Theme park cast member stories: The sickest place on Earth
Published: April 5, 2010 at 10:19 AM
If you can't afford to travel the world, working at a theme park - especially in Orlando - provides a great way to meet people from around the globe anyway.
In my time working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, I met folks from the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and dozens of other countries. Taking time to chat with folks - even if just in a crude pantomime - immerses you in accents, attitudes and cultures unlike anything you'd find in most any other "normal" workplace.
It also, unfortunately, immerses you in the world's wide variety of nasty cold and flu strains. Working in Orlando in the summer, you're welcoming thousands of South American visitors who are escaping their winter. Unfortunately, many also are bringing their winter colds and flu with them.
Perhaps after working several years at Disney World, you develop the immune system of a veteran kindergarten teacher - exposed to the worst germs the world has to offer, you develop immunities that keep you healthy year-'round.
But in your first couple years at Disney, you're like that rookie kindergarten teacher - coming down with every illness brought into the classroom by your germy students.
And so it was that the sickest I've ever been in my life was during my time working at Walt Disney World. I remember the moment the illness hit me. I was getting my hair cut when an icy blast penetrated my entire body, but from within. My body shook, then immediately I felt the cold melt away and I broke into a drenching sweat. As soon as the barber finished, I tried to rise from the chair, but my legs buckled. I had to stop again and sit by the front door for a few moments to gather my strength to walk 10 yards out to my car.
Foolishly, I went ahead and drove into work. It was a six-hour closing shift, and I just parked myself in the County Bear Vacation Hoedown theater. Normally, I wouldn't feel too excited about watching show after show, but in my state, I was happy for a place to sit in the dark and quietly count the hours until the end of my shift.
Eventually, midnight came and I dragged myself through the tunnels and to the bus which would take me to my waiting car. I almost made it all the way home, too. But along the way, the second phase of the illness hit, and, uh, well, there's no delicate way to say this. Twice, I had to pull over to, well, return my lunch.
Fortunately, I had the next day off, so I could stay in my bed and sleep - dead to my family and the outside world. And the day after that? Well, as quickly as the illness had hit me, it went away - like a South American tourist blasting into town for a whirlwind visit, then catching the next flight back to Rio.
Ever take ill at a theme park? Share the (not so) gruesome details, in the comments. Be sure to check out the archive of Robert's cast member stories, too.