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Robert Niles

Theme park cast member stories: Veterans in theme parks, on Memorial Day

Published: May 31, 2010 at 9:32 AM

Today is the Memorial Day holiday here in the United States. While the day marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season, its real purpose is to remember American military personnel who died in service. Over the years, its celebration has broadened for some into a day to remember all friends and family who've been lost.

Given the day's military origin, I thought this a worthy occasion to note the many veterans who work at the Walt Disney World Resort, as well as other theme and amusement parks around the country. Theme parks provide a great gig for a retired soldier or sailor: Working in a theme park is a highly social gig, something that often appeals to folks used to the camaraderie of military service. With volumes of tech manuals and standard operating procedures to learn, uniforms to wear and a grooming and conduct code to adhere to, working in a theme park feels like a "light," stress-free version of military life for many, making it an easy transition to civilian life. While theme park wages aren't much for other middle-aged employees, they do provide a fine supplement to a military pension.

Orlando's old Naval Training Center over the years provided a steady stream of retirees for the nearby Disney, Universal and SeaWorld parks. (I've also met several Navy veterans who have worked at SeaWorld in San Diego, which is another town with a huge military presence.) One of the most colorful cast members I worked with on Tom Sawyer Island was an ex-Marine who was never shy about sharing his opinion that the rest of us weren't nearly grateful enough for getting paid to do a job that pretty much reduced to standing around talking to people.

He was right.

But at least we can be grateful for our nation's veterans, and especially for their brothers and sisters in arms who didn't have a chance to come home. So let's express our thanks to them and their families, as we enjoy the beginning of another great summer of visiting theme parks.

Replies (2)

Bob Miller

Published: May 31, 2010 at 11:48 AM

Thank you Robert, from myself and my four other brothers who served, (three of them are now deceased).
Amy Tupper

Published: May 31, 2010 at 11:57 PM

I hope to be one of the retired military people working at Disney one day! :)

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