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Theme park cast member stories: The castaway kid

By Robert Niles
Published: November 16, 2009 at 8:02 AM
Face it, when you see a supervisor striding toward you, eyes locked on yours, mouth drawn tight - any pleasant thought occupying your brain flees like a third-grader told to clean his room.

I wondered if I could find a hiding place, too, as the supe bore down toward me. What could I possibly have done? I was working a parade audience control shift at the Magic Kingdom, for heaven's sake. And the parade wasn't starting for another hour. We hadn't even rolled out the route yet - I was just killing time pretending to keep people from mobbing the turkey leg stand.

"We need you on the rafts, Robert."

Tom Sawyer Island rafts
Bringing a load of guests back from Tom Sawyer Island

What? Tom Sawyer Island closed nearly half an hour ago. I could see the mainland and maintenance docks - all four rafts are tied up and shut down for the night. Why on Earth would we need a TSI raft for now? To film the back of the crowd during the parade?

I followed the supe down the exit path toward the TSI dock. Ahead, flying in from 9 o'clock, I saw two security guards, the area supervisor and, gulp!, the park duty manager all closing in.

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot? I'd never seen this many high-level managers without Diamond Horseshoe girls present. And everyone was walking waaaay too fast for this to be good news, whatever it is.

What was up?

I turned my head, to look back across the water, and I saw him. Not more than 10 years old, maybe 8 or 9 - a boy, standing on the TSI dock.

The island-side dock.

It's really happened! We'd always talked about it, those of us who worked the island. But I'd dismissed it as an urban legend, something that never actually occurred.

Did you hear about the kid who got left on the island, after it closed for the night?

This kid had done it. With an effort that Tom Sawyer himself surely would have approved of, he'd evaded the security guards who sweep the island each evening at dusk. Somehow, he'd found a way to hide, to stay the night on Tom Sawyer Island.

This boy was my hero. The suits kept grim expressions on their faces as I cast off to drive them across the river and pick up our castaway. But my face held a smile as wide as the river itself. Well played, Tom Jr.

I steered the raft along a wide left turn toward the island-side dock, drawing close enough to make eye contact with Tom Jr. for the first time. My smile melted immediately when I saw the fear choking his attempts at breath. Scared, exhausted, this kid didn't care about paying homage to Tom and Huck. He wasn't playing a game. He wanted off this island. Now. The supe hollered at him to stay put when it looked like he might jump from the dock onto the raft, as soon as we sailed near.

I tied up quickly, as the child dashed onto the raft. Safe now; breath came, fueling the sobs he finally could let free. A cast member working a souvenir stand across the river had seen the boy waving for help. With five minutes, managers across the park had been notified, with one charged to find the nearest available raft driver. Which just had happened to be me.

The boy had seen the security guard on his closing rounds and had thought it fun to try to hide. He hadn't thought past that.

He'd run around the island, looking for the bridge or pathway back to the parade route, where he was supposed to meet his family. Alone, with no way off the island, he'd returned to the dock and started yelling for help.

As I drove back toward the mainland, more slowly this time, the color returned to the boy's face. Just as it drained from the face of the security supervisor who was taking the report. His guy had blown it - calling the island clear, when it wasn't. And hours of paperwork, and a certain reprimand, would be the price.

We reached the dock and my eyes caught the boy's again. The smile returned to my face as I tried to tell him, with only a look, that everything was now all right. Hey, maybe, months or years from now, when the fear no longer hurt so much, he'd have a cool story to tell.

Did you hear about the kid who got left on the island, after it closed for the night?

More: Robert's cast member stories archive.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on November 16, 2009 at 9:56 AM
Awesome!

Not to bring anybody down, but I think this happened at Disneyland awhile ago (like over 15 years ago) in which TWO kids hid on the island. However, they did not wave for help and tried to swim. Sadly, one drowned.

Still a great story! I love reading them because they are both informative and funny!

From 216.54.102.34 on November 16, 2009 at 10:25 AM
I remember a kid was missing at one time at a park I worked at. The park had closed and still no kid. Security did a reverse sweep from the front of the park to the rear and still no kid. Then started reviewing the security tapes all the while trying to calm the Mom down. They had called the hotel to see if the little boy was there, but no answer. Apparently Mom and son had an arguement. Finally a manager at the hotel went to the room and found the little boy asleep in the hotel room as he had hiked it back to the hotel (a little bit away from the park).
From Marc Ricketts on November 20, 2009 at 11:17 AM
The story Anthony Murphy references is told in the "Mousetales" book (and the snopes website) as is the story of a kid that got away with living on the island.

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Stories from a Theme Park Insider

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

What's it like to work in a theme park? Stories from a Theme Park Insider takes you inside the famous tunnels and backstage at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom for a look at how theme parks really work, sharing the funny moments and embarrassments that can happen when your job is someone else's vacation.
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