Theme Park Insider

Weekly Top 10: The Things That Theme Park Employees Block Out While Working

May 18, 2015, 8:31 AM · I loved working for theme parks. There is nothing in this world that will match the energy that a theme park generates as thousands of people laugh, scream, and smile. There are side effects of all that happiness, though, and they will challenge your sanity to its limit. Below is just a tiny sample of what we block out, to keep our minds thinking about the task at hand.

Cast members
Disney California Adventure cast members, guide another crowd of guests

1. Background music

Seriously, it’s the same track of songs over a set period. If you’re lucky, you work outside of a heavily-themed area and get the general park sound, but for the poor souls who work areas where there is an extremely short set list... well, Fantasyland cast members, I feel your pain. I know during my tenure at the parks, I would blast music on my drive into work and keep playing that set list in my head until the end of the day.

2. Babies crying

There is always that one baby in a crowd who has reached his or her limit for stimulation. I understand that sometimes you need to take a baby with you to a theme park, but, for me, it can kill the experience for everyone around you. While this doesn’t apply to everyone, my fellow brothers and sisters who work in the designated kiddie areas know this pain well. There's nothing like the screams of a little one who is meeting a fur character for the first time... and doesn’t understand the character is not going to eat them.

3. Attraction and mechanical noises

This is a shout-out to all the back-of-house crew and others who work around loud attractions. These folks spend so much time around loud noises that some companies do hearing testing every few quarters to make sure no one is going to have hearing loss. Anyone who has ever pulled a shift around Hulk understands. Team Members that have adapted to working around noise that they have become masters at reading lips and understand crude hand signals.

4. Crowds

While theme park employees, for the most part, should be 100% focused on our guests… sometimes you just have to learn to block them out when they are in mass herds. Unfortunate team member are often confronted with a mass migration as they head to clock in or out for the day when the changing of shifts takes place during a show dump or parade step off. There were times I felt like Red 5 swooping into the Death Star trench. You do not stop. Look forward, head up and take every gap you see.

5. Our fellow cast/team members

Applies to all jobs. Sometimes you have that one person who crawls under your skin and sometimes you just want to tell that person to jump off a bridge. Also... some groups of team or cast members work in areas that require you to spiel at the same time. A prime example of this is the Great Movie Ride. During the peak hours of the day, they require two tour guides to say their opening spiels at the same time. If you don’t block out the other tour guide, you will mess yourself up — every single time — and once you make your first mistake, it can be very hard to recover your show.

6. The idea where some things have been

A necessity for all park or resort employees who touch things that have been used by our guests. From the sheets in the hotel room to the 3D glasses that everyone uses, our world is a daily fight with germs and nastiness. Part of the reason I think the insurance for most park employees is very reasonable is because we are subjected to illness daily. To top things off is that we often share microphones, uniforms, and equipment with our fellow team members. I have had a case of flu almost take out an entire attraction group because we all have shared the same equipment daily.

7. Broken show pieces

Mainly applies to Attractions cast members. Every veteran Attractions CM is passionate about his or her ride or show. If one thing is off, they will fight tooth-and-nail to get it working. Lot of times we lose the battle and end up looking at the same broken show piece for months until the ordered part is installed or it is removed during a rehab. Over time, you just have to block it out because it will kill you from the inside to see the same animatronic frozen in time... well, at least until someone puts a strobe light in front of it.

8. Fireworks

Everyone blocks the fireworks out unless it’s your job to go make sure all of the charges went off. The only time you pay any focus to them is when a new show is going off, and you don’t have the timing memorized, or when you hear a bang that should not belong.

9. Upset parents

There is always that one parent who will not take a height limit seriously. That one parent whose child is exactly a half an inch too short and they don’t seem to understand why they were able to go on at an another location. While team members try to be diplomatic, there are just some times you have to block out what they are saying. Their mouths are moving but nothing is truly hitting its point. It’s like a scene from a Charlie Brown cartoon.

10. Smells

Imagine this... you are a rushing to get to your opening shift at any park and suddenly you are hit with the most tempting smell in the world — theme Park food. And I am not talking about that microwaved fare you get with some of the smaller theme parks. I'm talking about the mouth-watering park food will make you overpay by 20% any day. You want to stop for that freshly baked muffin, but you're going to be late. I once had the chance to take a walking tour with an Imagineer when I was working for the Mouse. We walked Main Street USA, and he pointed out to us the fact we could smell the Main Street Bakery in full glory first thing in the morning. That's when we found out it was designed that way. That's right people; Disney pumps food scents in the air to draw people into the shops to spend money.

Now as in the saying, "What goes in...comes back out," we reach the dark side of smells that we have to block out daily. Every team or cast member who works in attractions knows that VOBAN is one of the foulest creations ever devised. While VOBAN is a necessary evil when soaking up what Disney has affectionately called "Protein Spill" Or "Code V," the smell used to cover up said the spill is so potent it will clear a room. Think of Kitty Litter mixed with sawdust and then brewed in a vat of essence of cleaning products and taxi cab air freshener. I have seen the use of VOBAN to clean up a protein spill cause a protein spill just a few minutes later.

Are you a current or former theme park cast or team member? What was the one thing you had to block out while on the job in order to get through the day? Tell us in the comments.

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Replies (12)

May 18, 2015 at 9:18 AM · One of the most interesting articles I've read on TPI. Nice job.
May 18, 2015 at 9:35 AM · Excellent article. I was looking on Google what the heck was VOBAN. Expensive stuff. I didn't think the fireworks were on the list. Thanks for open my mind.

Neil B.

May 18, 2015 at 9:52 AM · Thanks for some insight into working at a theme park. Although a lot of your points is seen in a lot of jobs. For example, anyone who has worked retail knows about the music point. I like the "my kid isn't tall enough" upset parent. People are just ridiculous sometimes aren't they. Come on people know how tall your kid is and turn on your computer and find out the height limit of every ride before you leave on TPI.com. Lol
May 18, 2015 at 10:24 AM · Oh, the music. Some areas have very specifically themed music. Animal Kingdom and Islands of Adventure both have custom written soundtracks, and I'm a big fan of both. Then there are sections that play music that somebody thinks complements the area. Main Street USA as an example plays much of the score from the show/film "The Music Man" which suites the theme very well. Most of Universal Studios Florida is another good example. Each section has a selection of popular music mixed in with songs that relate to the city represented by the sets you are in. You'll hear "Do you know the sway to San Jose" while in San Francisco as an example. When I worked at USF, I always hoped the park would get a service like Sirius radio to be the official provider of park "sight sound" (Universal's term for area music). I could imagine very few things that would be quite as fantastic for a theme park employee as NOT knowing what the next song would be.
Worst of all was Christmas at Universal. During Christmas the entire park plays the exact same loop of holiday music. If you were in the park for a full 8 hour shift, you were going to hear that same loop about 10 times. Torture.
May 18, 2015 at 10:36 AM · @David Matecki - I completely agree that none of this stuff is original workplace block outs but nothing can truly compare to the magical spin and the daily onslaught most theme park employees deal with on a daily basis - I'm truly thank full for my time with them because it was excellent preparation for the corporate world.

My goal is to really shine a light on what makes working at a theme park unique and priceless experience

May 18, 2015 at 10:48 AM · As a Florida Theme Park employee, I try to block out people's arguments. It's hot in Florida, and the parks are crowded and expensive? Sorry, I've heard it all. It's just not for everyone, okay?
May 18, 2015 at 10:53 AM · I would add: (1) The Heat and Cold: The weather is terrible and why does it happen when I'm working, but you get used to it after standing outside long enough. (2) Dream job is a nightmare. Sure, it is fun as a guest, but an employee sees the dark underbelly of the beast. Low pay, slave labor, politics, cliques. Actually, the dream job is more dream for people higher on the echelon... performers, executives, celebrities, hosts. Rumors of a celebrity sighting? You just hear about it, but others saw them and touched them.
May 19, 2015 at 1:14 AM · FASTPASSES. when I'm in a position that collects them from guests, it's like clockwork, I'm not thinking about what I'm doing, I'm just grabbing the passes and choosing not to think about which article of clothing they were stuffed in previously.
May 19, 2015 at 3:21 AM · this article has given me a newfound respect for theme park employees
May 19, 2015 at 11:57 AM · I remember being stationed outside of the Living Seas and hearing the water crashing for hours on end. After awhile it just goes away and my ears tuned it out.
May 19, 2015 at 5:00 PM · I do have one thing to mention in the case of ride heights. I have only gotten upset with a ride height once. The operator was in sistant that my daughter was to short for the ride. There was two issues first was her friend who happened to be the exact same height made the ride and the fact that I knew from the last doctors appointment that she was a solid inch above the height requirement.After first complaining that the employee was rude and obnoxious the maintenance guy took a measurement and found that somehow the sign with the height was raised 3 inches too high and that the operator had measured the first girl from a different elevation on the ramp which also not correct.So don't always dismiss the parents that are upset. What upset me the most was the attitude and rudeness of the operator and calling me a liar and some other nasty things. The employee was not employed after her transgression that day. The best part was that the girls had ridden the same exact ride earlier that day with a different operator.
May 19, 2015 at 7:48 PM · I would like to confess that I may be an offender of #2. My parents once took me to Disneyland when I was about a year old...we still have the old picture of me crying my eyes out whilst being held by Tigger.

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