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Theme park cast member stories: The most difficult question, ever

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Published: May 26, 2009 at 11:00 AM

What's the single most difficult thing a theme park cast member is ever called upon to do?

Move a crowd of people off the street and behind a Magic Kingdom parade barrier? Maybe, but with a strong voice and a stronger attitude, that's really no big deal.

Calm a crying child before he stops the line at load? Also tricky, but a warm smile and kneeling down to a child's eye level do wonderful things.

Wiping up a "protein spill" after said child finishes that ride? Disgusting, but less so once one discovers that invaluable substance, "Vo-Ban."

No, this single most difficult thing a theme park employee has to do is...

Ask a women if she is pregnant.

If she says 'yes,' hey, not only have you done your job well, but maybe you also just prevented a horrible incident that could have compromised her pregnancy.

But if she says 'no'... oh my heaven, hell hath no fury than a woman mistaken for a pregnant one.

I'll always remember one soul-destroying exchange I witnessed at Walt Disney World's Big Thunder Mountain load platform:

"Excuse me, ma'am, but are you pregnant?"

"PREGNANT? No! What are you saying, do I look FAT?"

"Um," (awkward pause) "actually, I was saying that I thought you looked, maybe, pregnant."

At this moment, every other operator on the platform looks away, trying to shrink behind the nearest stanchion, or, ideally, into a hole in the floor.

"I AM NOT PREGNANT! Oh my God," the young woman then buries her head into the friend's chest and sobs. "they think I look fat. Let's get out of here!"

Then they cross over the train and out the station, as the poor cast member who asked her the question looks like he'd just as soon throw himself in front of said train.

Bad times, all around.

Still, you've got to ask. The consequence of letting an expectant mother on some rides can be horrific. (Insider tip: When rides bar pregnant riders, it's not just because the ride's normal operation is too rough for an expectant mother. It's because of what might happen should the attraction shut down in mid-ride. Trust me, you do not want a pregnant belly anywhere near a lap bar when a roller coaster hits a safety brake.)

I never, ever wanted to be that cast member, as humiliated asking the question as that poor woman felt having to answer it. Which is why I felt the weight of the world lift from me one day as I discovered an impromptu solution.

A maybe-pregnant, maybe-not young woman was walking down the platform at load. As she walked closer, and the moment of truth approached, I turned to the pair of teenage boys in front of me and asked, in a booming voice with a huge smile on my face...

"Are you pregnant?"

They looked at me like I was nuts. But I didn't wait for an answer. I then asked the elderly ladies behind them the same question.

"Are you pregnant?"

She just laughed. To the burly biker dudes behind them,

"Are you pregnant?"

They laughed, too, as the woman-in-question finally approached, laughing along with the rest of the platform.

"No," she said.

Soul-crushing moment averted!

I kept asking down the line for that entire train, just for appearances. That became my SOP for every potential pregnancy then on: ask *everyone* around the woman in question if they were pregnant, so that the woman would not feel singled out.

Many times, I saw a panicked look on the woman's face as I approached, and I knew that she would be answering 'yes.' When that happened, I stopped the schtick, changed to an earnest expression of concern and explained, "Oh, gosh, I'm sorry, ma'am, but we can't allow expectant mothers to ride. Here, please come stand right over here," as I would help her across the train to the unload side and changed my expression to a wide smile, "and you can wait for your group while they ride."

Never failed, and no one ever complained.

Please share your incredibly awkward pregnancy-related theme park stories, in the comments.

Readers' Opinions

From 88.18.124.146 on May 26, 2009 at 11:55 AM
Hehehe.. certanly I've worked as a ride assitant in PortAventura (Spain) and I think is the most embarrassing question that I should have to do hehe. I agree with everything.
Hawer
From Brian Emery on May 26, 2009 at 12:40 PM
How can the woman be mad at the operator and say “They think I look fat, let’s get out of here” ..

Of course they think you look Fat, if they are asking you if your enormous beer belly was a baby…. Maybe the woman should have simply looked in the mirror and finally stopped lying to herself…. Yes she looked FAT..

Maybe the attendant should have just given a warning to all about being pregnant on that ride and let the buyer beware … Anyway thanks for the laugh…. hahahahaha

From Joshua Counsil on May 26, 2009 at 1:57 PM
Brilliant strategy, Robert. I've pulled similar techniques in situations like that, usually involving my degradation in some way to make them feel better.

Although it's not theme park related, I have a similar story. Me and my buddy were working at the grocery store back in the day. All of a sudden, this absolutely ancient old lady walks by. My buddy, who was (and probably is) very crass, commented on her age:

"Huh. I'd give her 2 more weeks until she expires."

The old lady, somehow managing to hear my buddy's obnoxious remark, turns around and gives us the nastiest look.

Luckily, I was quick on my toes. Picking up a bin of cottage cheese from the nearby dairy fridge, I reply,

"Yeah, I know, this humidity is murder on the milk products."

The woman's expression lightened and she went on her way. Situation averted.

From Chris Danger on May 26, 2009 at 3:46 PM
Ive had to deal w/ the soul-crushing blow of dealing with big people in my theme park days, but I always found a way to humor them, esp the big folks and challenged who always rode up on those old-people scooters to ride. Id always throw in a "Thats a cool ride, may I take a spin" to lighten up their day. Always made them chuckle as well...
From Will Chilcote on May 26, 2009 at 3:54 PM
Love your cast member stories. Hope you make this a regular column. I worked a short time as a cast member for a six flags park in food service. I don't remember anything particular interesting or funny happening, wish I did.
From Eric Ang on May 26, 2009 at 4:22 PM
My story is not quite related to pregnancy, but in relation to the sensitive matter of size.

I worked in store operations, and there were times when a guest would ask for a larger size. The largest size for women's in Disneyland resort apperral is xxl. Sometimes our guests would get insulted when you offer a xl or xxl even if they ask for a bigger size.

Now the problem gets even worse in Disney's California Adventure because there are no dressing rooms in the resort, so guest try on the clothes in the store. They often try on the clothes on top of the current outfit they are wearing to ensure privacy. One time, a guest tried on a xl and the shirt didnt fit. She tried to take it off, and it was an embarassing struggle. Other guests in the store started to laugh and snicker. The guest was embarassed. So, I needed to find a way to avert guests from trying on shirts that were a size smaller, and I came up with a rather....pg-13ish way, prolly not the way Disney would advice


I would always reply with a rather pg-13 answer, "Our shirts run 'smaller' than usual and they run tighter in the chest area, I suggest getting one size bigger because some guests are more 'gifted' than others...in that area of the shirt. Usually I get a small blush, but I never get a look of disgust.

From Dan Babbitt on May 26, 2009 at 6:32 PM
Nothing really goes on at the Tower of Terror at DHS with pregnant guest trying to go on. Pretty much guest who dont really dont want to go it will stay away and guest who are epprehensive about the ride will look at the warning sign and make an excuse and not go on.

I do have 2 stories 1 about overweight guests and the other involving a pregnant guest.

As some of you know the Tower used to have lap bars and didnt have any weight restrictions. Bigger guests, who we call "flyers", would get bigger airtime then skinnier guest. Of course the ones that would get the best are kids that are going on with the "flyers" in the same row. Well when they changed the lap bars to seatbelts the next day a regular annual pass "flyer" came to the ride and when she went to put on the seatbelt it wouldnt fit! She got sooooo upset that she started to scream, cuss, and yell! Luckily the cast that handled her was one of the best cm's there and did it great. I dont know what happened after put older cm's say they havent seen her sense!

Due to having seatbelts we can know allow pregnants guest to go on the Tower of course we dont suggest you do it and warn you about 100 times before you go on. Well this Latino Guest had to go to my load and she insisted she was ok and even produced a doctors note saying she was 8-9 months pregnant and was cleared to do some rides. Well I called controll and said I have a pregnant guest that wants to go on and I was putting her in. They told me if I had reservations about it they would send someone to actually send the elevator, but I told them I can handle it. So I couldnt believe I sent someone that was that pregnant! Well about an hour or 2 I was in control and heard over the nextel calling for alpha unit, quest service manager, and duty manager becuase in one of the bathrooms a Latino Guest was having contractions and the baby was on the way!

Well I do have an embarrasing moment where I was loading my platform and these couple of guest had there back turned and I asked:

" Sir How many checking in?" (Of course in my creepy, load, bellhop voice)

The turned around in a surprisingly deep voice "MA'AM" with the hands on the hip and all! Well she had a buzz cut and wearing baggy clothes.

So I responded " Does'nt matter, How many checking in?"

I think she was surprised by my answer that she told me how many in her party and went to her assigned spot and didnt hear anything from her for the rest of her show. But I was embarrassed but I didnt want to show her I was!

From 72.187.151.36 on May 26, 2009 at 8:45 PM
The hardest question I has to ask: I had to ask a young boy whether or not he had an arm. Per ride restrictions he had to have one full arm plus part of the other one. Unfortunately I wasn't sure if he was hiding the other arm inside his shirt, or if he actually didn't have one. So, since the person working at height stick didn't do their job, I had to take a little boy off the ride after he was already strapped in because he didn't have an arm. Toughest moment of my life... I felt so bad!
From James Tacey on May 26, 2009 at 9:35 PM
I once rejected a very pregnant women from a ride I was operating. She was all understanding, friendly and wonderful, and left the ride and waited for her partner to go on the ride. Very soon after I was asked by a different guest why pregnant people couldn't ride, and quietly told them that the unborn child doesn't meet the height requirement.

And you know what? I think they believed me.

From 192.234.90.30 on May 27, 2009 at 4:08 AM
I don't quite understand why you HAVE to ask...pregnant women know very well they're not supposed to go on most theme park rides, and there are signs everywhere saying not to go on if you're pregnant. Why is it your responsibility to have to ask? There should be some sort of "buyer beware" in all of this. Besides, asking a woman if she's pregnant is a very personal question and can be devastating to some. It's just not worth it, people should look out for themselves.
From Robert Niles on May 27, 2009 at 7:40 AM
Implied consent. If a park employee sees an obviously pregnant woman and allows her to ride that act of implied consent can create a liability for the park that supersedes (or at least muddies) the park's no-expectant-mothers policy.

Asking puts the liability on the woman to answer truthfully.

In short "Asking = CYA."

From Onezumi Hartstein on May 27, 2009 at 5:11 PM
Yeah that is tough. Another good way to avoid embarrassment would be to tell the offended person that you were just asking everyone. Most people don't pay enough attention to know if that was true or not.
From rick stevens on May 27, 2009 at 7:08 PM
I can sympathize, I am an X-ray tech and we have to ask all of the time. My standard is "Is there any possibility of being pregnant?" We have to ask every female of "child bearing" age, everyone from teens to 60's. Don't want to radiate the possible fetus un-necessarily. I worked with a resident that had no bedside manner and would ask when the last time they had intercourse. I would really question the intelligence of anyone that would ride any ride while pregnant. Don't know if they still do it, but Knott's used to have a pregnant price since they assumed that the person would not be riding the rides.
From 75.82.111.25 on May 29, 2009 at 11:03 PM
I have congratulated women on their upcoming little bundle only to find out that they weren't pregnant. No way out of it, you feel like crap.

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