Theme Park Employees Talk About Working in the Pandemic

August 4, 2020, 1:48 PM · While fans and pundits debate whether people should be visiting theme parks during this pandemic, I thought it important to hear from the people who are spending the most time inside the parks right now — their employees.

Last week, I asked theme park employees to email me with their insider's view. I promised them anonymity, so that they could speak freely. (Theme park employees can lose their jobs for talking to the press without permission.) Here is what some of them wrote, with some details removed to preserve anonymity:

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I am currently a cast member working at Magic Kingdom, and I am so happy to be back at work again! But there are many issues with being back. I feel absolutely safe with all my other fellow cast members. When we had the cast previews for the parks that is the safest I have felt being back in the theme parks. Now with the guests being back, I constantly have to remind people to wear their masks, physically distance themselves from others, and follow all the rules and guidelines set forth from Disney and the CDC.

Many guests follow the rules and that makes me feel safe and happier to be back at work when they do. I feel like I can create great magical moments for them. I really appreciate when the guests acknowledge the hard work we put into coming back to work and then they thank us for being here for them, when in reality we are so happy to see them back as well.

Where the issues come in are the guests that feel entitled or don't want to follow the rules. So far being back to work, I still have parents get mad at me when I tell them their child is too short to ride this attraction. I don't get how they don't see that we are trying to keep their children safe. I ask that all parents check out the heights and ages children must be to ride the attractions before coming. And stuffing kids shoes or tying their hair up high doesn't make them tall enough to ride. So don't get mad at us for caring about your child's safety.

I have had guests cough at me, spit at me, and tell me I am the worst cast member ever since I've been back because the guests don't want to follow the rules. Another bad issue is when guests ride the rides without their masks on. What they don't realize is that there are many other ride vehicles inside at the same time they are riding - all filled with other guests. When they take their masks off, it becomes a hazard to everyone in that ride.

All I want is to stay open and to bring magic to the guests, but only if they follow the rules. If I continue to get people not following the rules, the more and more I don't feel safe being at work. And I don't want to put my own health at risk just because a guest wants to be rude or can't follow the rules. As of now I feel safer with my fellow cast members than I do with the guests being back. And I hope that changes soon, or I fear that soon the parks will close again.

The biggest thing I want all your readers to know is please be kind to all of us cast members and team members. Being back so you can come and enjoy the parks is a lot of work. We just would like the guests to be more understanding when we remind them to wear their masks and everything. And how important it is to do so, to keep these parks open for their enjoyment.

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Despite being part of Walt Disney World Resort for decades, I remain furloughed from my full-time Disney role because my statused full-time location has not re-opened and has no official re-opening date. I am in constant contact with HR and my team and there will be a second round of temporary transfers for the thousands of Cast Members like myself, still waiting to be temporarily redeployed.

It is silly to pretend people are called back strictly on tenure - it has far more to do with where you were last statused to work before closure than how long you've been employed by Disney. If you're a full-timer at a location that reopened, then you're likely back to work. If your statused location hasn't reopened, you're likely waiting. So a relatively new full-timer at a reopened venue is more likely to have returned to their role while a veteran Cast Member statused to a venue that has not re-opened is probably still waiting for that phone call.

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I have friends at Walt Disney World who tell me they have just gotten their hours cut. Pretty much status quo there.

This pandemic has really opened my eyes. While most everyone on my team is very guest-centric, we have never been in the place where we were fearful of getting sick from the guests.

We are expecting our line team members to tell guests to pull up their masks. They have been instructed for years on being providers of hospitality. Now they are the mask police. Hard to be both.

My management team has turned into Lord of the Flies/every person for themselves. We have let go of far too many good middle managers, HR, training and event folks. The culture has turned toxic and I am not exaggerating.

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I am a British student who has been living in France for 12 years now. This summer I was supposed to be working at Disneyland Paris.

I signed my contract back in December, which is quite early for a July/August contract. The parks in Paris, as I'm sure you know, opened back up on July 15 with limited capacity. As a result, only cast members with permanent contracts have been called to work with anyone with a temporary contract being furloughed. The plus side is that, despite being hired for only two months, I am being paid 84 percent of my salary. This is due to measures set up by the French government, and is applied throughout the country, not just to Disney.

I will have to stay home this summer, however some cast members with seasonal contracts who started back in February - before the parks closed - and who were in accommodation provided by Disney, have been allowed to remain in these apartments even though they are not currently working in the parks. They can stay there until their contracts end.

As I live in a rural area, I would have preferred to go back and work. From what I have seen online, Disneyland Paris have done a really good job at making sure all the necessary measures are in place, for guests and cast members alike.

I have only really heard that the job is slightly easier than usual as there aren't as many guests and they don't finish as late.

All in all, I believe that staying home and away from the parks is probably the best thing for me this year as I'm sure Disney have enough cast members to run the parks. I am of course frustrated but not overly so, as this is a pandemic after all.

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(Added, 10:08pm) I am a front-line manager at Walt Disney World. When we were closed, but not yet furloughed, we were still doing some work from home - mainly making suggestions for crowd management in our locations for the reopening planners. We kept in touch with our Cast Member team to make sure everyone was okay. As a management team we spoke daily with one another even after we were furloughed.

When my location began to reopen, I stopped hearing from my fellow managers, even my direct manager. I wasn’t called back to work, and no one has reached out to me, even to say they went back to work but it wasn’t my turn yet. It has been months since I heard from anyone on my team.

I feel conflicted. I have no interest in going back to work during a pandemic, because I believe many of the people willing to travel to Orlando are people who don’t take the virus seriously enough and could endanger me and my family, by extension. I also don’t see how our very limited backstage areas, like break rooms, could possibly be large enough to safely social distance.

On the other hand, I feel completely abandoned. I think it says a lot about the company culture everyone talks so much about. I don’t believe in the company the way that I used to. When things got really tough, the idea that we are all “family” went out the window.

Right now, Disney seems like every other company out there, interested in their public reputation and the bottom line. But it doesn’t feel like a place that people should give years of their life to, if they can get a better paycheck elsewhere, and honestly, it really used to feel that way.

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If you are a theme park employee and would like to share your story - whether you are currently working or not - either jump into the comments or email me at themeparkinsider@gmail.com.

As always, thank you for everything you do to help theme park fans around the world. Best wishes to stay safe and healthy.

Replies (3)

August 4, 2020 at 4:02 PM

Good insight to how it is, I feel for them, wanting to keep to jobs but worried (I get that at my UPS job) so nice to hear from them.

August 4, 2020 at 4:41 PM

I really felt for that first cast member. I can’t imagine how testing it must be to keep that Disney spirit front and centre, when you have guests being thoroughly nasty to you for trying to keep them safe. If I get to have my rescheduled holiday next year (providing international travel has resumed), I’ll be taking every opportunity I have, to give a little extra thanks and recognition to cast members. It’s the least they deserve!

August 5, 2020 at 3:59 PM

"I have had guests cough at me, spit at me, and tell me I am the worst cast member ever since I've been back because the guests don't want to follow the rules."

Just hope this is not representative. Sure would not be willing to work among those conditions.

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