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Theme Park Cast Member Stories: Remembering 'One More Disney Day'

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Published: March 3, 2014 at 11:57 AM

[Editor's note: When Disney announced it would run another 24-hour party at Walt Disney World and Disneyland this Memorial Day, Jacob Sundstrom was inspired to write about his experience working the first "One More Disney Day" party, on Feb. 29, 2012.]

I left early to get to work that night. We had been full warned that it was going to be a madhouse around the park, particularly as guests got off of work and headed to the park. I assumed the whole thing was overblown — who really wants to spend a whole night at Disneyland, anyway? As it turns out, upwards of 60,000 people do.

One More Disney Day
Cast members greet guests at 6 am, the start of the first One More Disney Day. Crowds were manageable most of the day, then got crazy that evening. And, of yeah, do you remember that "Modern Family" was filming in the park that day, too?

Traffic was backed up all the way down Ball Road. It had clogged up the 5 freeway and turned the area surrounding the Disneyland resort into some sort of southern California traffic nightmare. One More Disney Day had started that morning, but it really hit top gear that night. I parked my car in the Ball Cast Member Lot, which is located directly next to the Mickey and Friends Parking Garage. I was fortunate.

Most cast members park in the Katella lot, which means they need to be shuttled to the front gates by buses. The buses, of course, had to drive all the way through the congested mess to get to their final destination, causing god only knows how many cast members to be late for their shifts. Or maybe they were the lucky ones. When I clocked in for my Fantasmic! shift and walked out in front of the Pirates of the Caribbean I was put to work immediately.

“Quick, move those strollers to the front of the River Belle Terrace.”

“Help me take down the extended Pirates queue.”

“Remind those guests that they’re in a standing area.”

“We need to put up the seating ropes.”

I never stopped moving. When I got my first break at 8 p.m. I plopped down on a chair in the break room above the River Belle Terrace and looked around at the cast members I was working with. We had survived summer. We had survived Christmas together, but the looks on their faces said it all. None of us were really prepared for the chaos happening in the park that night.

We had all worked busy nights before, most of us had worked dozens of them. It wasn’t the amount of people that made it a madhouse; it was how early they got there, it was how late they knew they would be staying. Guests often camp out early for Fantasmic! on busy nights, but to have a nearly full seating area before 8 p.m.? That’s unheard of. And these guests were in it for the long haul.

They had blankets and strollers and more blankets and backpacks. They thought it would be okay to leave their blankets and backpacks unattended while they enjoyed the rides. They were mistaken.

Having one person guard a spot for a show is not a great idea. On a night when the park will close due to reaching capacity? It’s a suicide mission. As guests become more frustrated with their surroundings, they become less likely to accept someone engaging in this kind of behavior. On a slower night, guests might let it go — when it’s packed? You’re going to hear about it. Playing peacemaker between guests screaming at each other is one of the scariest things a cast member will ever have to do. I was called some awful things when I worked at Disneyland, but it was easy to displace that frustration. They weren’t mad at me, they were mad at a rule or a situation. But when guests are upset with one another...it’s unpredictable — and things are much more likely to escalate to physical violence.

The one situation I witnessed did not come to that, but I could feel my heart pounding out of my chest the entire time I tried to resolve the situation.

Things calmed down once the seating area filled up. “The next show is at ____” became the spiel as cast members tried to direct guest flow throughout New Orleans Square. Surges of guests came and went and cast members dealt with the capacity crowd admirably, from what I saw. What made the last part of the night so tough was how simple things got in the middle. I became accustomed to my throat being sore, to answering guest questions and to speaking very loudly when trying to disseminate direction information to throngs of guests.

But after the final show of the night, the crowd didn’t dissipate. I was supposed to get off of work at midnight. They asked if I could stay on a little longer and I agreed. I wanted to help my lead team, I wanted to help the other cast members that were staying. An extra half hour became an extra hour which became an extra two hours.

I stood at the top of the hill that leads down to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean for nearly two hours directing guest flow, something ordinarily done only at the beginning of a night working the show. After a while you lock into a routine — you hardly notice your aching feet and your tired voice. And then you are told you can go home.

It was one of those nights where you get in your car, drive home and lie in bed, but can’t sleep. The adrenaline of the night is still pumping through your veins and you can’t disengage the part of your brain that is constantly thinking about the job. Did I take down the ropes in C Section? Did I clock back in after my lunch? Did I check the C-Wall? Are we throwing up a block after the show?

The One More Disney Day was undoubtedly the hardest day I ever had in the two years I worked at Disneyland. It was exhausting, it was trying but ultimately, it was fulfilling. I’d love to go back to one of the Disney parks to experience this day from a guest’s perspective; I only hope that the guests in attendance remember how much hard work the cast members are doing in order to make their experience a great one.

Have you ever worked at a theme park? We're always looking for funny, touching or insightful stories from former park employees. Please email themeparkinsider@gmail.com if you'd like to share your story on Theme Park Insider.

Readers' Opinions

From 96.242.220.63 on March 3, 2014 at 3:29 PM
I'm hoping to work at a theme park very soon :)
From 172.242.74.213 on March 3, 2014 at 5:07 PM
I worked at WDW during New Years Eve at Magic Kingdom. Worst Night ever.
From Ed Newman on March 3, 2014 at 9:17 PM
Wow. Great story. Well written. Thanks for sharing.
From 24.205.133.231 on March 4, 2014 at 12:20 AM
Enjoyed this, thanks for the story!
From grant crawford on March 4, 2014 at 3:19 AM
The moral of the story seems to be avoid the 24-hour Disney event. I understand part of the experience is the crowd, but I just couldn't handle it.
From Robert Niles on March 4, 2014 at 11:23 AM
I enjoyed both 24-hour events, but I should qualify that my saying that I went early to both. At the first one at Disneyland, I bailed when the crowd exploded in the evening, after work hours. I went to WDW for the second event, and stayed only for a short while in the morning, when the park was pretty much vacant. I think the extended hours at the MK encouraged WDW visitors to hit other parks during the day, with the idea that they could come to the MK for those extra hours at night.
From Jacob Sundstrom on March 4, 2014 at 12:50 PM
@Grant: I wouldn't necessarily say that is the case.

If you don't like big crowds, this event probably isn't for you. My experience wasn't good, nor was it bad...it was certainly exhausting, though. That being said, I was working, which means that the 24 hour Disney day was not designed for my pleasure and comfort (nor should it have been).

I'd love to try one of these from a guest's point of view, because I heard very positive things from people that went to this event and the one that followed it. So I guess the moral of the story is less "don't go to this event" as much as it is remember to be respectful and courteous to the people bending over backwards to make it happen.

From 50.88.6.162 on March 4, 2014 at 2:30 PM
My wife and I had my parents watch the kids for three days so we could fly in from Seattle for the "One More Disney Day" event. It was a disaster. We didn't get any of the merchandise we wanted, we go in the parks at night and it was PACKED shoulder to shoulder and we couldn't go anywhere. We left and decided to take a nap and come back later.

We came back at 10PM and weren't allowed in the park because it was at capacity. HUGE lines outside of Disney. We then came back at 3AM and got in, only to see all the good exclusive food was gone. The lines for rides were hours... I think I saw Space Mountain at a 4 hour wait or longer? I think we got to go on a few rides... Snow Whites Scary Adventure (over 30 minute wait) and a few other little kids type rides.

When we were in line for Snow White we saw TONS of local teenagers. One was doing some cocaine right in front of us (kid you not!). Really, the locals crowding the parks killed it for us (and I'm now a local at WDW).

The ONLY saving grace was that we go First Class both ways on our flight, and we were given extra magic and upgraded to a 1-Bed Suite at the Disneyland Hotel... but my guess is that the reason we got it was because the hotel was overbooked and we got in around 11PM... so they gave us a suite because nothing else was left. As nice as that was, the room was pretty much the farthest walk from any room at any on-propety hotel you could get.

Eventually I bought a "One More Disney Day" t-shirt online on eBay for $60 or something like that just to PROVE that I was there (since DisneyStore.com cancelled my order because they couldn't fulfill them all.... ahhhh!)

Overall, we hated it. When we saw the much lighter crowds at WDW we were very jealous. Now we live here in Florida so we may go to the one at WDW this year... although being allowed to dress up may make the party more packed.

From 174.52.58.230 on March 4, 2014 at 9:41 PM
Personally if I ever do another Disney 24 hour day I would try WDW rather than Disneyland. Hubby and I started the one more day in Magic Kingdom at 6 (we were up at 4). It was great we headed straight for Fantasy land and started our way around the park. We made it on all but a couple of the rides in the park by the time we left for the airport about 4. Hopped on a plane and headed for LAX. We were headed up the freeway to Disneyland and started seeing traffic at a stand still. Fortunately we were taking the next exit after the Disney exists so we missed the stand still but started getting worried. We checked in at our hotel and walked to Disneyland. The park was at capacity when we got there about 11 and we were starting to wish we had stayed at the Magic Kingdom. We did get in not to much later but it was crazy and not the Disney atmosphere we are used to. There were several groups of people that were obviously drunk or high being loud and obnoxious. The park was to crowded to me and I like hitting the Black Friday sales. We decided to try and at least do Mansion and Pirates before we headed out but the late Fantasmic was just getting out and we could not get close to either ride thru the river of people. I have to admit we had been up since 4 am FL time so coping abilities were down. However, it was no fun and we decided sleep sounded far more enjoyable. Maybe Magic Kingdom was just as bad as Disneyland in the evening but I got the impression it wasn't.

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