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Robert Niles
Editor

Theme park cast member stories: The Florida summer afternoon thunderstorm

Published: April 20, 2009 at 2:47 PM

Rain 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.

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.

Replies (10)

Corbin Barker
Writer

Published: April 20, 2009 at 3:22 PM

lol good story Robert.

As I stated in my "McLovin" story I worked at Kali River Rapids, and we stay open during the rain but not during thunderstorms. Well working on the days like Robert told in his story were always "fun". Getting to walk around in crappy "rain gear", hearing the same "When will Everest open?" question a million times, but most fun was seeing all the people having a blast getting soaked in the rain.

At the beginning of the queue, there is an umbrella that holds water really really well. So when soaked guests come by to line up for the ride, I would ask them "Are you ready to get soaked??" They'd always give a enthusiastic answer, and I would go "Great! Cause it starts now!", at which point I would tip the umbrella over causing all the water that's been trapped and splashes all over the guests. We'd all have a good laugh and have a good time...

but not every time, however...

This one lady, who was completely drenched, with a smile on her face, was starting to line up, so I went through my speel:

Me: "Are you ready to Tackle the Kali??"
Lady: "Oh yeah!"
Me: "Awesome! Here's a preview!"

At this point the lady stops, turns to me with the meanest look that I have ever seen, points her finger at me and yells at the top of her lungs:

"WHAT THE F#&* WAS THAT ALL ABOUT??"

I stop dead in my tracks. Saying I had a deer-in-headlights look would be an understatement.

She continued: "I did NOT line up for this ride to get wet!"

Confused, I responded, "But ma'am this is Kali River Rapids...you ARE gonna get wet."

She doesn't skipped a beat "What are you talking about, this is the Everest Roller Coaster ride, are you stupid?"

At this point i'm starting to get pretty angry, but keeping my Disney cool, I show her a map and point her to Everest (which was closed.) At which points she started mumbling something about Jesus and lightning and there were some cuss words thrown in there. Rain seems to bring out the best in people huh?

TH Creative
Writer

Published: April 20, 2009 at 4:21 PM

Summer 1983. THC working at the Jungle Cruise ("Toucan Tim" ... thank you very much). An ark-worthy Florida rain douses the park at around 2:30 PM. Your intrepid skipper -- who is nearing the end of his shift is soaked through his khakis and corduroy shirt.

He gets an idea. The queue is filled. Guests are a bit down about the weather. Gotta do something about it. I motion my fellow Jungle Cruise skipper over (Steve -- still a supervisor at Downtown Disney). He's like 6'0" tall. I'm 5'5" ... and a half.

"Hey Steve?"

"Yeah?"

"Ya gotta toss me in?"

"What?"

"Toss me in the river."

"No way."

"Come on!"

"I'll get terminated."

I trot over to the dock box and propose it to my lead Dennis. He doesn't say yes. He doesn't say no. He just turns away as if not to know what's going on.

Close enough. I give Steve the nod. He walks to unload and tells the guys there to hold the next boat from coming in.

I march up to the queue full of guests. And I SCREAM ...

"Hey folks! Don't be sad. I'll tell you a joke. Why couldn't the pony talk?!"

These people are looking at me as if I were insane.

"Because he was a little hoarse!"

The guests look at me like I am an idiot.

Steve walks up behind me and says "You're an idiot."

He picks me up and hoists me into the river.

I do a big pratt fall and come up from the filthy, green dye mixed with pesticide and diesel fuel water to a wild ovation.

A couple of guys haul me out on to the dock. I bow deeply and head to the tunnels.

Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: April 20, 2009 at 4:35 PM

I am sad to say that I have been to Disney World So many times, my family knows where to go and what to do when it rains. We usually can predict when it rains too! Sad!
Don Neal

Published: April 21, 2009 at 5:32 AM

TH, that sounds like a wonderful swimming hole! :P

Great stories guys!

Jonny Read

Published: April 21, 2009 at 7:05 AM

Ha! Some good stories. Its funny though - because what you guys did, and some Cast Members do now really is what makes a day out at a Disney park so magical!

For years those guests will no doubt be talking about when that staff member got thrown into the lake and everybody laughed about it..good effort guys!

Diane Graebner
Writer

Published: April 21, 2009 at 7:58 AM

I can't remember the year, but I was working at the Pocahontas show at what was then Disney MGM Studios (yes, there used to be a Pocahontas show there). People queued for at least 45 minutes for that show, always, so we were very concienscious about not cancelling it unless we really, really had to. The show was about to start, and the sky was rapidly turning to midnight black. I was in operations, assisting guests with finding seats, and my position for the show was right in front of the stage. We had confirmed with the stage manager that he did, in fact, want to go ahead and do the whole show, since we were really nervous about the obviously impending storm that was moving very quickly toward us. The stage manager assured us silly operations folks that they had plenty of time to finish the show before the storm hit.

At that time, the backlot theater was still a somewhat temporary structure. Benches weren't bolted down, and the "roof" was a canopy structure on metal supports. Guests sat on metal benches and a metal riser stand, so it was imperitive that we get them out of the theatre in cases of lightning. We were very concerned that the storm appeared to be very violent and we would have to evacuate in the middle of the show. We had no idea!

Pocahontas and John Smith were just about to launch into "Colors of the Wind" when the colors of the wind changed from lovely blue to ugly grey/black immediately! The wind picked up and the type of rain that Robert was talking about, the kind that blows completely sideways if not upside down, began pouring from the sky like someone had dumped one of the water tank effects on top of us. The wind was howling so loudly that no one could hear anything over it. The show lights turned off, the cast basically ran off stage, and we were stuck with guests who were not going to run out into the rain if you paid them. There was limited cover in the theater, and darn it if they weren't going to stay under it.

A couple of us looked up at the canopy at about this time, and our hearts collectively stopped in mid-beat. The metal supports were actually buckling under the weight of water that was rapidly filling the canopy! Several small tears were forming in it, dripping into the theatre, but it was a question about whether the canopy would split and dump a ton of water on us, or the supports would buckle and drop the whole canopy on us first.

We collectively sprang into action. Operations cast members on either side of the stage began literally pushing guests out into the rain, shouting at the top of our lungs that they had to get to safer cover. Those on my side ran to Muppets, which fortunatley (?) had received a lighning strike just before the rain had started and had evacuated, leaving the building empty. We were pushing the guests out toward the Muppets cast, who for their part were welcoming them into the building, wrapping the wetter of them in Muppet costume lab coats and throwing towels to them. The guests, seeming to understand our urgency, were cooperative and ran for shelter at our command.

The way that theater was set up, guests with disabilities sat in the front row. The house was raked, sloping down toward the stage to offer a better view for those in the back. The tissue paper leaves that we dumped on the audience during "Colors of the Wind" tended to block the drains. As we were pushing guests out, we noted that the front of the theatre was filling up with water, and the guests in wheelchairs were now up to their knees in it! We ran down to the front, and each of us grabbed a poor guest in a wheelchair, pushing the chairs up to higher ground. Many of our guests were elderly couples, and many of their companions couldn't get the chairs up the slope fast enough. We all took off our raingear, draping it over those poor guests in their wheelchairs before pushing them out into the rain. Companions and other guests took over, pushing those poor soggy people to the safety of the Muppet building. By now, the water was nearly up to the level of the stage, and those who could walk had abandoned their wheelchairs and made a run for it.

Finally, we had all the guests out. We were all drenched, having given up our raingear (which really hadn't done us much good anyway considering the violence of the storm). The rain was still coming down sideways, and more and more breaches in the canopy were showing, so the stage manager hollered for us to come up on stage. He turned on all the stage lights so we could warm up and dry off a little.

I remember sitting there, on a tree stump on stage, watching the rain. What I remember most, though, is the sight of one lone wheelchair, floating by the front row, which by now was nearly under water.

We learned our lesson and cancelled shows when the weather threatened from that point on.

Dan Babbitt

Published: April 21, 2009 at 4:28 PM

So as some of you know I work at the Tower of Terror and we really dont get many weather related stories but this one ranks at the top of my all time "people dont think" stories!

So I was tasking 1 day, tasking is when cast dont have a set position and I needed to clean or offer to other cast 5 minute bathroom breaks, and I was up at the load zones when this situation happens.

When it rains a good portion of guest put on rain ponchos, at the Tower we ask guest to take off their ponchos and put them away so that they dont go flying out the doors, and disturbing other guest experience.

Well, when I was walking and asking cast if they wanted breaks I saw a guest get into an elevator with a yellow rain poncho. I knew that the cast at that load was new and maybe thought it was ok to let the guest go in. I then watched the cast do there speil and all and before they sent the elevator I stopped the cast and asked him what he did wrong.

He thought about it, looked into the elevator and he said he didnt know what was wrong and said it was ok to send the elevator. I said no and that somebody was wearing a poncho which is not allowed. I went over to the elevator and asked the guest to take off there poncho. And low-and-behold there was underneath the poncho a 5 month old baby!

Yup, the guest thought it was ok to hold the baby in the ride! I coulnt believe what I was seeing the other cast member was in disbelief and even the other guest were in awe! I called up the manager and told them what happened and he warned the guest not to take the baby on other rides were there is a height restriction. He then called the duty manager who then warned all the other rides about to look for these situations!

Well after this happen I noticed that the rain ponchos changed from yellow to the clear colored ponchos you see today!

Robert Niles
Editor

Published: April 21, 2009 at 4:42 PM

Outstanding stories, everyone. Great stuff.
Jason Jackson

Published: April 21, 2009 at 6:36 PM

Well this is a Virginia thunderstorm story...but once when I was working at a park a few years back, we had a electrical storm, as we seem to have every summer afternoon, and this guest wanted to ride one of the tall coasters and said that he would sign a waiver in saying he would not sue if we would let him ride during the storm. Of course we politely declinced, but I've seen guest ask us why we stop the coasters when it is lightning. Makes you wonder!
124.179.183.88

Published: April 24, 2009 at 4:22 PM

Back when I worked at Warner Bros. Movie World here on the Gold Coast Australia, in merchandise. It was late January early February.

I was working in the Department Store for the day, typical summers day, park full of guests, nice sunny day, quite warm, just wished I could have been outside, enjoying the day with everyone else.

Then probably about, 3.30 pm without warning everything went dark, the wind picked up blowing a gale and got really icey cold, got that sweet smell of rain just as it starts to rain. The sky turned a really odd green colour. Then all hell broke loose.

Being in storm alley, we had a hail storm come in from over the range with all the force and armament of the royal navy.

Hail stones as big as golf balls, plumeted down. The shop filled to over capacity, you couldnt move without violating the persons space next to you. As the Movie Sound Stages had just exited.

For near to 15 minutes we were in torrential rain that flooded main street to the top of the curb, hail and wind, with much physical damage caused to the facards, buildings, windows, neon lights on the Roxy theatre completly smashed, the Police Academy shade sail torn to shreds, not forgetting all the cars out in the car park all suffering from hail damage.

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