For many guests at the Walt Disney World Resort, a Cast Member is just the smiling person who greets them at their hotel or tells them to pull down on their lap bar on Space Mountain and each of them live by the motto “We work while others play.” But unbeknownst to most guests, when the cast gets a chance to play, it’s an event! We were lucky enough to be invited to one of the biggest Cast happenings of the year: Goofy’s Mystery Tour — an after-hours gathering that took place in Disney’s Animal Kingdom where over 300 teams of four people each answered Disney Trivia and solved puzzles for the chance to win a plaque and bragging rights. Goofy’s Mystery Tour is a cast-created event with a team called the “Clue Crew” spending months selecting the trivia and creating puzzles to entertain and frustrate the teams as they, along with an army of volunteers, gather to put on this event.
We were there to follow a team that included a mix of returning players and first-timers. Each of these team members serves in a backstage capacity, which means they are not in the park or guest-facing. For them, this was a special chance to be in the park and interact with other Cast Members. When we talked to them about how they prepared for the evening, the stand-out answer was that they took part in many different escape rooms to sharpen their minds by working different puzzles with a set time limit. When the topic of bragging rights came up, the team all turned to Nicolas who has taken part and won C.R.O.W. (Canoe Races Of the World), another popular Cast Event, and how he shows off his prize often.
The evening started with all teams gathering in the Theater in the Wild for opening remarks and the event outline — 30 minutes for 75 multiple-choice Disney trivia questions and two hours to complete 12 puzzles with groups of Cast Member volunteers located in and around Dinoland U.S.A. Keeping with Disney’s motto of “Keep moving forward,” this year’s event was going to be far more technology-based than previous events. Past trivia was done on old fashioned scantron sheets and turned in, but now it’s all done on a web-based app. Instead of trying to keep track of papers to turn into Clue Central (the hub for all the clues), answers would also be added to the app to not only speed the tally process for the end of the night but also help lessen the footprint left by this event. After a brief introduction by the Cast Activities leaders, the current Walt Disney World Ambassadors, and Goofy himself, it was time to start the trivia.
With all the teams gathered around their one mobile device (all others had to be placed in a bag to avoid the temptation of outside help), the trivia ran the gamut of basic Disney (who was the first Disney Legend) to challenging photo clues where they would have to identify something as simple as a hanging lamp that could’ve been at any of the Resorts across Walt Disney World property. This was the part of the night where the true Disney fan came out in our team. Whether watching them read a question and not even taking a second to think about it before hitting the correct answer or enduring the long pause while passing the phone around to try and pick up the smallest clue from one of the photo questions really showed how much Cast Members took this event seriously. As the minutes counted down, you could look around the theater and see teams heads pop up like meerkats on the Gorilla Falls Trail — some with beaming smiles and others exhaling sighs of relief that it was over.
With trivia done, it was onto the real challenges of the night: the puzzles! Each team is given a packet with the same puzzles and a two-hour time limit to complete them, but the catch is with each puzzle they complete they are given another clue to the final event of the night. As they explained to us, if you didn’t finish the final puzzle, they were out of contention for the top three…no pressure! Teams were given the option of staying in the theater to work or heading out into the park right away to start the hunt. As soon as the teams left the building, they were tethered together by a rope to make it that much more challenging. Our team chose to stay and work through the puzzles before heading out into the park. Watching them work individually, then come back to the group, stood out to me as a strength of a Disney Cast Member; working alone and as a group.
After working through the puzzles for about a half-hour, our team decided to head out into the wild and attempt to tackle the challenges that lay ahead of them in the park. Each of the 12 puzzles had areas in Dinoland U.S.A. that teams would have to locate to either take part in a challenge (such as building a stick to retrieve a key with a bit of a Pirates theme to it) or just provide the answer to one the crew members in order to receive a piece of the final puzzle. Since the theme of the event was a Game Show, many of the locations would be based on a popular programs with one of the highlights of the night being a Wheel of Fortune-themed puzzle where the teams had to figure out a Who, Where, What, and Phrase puzzle with just a few letters given. The theme of the puzzle was Marvel’s Avengers. When our team arrived at the location for this puzzle, they learned that, if they needed to earn another letter, they would need to do something — such as sing “it’s a small world” as seen in the video.
As the clock started ticking down to the midnight deadline, our team found a very common space to work through clues: a trash can. With some puzzles being completed quickly and others challenging them for almost the full two hours, our team had to eventually call it a night. As time was called, they were in the middle of attempting to remove the pirates key, but instead had head back into the theater.
Once inside, a recap of the Disney Trivia was played on the screens. Our team cheered for the correct ones and declared “we can come back” from the ones they had missed. I was positive every team learned at least one new bit of information about the company they all work for. With the event all but complete, the top three teams were announced and given their awards before a huge round of applause for all the participants and crew that put this amazing event together. As a former Cast Member and someone who has taken part in Goofy’s Mystery Tour myself, these events are a highlight of each year. In the few hours I was able to spend with this team, I could see how much an event like this drives home one of my favorite Walt Disney quotes; “You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”
Our main correspondent for Walt Disney World and the Orlando area and a heck of a paleontologist if he does say so himself.