When you wish upon a star …. Camp Director or “Guest”, the lessons are infinite.

Camp may be over for campers but it happily keeps rolling along for us Camp Directors.

Summer is in the rear view mirror and it’s time to take stock of another fantastic season at Camp Robin Hood. The weather, amazing staff and spirit made this summer one of our very best. And with the successful launch of Summer 2020, our 75th season, we couldn’t be more excited to start planning all over again. But in the meantime, Sari and I felt a well-deserved break was in order. So we went to one of our favourite places, Disney World! Yes! We went from our own happiest place on earth to the place that started it all. And believe it or not, we did it without our own kids.

Full disclosure, our short 4 day visit to see Mickey & friends was my belated birthday gift from my family since this guy always spends his birthday during staff training just before camp. Huge thanks to our former Section Head and good friend Deborah Goldberg for all of the help planning our getaway during our very busy time of year! So Sari and I headed to Orlando and for the first time ever got to have a Disney experience without children since they had to work and go to school. #priorities 🙂

TrMickey & Usuthfully, I’ve been infatuated with the Disney customer service model for years after attending a professional camp conference at Disney 15 years ago. Some of my former staff will remember that I adapted their model (based on our Quest for the Golden Arrow theme). Anyone remember “Role Model Like Robin” or “Making Memories Like Marion”?

And it isn’t just their outstanding customer service. Impressive systems and operations that work like clockwork and their understanding of the family experience from the old to the very young make it so awesome. Equally fascinating, both as a parent and a Camp Director, are the thousands of parents trying to “keep their s*#t together! Well, we were on vacay, so our job was to simply sit back, watch, patiently let kids “go first” (that was hard) and occasionally spring into action when necessary.

And to no surprise, Disney delivers! Customer experience at its finest. Staff get down to a kids level when speaking, using first names when a person’s “FastPass” ID is on the screen or making sure that kids and adults of all abilities have the very best experience. Main Street is clean and food lines are orderly and quick. Sort of feels like camp to us.

At Camp Robin Hood, we say the experience starts on the bus well I think the geniuses at Disney agree! Something they just may have gotten from us 😉 Oh come on, just maybe?

At Disney, the experience starts as soon as you get in queue. Fun activities like the shadows of bells on the Peter Pan ride that actually chime when you touch them on the wall or the entertaining cast member interactions trying to make “waiting” in line fun and not as challenging. It was great to see so few kids on their individual screens while in line because Disney keeps them so busy. Our bus experience and bus counsellors aim for the same, making the journey to camp part of the fun from the moment you step on the bus.

Aside from the thrill of making my own lightsaber,OLAF (went with the blue kyber crystal like Luke!) having my picture taken with many Disney characters (Princess Ariel, Goofy and Olaf just to name a few), Sari and I found watching parents do “their thing”, while petrifying at times, mostly encouraging and entertaining. We overheard kids being given choices, tantrums being appropriately ignored and expectations that “please”, “thank you” and “excuse me” being used often and consistently. Happy to have the teaching points from Sari’s behaviour management sessions from staff training reinforced.

But despite our best efforts to be the “guests” and not the Camp Directors in the park, the latter kept emerging. For example, at dinner one evening, we kept a 4 year old busy so mommy could eat her meal (her favourite colour was “rainbow” – the little girl’s, not mommy), we talked an anxious teenager through her first Space Mountain experience (risk management and coaching) and I helped a lost 8 year old girl with no English find her mom on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom (crisis response). Note: Sari was on the other side of the store and said she could hear my camp voice in the air as I facilitated the mother/daughter reunion. All and all, it feels like our skills were still on point!

So what was our biggest takeaways from this Disney trip? Everyday at the park (and in life) we are always doing job research (staff training & program planning). We can jump into action like Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl at a moments notice and I still love singing “Let It Go“ (flagpole never ends). We will always learn and continuously work to improve the Camp Robin Hood experience. After all, you are our guests. And lastly, no matter how old our own kids get and their reluctance to go on “It’s A Small World” again, we missed having them with us because it’s way more fun to embarrass them in person than through my Instagram feed so far away.

One thought on “When you wish upon a star …. Camp Director or “Guest”, the lessons are infinite.

  1. I remember that conference at Disney as well and meeting the director of customer service. Well written Howie and agree with you. All the best for the fall and your 75th


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