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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.
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.
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