A friendly theme-park shout-out to Theme Park Insider readers today... all five of you, or whoever's left reading the site during these slowest weeks of the year for the theme park business.
Working in the Magic Kingdom, even the nation's busiest theme park was slooooow during the early days of December. The park itself closed at times between 5pm and 7pm, creating an unusual situation where the "closers" were coming into work just as the park was opening on some days. Heck, working the Magic Kingdom in early December started to feel like a "normal" job with typical office hours.
With the early close, cast members could go out after work and be around... other people who'd gone out after work. For whatever reason, there seemed to be a taboo on going out with fellow cast members while the park was still open. I don't recall ever hanging out with other Disney employees after a shift that ended more than two hours before the park closed for the night. The attitude seemed to be - Hey, if you want to hang out with your co-workers... extend.
That left cast member gatherings for late evening, or more typically, early morning hours. When we went out, we knew we'd be surrounded by other cast members, too, (or employees of other theme parks and tourist joints). Folks with office jobs and other 9-to-5 gigs would be long asleep by then.
But in early December, walking two hours before park close left you plenty of time to hit a "normal" person's (gasp!) happy hour.
So we did.
Several of us from Magic Kingdom West attractions liked to hit the old Casa Gallardo on South International Drive. The main appeal of the happy hour wasn't the drinks, believe it or not, it was the cheap food. Pushing and pull the tiller on a Tom Sawyer Island raft, or walking miles on the Haunted Mansion load and unload belts, really burns off the calories. So MK attractions employees can put the food away.
But a cast member's salary doesn't enable you to hit off-property table-service restaurants very often. That's why we loved the cheap food in the bar. A plate of chicken nachos, or a couple of tacos, for a couple bucks - yeah, that'll do. And it was a tasty step up for our usual Mexican restaurant, El Taco Bell.
College had already taught me the value of happy hour discounts. Every Friday afternoon, I'd hit up a bar near campus that set up a steam table with build-your-own tacos. Just tell the bartender you're a designated driver, and you'd be good to go with free Cokes, too.
Yeah, I did it. Call me cheap; I don't care.
With the early close time at Disney in December, you'd think that cast members would have had so much more time to party. But I can't recall nearly as many people getting hammered and doing stupid things as they did after midnight closes, when people had a scant hour or two to drink before the bars closed for the evening.
Part of this was due to the lack of college students and temporary employees during the first weeks of December. Only the full-timers worked those weeks, and we were an older, and ever-so-slightly more sedate, crowd.
But I'd attribute a lot of our reticence to the clock. Getting off work at six o'clock, you just felt too, well, normal, to party like a cast member. So we trudged off to happy hour like a bunch of office workers, instead.
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