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Theme park cast member stories: Working Thanksgiving at the Magic Kingdom

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Published: November 23, 2009 at 11:02 AM

Folks typically want to spend their Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with family. The pull toward family on these holidays is so strong that many business that otherwise open each day of the year close for one, or both, of these holidays.

Theme parks provide an exception. Indeed, Thanksgiving and Christmas bring some of the year's larger crowds to year-'round theme parks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and Disneyland. That creates a bit of a dilemma for theme park employees:

Take the day off and stay home with family... or come into work and pick up hours and hours of overtime?

As a single guy in his early 20s when I worked at Walt Disney World, I had no trouble with that decision - show me the money, baby!

While the promise of extra cash lured me into working my first holiday shift, the experience kept me coming back. Ultimately, family holidays mark a celebration of community. And isn't working in a crowded theme park an ultimate communal experience?

I found working the Thanksgiving holiday especially interesting. Unlike Christmas, which is celebrated around the world, the late November Thanksgiving is an American holiday and brings an almost exclusively American crowd to the parks.

When I worked Thanksgiving at the Magic Kingdom, that meant that even though we'd set up extended queues, they were filled with people who...

  • were used to a culture of queueing,
  • who knew English, so they could understand our instructions,
  • and who were celebrating a family holiday, so they were in a positive, cooperative mood.

Okay, if Disney were like that every day, the experience of working there would end up as bland as the taste of grocery-bought turkey breast. But for one day a year, it put into sharp contrast the blend of visitors' cultures and languages you can come to take for granted working at an international tourist destination.

Nor can I stress enough the great vibe the crowd generates on a community-focused holiday, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas or even Halloween. The one Thanksgiving I worked at Big Thunder Mountain, we put through the highest hourly guest counts I'd ever seen. The queues flew and we suffered no downtimes all day. Even with the extended queues set up, I don't think anyone waited more than 45 minutes to ride.

Cool weather and clear skies helped keep the crowd happy and attentive, as well. The forecast in Orlando for this Thanksgiving weekend is partly cloudy skies with highs ranging from the upper-60s to mid-70s. Just gorgeous. With typically great weather and friendly crowds, I recommend that if you have to visit a theme park on a crowded holiday, pick Thanksgiving.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on November 23, 2009 at 11:50 AM
Good stuff!
From Corbin Barker on November 24, 2009 at 8:56 AM
Working holidays are really the best to work. I remember working the Easter holiday in 2008, and it's just like how Robert described. Yes you'll be working a lot of hours during that week, but the guests are very nice and easy to work with. And sometimes they can be a lot of fun, especially on a water ride or making jokes while they're in queue.
From 173.79.192.239 on November 24, 2009 at 5:17 PM
My family and I visited Animal Kingdom around Thanksgiving last year. It was great1 There almost no crowds, every staff member had a smile, and we could enjoy the holiday decor without having to battle our way through thousands of others. We waited 15min tops for EE and rode it three times in a row. WE even got dream parking AND dream fastpasses as part of the year of a million dreams. When the park opened, we were there with about 200 others and that was it. We had a great view of the parade as well, not even having to reserve a spot.Definetly visit around the Thanksgiving holiday, less crowds and you get the great holiday spirit.

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