BAY LAKE, Fla. – Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge is one of Walt Disney World’s most unique resorts.
It’s home to some beautiful guest rooms, award-winning restaurants and views of a Savannah packed with more than 30 species of African wildlife, including zebras, giraffes and gazelles. Not long ago, the resort welcomed back a handful of cultural representatives for the first time since before the pandemic.
The 17 cast members represent 14 different African countries and cultures.
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“Currently we have guides from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and the great kingdom of Lesotho,” said Jordan “Baz” Baszner, education manager at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. “We have the program back, the way it was designed to be since it started in 2001. Guests can have authentic conversations with people from countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”
During the 12-month program, cultural representatives play a crucial role in interacting and creating immersive experiences with Walt Disney World guests through authentic and creative ways. In the resort lobby, for instance, guests may be greeted by an African cultural representative at the door or hear some of them drumming up musical tunes from their individual countries.
“So, it’s a combination of putting together what I have from home, my culture, everything that we’ve learned together and bring it here and share with the American community,” said Ashley Morgen, cultural representative from Zimbabwe. “I’m the perfect person to talk about Zimbabwe, and what is the best place to do it? Disney!”
“Being here is a dream come true, because I always wanted to be part of the magic that Disney offers for everybody so I was feeling really super excited,” said Boris Waiga, cultural representative from Uganda. “I’ve been having magic moments every single day. Every day I come to work here and I go back with a beautiful smile, which I have never received in my life before.”
Out on the Savannah, guides use activities that involve music, biology blocks, and a scavenger hunt to educate guests about conservation efforts that can make a difference in their own community.
“The String of Memories is a scavenger hunt program where you do an activity and learn why it’s important in their culture, then you get a bead. If you do all eight activities around Jambo House, or Kidani Village, you get your full string of memories and then your totem bead that shows you graduated. It’s an incentive program because children didn’t realize they’re going to come and actually learn something here,” Baszner explained.
Finding these conservation activities is pretty easy, simply look for a sign with a Mickey Mouse symbol on it or ask a cast member for assistance.
While some guides are eager to begin their first Disney International Program, others are returning again to create more Disney magic.
“People always ask me, ‘Why are you doing it again? I’m like, why not?’ It’s been a pleasurable experience for me,” explained Mulalo Phidza, a returning cultural representative from South Africa. “I got to learn a lot of things. I got to meet a lot of amazing people from different backgrounds, nations and everything. It exposed me to a lot of things that I didn’t know and it opened new possibilities.”
Guests can meet and talk with the cultural representatives at both Jambo House and Kidani Village during the day at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
Click here to learn more about the Disney’s Cultural Representative Program.
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