Theme park cast member stories: The many, many roles of a Disney cast member
By Robert NilesWorking 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.
Published: May 17, 2010 at 11:49 AM
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.
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