The Walt Disney World Resort has changed dramatically since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. One of the most noticeable changes to the Resort has been in its Cast Members. When the pandemic began, not only were thousands of Cast Members laid off when the Parks and Resorts were forced to close under strict health and safety guidelines at the time, but nearly all of Disney’s international Cast Members were sent home.
Visa requirements and other eligibility issues made it challenging for international programs to return to Walt Disney World since the world began to recover from the pandemic. For the year or so following the Resort’s initial closure, Guests were noticeably missing the international Cast Members who worked around the property, and especially those who welcomed invited them to learn about their own cultures in EPCOT’s World Showcase and at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.
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Cultural Representatives from Sub-Saharan Africa are a major part of what makes a trip to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge so special. Whether Guests are stopping in to check out the art and artifacts in the Resort’s lobby, dining at Boma, Jiko, or Sanaa, or planning a staycation at the Resort, these Cast Members can share information about their own countries and cultures with Guests visiting from around the world.
Unfortunately, these Cast Members all returned home when the pandemic began, but after several months on pause, Disney began working with individual countries to begin a phased return of its international programs. If you have visited Walt Disney World within the last year, you may have noticed international Cast Members back in EPCOT, and now they have returned to Animal Kingdom Lodge!
Cultural representatives at the Lodge work with Disney’s Animals, Science, and Environment team to help educate Guests about the animals that live at the Resort along with their own cultures.
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The Disney Parks Blog recently shared some of the ways that cultural representatives could make your trip to Animal Kingdom Lodge even more magical, starting with the lobby.
This is one Disney Resort lobby that we always recommend visiting to check out the artifacts on display that include several authentic pieces from countries across the African continent. In the back of the lobby, Guests can find an Igbo Ijele Mask, created by the Igbo people of Nigeria. The mask is one of the most stunning works of art at Walt Disney World, and serves as a breathtaking celebration of Nigerian culture.
Returning cultural representative Naledi Nala from South Africa shared her excitement on the return of the program saying, “I love sharing everything I can about South Africa with our guests who have an interest in listening and learning. I can’t wait for everybody to come to Animal Kingdom Lodge and experience the warm welcome of South Africa and African cultural reps.”
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Another place to find cultural representatives at the Resort is near the savanna. Animal Kingdom Lodge is home to multiple viewing areas where Guests can walk near the savanna to see the animals (it’s one of our favorite activities at Walt Disney World that does not require a theme park ticket!)
On the savanna, a cultural representative back at the Lodge for her second program, Ntandoyenkosi Mngomezulu shared:
I’m so happy to be back at this beautiful place where I can share so much about where I come from, which is something I’m passionate about. I get to teach guests more about wildlife behavior and conservation, two other subjects I’m passionate about, so it’s really fun to get to do what I love.
Be sure to stop by Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge during your next trip to the Walt Disney World Resort to welcome back the cultural representatives (and stop by Boma or the Mara and have a Zebra Dome for us!