Theme park cast member stories: The Florida summer afternoon thunderstorm
By Robert NilesRain soaks the Central Florida theme parks almost daily during the summer months. Storm clouds typically gather in the afternoon, darkening the sky, then dumping their rain upon the parks, often accompanied by a fearsome show of lightning and thunder.
Published: April 20, 2009 at 2:47 PM
Visitors scurry into shops, restaurants and queues like businessmen fleeing before Godzilla in a cheesy '50s monster flick. But the regulars, the attractions cast members for whom rain has become the one thing that breaks up the monotony of yet another eight-hour shift, stand there in their rain gear, enjoying a few guest-free moments until the rain ends and the tourists emerge from their hiding places.
(I also worked one summer in merchandise. And for these CMs, the rain storms mark the day's nadir, the moment when throngs of tourists rush into the store, crushing everyone and everything - and sometimes, lifting a not-insignificant amount of stuff in the process. Just a lousy time, when no one can go on break, to boot.)
Afternoon thunderstorms meant an extra break for many attractions cast members, though, as lightning in the area takes down several attractions, including Tom Sawyer's Island, where I worked many shifts between 1988 and 1991.
One on summer afternoon, I was loading a raft for a trip back from the island to the mainland. The clouds gathered quickly that day, darkening the sky over the Splash Mountain construction site to a roiling black. Yet the skies over TSI remained sunny. One father squinted as he looked up into the sky and asked me, with a kidding tone, "How long do you think we'll have until that rain hits?"
"If you are lucky," I replied as I cast off and put the raft into gear, "we'll make it to the other side of the river first."
He laughed at what he thought was my joke. I laughed at him for thinking that.
Halfway across the river, I announced to the raft, in my loudest stage voice, "Please no open umbrellas on the raft. Wait until we dock before opening umbrellas."
Several people turned to look at me, with puzzled expressions. The sky was sunny, why are you talking about....
Then the rain hit. A torrential, Old Testament rain. One for which no rain jacket or umbrella provides any protection. The type of rain that leaves your underwear soaked for the remainder the day.
To their credit, my raft guests heeded my warning and did not open their umbrellas. (You don't want to get poked in the head with one when our free-floating raft bumps the dock.) I don't know whether they respected my authority or simply understood, as I did, that umbrellas were of no use against this vertical flood.
I docked my raft, nodded at my lead, then headed down to the tunnels for a fresh, dry costume. And a change of underwear (which I always kept in my locker). You could tell the rookies among Disney cast members. Those were the ones who, after a soaking rainstorm like this, were wearing dry replacement costumes, through which their dripping underwear was soaking.
Former park employees, share your favorite weather-related stories, in the comments.
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