3 Ways to Add Disney Magic to Your Training

May 23, 2023 | 1151 Views

3 Ways to Add Disney Magic to Your Training

Kelly McCutcheon

Group Director of Training & Development | Whataburger

Butterflies in my stomach, a goofy smile on my face, and the wind in my hair. I remember every moment of riding Dumbo during my very first trip to Disney World. I was 5 and I was hooked.

I’ve since visited more times than I can count, and the goofy smile and butterflies join me every time.

There really is nothing like the combination of wonder and nostalgia that I get from a Disney vacation. Although vacations are typically an escape from work, I can’t help but draw inspiration that I can apply to work.

Here are 3 ways I’ve drawn inspiration from Disney to add a little magic to my training.


The legend goes, while Walt Disney sat on a bench in Tomorrowland (a futuristic themed land in California’s Magic Kingdom) he was troubled by the sight of a cowboy walking through on his way to work in Frontierland. He believed this sight would draw Guests out of the story. This inspired him to design Florida’s Magic Kingdom on the second story. The first floor is a Utilidor system where Cast Members could travel unseen by the Guests.

In fact, “Show” is one of the Five Keys that guide Cast Members to create Disney Happiness. “Show” preserves the magic by reminding Cast Members to always be show-ready.


If your classroom or workshop is the stage, are you show-ready when your attendees walk through the door (or jump on the virtual call)? Here are a few ideas to ensure you are show-ready:


Disney knows that engaging all 5 primary senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound) are key to evoking an emotional connection. A hug from Mickey, the smell of fresh Fiji waters on the ride Soarin’, turn-of-the-century music as you walk down Main Street, and custom themed snacks to each land (hello, Dole Whip!) These are just a few of the ways Disney ensures your senses are involved in the entire experience.

Kelly McCutcheon Citrus Swirl

Citrus Swirl at the Sunshine Tree Terrace, 2022


Sight – What themes and colors help support your training? A good brand or the right cover image will help support your program!

Touch – How do you greet your participants? A handshake or a high five can go a long way! And providing fidget toys can help participants think and pay attention.

Smell – If you are meeting in a restaurant, the wonderful cooking smells may be complementary. If meeting in a hotel room, however, a light blast of a pleasant air freshener may make the space more inviting and helps to activate the memory sensors.

Sound – What audio elements can you add? What soundtrack is playing as participants arrive? During a recent meeting in El Paso, I had my typical pump-up music playing, but quickly learned from the leaders there that Norteña music (a popular style of Regional Mexican music) really got our audience pumped up – quite literally as we were all dancing before the training began! Now that’s a warmup!

Taste – What treats can help support your training? For example, during a table rotation activity, I themed each table a different color and had accompanying colored and flavored candies in the center – lemon for yellow, orange for orange, lime for green, etc.


When it opened on Earth Day in 1998, there were 13 things you could do in Animal Kingdom, Disney World’s 4th theme park. It was considered a “half-day park.” Nowadays, there are 46 must-do attractions. Of course, it’s a better experience today, but it was still incredible back then, even if just to visit the flagship experience Kilimanjaro Safaris, an educational open-air safari tour with lions, giraffes, and okapi (oh my). If Disney had waited until Animal Kingdom was “finished” then arguably it would never have opened, as it is constantly in a state of growth and change. Plus, as the experience keeps growing and changing, they’ve created the case to visit over and over (challenge accepted).

Animal Kingdom represents the spirit that Walt Disney set out to accomplish from the start: “The way I see it, Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.”


Kelly McCutcheon Sisters Trip

Animal Kingdom, Sister’s Trip, 2017
In front of Expedition Everest which opened in 2006.


What could you do if you didn’t wait until something is 100% ready? Is there something you could get rolling, even if there are enhancements down the road? One way to do this is to create “parallel paths” – provide your team with things they can do now to help your rollout in the future.

For example, we are gearing up to introduce a new training program at Whataburger, but it’s going to take certified trainers to execute the plan. So, we are asking our restaurants to identify these candidates in advance and begin the certification process now. When we are ready to roll out the first part of the training program, they’ll be ready to launch it right away! If we waited until every piece of the program was ready, we may not roll until next year, but our restaurants would miss out on some really good results-driving tools in the meantime.  

Although Disney never got to see his Florida project open, Disney World’s opening day dedication from his brother Roy reassures us that Walt’s dream lives on:

“May Walt Disney World bring joy and inspiration and new knowledge to all who come to this happy place… a Magic Kingdom where the young at heart of all ages can laugh and play and learn – together.”

I hope this has sparked inspiration for ways your trainers can “laugh and play and learn - together!” 

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Comments (4)

  1. Kelly Parker:
    Jun 05, 2023 at 07:45 PM

    Hey Kelly! LOVE this post! Really like the way you bring in the points of the senses to training. Training is experiential and our senses help us FEEL the experience. And your ways to apply this information to training makes the information relatable. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Kelly McCutcheon, author:
    Jun 06, 2023 at 02:13 PM

    Thanks, Kelly! What a quotable quote - "Our senses help us FEEL the experience!" We sure are SCENT-amental creatures, aren't we? :)

  3. Tiffany Perez:
    Jun 07, 2023 at 09:43 PM

    So insightful and interesting in your third magic tip. This process allows for so much more development and engagement in your trainees as they develop a sense of ownership that therefore leads to retention. By including these individuals they provide true feedback prior to launching to a huge system. What a great tip Kelly! Thank you.

  4. Kelly McCutcheon, Author:
    Jun 08, 2023 at 05:00 PM

    Tiffany, Thank you for your insight! I love the collaborative direction you took this step. In turn, they own it and help make it better! Thank you for sharing!