Following the success of the now discontinued Lunch with a Disney Animator program from the 90s-early 00s, Dining with an Imagineer is one of the most underappreciated experiences in Walt Disney World. While eating a 4-course meal in the Bamboo Room of Hollywood Studios’ Brown Derby restaurant, you get to chat with one of those people who make things happen. It’s truly a magical experience that gives guests a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Walt Disney parks.
When you arrive, let the Cast Member at the podium know you’re there for Dine with an Imagineer. Then you’ll receive a personalized name tag, and wait for the entire group to arrive.
In the private room, your Imagineer sits in the middle of a table with 10 guests. Over the 3 hours, you’re able to ask questions and chat in an informal, one-on-one environment. It’s fascinating hearing about the work that he or she does on a daily basis.
While the food was incredible, I was so nervous that I couldn’t eat much of it ;). Below is a picture of the personalized menus. I had the chicken noodle soup (it’s not listed, but available for the soup option), Cobb Salad (which was invented at the real Brown Derby in the 1930s), and Charred-glazed Filet of Beef. All three desserts were absolutely delicious.
My lunch was with Project Manager Wyatt Winter. A northern New Mexico native, Winter first worked for Disney in College Program as a Big Thunder Mountain in Florida. After he joined Disneyland Cast Members as a Jungle Cruise skipper until he completed his Business Administration/Marketing bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern California. Today, he oversees, plans, and coordinates many different projects throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Since joining WDI in July of 2006, some of his projects have consisted of: the 2007 Spaceship Earth renovation (read about it here), displays in the The Hall of Presidents, One Man’s Dream, The Art of Animation Resort, Let the Memories Begin marketing, Florida Hospital for Children’s Walt Disney Pavilion. Most recently, he has worked on the Jingle Cruise and the new Frozen attraction in the Norway pavilion.
Art Director Missy Renard joined our lunch to watch and learn how the dining experience works. She was Senior Interior Designer on Toy Story Mania, and today is Art Director for half of the hotels on property.
A main theme of the meal was about how anyone can be an Imagineer. It’s not just the artists or writers, but also every other job. Scientists, accountants, business and administration people, engineers. According to Disney’s Imagineering site, there are 140 disciplines in the arts, sciences and technical fields. Wyatt and Missy both have very different stories. He worked his way up from the DCP, and she joined as an Interior Designer.
Here’s a few memorable things from the lunch that we discussed…
- The Jungle Cruise Christmas overlay “Jingle Cruise”. Wyatt was basically told “you have ___ amount of money and 8 weeks.” While I wasn’t able to experience it last year, from what I can tell via videos online, he did a fabulous job! Can’t wait to see it this December (he confirmed that they are doing it again).
- Since this happened 3 days after the Frozen/Maelstrom news broke, it came up in the conversation. Wyatt told us that he’s currently working on it, and it will be his main project for a while. I was pretty upset up until this point about Maelstrom. Knowing that the space is in good hands relieved my worries. I’ll discuss this topic further in the future.
- I also loved hearing about the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad queue refurbishment. Because of his experience working in Big Thunder during DCP, this project was special to Wyatt. We discussed the storyline and briefly talked about Tony Baxter.
- The best part of the discussion was hearing about how WDI works. Both Wyatt and Missy told stories about their different offices on property. Wyatt used to work in Hollywood Studios and could hear the screams from Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Missy’s office is behind Test Track, and when she opens the window or goes outside, she can hear the screams from Test Track every few seconds. While in Epcot, you’ve probably heard the chime of the phones for the Phineas and Ferb Agent P Adventure. Wyatt said he can’t stand hearing it because the guys programming the game were working next door to him 🙂
Overall, this lunch inspired me to follow my dreams. I aspire to one day join Walt Disney Imagineering. Afterwords, we each received a personalized signed plate. I didn’t see the note until I got back to my hotel, but I teared up a little when I read it.
Meeting Wyatt and Missy was one of the most incredible things I’ve experienced. If you have any interest in learning about how the Disney Parks work, you need to do this lunch! It has very limited seating, so make sure you get ADRs early. For more information, see the Walt Disney World site. Go do it!
Wyatt is presenting with Jason Grandt at D23’s Destination D: Attraction Rewind Conference in November. Will you be there? Leave a comment down below and let me know!