April 15, 2013 -- Editor's Note: The Walt Disney Co. is the parent company of ABC News.
It's a rare occasion when Disney lets anyone, especially a reporter, backstage to see the inner workings of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. But that's just what happened when they gave me access to the warehouse where tens of thousands of the costumes worn by their cast members are stored.
The imposing warehouse is located on a nondescript road near the Magic Kingdom, one that you'll never find yourself when you visit Walt Disney World, unless you get lost. And if you did spot the building, it doesn't look like anything special. There's no way to tell from the outside the scope of what's going on inside: row upon row upon row of colorful costumes, as far as the eye can see.
The daily process by which thousands of cast members check out their costumes, so to speak, is very similar to checking out a library book. Cast members go to the appropriate section of the warehouse -- maybe "merchants" or "footmen" -- and find their size. They then take the costume to the front of the warehouse where a barcode on each wardrobe piece is scanned. Then, hi-ho, it's off to work they go.
"We're open from morning until evening and it is a constant flow of people coming and going," said Roger Catey, project manager of Costume Design and Development at Walt Disney World.
Indeed. The parking lot outside the warehouse was so packed with cars of cast members that it took several laps to find a spot for my visit.
At the end of their shift, the cast member drops the worn costume into a chute outside the building. Think the after-hours drop box at your local Blockbuster, when you still had a local Blockbuster. The costume is picked up, scanned as arrived, and shipped off to Disney's textile facility to be laundered and repaired, if needed.
The recent opening of New Fantasyland -- the largest expansion in the park's history -- meant the need for a whole new slew of costumes.
"We have 16 new designs for the New Fantasyland," Catey told me. "They're inspired by the wonderful fairytales and stories that Disney has brought to us that we all love. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, Dumbo, all of these great stories. We took our inspiration from those stories and wrote our own story about what the cast members are doing, where they come from and how they're going about their day."
I was allowed to try on a costume, that of a forest merchant. It's the costume you'll see on the ladies who work at the shop in Belle's Village called Bonjour! Village Gifts.
The inspiration for the costumer, Catey said, was taken from "Beauty and the Beast." The brocade was found in a town outside Paris and the satin skirt, he said, is meant to look upscale, because the merchants actually live in the castle and just come to the forest to sell their wares.
And even though I don't have any formal training when it comes to greeting guests, my employment at ABC News does, technically, make me a Disney cast member.
And maybe that's why Disney actually allowed me into the Magic Kingdom to "work" as a merchant, greeting guests outside the shop. I was nervous, but practiced by best "bonjour" and "au revoir" and walked from backstage to front and center in New Fantasyland.
And because I didn't get escorted out, it seems I did OK. Watch the video and tell me what you think.