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Robert Niles

Theme park cast member stories: Classmates as cast members

Published: August 1, 2010 at 6:18 PM

The Mike Fink Keelboat driver walked up behind me.

"What are you doing here?" he asked.

Normally, a Tom Sawyer Island raft driver wouldn't be in the Riverboat lead's office, but I'd been ask to swap out some stanchions for the afternoon parade route.

"Just getting some stanchions for the parade," I said, without looking up.

"No," he said again. "What are you doing here? At Disney World?"

Huh? What kind of question was that? I wheeled around, and saw... Mark, who lived around the corner from me in Allison Hall the year before at Northwestern.

I stood there, mouth agape.

"Since when have you worked here?" Mark asked.

"That's funny, 'cause I was about to ask the same question to you," I replied.

That was my first summer working attractions, and my second summer overall at the Magic Kingdom. Mark also had started at Disney the year before, though he'd been working in attractions the whole time.

Later that year, when working at the Country Bear Jamboree, I met Margaret, a music major was two years behind me at Northwestern. Several other Northwestern musicians also worked at Disney, including my future wife, Laurie, who played in the All-American College Orchestra at Epcot.

Walt Disney World employees tens of thousands of employees, including thousands of seasonal workers - usually college students who come down (or return home) to Florida during school breaks to pick up some extra money. With so many seasonal employees, odds are you'll find someone from your school, sooner or later.

Still, Northwestern's not the largest school, just 7,000 or so undergraduates, and its student body includes many people who, well, let's just say that they didn't need to pick up any extra spending money during the summer. Northwestern also didn't participate in the Walt Disney World College Program - which brings students down to work at Disney for college credit - either, making it less likely to find NU students in the Disney World cast.

Yet there we were, anyway, a hearty group that endured winters in Chicago, with the searing wind blowing off Lake Michigan, then summers in Orlando, wilting in the sauna-like heat. Actually, compared with walking across Northwestern's lakefront campus in an 80-below wind chill, Orlando's ubiquitous 98 degrees and 90-percent humidity actually felt refreshing.

So when I'd see a fellow Northwestern student on the Magic Kingdom parade route, I'd often offer the same greeting:

"Keepin' warm?"

"You bet," came the reply.

If you've ever run into any college classmates while working in a theme park, please share your story in the comments.

For more of Robert's stories about working in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, visit Or listen to Cosmic Reid's Starlight Cafe Mondays at 1pm Eastern.

Replies (1)

Anthony Murphy

Published: August 1, 2010 at 7:38 PM

There is something about the Chicago area and Disney World. I saw a map a couple of years ago showing DVC members and there were a TON in Illinois.

Then again, maybe you need the extra cash to pay for the very high tuition at NU.

Also, I always saw WDW as a good place to get some experience in your field since its a pretty respected company. I am not sure what your wife does for a living, but I know she has her own site about violins which make me assume that she is a serious instrument player. She probaly enjoyed her Disney experience. I tried to do that with my Bio degree.

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