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Theme park cast member stories: Losing the Canoe Races of the World

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Published: October 26, 2009 at 8:48 AM

The moments before dawn may be the only truly comfortable moments on a Central Florida summer day. The sun's emergence from behind the horizon will trip a signal somewhere in the atmosphere, ratcheting the humidity to inhuman levels. Even if the heat has yet to build, the day will already feel... sticky.

Not so in the pre-dawn darkness. The air remains crisp, not yet stifling. Eight hours of the dark has acted as a natural air conditioner, making the outdoors bearable, if only for a short while.

Of course, it's 5 AM out, too, so only people who are absolutely nuts choose to get up at that unholy hour.

What better time, then, for Disney's cast members to drive to the Magic Kingdom for their annual ritual of workplace masochism? The morning twilight provides just enough daylight for the Disney's annual Canoes Races of the World - a cast competition that pits teams of CMs at Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) against one another, to see which department can paddle a canoe around the Rivers of America most quickly.

You'd think that the cast members of Magic Kingdom West would have a huge "home river" advantage here. After all, this was the department which long included the canoe attraction, and its legion of full-time canoe paddlers. The Tom Sawyer Island raft drivers and riverboat pilots sail this river everyday, knowing every inch and shortcut around the way.

Canoes at Disneyland
Civilians paddle a canoe down the Rivers of America at Disneyland

And yet... we stank up the joint like an overflowing A-VAC.

Allow me to describe the pain of the CROW. No one sits on the canoe's bench seats. Everyone kneels inside the canoe, in order to lean farther forward, to carry the most momentum through each stroke. And the pace of the trip picks up considerable from those lazy, guest-powered trips around the island.

Within seconds of getting the go sign, your arms burn from pulling hundreds of gallons of water with your paddle. Several dozen of those gallons, it seems, have jumped into the canoe, soaking your face, arms and body. Your ears ring from the constant screaming of your team leader, usually a long-time CM who's using this as the opportunity to work out years of frustration at being passed over for various promotions.

A couple minutes later, it is over. You gulp air like a fat tourist given free tub of Coke and unlimited refills. And, if you were like my team, way back when, maybe you beat a crew of 16-year-old girls from Fantasyland foods.

The races, it seemed, always belonged to the maintenance guys - the electricians and carpenters who spent the past few weeks working dumbbells instead of your maintenance requests, so that they could humiliate you and the rest of the company on stage.

Which... they did.

So with dripping shirts and burning arms, the MK West team trudged back into the tunnel, hopes of victory dashed, wondering how we just got whipped on our own attraction... and why the heck we volunteered to come into work at 5 AM.

Here's the archive of Robert's stories about working in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Readers' Opinions

From 76.172.237.107 on October 26, 2009 at 10:41 PM
The Davy Crockett team at the Disneyland Canoe races always win, with the odd entertainment team slotting in here and there in the top spots for each division. Back when I was a TDA CM my team of cubicle dwellers did pretty well, considering the exercise (or lack thereof) our jobs afforded. Canoe Races may be the thing I miss most about my time working for Disney.

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