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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stories from a Theme Park Insider

A new book released by Robert Niles compiles stories told by various cast members at Walt Disney World. If you think about it, these are the stories that are the funniest of all - recounting some of the silly things we, the park guests, do during our trips to Walt Disney World.

This is a great read for a bit of humor and some "insider" knowledge of Walt Disney World.

The following is a sample chapter from "Stories from a Theme Park Insider," by Robert Niles, available for $3.99 on and

Chapter title: The Old Man and the Caribbean Sea

"Sorry for the hold-up, folks. Seems to be a slow-moving train up ahead. You just remain seated, and we'll be right with ya."

The "Old Man" was up, which meant we were down at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. I'd been trained at Thunder only a couple weeks earlier, but had already learned about the Old Man - the pre-recorded spiel of a supposed prospector that played automatically whenever the roller coaster's computer system shut down the ride.

A little kid on the main side station had been crying, so the crew held the train. Disney rules prohibit dispatching a ride vehicle with a crying child: The child has to either stop crying, or get off the ride. We would allow families to wait on the unload platform as long as necessary until their child stopped bawling, then reseat them on the next train. But no train was going anywhere with a crying kid on it.

Unfortunately for everyone in line, if the family of the crying kid didn't accept the, uh, invitation to wait to the side, that train could not leave. And if one train didn't leave on time, that meant there was no room in the station for the train behind it on the track, outside the station. (Thunder has two stations, with up to five trains on the track.) The Old Man was getting up, and the ride was going down.

Coming back up from a "cascade stop" such as this was relatively simple. You just get everyone off the train in the station, then send it back into the storage area. Then you bring in the next train off the track, unload its guests, and then send it back into storage. You keep doing that until all the trains are either in storage or in a station. Then you bring the trains back onto the circuit, one at a time, until you're running the three, four or five trains you need - depending upon the size of the crowd in the park.

The cast member who was working Thunder's control tower when the Old Man woke up was the one to oversee the restart. On that day, the guy in the tower just happened to be a guy who, like me, had been working months at Pirates of the Caribbean and just recently cross-trained on Thunder. This was his first-ever downtime on Thunder.

The ride's lead hurried up to the tower to assist. Had a more experienced cast member been working in the tower, the lead would have just stood by and chatted with cast members and guests. Today, the lead stood closer, watching as the rookie slowly worked his way through the procedures.

When the trains stop on the lifts throughout the ride, we turned on the ride's work lights and sent operators to each lift, first to calm the riders, then to restart the lifts. We always worked our way backwards, starting one lift at a time, so that no one would have a train rushing by him or her while out on the track. Because there were operators on the track, the tower operator had to announce over the loudspeakers as each section of track restarted.

And he did. Oh boy, did he!

"Attention on Pirates of the Caribbean. Block zone four is restarting."

Knowing the rookie was fresh over from Pirates, several of the Thunder vets started to giggle, then caught themselves. I, a Thunder newbie like the rookie, simply thought, "There but for the grace of the Old Man, go I" and kept my mouth shut.

"Attention on Pirates of the Caribbean. 'C' lift is restarting."

At that point, no one on the load platform could contain themselves. The dispatcher on my side of the station actually doubled over in laughter. Even guests in the crowd turned to one another, asking, "Did he just say what I thought he did?"

"Attention on Pirates of the Caribbean. 'B' lift is restarting."

The crowd on the load platform started to laugh. The dispatcher on my side composed himself enough to start singing "Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate's Life for Me." Many in the crowd joined in.

Already overwhelmed by his first solo restart of the ride, and now utterly perplexed by the reaction on the platform, the rookie leaned over the mic to announce the next lift restart.

"Attention on Pi-"

Recognition dawned scarlet on his face. He eyes grew with terror, then squeezed shut. The lead was about to draw blood, she was biting her hand so hard to keep from laughing.

"Uh, attention on Big Thunder Mountain, 'A' lift is restarting," the rookie croaked.

The Thunder cast members erupted in applause. The dispatcher who'd been conducting the crowd stood tall and pointed toward tower: "That's right! Y'all's on THUNDER MOUNTAIN now!"

The rookie drank free that night.

A reader asks:

I thought the more interesting part of the story was how a ride breaks down and powers back up. I also never knew that Disney will not let a crying child on a ride. Is it because it would ruin the magic for the other guests or is there some other reason?

Another reader responds:

It's actually more a safety concern than aesthetics. At least it was on Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. If a child is crying in the station, they aren't wanting to ride. They're scared. They might panic mid-ride and try to squirm out of safety restraints, or hurt themselves in their panic. The rule about not letting crying children ride is left to the discretion of the cast members. If the child is just sniffling, but seems ready to ride, we dispatch away. If the child is crying and obviously doesn't want to go, we make the parents remove him. Unlike Thunder though, we didn't have a problem if someone took awhile deciding. We could back up a bit and not go down.

Convincing parents that we had the safety of their kids in mind wasn't always easy, though. We heard, "I paid all this money for you to ride rides, and damn it, you're going to ride them!" more than once.

I had one really terrific father one time though. He got on the ride with the kid, who then panicked. We asked him to step aside, and he did, choosing to stand in the area just on the platform side of the exit hallway. My position was on the platform, and my location to stand between trains was right on the other side of the safety gate from where the father and his son were standing. Father talked to the kid, finding out exactly what he was afraid of. I answered some questions, and confirmed a lot of what the father was saying. He didn't lie to the kid (we heard that a lot: "It's not scary," or "You don't go upside down," (you do) or "It's not really a roller coaster" - terrific parenting, telling lies to your kid to get them to go on a coaster). He didn't negate or berate the kid's fears. He talked to him and encouraged him. Doggone it if that kid didn't tug on my sleeve about five minutes later asking if it was too late to ride. I told him of course it wasn't, and put him on the next train. He looked petrified, but determined. I was bumped onto the next position while he was in the launch area and was sent to the ride's exit platform. I was there when he arrived in the station. He had a HUGE grin on his face. "Can I ride again?" he immediately asked his Dad. His father couldn't have looked prouder if he'd tried! I put them both back through the re-ride hallway to do it again. Anyone who's that brave deserves another run!

Another reader replies:

Working at Kali River Rapids, the same rule applies: if a kid is crying, they cannot leave the loading area. Like at Thunder, we can bring them to the center of the loading turntable to regain their composure, or they could choose not to ride, but we couldn't let them off until the kid stops crying. Well ,we had a family who wouldn't leave, like in Robert's story. The parents were stubborn and wouldn't leave until they rode the ride. The kid, however, wasn't having any of it. He was bawling so hard, he sounded like he was being tortured. He was trying to get his seat belt off, he wouldn't sit down, and he had that "Get me out of here!" look on his face. While another cast member, a coordinator, a manager and I were trying to calm the kid down and get him off the ride, the parent was yelling at us to turn the ride back on.

At this point, everybody in the other rafts and in queue started to pick up on what was going on. I had to explain to everybody what was going on, and what we had to do. Everybody understood, but they were growing impatient with the parents. About half way up the ramp that comes down to the turntable, there were a group of 5 or 6 frat boys. I could see they were scheming something. I turned around to head back to the turntable, and I heard a chant starting behind me:


What do you know, it was the frat boys. Everybody started to giggle, and even some started to join in. The coordinator went over to shush them, while at the same time, the family was getting out of the raft. The entire queue starts to applaud. At this point, I caught a look at the father in the group...and this is when my heart jumped into my throat. To explain what he looked like, some would say Lou Ferrigno, some would say Hulk Hogan without the mustache, I would say all of the above...and he wasn't a happy camper. The mom held the child, yelling at him while they were walking off the turntable, with the father behind. As he was leaving, the dad and one of the frat boys met eyes...oh boy...

Now I have never seen a fist fight while working at Disney World, but this was the closest I have ever seen one. The frat boy said something, and the dad grabbed the frat boy by the collar and said something like, "Stay out of my sight," and something about ripping genitals, I'm not really sure, I wasn't that close. At this point, the frat boys were trying to save their buddy and the manager was grabbing Lou Hogan away from everybody else. Everybody on the turntable, guests and cast alike, were trying to see what was going to happen.

Ahhh... there's nothing like working at “the happiest place on Earth.”

"Stories from a Theme Park Insider" on
"Stories from a Theme Park Insider" on

1 comment:

Chloe said...

Wow! That's hilarious! I've always wanted to work at Disneyland, but I don't think I'd want to be the rookie in that story. I am defiantly going to go buy that book know and read ALL of it! I love insiders and fun facts like theses, if you've read my blog you'd know just how much I love them! Thanks for sharing this funny book teaser and for giving me a good read idea!

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