Delivering a Great Guest Experience is a Balance of Art and Science

Trying to keep an operation like Disneyland going you have to pour it [money] in there. It’s not just new attractions, but keeping it staffed properly, you know…never letting your personnel get sloppy. Never letting them be unfriendly.

– Walt Disney

Backstory: The Jungle Cruise was one of the most eagerly awaited attractions when Disneyland opened in 1955. Walt Disney had given the ride extensive publicity on pre-opening television shows. Very little else was far enough along for him to show, but the channel was dug, trees were being planted, and Walt was able to talk his viewers through a typical ride. The art of the sight gag was perfected by Disney Imagineer Marc Davis for the Jungle Cruise. Davis had an impeccable sense of timing that allowed his creations to be read instantly – an important consideration in light of the limited time and dialogue available as the audience moves through a scene. His gag sketches for the Jungle Cruise were often translated practically verbatim into the attraction. While the current version and most previous instances have made use of a comedic spiel, filled with intentionally bad puns, the original intent of the ride was to provide a realistic, believable voyage through the world’s jungles.

The visual imagery set the scene, but the dialogue of the boat’s skipper had to complete the adventure.



Understanding the backstory above sets the scene for this real-life event:

Walt Disney got off the Jungle Cruise boat and wasn’t happy. In fact, something was terribly wrong. The problem was with the skipper of the boat Walt had observed. The skipper hadn’t done his job properly, and that simply wasn’t acceptable to Walt. Yes, the skipper ran the boat safely, so that wasn’t the problem. Yes, he had recited his script line for line, so that wasn’t the problem. It was something else: It was in his delivery. He hadn’t acted his part with as much enthusiasm as Walt wanted. He lacked energy and showmanship. – Ron Dominguez, Executive Vice President, Walt Disney Attractions (retired)

Word got back to the director of operations, Dick Nunis, about how upset Disney was. Dominguez, who was area supervisor at the time, recalls “Walt told Dick, ‘I want the skippers to act as if every trip on the Jungle Cruise is their first trip. I want them to act surprised when the hippos suddenly rise up out of the water. The skippers need to be as surprised as the guests.” Nunis and Dominguez and the whole Jungle Cruise team started a marathon training session at the end of the day to ensure that all the cast members knew the script and performed their roles with the appropriate enthusiasm.

Disneyland was (and along with all the other Disney parks) and remains a balance of science and art.

Building and maintaining Disneyland – the attractions, restaurants, shops, and arcades – was just the starting point: the science. Maintaining the feel of Disneyland and cast member morale is the art. Combined, they create a powerful differentiator from the competition: the stores, restaurants, theaters, resorts, and amusement parks vying for the same customers and employees. Walt’s ride on the Jungle Cruise, along with his scathing comment, is a clear example of his focus on the upkeep of the park and the importance of maintaining both the art and science of the show. Cast members and leaders at Disney properties today refer to this process as keeping the property and show fresh.

At the tenth anniversary of Disneyland, Walt’s remarks to the Imagineers whose creativity and genius brought the Jungle Cruise to life set the stage for what continues today – the never-ending pursuit of perfection:

I just want to leave you with this thought, that it’s just been sort of a dress rehearsal and we’re just getting started. So, if any of you start to rest on your laurels, just forget it.

– Walt Disney

Applying Van France’s Four Circumstances to ChurchWorld Guest Experience Teams

Innovate – Support – Educate – Entertain

How would you apply Van France’s Four Circumstances in your organization? How do you apply them to balancing art and science? Which of the Four is strongest? Which is the weakest? Is there an equivalent to an unenthusiastic Jungle Cruise skipper in your organization?

  • If so, why is this tolerated?
  • What needs to be done to change this environment?
  • What are the barriers?
  • Who in your organization can lead the way?

Inspired by and adapted from Disney U by Doug Lipp

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Continue the Disney U experience Tuesday 4/1/14 with Gather Facts and Feelings: Walk the Park for a Fresh Perspective

Disney U is one of the most significant resources related to the Disney organization, leadership, team development, and Guest Experiences available. In honor of the one year anniversary of the release of Disney U, this is a look back at a series from the book that originally ran last year.


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