Meet Jason Grooms! Former Disney Cast Member and now the Founder and Author at The Brainy Tourist. He and his wife, Meg, enjoy creating educational material for students to enhance their learning at Disney and around the community! Our interview with him below is chock-full of Disney hints that you’ll love!
Favorite WDW Park: Epcot. It’s the science nerd in me. Between Future World and World Showcase, I’m in heaven.
Favorite Restaurant: Tangerine Café in Morocco at Epcot. I’d rather eat the lamb shawarma combo platter than just about anything at any of the parks.
Favorite Character: My favorite character from any of the movies has to be Mulan. Her courage, sacrifice and selflessness are probably the greatest among all of the recent era Disney movies.
Favorite Attraction: Horizons, but if you’re talking current, Haunted Mansion.
Favorite Resort: I haven’t had the pleasure of staying at every resort on property but of the ones that I have stayed at the Wilderness Lodge is far and away my favorite.
WDW Hints: Can you give us a brief intro about yourself?
Jason: My name is Jason Grooms and I grew up in Orlando, Florida and have spent 39 of my 42 years living somewhere in the sunshine state. I got my degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, which is where I met my best friend, Meg. We’ve been married 19 years this year and have six amazing kids.
WDW Hints: What led you to work for Disney?
Jason: Some people grow up as military brats. I grew up a Disney brat. My dad worked for Disney for almost 40 years as a show artist at almost every park around the world, so I’ve always had pixie dust in my blood. During high school it was my first summer job (I was on the opening crew for both Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach as a teenager) and when I graduated from college Disney was the first place I thought of to start my career. I absolutely loved making someone’s day or vacation magical.
WDW Hints: Working as a YES facilitator, what did you enjoy most?
Jason: I loved taking the kids out exploring in the wilderness around property. I used to teach a program from Discovery Island (which is now closed) called Kidventure during which we went out and found native plants, watched for wildlife and looked for tracks. It was always the best when a kid found a fresh raccoon or bobcat track. I’ve always loved that kind of exciting discovery. It’s exactly the kind of thing we try to teach our kids and what I weave into all our Brainy Tourist workbooks. I think giving kids the tools to discover on their own and learn by exploring and adventure is the best way to get them excited about the journey.
I remember one morning I pulled my boat up to the Contemporary dock where we met the families and there were only three people waiting, a mom and two kids, and they only spoke Japanese. At first I thought it was going to be a real issue, but we worked out the basics including the safety tips, and it turned out to be a wonderful day. By the time we met up with their mom later that afternoon, they were both smiling from ear to ear.
WDW Hints: Have you been homeschooling your kids from the very beginning? What made you decide to homeschool?
Jason: We’ve been home schooling for over 15 years now, since our oldest was about 4. She’s graduated high school now and the other five are following closely behind. Neither my wife nor I had a very good public school experience and we felt like the current public and private school systems really just missed the mark when it came to real learning and meeting an individual child’s needs. Homeschooling wasn’t really something we’d ever talked about or felt passionately about at the time. Then one day when our daughter was little we just said to each other, “Let’s try homeschooling” and we never looked back. It has been the greatest experience of our lives.
WDW Hints: How (and when) did “the Brainy Tourist” come about?
Jason: I love creating curriculum, workbooks, and learning materials. I always have, going back to my days at Discovery Island. I did it several times for our homeschool group just for the fun of it, then a few years ago I was chatting with a good friend of mine about what we would do if we could just walk away from our jobs and do what we loved. For me it was going on learning adventures with my kids and developing books so other kids could do the same. My first books were written under the KidQuest Science Adventures title, but last year Meg and I realized that there was a perfect synergy between people visiting Central Florida and learning adventures. So we changed the name to The Brainy Tourist and started focusing on learning adventures at Disney and other local attractions. Being big time Disney nerds, we’ve been working on a lot of WDW specific stuff lately, although we definitely want to add more local nature and outdoor locations as well.
WDW Hints: What do you hope others will gain from your website & books?
Jason: A passion for exploration and discovery. I love seeing kids get excited about the things they learn and what that leads to. They may learn some fact that leads them to research a related topic or go off in another direction that excites them. My overall goal is just to inspire kids to develop a passion to learn and explore.
WDW Hints: What’s your favorite thing about Our World Neighbors?
Jason: There is a lot of information out there on the different countries around World Showcase – books, articles, maps, etc. But the truly unique element at Epcot is the people that work in those areas. Because they come from each of those countries I wanted to get kids talking to them, asking questions, learning about who they really were. Other cultures can seem so odd or different to kids. By getting to know them, not only do they get firsthand info about that country, kids get to see that they’re all real people and a lot like them. I put a lot of effort into the analysis piece so they could see both the differences and the similarities. That’s why I titled it Our World Neighbors. We just live in really big neighborhood, but we all have hopes and dreams, and we want to have fun and fall in love, and hang out with friends. If I can get one kid to feel a little more connected to someone halfway around the world and see them as a person just like them, then the book is a success.
WDW Hints: Which book is most popular – Our World Neighbors, Bugging Around or Wild at the Zoo?
Jason: Wild at the Zoo has been out the longest and because it can be used at any zoo in the world has been our most popular so far. But we’ve had a lot of people ask for an Epcot culture studies book and the initial response has been amazing. I think Our World Neighbors will overtake WATZ pretty quickly. Bugging Around is a backyard adventure book so it can be done at your own house, but not all parents are keen on the whole insect thing, so it’s been a little slower than the others, but the activities are really cool. My kids have probably done those activities more than any of the others. We also have a short Magic Kingdom literature study titled Reading the Magic that has been really popular and a free Main Street USA History Scavenger hunt that a LOT of people have downloaded and used. (Editor’s Note: Check out The Brainy Tourist’s freebies here!)
WDW Hints: What books (or topics) are you working on right now and hope to publish in the coming years?
Jason: I love the connection between literature and the parks. I created the initial Reading the Magic piece as a short study, but I really want to blow it out into an entire series. I’m going to call them Reading the Magic: (Fairy Tales, Science Fiction, High Adventure, etc.) Each will be a combo of studying a piece of classic literature, some Disney shorts or movie and something at the parks. Again, my goal is to get kids excited about things they discover and let them follow the path that excites them the most.
We’ve also started an outline for an art study at the parks that would involve doing some initial research about art styles and expression and then some crafts or activities at the parks. I also have some bubble diagrams and sketches for a botany study of all four parks (I love the way Disney uses the landscaping to help tell the story) and a music study. Somewhere along the way we’re also going to do a beach book, and Florida wildlife hiking activity book. My brainstorm book is overflowing.
WDW Hints: What is your favorite “hint” or lesser-known tip you like to share with others about WDW?
Jason: The coldest water anywhere on Disney property is at the water fountains in the waiting area for the Liberty Belle riverboat ride. No joke, I don’t know what it is or why, but the water coming out of those fountains is always ice cold, and has been for years. It’s a must during a summer visit.
Going to the campfire event at Fort Wilderness. It’s 100% free. You don’t have to be a guest to go, and it’s a blast. Free Disney movie, s’mores on a campfire and you can catch the electric water pageant from the beach at the end of the night. It’s a family favorite.
WDW Hints: What do you like to learn about when you visit any of the WDW theme parks?
Jason: Anything behind the scenes. I know a lot just from my time working there and from my dad, but it never gets old. How do things work mechanically? How do they work out the logistics of all of those characters and parades and shows? What does a pirate look like without his skin? OK. I know that last one, but I still love it.
WDW Hints: What do you like to teach your kids (or others) about when you visit WDW?
Jason: I point out everything I can about how the parks were made, and the historical or literature or cultural references that are everywhere. Above it all I like to teach them that because there is history and science and imaginations and hard work behind it all, makes it all the more magical. ☺