Theme park cast member stories: The most money I ever made working at Disney

December 28, 2009, 9:19 AM · A quick note before I get into this week's story: I've seen that some folks are copying and pasting these weekly stories to discussion forums on various Disney fan sites. To the folks doing that - you're welcomed to continue doing so, but could you please at least mention where you got the story? I'd appreciate your crediting these stories to and linking back to the original URLs. Thanks.

Seven hours before, I had been crushed within a swarm of tens of thousands of people, watching explosions fill the sky around us. Many in the swarm tried to hug the friends and family who surrounded them, but failed - those friends and family stood so close few could raise their arms. Limbs useless, people used their voices instead, screaming "Happy New Year" until enough people on the periphery of the swarm had moved, giving us somewhere to go.

Seven hours later, I stood yards away from that place, and alone.

No voices. No explosions. And all the room I needed to spread my arms as wide as I could stretch them. Alone, driving a raft around the Rivers of America in the country's most popular theme park - now empty, just hours after the moment during the year when it is most filled.

I wasn't supposed to be the opening lead at Tom Sawyer Island on that New Year's morning. A) I hadn't been selected or trained as a lead yet, and, B) My last shift had ended less than six hours ago, meaning that I should have been kept off the clock for at least another couple of hours. By putting me into this shift, the supervisors who approved it had violated heaven-only-knows how many company regulations, and placed themselves in jeopardy of at least a verbal reprimand.

Of course, all but one of those supervisors were at that moment unconscious, with blood alcohol levels that would have landed them multiple court dates had they been behind the wheel of a car, and not crashed on various beds, couches and floors around the Orlando metro area. Also sleeping it off that morning were dozens of other Magic Kingdom West leads and operators, including every lead trained to drive the Tom Sawyer Island rafts.

And thus, I got the gig.

My wife insists that violins retain a physical memory of the music that's been played upon them. Her thoughts prompted me to wonder if theme parks don't in some way retain a similar energy from the crowds who visit. Certainly, there's an energy to the design of parks, one that's intended to infuse visitors with anticipation and excitement.

With no one else in sight on an early morning, all that energy flows through just one person - you. You might think that being alone in a theme park would leave you with a feeling of calm, even serenity.

Nope, with all that energy flowing toward me, and me alone... well, I felt giddier than I ever had before in the Magic Kingdom.

Of course, the math I was doing in my head at that moment probably added to my excitement. As a full-time employee, I was earning pay for a full eight-hour shift that holiday whether I worked or not. And since I was working a lead shift, I was earning an extra $2.50 a hour for the eight hours I would be working that day.

But that wasn't the best part. Since less than six hours had passed between the end of my Parade Audience Control shift at 1:30 that morning and the start of my leads shift at 7 am, I started the day on the same pay rate which I'd ended the shift before. And since I'd picked up the extra PAC shift after my scheduled TSI shift yesterday... I was earning double-time.

Lead double-time.

With holiday pay.

Meaning that I was earning almost four times my normal hourly pay, to drive a raft around Tom Sawyer Island in an empty Magic Kingdom, as the creatures and characters of my beloved Rivers of America staged a private show, just for me.

A very happy new year, indeed.

You can read the complete archive of Robert's stories about working in Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom, at

Replies (4)

December 28, 2009 at 10:35 AM · To everyone's credit, folks were calling in the night before, while they were still drinking, giving the supervisors and leads time to arrange for people like me to cover all the needed shifts on New Year's morning.
December 29, 2009 at 2:24 PM · Great story, though I think I'd still prefer to be the passed-out supervisor.
December 30, 2009 at 5:47 AM · Robert, the next time you're channelling all that energy, how about making 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea reappear at WDW...?

Thanks for sharing your experiences, and Happy New Year to you and all the readers!

December 30, 2009 at 12:31 PM · And I'm sure you still made less than $10. :)

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