Recently I attended this dining experience provided to guests at Walt Disney World. It was a fantastic opportunity to gain some information about the process, from thought to implementation, that goes on behind the scenes in the parks.
My Imagineer for the lunch was David Hardiman, Design Administrator, and we ate along with a group of others at the Hollywood Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios.
The session started off with an opportunity to introduce ourselves around the table. It was so interesting to see the variety of guests that had come to hear what David had to talk about. Everything from existing Cast Members such as myself to middle school teachers. David was interested to hear my thoughts on experience design from an interactive perspective, but made a point that ‘I get ambitious or rising engineers coming to hear me talk all the time, but very few interactives’. David was also aware of Disney Quest and the contribution by Schell Games, which I made a point that I was interested in.
David was a wealth of information. He discussed everything from his own personal work on Test Track, right down to future announcements such as the Avatar addition to WDW. Of course, he had to dodge questions and work his way around information regarding anything that hasn’t been released or is restricted, and so we as guests had to word our questions in a way so as to gain the most out of the two and a half hours, without prying into anything guarded by what I like to call ‘Disney Secrecy’.
It was so inspiring to hear of the opportunities and (to a degree) free reign that David gets, to ‘make the magic happen’ along with the rest of the Imagineers. It certainly becomes a goal to aspire to for someone like myself, where creativity is welcomed and embraced. David seemed very pleased of the thought that his work plays a part in bringing happiness and enjoyment to children and families. However like JD Fitzsimons, he too had a long and winding job history in the company, where he had to progress up the various jobs and tasks before he became an Imagineer. When asked what his favourite ride was, he said ‘I love it when I bring all my family down, including siblings and their kids, and we all share the same boat on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Someone at the front of the boat will take a photo of them and the group all together laughing and smiling.’
Networking pioneers please note! This is NOT going to be the time and place for you to get some one-on-one foot-in-the-door talk with the Imagineer you are given. I had a group of 12 with me and I seemed to be the only one there in the hopes that some communication could be established after this lunch. Once you enter the lunch you automatically get the feeling that trying to steal any limelight for a ‘I’m really interested in what you do, my ambition is to be this, I’d love to stay in touch, blah blah blah’ discussion is very inappropriate. The guests around the table all seem very aware of the $80 they are spending for these two hours and almost politely try to compete to get their questions in. The one time I even asked how anyone could get an opportunity to speak to or network with an Imagineer outside this dining experience, I was met with glares by other guests. So, I waited until the end when David was about to leave to ask politely for his card.
The food at the Hollywood Brown Derby was incredible, with my personal favorites being the Crab Soup entree and the Creme Brulee dessert. I definitely intend on going back in my own time again. Be warned! It’s expensive.
The lunch finished off on a pleasant note with David signing personalised plates for us to take home, and the waiter issuing our personalised menus and information pamphlets about David. Then I looked up, and David was out the door.
Thankfully, he replied to my email.