Colonies. And it too will shade the authentic recast of the Liberty Bell at its base. But for now this Liberty Oak Understudy seems content to be a little-known detail – one of a million – that make WDW a Magical DIStraction for all of us.