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Theme park cast member stories: The not-so-unbreakable vow

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Published: February 15, 2010 at 3:51 PM

My final summer working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, I spent pulling evening shifts on Parade Audience Control and weekends driving rafts to Tom Sawyer Island. That's because I had to keep my weekdays free, since I was also working as an intern in the newsroom at Orlando's WDBO-AM radio.

My memories of that summer get a little hazy (working two jobs and seven days a week will do that to you), but I recall driving up to the station's studios for a 10am - 2pm shift each weekday. I'd edit audio tapes, take phone calls from tipsters (mostly about traffic snarls), and re-write wire service copy for the station's local news updates. (And, oh yeah, I'd spend most of my time listing to the syndicated radio show the station ran during my shift, some new guy they'd just started with... named Rush Limbaugh.)

But as a journalism student, the big requirement for my internship was to make what we called a "voice check tape." Basically, this was a kind of audio resume, which included tape of me reporting a few stories. So I'd have to go "out in the field" to report a few.

Of course, no decent station is going to send the intern out to report an important story. So I'd get fluff - including, one day, a story about some Soviet sailors visiting Walt Disney World.

This was the final year of the Soviet Union, and as America's Cold War enemy was collapsing, people were crossing boundaries that'd never been crossed before, such as sending Soviet sailors to visit the U.S. Naval Training Base in Orlando (with a side visit to Disney, of course). I was sent to tag along with one sailor as he visited the Magic Kingdom. The sailor had a Disney Tour Guide escorting him, and, as a reporter, I had a Disney PR rep escorting me. Never mind that I was also a cast member; I was working as a reporter, so I had to have a rep with me at all times in the park.

So there we were, the four of walking around the MK, with me fumbling a tape deck and a bulky microphone, trying to record any recognizable background sounds in between asking banal questions of a guy who looked as if he'd like nothing more than to ditch the three of us so he could have some fun.

Eventually, the sailor announced that he wanted to ride a roller coaster. So it was off to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for us.

Unfortunately, neither the tour guide nor the PR rep knew how to "back door" a guest into Thunder, so we wouldn't have to wait in line. (This was not an uncommon occurrence, as regular Theme Park Insider readers might remember.) So I stepped up.

"Just follow me," I said. This trip was taking way to long, and I still had to drive back up to the studio to edit my report in time for me to... drive back down to Disney for my parade shift that night.

So I led us into the station through the exit, where I found one of my friends on the unload platform. At first, he barely glanced our way, but as he recognized me his head whipped back around and his jaw dropped. Tour guides and VIPs were regular arrivals at Thunder, but a fellow CM in a shirt and tie, carrying a radio station mic and recording gear, was not.

Almost immediately, every other CM in the station was staring at me, too. Feeling more self-conscious by the second, I recorded the Old Man's spiel and shoved the mic at the sailor for a comment as he stepped onto the train. The PR rep asked if I wanted to ride with him.

"Uh, no. I got enough. Let's go."

And as my co-workers kept staring at me, we high-tailed it out of the station, while I vowed to myself that I would never do anything as awkward as reporting a story from a theme park again. ;-)

For more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit www.themeparkinsider.com/stories.

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