Theme park cast member stories: Doing the right thing, when others do the wrong thing
By Robert NilesTypically, I liked to make eye contact with the folks standing at the front of my raft as I pushed it off from the Frontierland dock for our trip over to Tom Sawyer Island - the better for cracking a joke or answering a quick question. But no one in this family wouldn't look me in the eye. Instead, they just looked past me, back toward Frontierland.
Published: May 24, 2010 at 5:52 AM
Weird, I thought.
Perhaps it was some cultural thing. These Disney World visitors looked Indian, and I wasn't then as used to dealing with folks from elsewhere around the world as I am now. Wanting to keep the raft moving, I didn't linger, but walked to the back of the raft to put it into gear.
Then I heard the yell.
The formerly silent family came alive, waving their arms and calling. I looked over toward the street and saw an elderly woman, wearing a sari, return their wave and hurry down toward the dock.
Well, I thought, that explains why they were looking that way. They were missing a family member. But now they've gotten her attention, and she knows to catch the next raft over to the island.
All's well now, right?
She kept running toward the dock.
No, she couldn't...
One of her family, on the front of the raft, unhooked the rope that blocked the entrance to the raft during its trip. The woman lowered her head and sped up.
This is not happening, I thought.
She couldn't be crazy enough to jump. The raft was a good six feet from the dock now and moving away from it, and an older woman in a sari wasn't exactly the sort of person one would expect to clear that distance.
Nor would her family be crazy enough to urge her on. Didn't anyone in the family have enough respect for Grandma to want to keep her from any chance of ending up over her head in the river, while a engine prop whirred a few feet from her head?
Welcome to another of life's gut-check moments. Procedurally, I was doing everything right: I'd delivered my safety spiel, followed the correct cast-off procedure and even now offered a friendly holler at the woman to wait for the next raft.
But what good does following the rules do if it leaves you with Grandma in the drink?
Sure, if I kept going and the woman missed the jump, she'd be at fault for ignoring my warning, as well as basic, common sense. But Disney's first rule (and the first rule at any other major park I know) is to keep the guests safe.
So I swung the raft's bow back toward the mainland, bringing it within a few inches of the dock as the woman hopped aboard the raft.
Her family cheered, then turned to wave at me. A few hollered a thank you.
I clenched my teeth and squeezed out a smile in return. I wanted to yell at the family for putting a loved one at risk, but that wasn't my job. My job was to keep that family - and everyone else visiting my attraction that day - safe and happy.
But when we made it to the other side, I couldn't help but say something.
"You know, we could have gotten you on the next raft," I said with a smile to Grandma.
Her family exploded in laughter.
"She never waits for anyone," one of them leaned over to tell me, with a shrug, as he walked off the raft.
Laughing together, they walked up the path into the island. Safe, and happy.
I'd done my job - I guess.
For more of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.
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