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Theme park cast member stories: A very unwanted souvenir

By Robert Niles
Published: January 18, 2010 at 10:55 AM
How'd you like a job where you do nothing but stand in front of a closed attraction all day?

That happens when theme park attractions go down for their regular refurbishments. When I worked at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the employees who typically worked a closed attraction would be reassigned to other attractions in the same area. (Almost everyone was trained on multiple attractions.) But there's be one person assigned as a "greeter" at the closed attraction, whose job was simply to confirm to guests that, yes indeed, that attraction was closed.

You were supposed to be nice about and offer suggestions of other stuff to do and answer questions about the park, so the gig wasn't as boring as it might seem. Especially for cast members like me who enjoyed talking with guests.

But some locations offered more chance to talk with folks than others. Right now, Disneyland's drained the Rivers of America for its regular cleaning and repair, closing Tom Sawyer Island, the riverboat and canoes. When I worked at Disney World, we had the same thing, except that Disney also was building a pedestrian bridge across a corner of the river, to accommodate Splash Mountain, which was then under construction.

As a result, there was a construction wall around the entire perimeter of the River, as well as another construction wall on the other side of the pathway, where Splash was going up. This created a narrow walled pathway heading to up Thunder Mountain, through which everyone going to, and coming from, Thunder had to pass.

This is also where they stuck the poor CM from Tom Sawyer Island. Usually when an attraction is down for rehab, you can still tell that the ride is there: The front door's just closed and queue blocked. But with the construction walls blocking all views of the river, there was no sign that TSI had ever existed. By the time anyone had walked up to where the TSI entrance had been, it should have been abundantly obvious to them that the attraction was gone.

And yet, we kept people out there to reaffirm the obvious. Unfortunately, the TSI entrance, where were supposed to stand, was at the narrowest pinch point along that now-walled path. So you really didn't want to stop people there to engage in any friendly conversation about the park, and what they could be seeing instead.

So we drifted down the path a bit, toward Frontierland. Unfortunately, that moved us closer to Pecos Bill's restaurants and the Turkey Leg wagon. One thing we quickly discovered after draining the river was that hundreds of Disney World guests had chucked the turkey leg bones they'd been gnawing on not into one of the many trash cans provided, but into the river itself.

With the water drained, that exposed enough turkey bones to make the river bed look like a Jurassic fossil dig. The gamy muck also attracted every seagull between Jacksonville and Miami.

You can see where this is going now, can't you? :-)

Unfortunately, the day it happened to me, I couldn't. All I knew is that I was standing at the corner of the river, trying to keep traffic moving to and from Thunder when I felt someone nail me hard in the shoulder with a rock.

I wasn't standing underneath anything, so I knew that nothing could have fallen down on me. Maybe some overeager worker mucking out the river had hurled something over the wall? All I knew is that my shoulder hurt like heck. And... was I bleeding? It felt like something was seeping around where I'd ben hit.

I jerked my head to the left to look at my shoulder... and found a dime-sized glop of bird poop.

How could something that small hurt so much? Slowly, as the stink filled my nose, Physics 101 returned to my brain and I remembered that even small mass could pack a lot of force if it were moving fast enough. So I guess Stinky McSeagull relieved himself pretty high up above me.

But what to do now? A quick trip down into the Magic Kingdom tunnels and to the wardrobe department for a fresh shirt. I guess I was lucky that the only time I've ever been nailed by a bird, I was working at Walt Disney World, where a costume department was standing ready to provide me a new shirt immediately and wash the gunk off the old one. (Though I was told afterward by a park old-timer that it wasn't unheard of for wardrobe to clean a guest's shirt in the same situation if a supervisor took pity, though most folks in that situation just bought a new T-shirt and dumped the fouled shirt.)

Anyone else ever get a "souvenir" from park wildlife? Feel free to share your embarrassment in the comments.

Read more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World.

Readers' Opinions

From Ray Schroeder on January 18, 2010 at 11:24 AM
Years ago, driving through the Safari at Great Adventure, when the Baboons were still allowed to roam free and destroy your car, a Baboon decided to go for a ride on the hood of my car. We all though it was very funny until he decided to relieve himself on the air intake vent. It seemed the poor guy didn't go for a week. Not fun when you can't open your windows and it's to hot out to turn off the AC.
From James Rao on January 18, 2010 at 11:37 AM
Two words: lorikeet feedings. Whether at the zoo or a theme park with zoo exhibits I always get a free "gift" when I feed these cute little creatures.
From Diane Graebner on January 18, 2010 at 11:56 AM
I worked at Sea World. Closing the park provided an interesting job hazard. At dusk, all of the park's large birds would fly up into the trees for the night. Moving from place to place through the park was dangerous. There was no pathway at that time that WASN'T under a tree, now loaded with 20 or 30 very large birds - birds which had been eating popcorn and pretzels and other junk food all day rather than their normal, carefully regulated diets. We literally ran from one place to another, dodging the areas that had the heaviest bird populations that night. I never got completely nailed, but there were many close calls and more than enough "splash back" from the large birds!

When the construction of SW's new entry way began, we added a new level of danger. The construction wall effectively halved what was then the entrance. The pathway was at its narrowist right across from what was then the ice cream shop. Guests would come out of the shop with large waffle cones of ice cream, only to be greeted by 10 or 20 sea gulls lined up on the fence. It was as if the gulls were planning their attacks among themselves. "You get this one Bernie, and the next one is mine!" Guests would be dive bombed, usually resulting in the dropping of the precious treat on the pavement for the birds to attack. The ice cream shop gave away as many cones as they sold that summer!

From 98.243.169.85 on January 18, 2010 at 12:02 PM
I saw a guest get pooped on at Splash one day when I was working Fastpass Return. I didn't handle it very well because I started giggling. Luckily, he thought it was funny too, and we all had a good laugh about it.

Splash went down for refurb the day after I finished my training on it, and since I was a CP, I wasn't trained anywhere else. I, along with the other new CPs, got stuck being the greeter and standing out there for hours on end. It was horribly boring, but turned out to be a great way to get to know my fellow CPs. They gave us a huge roll of Mickey stickers to give out to guests, and we made a game where we tried to stick them on people as they walked by without them knowing. I'm told that there was a stream of guests heading out of Frontierland with stickers on their backs that day. We went through a whole roll in half of a shift and had to ask for more from our very suspicious manager. As much as we hated it, it was a great bonding experience, and I we really got to know each other well.

Last time I visited Splash during a refurb, though, there wasn't anybody outside giving out the bad news. I don't know if they were just short-staffed that morning, or if they no longer do that because of the budget.

From Mitchell Botwin on January 18, 2010 at 12:13 PM
We were at one of the parks and my son, then 6, was gifted by one of the local birds on the top of his head. Luckily for him, there was a bathroom near by and his mom was able to get him clean. We don't remember the park, but the gifting will be part of family history.
From Anthony Murphy on January 18, 2010 at 4:37 PM
I thought you were going to get hit by a chicken bone!
From James Koehl on January 18, 2010 at 7:03 PM
For those few who don't know it, Cedar Point is located in Lake Erie, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of sandy land and a man-made causeway. Needless to say, there are lots- I mean LOTS- of seagulls, big seagulls, well-fed on-junk-food seagulls, especially in the parking lots and front of the park. I've not personally been bombed, but I've seen it happen to many visitors, and few cars escape a momento from America's Roller Coast.
From Jeni K on January 19, 2010 at 10:58 AM
I second the Lorikeet Feedings! That's the only place (knock on wood) that both me & husband have received "gifts". Once at Epcot I took a big sip of my beer and got a ladybug in my mouth! Very foul little insect!!

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