My sister had been stuck working the Tiki Room for months. Every day, the same thing. Escort a small group of somewhat confused visitors into the dark, air-conditioned theater. Then start the show and "wake up" Jose, the animatronic bird, by tapping his perch with a stick. Then have a seat and wait… to start escorting the desperately bored visitors out of the dark, air-conditioned theater into the preferable, Tiki-bird-free Florida heat and sunshine.
Then repeat. Again, and again, and again.
So when my sister got word that she'd be cross-trained on the Haunted Mansion, she was ecstatic. After nearly a year of wearing the horrible polyester floral print of the Tiki room costume, she'd be donning the luxuriant green polyester of the Haunted Mansion witches. Complete with the lace-trimmed "bat hat."
Training took several days, during which she was paired with an experienced Mansion hostess, who showed her how to operate the attraction. She learned how to time her steps as she walked the moving sidewalks at the loading and unloading areas, directing visitors into and out of their "Doom Buggy" ride vehicles. She learned how to slow and stop the walkway, to assist visitors in wheelchairs, and to assist anyone else who needed a little extra time to board and exit.
She learned the names of every scene in the ride, the characters that appeared throughout, and the history of the attraction, in case a visitor ever asked. (She had learned the same at the Tiki Room, but no one ever had asked about that show.)
She even learned something she'd never had to deal with at the Tiki Room - how to evacuate the ride. If something were to go wrong, and the Doom Buggies couldn't cycle around the building to drop off their passengers, Haunted Mansion hosts and hostesses would have to scatter throughout the ride, carefully helping visitors out of their vehicles and then walking them back through the show building to the ride's exit.
These were the most exciting days my sister ever had enjoyed working at the Magic Kingdom. Finally, something different! And at an attraction that people loved!
But despite all this training, Haunted Mansion hosts and hostesses aren't known for their ability to walk the moving sidewalks, or their evacuation prowess, or even their knowledge of Mansion trivia. Cast members who work the Haunted Mansion are best known for their roles at the beginning of the ride - their performances in the "stretch" room.
In Disney lingo, any moment a cast member spends out in the park is a moment "on stage." But working the stretch room really does feel like a performance. For a moment, all eyes are on you as you command the visitors into the "dead" center of the room. Here, cast members can get their goth on - the creepier the better. The best of the Mansion hosts and hostesses treat their stretch room visitors with an icy, almost haughty indifference.
As far as they're concerned, you're "dead" to them.
Unfortunately, my sister did care. Very much. She was so thrilled to be here, away from the Tiki Room and working one of the most popular theme park attractions at the world, that she could not bury her enthusiasm like it the the body of the Mansion's 999th ghost.
"Hello," she exclaimed as she bounded from the entry foyer, opening the attraction doors to her first group of waiting guests. "Welcome to the Haunted Mansion," she said, with her brightest, widest Disney casting center smile.
Behind her, my sister's trainer rolled her eyes and stifled a groan.
After that group of guests exited the stretch room into the loading area, the trainer spoke to my sister in the now-empty stretch room.
"Um, next time," she said. "Could you, uh, try to be a little bit, well, witch-y?"
"Sure," my sister said, hiding that she really didn't know what to do.
So with the next group of guests, my sister threw open the doors and proclaimed, in her deepest alto voice, "Welcome to the Haunted Mansion!"
For the rest of the morning, my sister kept trying to change the pitch of her voice and, eventually, the expression on her face. But it never lasted. She was just too happy. She couldn't stop smiling at the Haunted Mansion.
The next morning, as she bounded out of the tunnels and across Liberty Square toward the Mansion, the attraction's lead stopped her.
"Uh, I'm sorry," he told her. "It's not working out. We're sending you back to the Tiki Room. You're just too happy to work here."
Only that could finally wipe the smile from my sister's face at the Haunted Mansion.
For more: You can read 40 of Robert's stories about working at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Stories from a Theme Park Insider, available for just $3.99 from Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Apple's iBookstore.
Update: Great news! "Stories from a Theme Park Insider" has cracked the Top 10 in the Travel category of the iBooks Store! Thank you to everyone for supporting the book, and please keep spreading the word!Tweet
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