Frank Mezzatesta
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Walt Disney Imagineering Perks

Walt Disney Imagineering Perks That Make You Feel Special
I was talking to a friend of mine recently that worked at Imagineering for many years with me and he reminded me of some of the things that made him feel special at Imagineering. For him it started with being hired on as a intern and being flown first class to Imagineering. We talked about many of the other things discussed below.

Overall new CEOs cut some of the special perks we had but most of the cuts came as Imagineering which started out as separate division of the Walt Disney Company, became part of Parks and Resorts. Each time we became more integrated, we lost some perks. The last straw some might say is the last integration step is moving Imagineering to Florida.

Everyone Flies First Class
From my start in 1979 and for many years everyone at Disney was flown first class. We were told that Walt paid for first class travel on the train to Los Angeles. Whatever the reason, this was a wonderful experience, in my case my first time was flying to Orlando to work on Big Thunder. That was probably four different trips. In those days there were no direct flights. We didn't care because on the afternoon flight we received a full dinner with desert, an ice cream sundae with hot chocolate sauce, and drinks flying from LA to New Orleans. Then the second flight to Orlando we received the same complete dinner and sundae and did I mention drinks, all over again. Over the years there were 2 direct flights a day and I met many famous people, most of who were going to Walt Disney World.

That did end company wide in the 1990's. We understood but boy that was fun.

The Company Christmas Party
Every year Imagineering threw a Holiday (Christmas) party. When we had lots of money we held it at places like the Bonaventure Hotel downtown or The Langham, Huntington, Pasadena (was called something else back then). When we didn't have lots or money we held them on property. Being Imagineering, these were almost as good and sometimes better because somehow the amount spent on decorations didn't count and came from various departments. One year it was held in a warehouse with a ice rink with Mickey and Minnie ice skating as you entered. When Imagineering decorated, these parties were actually much better and more fun that having hired "professionals" do it.

Sadly these ended a few years ago. All the parks employees don't get a holiday party so it is not fair that you do, we were told.

The Christmas Party at Disneyland
So not only did we get a Christmas party at Imagineering, Disney employees in Southern California got a special night at Disneyland a week before Christmas. I believe it included employees from the Studio, Disneyland, Imagineering, the Disney Credit Union and maybe a few others.

So they would close Disneyland around 6 or 7 pm to all guests and reopen it an hour later to the employees. Picture being at Disneyland at about 20% capacity and knowing many people as you walked through the park. You and your family could attend and over the night we would find our coworkers and start hanging out together. All food and merchandise was discounted.

Many people from Imagineering volunteered to operate attractions. Even the executives would volunteer. You had a shift so your worked part of the night and then got to enjoy the party after. I ran The Matterhorn one year and Space Mountain another year in that horrible orange outfit but that is another story. I remember Frank Wells, Disney's President, in his Big Thunder costume loading guests his first year with Disney. Paul Pressler, president of Walt Disney Attractions was behind the counter at Coke Corner one year. Beloved Marty Sklar would drive one of the Main Street vehicles every year. There is something special and magical having everyone on the same level one night a year. In the case of Paul, we made a special trip to Coke Corner to order I think a hotdog from him. Since we knew him someone in our group said "hey what's taking you so long with that hotdog" and laughed. Of course he just smiled. Magical moments.

When you left, every family got a custom one of a kind glass Christmas Ornament with the year on it. Most everyone including myself started collecting them. I still have them all and use them each year.

Well around 2009 that all ended.

More Holiday/Christmas Parties
OK this is getting ridiculous now that I'm writing all this down. Each department had their own holiday/Christmas party paid for by Disney. Recently they were stopped because they don't do that at the parks. We could have our own potluck party which many departments continued with.

Silver Pass for Many
Most of the Imagineers received a "Silver Pass" which allowed you to bring in your family for free into Disneyland or Disney World any day you wanted. Full disclosure I say most because it was tied to a particular level in the company. You could go as often as you liked. When I started and there were ticket books, you got a ticket book but with all E Tickets. I remember the last day the Electric Light Parade ran at Disneyland, I drove myself and my young son to Disneyland. Ran in and saw the parade and took pictures and then left and went home. Hey its free so you could do those things.

Well over time they added the concept of blackout days. They started small but over time you could NOT go to the parks near holidays and much of the summer. During Covid the whole year was blocked out.

Mickey Mouse Charge Card
Up until about 1995 Disney had a charge card for employees only and it only worked at the Disney Parks. I call it a charge card because you had to pay the balance every month.

When you used it you would receive a discount when you got your monthly bill. It was nice because there was no hassle and even the checkout person didn't know what discount you received. The original card was a very plain Red and White with a Mickey Mouse on it. Later on it was a fancier gold color. I can't show you a picture of it because your account number was your social security number and it is right there in big numbers.

Imagineers in general got 30% discount with those at manger level getting 40% and VPs 50%. It probably wasn't fair to have these tiered levels and the IRS put a stop to these tiers saying anyone with more discount had to pay taxes on the difference. So Disney changed the policy and for most people they got a letter said congratulations, your 30% is now 35%. My letter said sorry your 40% is now 35%. I had been getting 40% for the last year after my last promotion. It is not something you mentioned to others.

They stopped with the Disney Employee credit card. Now you show your ID for a discount and everyone around you including guests get to hear how much you saved. Not sure how a guest next to me feels when hearing this. When I am at the cashier, I do this in a low voice and say, I'm a cast member and show my ID like its a drug deal. Usually they follow suit and don't blurt out the discount.

This is really nice and includes retired employees with 20+ years of service and includes the Disney Stores and Online Shopping.

Attraction Opening Parties
So every time there was an attraction opening at the Disneyland Resort, Imagineering would have a private party to visit that attraction. During the party the park was many times open but since the attraction had not opened yet we got a sneak preview before the public for every Imagineer. It felt like the Christmas party only better. You would know just about everyone you saw or stood in line with. If the attraction was at another park, we had a Imagineering wide party for that attraction in our common area. Did I mention that all WDI parties had alcohol?

For many of the major anniversaries, like the 10th anniversary of Disneyland Paris or the 15th year of Tokyo Disneyland, we would have a party at WDI. So now is a good time to mention that I do remember one new employee who started at a time when we have like three parties within a few weeks. I did point out to them that this didn't happen all the time like this.

They still try to have these events but are scaled back and usually now include others.

In Summary
Well there are other perks. I'll add more as I think of them. If you hired on today you would think there were still some nice perks and there are. It's always hard to have them taken away though.

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