Each year, Disney celebrates its long-serving Cast Members, acknowledging those with tenures in multiples of five years, starting from the 10th year. The most recent event, the Disney Experiences West Coast Service Celebration, took place on November 13th at Disney California Adventure (DCA). This exclusive event honored Disneyland Resort, Imagineering, and other Disney Parks, Experiences and Products staff. For this special occasion, DCA closed early and underwent transformations to enhance the celebratory atmosphere. While I had heard about these Service Celebrations from friends, this year, I had the unique opportunity to attend, thanks to an invitation from Disney. I was able to witness the festivities firsthand and talk to some of the over 2,500 dedicated individuals honored on this night.
The event's most esteemed guests were those celebrating 40 years or more with Disney. They were allowed into the party first, walking from the Grand Californian Hotel to Carthay Circle to the cheers of other Cast Members. The evening for these veterans included cocktails, a speech by Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock, and an exclusive dinner at Carthay Circle. They were also honored by having their faces projected onto Carthay Circle Theater.
The remaining guests entered through DCA's main gate, walking down a red carpet amidst cheers. Once gathered near DCA's hub, they listened to Potrock's address before being free to explore the park.
Most of DCA’s rides were open allowing the honorees and their guests to ride with minimal lines. Several of the DCA dining locations were also open and serving dishes at no charge, with several of the marketplace locations available as well. There were also dessert stations throughout the park and several bars – again, all at no charge.
There was no shortage of entertainment either. Characters were out in full force including at Avengers Campus. There were also several specialty photo spots and lots of live entertainment throughout the park.
As an outsider attending, I was struck by a few things. For one,I think if I were one of the Cast Members, I would have felt very special. From closing the park early and leaving the rides open to a huge variety of free food and drinks and special entertainment, how could you not feel special? But my favorite part of the evening was seeing the guests who treated this as an event. Several guests were dressed up for the night as if they were out for a special occasion (which they were). I talked to several celebrants and I loved hearing each of their stories of where they worked and what it meant for them to be with Disney so long. (Note: Before speaking to them, my media host approached them and explained why I was there and they always had the option not to be interviewed – an option that some exercised. Again, this was their night).
My evening was capped off with two arranged interviews – Brent Davies, Vice President of Operations for DCA (who I knew as a longtime Disney Cruise Line cruise director) and John Van Winkle, celebrating 35 years with the company – starting in custodial and now in cast activities.
But the honorees evening was capped off with one more treat: a special edition of World of Color (highly ranked by our World of Color expert Tony Betty). I wasn’t able to stay long enough to see it myself, but Disney sent along a couple of photos. It looked like the perfect end to a perfect evening. Disney's Service Celebration serves as a testament to Disney's enduring legacy of creating magical experiences, not just for its guests but for its Cast Members as well.