Theme park cast member stories: When I didn't keep my hands and arms inside the boat at all times
By Robert NilesOne of a lead's duties when I worked attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom was to check the "show quality" of your attraction. The opening lead would do a ride through (or walk through) the attraction, to see if all the major animation elements were working properly and that the show scenery was in good condition.
Published: October 19, 2009 at 8:40 AM
On busy rides such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the lead would take a ride during the middle of the day as well, often in response to a specific guest complaint about something not working on the ride. So that's why I came to be sitting alone in the back row of a Pirates boat one summer afternoon. Someone had said that Carlos wasn't taking his little swim and the end of his rope, so I rode through to check him out.
Once on board I had to ride the full 10 minutes all the way around to unload, like everyone else. But even that ride-through would take less time than walking all the way down and around the lower show building to watch Carlos from the opposite flume bank.
Carlos was fine, and I counted through my mental checklist as I floated through the rest of the ride: Auctioneer, turntables, singing trio, burning city. Check, check, check and check.
Halfway through the burning city, our boat bumped into the line of stalled boats, backed up from unload. "That's not good," I thought to myself, wondering if a wheelchair party had boarded several boats in front me, slowing down the unload line.
Slow is one thing. Stopped another. After a minute, we hadn't budged, and rascals and scoundrels and really bad eggs really were beginning to rattle my nerves.
And then... the music stopped. Really not good. I knew what was coming next: the spiel.
"Ahoy there, mateys. Please remain seated. Your voyage will resume in a few moments."
Great. My ride just went down... with me on it.
This happened in a year before everyone had cell phones, back when only supervisors and parade leads in WDW Attractions carried two-way radios. I had no way to talk to tower, and no other trained leads in the rotation. I needed to get back into tower, and quickly.
Unfortunately, I was stuck in the burning city, a scene in the ride with no exit point - no easy place to hop out of the boat and walk backstage to the tower. So I did something that you're never, ever supposed to do.
I reached over the side of the boat, grabbed the metal flume wall under the water and began pulling my boat back toward the singing trio and the nearest exit point.
By this time, of course, several more boats had backed up behind mine. So I as pulled back my boat, I'd have to push the weight of those boats, as well. This made it a two-handed task. Hold with one hand, then reach over with the other and pull. Repeat. Meanwhile, everyone around me is wondering just what the heck this guy in a pirate suit is doing, hanging half-way out of the back of a boat and dunking his hands underwater.
Ignoring the confused looks (hey, what was I gonna do?), it didn't take me more than about a minute to back my way close enough to the bridge, where I could jump off. That point is also the exit from the main course flume into the boat storage flume, so there's a intercom phone hidden behind some of the scenery.
As I jumped off, I turned back toward the folks in the boats and asked them to remain seated, promising that someone would be with them very soon. I grabbed the phone, called up to tower, and let the operator know I was on my way.
A belt had failed at unload, and, sure enough, we had to evacuate. With the house lights on and the ride pumps off, we soon had other "pirates" in the water, pushing boats to the various unload points. Within 10 minutes, the attraction was clear and maintenance working to repair the belt.
But that remains the one and only time I ever had to evacuate myself from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Here's the archive of Robert's stories about working in the Magic Kingdom.
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