Theme park cast member stories: Beating the heat at Walt Disney World
By Robert NilesIt's Santa Ana season here in Southern California, when hot desert winds blow into the Los Angeles basin, pushing temperatures up into the 100s in the valleys. But whenever I think of really ridiculous hot weather, my thoughts always turn instead to... working in an Orlando theme park in the summer.
Published: September 27, 2010 at 10:56 AM
Now that's hot. The combination punches of heat, humidity and sun knock down thousands of tourists each year. And more than a few cast members, as well. My first summer, working inside the relatively mild conditions of the old Mickey's Mart store in Tomorrowland, I passed out on my way to break one evening, overcome by the heat and my failure fuel up by eating a decent lunch before my shift.
That incident left me sharply aware of the need to take care of one's body in the heat.
Every location I worked at in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom had a big Igloo cooler - and whoever was first into work in the morning was responsible for filling it with ice and water from the nearest food location. Next to each cooler you'd often find a stack of clean, white hand towels. On break, we'd often soak a towel in the icy water and wrap it around the back of our neck, while also drinking a cup of water. In Central Florida's sauna, your body demands a constant flow of hydration in order to keep the sweat flowing. If you don't keep the water coming, your body temperature will be soaring.
While I grabbed every cup of cold water I could when working the Tom Sawyer Island rafts, or any other outdoor location at Disney, I actually tried to avoid air conditioning whenever possible. Why's that, you ask?
I found that moving in between hot and cold air more uncomfortable than simply acclimating myself to the heat. Too much time in the A/C slowed down my body's internal air conditioner. Rather than be like a car that's always stopping and starting, I figured I'd rather just let my body's cooling system cruise at highway speed, and stop pretending that I didn't live in someplace so terribly hot.
At home, I kept the thermostat at 85. I shopped at a 24-hour grocery, so that I could go only after midnight shifts, when the contrast between the cold store and outdoor air was at the minimum. When taking breaks, I stayed in lead offices rather than walking down to the stronger A/C in the tunnels.
While I embraced the heat, I continued to do my best to avoid the sun. Sun and heat are two different challenges, as anyone who's gotten sunburned on a ski slope in winter should know. I always put on my sunscreen when I got dressed for my shift. And I tried to follow the best advice ever given me by a Florida native: Always stand (or park) in the shade.
With my pale, freckled skin, I can't afford what would likely end up a blistering mistake if I didn't protect myself from the sun.
What's your strategy for managing the heat in the Orlando-area theme parks? Please share your story in the comments.
For more stories from Robert about his time working at Walt Disney World, please visit themeparkinsider.com/stories.
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