The History Behind the Disney Ambassador Program: A Walt Disney Tradition Since 1965
Disneyland welcomed the two newest Disney Ambassadors this past week: Justin Rapp and Rafa Barron. They will represent the Disneyland Resort and its 30,000 cast members during a two-year term. Along with this representation comes the task of “taking the magic of the Resort into the community by acting as emissaries of goodwill” as described by Disney.
This tradition was started by Walt Disney himself back in 1965 and has carried over to every Disney Park in the world. Let’s take a step back in history to see how Walt Disney created this tradition, learn how the selection process works, and how the ambassador role brings Disney magic to the local areas around the parks.
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The History of the Disney Ambassador Program
Walt Disney with the first Disneyland ambassador, Julie Reihm.
Walt Disney began the Ambassador Program in 1965. At the time, Walt’s schedule was overwhelmed with requests for his time and personal appearances. It simply was too much for one man alone to handle so to help solve this problem he decided that he needed to appointment someone to serve as the official spokesperson of all Disneyland cast members to promote the Disneyland business.
That first spokesperson that Walt Disney appointed was Julie Reihm, the first Disneyland Ambassador.
Julie Reihm on the Wonderful World of Color episode “The Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show” with Walt Disney.
Julie Reihm began her start at Disneyland during college spending her summers and school breaks working part-time as a tour guide. The Official Disney Fan Club quotes her experience of working with Walt Disney before her official role as ambassador,
“I had first met him in the Park when I was a tour guide,” Julie recalls. “He followed me up Main Street.” One of the members of Julie’s tour group was upset that there was a man who hadn’t paid for it following the tour. She told Julie that that the man shouldn’t get the same information as a paying guest. Julie had hoped that Walt overheard and would move along, because, as she says, “It would have been highly unusual to go up to the man who owned the place and tell him to run along.”
“He just winked and grinned at me and walked away. I think he enjoyed taking you a little bit by surprise, and seeing your reaction to things. He delighted in seeing other people delighted.”
After two years of working as a tour guide in Disneyland she was invited to apply for the new position of “Disneyland’s Ambassador to the World.”
Julie Reihm’s two years as Disneyland ambassador took her all over the world as she often would accept honors and awards on behalf of Walt Disney, to events celebrating the release of Mary Poppins, escorting VIPS, and included an appearance on the Wonderful World of Color episode “The Disneyland Tenth Anniversary Show.
Julie Reihm is the role model for which all Disney ambassadors look up to as she embodied Walt Disney’s vision that an ambassador should be a “personification of Disneyland’s world-famous spirit of friendliness and happiness.”
How Disney Ambassadors Are Chosen
To be eligible to apply to become a Disney Ambassador you need to be employed for at least six months by the company.
The first step in the application process is an essay response to the question, “Why do you think you would be a good Disney Ambassador?” Simple enough, right? Well, this is just the first round of steps!
The second step, if you make it through the first selection process, is a four week observation period. Every shift worked after this point is treated like a test or trial run for ambassadorship. Managers observe actions with guests and fellow cast members, take notes, and give feedback. This is a high pressure part of the process and definitely takes someone with a high level of commitment to this goal!
The third step, if you make it through the second selection process, is a Disney knowledge test. Sounds easy, right? Well, according to what previous ambassadors have said- this test is extremely difficult and includes questions from categories such as:
Disney Company history
Company health and safety
To make the test even more challenging, it is short and long answer- not multiple choice. The passing grade for this test needs to be at 75% or higher.
After an applicant makes it through all these steps, their application along with their test scores, observation notes, and essay response is sent to the head office of the park or store they are employed through. This is where the final decision is made as they choose from all the different applicants that made it this far. Definitely not an easy process!
Bringing Magic to the Community: Representing the Mouse
Justin Rapp and Rafa Barron with Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Disneyland’s Ambassador program, created by Walt Disney in 1965, has seen some changes over time in regards to the responsibilities they hold but their importance is greater than ever to the Walt Disney Company,
They foster Walt Disney’s original vision by hosting elected officials and business leaders at our parks and are active community partners through visits to hospitals, participation in VoluntEAR projects and frequent presentations in support of our community initiatives. They also serve a primary role in cast member recognition celebrations.
They also conduct media interviews, often at a rate of nearly 300 a year! That is sure to keep anyone busy.
The 2019-2020 Disneyland Ambassadors, Justin Rapp and Rafa Barron, have a busy term ahead of them as they will be the official Ambassadors during the park’s largest expansion in history: Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Their full-time duities, like those that came before them, will be to represent the Disneyland Resort in the community and in park events such as hospital visits with Disney characters, promotions and cast member recognition ceremonies, hosting dignitaries and VIPS, and acting as spokespeople for the Resort.
Congratulations to Justin and Rafa! We look forward to seeing you represent Disneyland the next two years!
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