What is a Disney Ambassador? Insights from a former Walt Disney World Ambassador
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
*I am a current Cast Member of The Walt Disney Company. Any opinions or unintentional misinformation are my own.
One of the highlights of my Disney career was the two years I spent as a Walt Disney World Ambassador.
The role not only provided me with amazing memories, the chance to meet hundreds (if not thousands) of amazing Guests and Cast Members, and incredible professional development—it also gave me my amazing travel buddy, Nathaniel Palma.
During my very first month working at Walt Disney World, a colleague invited me to attend the Ambassador Selection Ceremony. I had no idea what it was—just that it took place on the Cinderella Castle Stage before Magic Kingdom Park opened. I was in.
During the ceremony, five Disney Cast Members spoke on stage, while their co-workers, leaders, and family cheered from the crowd. They waved signs and various objects with the candidates’ photos attached (brooms and mops for a Custodial candidate, light sabers for one who worked at Star Wars).
While I had originally attended for the pure thrill of seeing Magic Kingdom pre-opening, in that moment I was more amazed by the love and support demonstrated by the people around me. These people woke up before the sun and voluntarily trekked to work early to cheer on a colleague with genuine enthusiasm. In that moment, I realized what working at Disney was all about.
Flash forward four years from that day, and I had the honor to find myself on stage in front of my colleagues—feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Nervous, excited, but overall humbled that we were surrounded by 50 years’ of WDW Ambassadors around us and a crowd of the most supportive co-workers we could ask for.
Yet, while this is a dream role on many Cast Members’ bucket lists, it is one people don’t know much about and is sometimes the focus of much speculation. Since I am so proud to be a part of this tradition, I wanted to share a little of the history and legacy of the Disney Ambassador Program.
What is the Disney Ambassador Program?
Walt Disney and his marketing executive, Jack Lindquist, created the Disney Ambassador Program in 1965. With the tencennial of Disneyland, the Hollywood opening of Mary Poppins, and an increased demand in personal appearances, he needed a representative to act on his behalf. He selected Julie Reihm to serve as the first official “Ms. Disneyland.”
Julie welcomed VIPs and dignitaries, made appearances, and was the representative of Disneyland on Walt’s behalf. The program was so successful, it expanded to Walt Disney World in 1971, with the selection of Debby Dane.
Today, the program selects Cast Members from across the world to represent Disney Parks and Resorts worldwide.
Side note: The Disney Store has its own ambassador program, not to be confused with the Disney Parks Ambassador Program. The Disney Store program is a recognition program for Disney Store Cast Members, who are self-nominated or nominated by their peers as recognition for their hard work.
The Disney Ambassador Program is a full-time job served by just a handful of Cast Members worldwide for a 2-year term. I’ve seen some confusion in other posts that attribute the Disney Store application process to the Disney Ambassador selection process, and they are two very different processes and roles.
What is the Disney Ambassador Program like today?
Today, there are Ambassadors in Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Hong Kong Disneyland, Shanghai Disneyland, Tokyo Disney Resort, Disneyland Paris, and Aulani. All are selected in the same year and serve two-year terms.
The announcement process has changed over the years, but up until our term it included a public ceremony to announce the new team.
Training takes place at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, and is generally a lot of fun because it is the first time you meet your global ambassador team. It is also a whirlwind of meeting executives, practicing media interviews, and getting to know Cast Members. It may have been two of the most exhausting, rewarding weeks of my Disney career.
The program has changed since the “Ms. Disneyland” days, and each Ambassador is expected to not only be a representative of the spirit of Walt (and therefore, the Disney brand), but a representative for all Cast Members.
For us, that meant when we stood on a stage or attended a ribbon cutting, we were doing it on behalf of the 75,000 WDW Cast Members who had made the moment possible. It is truly a service role—and we always felt humbled and grateful for the opportunity.
What does a Disney Ambassador do?
The short answer is that a Disney Ambassador serves as an official spokesperson on behalf of the company, an emissary of goodwill in the community, and as a representative for all Cast Members.
This loosely translates to a lot of public appearances. It could mean attending ribbon cuttings for new property offerings, speaking at Cast recognition events, participating in media interviews, representing Disney’s philanthropic donations across the world, or delivering heritage presentations for Cast and Guests.
Nathaniel and I always like to emphasize that it is also about the relationships with people. Without Guests who are passionate about the Disney product and Cast Members who bring the magic to life, the Ambassadors would have nothing to represent.
We loved walking through the parks and interacting with Guests on an interpersonal level. We also loved shadowing Cast Members all across property in role shadows, so we could understand their jobs, hear their stories, and appreciate their impact on the overall Guest experience. These were some of the most rewarding interactions.
Finally, there are the backstage aspects of the role that most people never see. We spent most of our time in front of Guests and Cast (and we usually worked way more than the typical 8-hour work day), but when we had “backstage work,” we were in our Ambassa-Cube.
Our administrative work included writing articles, sending thank yous, designing heritage tours and presentations, practicing for upcoming appearances, monitoring our shared email inbox, and attending meetings.
In my opinion, the Ambassador role truly requires a communications expert. In addition to public speaking and interpersonal relationships, Ambassadors create a lot of content. During our term, we created a number of heritage and business presentations to facilitate for Guests and Cast Members.
One was a presentation on Walt-inspired leadership lessons—since leadership is a topic I am particularly passionate about. Writing, designing, practicing, and then promoting these courses could be quite time-consuming, but were a huge hit with Cast Members looking for developmental opportunities. I remember attending Ambassador heritage presentations when I first started with the Company!
Since we both facilitated Traditions (a first-day class all Cast Members attend), we created a similar course to “re-pixie dust” and inspire Cast Members currently employed by the company. This course was widely popular, and we ended up presenting it to entire resorts and thousands of Cast across property.
Like many jobs, there is no “typical” day for a Disney Ambassador. It is a heavily events-driven role and requires constantly checking your Outlook calendar. We could start work at 6am or have events that went until midnight—we even had a number of events that happened during the third shift! (Not to mention weekends.) It is exhausting, but super rewarding.
How do you become a Disney Ambassador?
Well, first, you need to work for Disney Parks and Resorts. There are service minimums that vary by property. In addition, you need to be in good standing and have leadership support.
The actual application process also varies term to term and by property. Most selection process require a series of interviews or video applications. During our term, a few hundred Cast Members went through the first 15-minute interview—which was conducted in front of a panel of Disney leaders and shared with two other candidates.
The hundreds of hopefuls were narrowed down to 10 semi-finalists, who then went through a solo panel interview with senior level leadership.
The five finalists participate in a series of events spanning up to a week—including Cast events, a community appearance, media interview training, public speaking opportunities, and a final interview in front of the President of Walt Disney World and a panel of Disney executives.
Though the selection ceremony has since changed, during our term it took place on the America Gardens Theater stage in Epcot. Friends, family, and co-workers attended and cheered just like I remember when I first joined the company.
We had arrived at around 4am to rehearse for the ceremony—learning staging for two different scenarios based on whether our name was called. Since our term occurred during the 50th anniversary of the Disney Ambassador Program, Ambassador Alumni from all over the country (and the world) traveled to WDW to be a part of the event. Finding ourselves surrounded by half a century of Disney legacies may have been the coolest part of the morning.
At each Ambassador ceremony, the same proclamation is read aloud—bringing all of us together across the years and now the world. (Sorry, give me a moment to tear up here.) Though the footage isn’t available publicly, when Nathaniel and I passed the torch to the 2017/2018 team, we each read a portion of the proclamation. I now have a copy of it framed and hanging up in my home.
The Disney Ambassador Program is incredibly special for anyone who values Disney heritage. In fact, it was one of the last programs Walt implemented before his passing. We’ve had the privilege of getting to know many of our past ambassadors, and they are all amazing, vibrant individuals. Nathaniel and I regularly consider ourselves fortunate to be included in such an incredible family.
Now that I work back at Team Disney, I had the chance to visit the Ambassador Lounge—a display of Ambassador heritage commissioned by Meg Crofton (former President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Operations, US and France). It is humbling and an honor to be a part of Disney history.
When I think back to that day, it is still surreal how the rest of our lives were changed forever once they read our names. I will always be grateful for how this program has changed my life.