He doesn’t know I am writing this. It’s probably for the best.
From time to time, we are going to review books here at Theme Park University that will give you a wealth of knowledge about how the themed entertainment industry really ticks. It would be ridiculously cruel of me to not have our first read be “From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: A Life and Lessons Learned in 40 Years Behind a Name Tag,” penned by our very own Ron Schneider.
Most of you know Ron as the “original” Dreamfinder from Epcot’s “Journey Into Imagination” pavilion. He may not have been the absolute first person to don the suit, but he sure as hell perfected the character. After Epcot opened in 1982, the Dreamfinder became the unofficial spokesperson for the park since Mickey and friends were only allowed to reside in the Magic Kingdom until Michael Eisner took over the reigns of CEO several years later.
After fulfilling a lifelong dream at Disneyland as Wally Boag’s understudy at the “Golden Horseshoe Revue,” Ron voiced the last half of “Journey Into Imagination” after actor Chuck McCann mysteriously dropped out of the project. Once he arrived in Florida, he became Disney’s go-to-guy whenever they needed the Dreamfinder to help publicize the park. For example, here he is chatting with Bryant Gumbel on the “Today Show” as he tries his best to explain what’s sitting on his lap. (I fully expect my ass to get kicked for posting this).
In a very tiny span of time, Ron was used in all sorts of publicity including what most Disney fans consider to be the best opening special of a theme park ever produced. Danny Kaye starred as musical emcee of the two-hour extravaganza, but at the time it aired, the “Journey Into Imagination” pavilion wasn’t open to the public yet. Ron greeted Drew Barrymore and Danny Kaye outside the Dreamfinder’s new home in the special and gave a glimpse of the wonders they would see inside in the clip below.
Ron Schneider has done more in the world of themed entertainment than any other person I have ever met. From performing in theme parks to writing dinner shows, he also did a ton of voiceover work over the years from theme parks to commercials. For many years, Ron served as the narrator of the grand circle tour aboard the “Walt Disney World Railroad.” You could even hear his voice at the exit of “Splash Mountain” where guests could view their on-ride photos.
Even today at Universal Studios Florida, hop aboard one of the bikes in “The E.T. Adventure” and just as you leave the load area, you’ll see a robotic figure at a table working for NASA. As he looks up at the bike you’re peddling, he notices what’s in the milk crate attached to the front and proclaims, “They got E.T.!”. Yup, also Ron.
How I met Ron is actually a bit of an odd story. Before there was the World Wide Web, there was this internet-based software called Prodigy. The service helped provide the building blocks for the internet as we know it. Prodigy had various news feeds, sports scores, stock quotes and message boards. A few fans of Disney and theme parks started to pop up on those message boards where we would all talk about our favorite rides, places to eat and experiences. No pictures, just text – remember, this was extremely basic.
Long before Chris Hansen from “Dateline” started red flagging chat rooms as a place where weirdoes hung out, Prodigy created chat rooms based on the popular categories of their bulletin boards and “Disnoids” got our very own chat room – the first on the internet! Shortly after its debut, they asked members if they could come up with discussion topics within the chat rooms at certain times of the week to help boost member usage.
Being a genius, I figured out that you could run a trivia contest within a chat room and actually keep score along the way. For quite some time, I would come up with ridiculously difficult questions to keep my fellow Disnoids on their toes every Sunday night for about two hours. The chat rooms could only hold about 50 members at a time, and if you didn’t log into the room within the first five minutes, you weren’t getting in. Everyone had screen names, most were of favorite Disney characters.
As the “Disney Trivia God”, I had quite a loyal following including this guy with a handle of Dreamfinder. I would always get compliments about how much they looked forward to the show and the Dreamfinder was always one of the top five contestants each week. After a few months, I was headed to Central Florida on a vacation and the Dreamfinder asked if I wanted to do lunch. We met, I found out that it was Ron Schneider – THE Dreamfinder, not just a fancy screen name. We’ve been friends ever since.
Ron was a fan of me, long before I knew who the hell he was. Over the past 20 years, our friendship has always been driven by our love for the world of themed entertainment. His vast experience on the creative side – performing, directing and writing, combined with my intricate knowledge of how the operation runs, has always provided lively conversation and debate over our weekly lunch outings.
No matter what your curiosity level of theme parks, dinner shows or attractions is – Ron has more stories and experience in this industry on the creative side than anyone I know. Around five years ago, a few friends and I started to ask him to start to put these stories down on paper, at the very least. The end result, “From Dreamer To Dreamfinder,” is easily the most fascinating collection of stories you will find about themed entertainment in any book, period. The guy has done it all.
Ron has taken the role of what many people would consider just a fun job and turned it into an art form, if not a science. The last chapter of the book reads more like a text book of lessons in themed entertainment he has acquired over the years.
As a matter of fact, last fall, “From Dreamer to Dreamfinder” was required reading in a Disney history class taught at Rollins College in Orlando. Which, strangely enough, lead to the formation of Theme Park University.
After the class read the book, Ron was asked to be a guest speaker at Rollins to expound upon some of the lessons he has learned over the years, as well as a chance for students to ask questions. As “luck” would have it, Mr. Schneider wasn’t feeling that well the day he was scheduled and told the professor, a mutual friend of ours, that he might need to cancel. The professor asked if I could sit in and field questions about theme parks and I agreed to wing it that night. At the last minute, Ron was feeling better, so we both decided to chat about our experiences in theme parks.
Moving forward, we realized that our educated discussions on themed entertainment might be an interesting read for anyone has a passion for this industry and well… here we are.
In celebration of our first book review and since I happen to know the author pretty well, we are going to have a contest for TPU readers. From now until Tuesday, August 20, I will pick five winners who can choose from the following list:
- A personalized autographed copy of “From Dreamer to Dreamfinder: 40 Years Behind A Name Tag.”
- Three winners will have Ron record an outgoing message on their cell phone’s voicemail system as one of the many characters he has voiced over the years for theme parks.
- A lucky winner will be chosen to have lunch with Ron somewhere in the Central Florida area. If you are not local (or have no plans to come in the near future), we will set up a conversation via skype. We will figure something out.
Each winner will have the choice of prize on a first come, first served basis. Winners will be chosen at random. In order to win, you need to:
- Follow me on Twitter @TPUJosh.
- Tweet anything with the hash tag #FromDreamerToDreamfinder between now and August 20th.
- You can enter as many times as you like.
Winners will be contacted via Twitter on August 21 and will be announced on @TPUJosh ‘s Twitter feed.
One final plea: If you decide to buy Ron’s book (and you seriously should if you are a fan of theme parks), please do so using the banner at the bottom of this article. By clicking on that banner, we get an itsy bitsy part of any purchase you make on Amazon when you click through to them via that link, which helps cover tuition costs here at Theme Park University. So, if you are a fan of this site and use Amazon to buy anything at all, follow these steps.
- Clear your web browser of all cookies.
- Click the banner below.
- Once you are at the amazon home page, bookmark that link for anytime you make a purchase at Amazon.com.
A thousand thank you’s in advance and best of luck at winning those fabulous prizes. For more stories on the themed entertainment industry, follow us on Twitter by clicking here or like our Theme Park University Fan Page on Facebook by clicking here.