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Robert Niles
Editor

Theme park cast member stories: The many, many roles of a Disney cast member

Published: May 17, 2010 at 11:49 AM

Working at a theme park can be like acting in a variety show. I've started the day as Tom Sawyer, switched to hosting the Country Bear Jamboree, then finished the day running trains on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

So if you spend a week at a theme park, you're not going crazy if you think that you saw the gal who loaded you into your rocket ship on Space Mountain directing traffic at the Tomorrow Speedway yesterday. We move around.

The longer you work at a park, the more attractions you learn how to operate. In general, I found that people got moved to new attractions about once a year or so. Plus, several attractions were "partnered" with nearby rides or shows, so that when you were trained on one attraction, you'd be trained on those others at the same time, as well.

When I started in attractions at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, the Tom Sawyer Island rafts were partnered with Country Bear Jamboree and the Shootin' Arcade, so I was trained on all three and split my weeks between working each location.

Driving the TSI rafts demanded a fair amount more physical skill than pushing buttons at the Bear show, so park managers decided to create what we called "The BATT Complex," merging the staff of the Bear show (the B), the arcade (the A), the Tiki show and the Swiss Family Treehouse (the other Ts). When that happened, all the Tiki crew got trained on the Bear show, and vice versa. That kept a lot of, uh, less-than-enthusiastic raft drivers off the island. But it meant more shifts under the broiling Central Florida sun for those of us who could get a raft from one side of the river to the other in good humor.

Eventually, I was trained on Pirates of the Caribbean and Big Thunder Mountain as well. But that didn't stop me from picking up shifts at the Haunted Mansion, Diamond Horseshoe and Liberty Square Riverboat, too. Since I wasn't trained at those locations, I was "frozen" at the greeter location, arranging strollers, opening and closing queue and talking with guests at the front of the rides, while the trained cast rotated around me.

Obviously, managers preferred to have everyone in the rotation be a trained on that ride, but when bodies are in short supply, they'd rather give an OT shift to someone to work greeter than short-staff the attraction.

There were only two attractions that I never worked during my time in attractions on the Magic Kingdom's west side (Adventureland, Frontierland and Libert Square): The Hall of Presidents and... the Jungle Cruise.

I always found missing Hall of Presidents ironic given that I was a political science major and politics junkie who'd been eating up election results since I was in elementary school. But I found avoiding the Jungle the greatest mystery of my employment at Disney. Every few years, some manager would decree that all men working on the west side be trained in the Jungle (which was then a male-only attraction), but I managed to avoid such decrees. My theory was that I'd spent so much time frying on the river driving the TSI rafts that managers cut me a break and kept me from the Jungle.

It's no surprise that I worked with so many professional actors, aspiring actors and community theater enthusiasts when working at Disney World. With so many roles to play, so many people to interact with - and so many costumes to wear - working at a theme park provides a perfect "day job" for anyone in love with performance.

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

Replies (6)

Dan Babbitt

Published: May 17, 2010 at 1:14 PM

I can vouche for that Robert. I'm statused at Tower of Terror but I'm also trained at all Sunset Blvd. attractions including Tower, Rock N' Roller Coaster, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasmic! Parade, and High School Musical.

So in my car I have 3 different costumes just in case.

What really gets me is keeping my spiels straight bcecause I have end up saying "Welcome Ladies and Gentlemen to the Hollywood Tower Hotel where we turn the music industry up side down!" guest just look at me Im crazy! Which I'am a little when I do 4 different attractions in one day!

Anthony Murphy
Writer

Published: May 17, 2010 at 2:22 PM

I am suprised you were not in the Hall of Presidents since I am guessing it probably was very similar to Country Bear Jamboree. While I understand the way cast members are trained based on lands, I felt that perhaps it should be by type

Examples of grouping:

Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Barnstormer

Tiki Room, Country Bears, Philharmagic, Presidents, Stitch, Monsters Inc, Carosel of Progress

Swiss Family, Character's House

Dumbo, Teacups

Pirates, Its a Small World

Haunted Mansion, Buzz

etc, etc, etc

76.243.38.183

Published: May 18, 2010 at 12:42 AM

Robert, you're famous (for 15 minutes, anyway) as you've made the Bing main landing page...!
http://www.bing.com/travel/content/search?q=Confessions+of+a+Disney+Cast+Member&cid=msn1143357&form=TRVCON>1=41000
Scott Marlow

Published: May 18, 2010 at 5:11 AM

I had heard about cast members working different rides before, but after this weekend I found the same to be true for cashiers, but on a broader scale. I was at the Star Wars shop in Hollywood Studios, and asked where an item was in the store. The cashier said "I'm sorry, I'm not sure where it would be. I'm from the Magic Kingdom, just here helping out today."

Definitely did not know they rotated parks as well as locations.

Dan Babbitt

Published: May 19, 2010 at 11:19 AM

For quick serve restaurant and outdoor food locations and as well as merchandise its all standard training and everyone that works in those departments gets. So if you want to pick up shifts or somewhere is heavily under staffed then they can pull from other areas.

But this is not true with park operations which has more specific training and such.

Ted Heumann

Published: May 19, 2010 at 1:59 PM

When I worked at Disneyland in Merchandising (store clerk for non-Disney types) in the late 80s/early 90s, we were assigned to a specific land (Main Street, Tomorrowland, Adventure/Frontier, New Orleans/Critter Co and my land, Fantasyland). However since Main St and especially Tomorrowland couldn't keep their people, we ended up in those lands often times. One night 75% of the cast members in the Star Trader were from Fantasyland.
Also I was able to pick up shifts in other lands as well. If someone was short, they would allow other lands cast members to fill in. Unfortunately (outside of Main St and Tomorrowland) I was only able to pull 1 shift in Critter Co and 1 (4 hour) shift in Adventureland. I was always hoping for a shift in New Orleans. :-(
Back then, the only "specialized" job was a hat writer. They tried to teach me how to do it, but I never got the hang of it.
We RARELY rotated during a shift unless you were the floater (they helped out during breaks at smaller locations).
Also back then we had lockers and costuming and were FORBIDDEN to take our costumes home. Actually when I was at Sunkist (a DL leasee) my buddy got fired for taking his jacket home.

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