Conference Retreat Guide: Walt Disney World

One of our favorite selling points about the coming conference is the opportunity to host a retreat day at the best possible offsite venue- the theme parks of Orlando, FL! But with any retreat, it helps to have an agenda. We want to help you structure that agenda. So here are some of our top picks for rides and attractions that will get you smiling…and thinking!


The Seas with Nemo (EPCOT)

This slow-moving ride through the seas in search of Nemo is a great piece to address the importance of teamwork to your organization. While each member is presumably accountable to an overall goal or objective, Finding Nemo reminds us all that teamwork means being accountable to one another as well. Dedication to a common goal, while also valuing the individuals that make that goal reality, is an essential ingredient to group success.

The diverse nature of the Wallaby Way gang demonstrates just how many different types of people you need for a team to be successful. Gil’s sage wisdom was appreciated, as you should for the elder statespeople of your organization. At the same time, the bravery and excitement of your newer members shouldn’t be discounted. Both perspectives are valuable, and can carry you out to open water and new adventures if you let them.

As you ride, consider this: how well do you know the makeup of your team? Who’s been there the longest? What experience are they bringing to the table, and are you taking the most advantage of it? What goals do you have for yourselves for the year ahead, and how can you use each individual’s skills and abilities to get there?


Captain EO (EPCOT)

Captain E.O. was one of the most vivid memories I have of my first trip to Walt Disney World back in 1991. Michael Jackson was a hot property at the time, and the park thrived from his presence and contribution. However, as years went on, his star faded and the demand for his material did as well. Captain E.O. was shuttered in 1997 to make room for Honey, We Shrunk the Audience, a different interactive experience.

However, something happened after the untimely death of Michael Jackson in 2009- the market changed, and the demand for an experience featuring the artist was renewed. Disney responded by reopening the ride in 2010, and it has been able to captivate a new generation with the same songs and characters as it did in the late eighties.

There’s a lesson for you and your board or organization, too. Think about initiatives that have fallen by the wayside, ones that people have been reluctant to bring back or reconsider. “That’s old,” you might hear, or “That didn’t work last time we tried it.” But the game may have changed since your last attempt. We’d encourage you to be open to the idea of a return for the initiative that may seem past its prime.

As you ride, consider this: what programs or initiatives have fallen out of favor at your institution? Is there space for them to be revived? What would be needed to make the “upgraded” versions work?


Carousel of Progress (Magic Kingdom)

This exhibit, one of Disney World’s oldest, first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair. It was created to thrive in a space that revered creativity, innovation, and progress, and was given the opportunity to continue to do so when Disney World opened a few years later.

The ride takes place in a circular theater, moving through time and demonstrating how progressively newer technologies changed the lives of average families, while still reinforcing common values of love, togetherness, and stability. And even though the ride’s “future” probably fell somewhere in our mid 1980s, the lessons it teaches are still relevant today- while technology seems ever-present, it is really only a tool to help make common things we do easier.

As you ride, consider this: Are there areas that you’re seeing a need for progress? What sorts of solutions are you generating? What new problems could those progressive solutions pose, and are there ways to troubleshoot those concerns?



Space Mountain (Magic Kingdom)

Space Mountain has always been one of my favorite rides at Disney, but it became all the more interesting to me as a leader a few years back, after a significant renovation to their queue. With its considerable popularity, enjoyment of Space Mountain is nearly always preceded by a looooong line. I mean, long. And up until a few years ago, the only source of entertainment you had in said line, was listening to other people not enjoy it. The remodel inserted games, contests, and conversation points along the way, improving the rider experience.

There are always points like this on our campuses and in our organizations. What can you do with the resources at your disposal to make the in-between moments (like in line before, or when leaving an event after) the most enjoyable and effective? Too many people undervalue these moments, assuming that they’re bound to be unenjoyable. But Disney doesn’t believe that- neither should you.

As you ride, consider this: at what points do your events or initiatives have “dead air”? What activities are popular on your campus that can fill these spaces? What opportunities can be found in these moments to inform, entertain, or educate?


Any and all of the dining facilities

As someone with food allergies and sensitivities, I struggle to eat most places. While I completely recognize the complications that can come from trying to accommodate everyone (and generally prepare to feed myself otherwise), I was floored to realize the care and consideration that Disney takes when ensuring park patrons can eat around the park. If you identify that you have a food allergy, you aren’t just referred to another menu- you’re referred to an establishment manager, who shows you the ingredients for the products, helps you make your selection, and personally delivers your food to you.

This can make a HUGE difference to someone who expected to not be able to eat, or to have a limited array of choices. I’ve been able to eat pasta in “Italy,” and have my own bread before the meal- something that no other restaurant has ever been able to give me. I nearly cried!

As you dine, consider this: How can you be considerate of what seem like small touches to you, but make huge differences to those you work with? Ask questions. Assess needs (a few of these offbeat examples can help!). Work with collaborators to see how these concerns can be addressed.

We can’t wait to see all you’ll learn at the conference, and are especially excited to see what you do with your “retreat day” at Walt Disney World. What other lessons can you find at the parks? Let us know, we’d love to showcase them!


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