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Theme park cast member stories: Earning your money, then giving it back

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Published: July 27, 2009 at 6:54 PM

As I remember it, Thursday was payday at the Walt Disney World Resort. And, curiously enough, Thursday was the day that Disney ran "cast member specials" at many locations around property.

The weekly prime rib in the Magic Kingdom employee cafeteria. Admission and drink specials at the Pleasure Island bars. Heck, some fellow cast members pounded so many drinks at the ritual Thursday night Pleasure Island CM gatherings that they practically gave back their entire paycheck to the company before it even saw the CMs' checking accounts.

Of course, many of us suspected that was the point. And the whole "Pleasure Island" irony wasn't lost on too many cast members, either. We knew the Pinocchio story.

But that didn't stop plenty of folks from having their fun, giving back their cash, then returning to the salt mines (or the Jungle, or the Mansion, or the Horseshoe) the next day - to start earning enough for next Thursday night.

Of course, many other cast members not only knew what was going on, but also decided to play a different game. They skipped the cafeteria prime rib (though, to be honest, at less than 40% of the price of the same meal "on stage" - it was a pretty good deal) and never darkened the doors of Pleasure Island. The tried to schedule Fridays off, knowing that they could pick up overtime shifts when others called in "sick" on Friday morning. They saved what the company paid them, and rarely succumbed to temptations of paying it back.

Like many cast members, I suspect, I floated somewhere between these extremes. Most weeks, I saved my cash and worked as much OT as I could get (or physically stand). But some weeks, especially after a couple of OT-heavy checks, I ordered the prime rib lunch, or joined my fellow CMs at Pleasure Island.

I guess for some folks, working at Disney was a job. And for others, it was a party. But for most of us, it was a little bit of both.

Readers' Opinions

From Pyra Dong on July 27, 2009 at 9:17 PM
Aw... I wish my theme park job had more perks like to blow cash-- it reminds me of being a freshman in college (sigh... good times)
Yup yup. It takes a strong person to work at a theme park. You really don't get paid enough and lots of pressure is placed on you to make other people happy. If you were in it for the money, you should just look for a job elsewhere. You NEED to love theme parks-- therefore try to grab any perks given to you. Like I said... not for the money. Like how turkey legs can sometimes be only $1.00 for us... MMmmMmmMm
From 69.122.57.31 on July 27, 2009 at 10:02 PM
this is all so true! we even had a special name for payday...Every Paycheck Comes On Thursday...yes, EPCOT :) thursdays were always the day we spent all our money on PI and the trading pins...and had to go to the cast member store to buy the hugely discounted items guests returned!
From Joshua Counsil on July 28, 2009 at 6:22 AM
That job would be nothing but a party for me. The coachman would be shipping me off to the salt mines in no time.
From TH Creative on July 28, 2009 at 4:07 PM
Back in 1982 when I was a cast member I was an Elvis Costello fan. I always chuckled at the song "Clubland" (which told the stories of the bar fly lifestyle). One lyric that seemed CM appropriate went: "Thursday to Saturday, Money's gone already!"

And while PI was not open we still had Giraffe, the Laughing Kookabura, Illusions, Peoples, JJ Whispers and the Big Bamboo. In retrospect, with CMs scraping up the change hidden in their second hand couches at Lake Vista Village Apartments, it was pretty wise of Church Street Station to schedule Nickel Beer Night on Wednesdays.

But now that I am older (and not necessarily wiser) I'm am pleased to be the primary breadwinner in my household. My part time CM spouse earns WDW wages but gets the perks (discounts and the maingate pass).

But I am CERTAIN that we spend more at WDW than she gets paid every year. From dining and gifts and drinks and drinks and drinks (don't try this at home kids. Stay in school or you will end up wearing guy-liner) I have no doubt we spend more than she earns.

I would go so far as to claim that Disney must track what individual CMs spend on their discount purchases and have likely determined that if they were to layoff my wife the company would probably LOSE money!

From Wok Creative on July 28, 2009 at 11:47 PM
Working seasonally at Disneyland, I also worked at Farrell's part time during the rest of the year. At closing time when the Manager was counting up the money and we had finished the nightly cleaning, with the front door still locked, we spent most of our tips on the video games. Management always encouraged it by throwing in a few free tokens (the first one is always free!) In the early 80's, most of the tips I got were in the form of quarters.

Related - While working in the kitchen for the Plaza Inn and Inn Between, I had moved up to being a cook. One check came that changed my rate to a full time, higher level cook. Even in 80's dollars, the extra amount was about $500.00 more than it should have been for the week. Most everyone said to be quiet about it, but I figured it would be found out eventually and be hard to pay back (besides being the right thing to do.) I don't remember if there was any more than a thanks for being honest... Things like that always work out better in the end anyway. It was fun and a privilege to move up to cooking and I didn't want to blow that opportunity.
I guess I learned a lot there.

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