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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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Photo Friday: A real "Highway in the Sky"

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

I took this photo in January 2011 from the 11th floor of the Contemporary Resort. I happened to wake up early one morning and looked out over the Seven Seas Lagoon to see the water partially covered with low level fog. Then I saw the monorail running just above the clouds.

You can just make out the small boat with a fishing party in the bottom right corner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Rice Cream in Norway

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

In light of the tragedies in Norway this week, I wanted to highlight some of the great things about Norway, one of the nations represented in Epcot's World Showcase.

As I thought about all the things about the Norway pavilion my family and I enjoy, one particular item came to mind: Rice Cream!

This is a classic Norwegian dessert and can be found both at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and at the Kringla Bakery.

Rice cream is a must-do for my family. Every trip to Walt Disney World includes at least one dish of rice cream. We enjoy this Norwegian delight so much, I've even tried my hand a few times at making our own rice cream using the actual recipe used at Epcot's Norway pavilion.

I highly recommend giving rice cream a try - it's just one more example of the charm of Epcot and how Epcot truly brings the world to you.

If you can't make it to Epcot to try rice cream -- try it for yourself. Here's the recipe (courtesy!

Rice Cream

YIELD: 10 servings


1 pound short-grain white rice (not instant)
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
4 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream
4 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Strawberry sauce:

2 cups strawberry preserves
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice


1. Cook rice with water and salt for 15 minutes, covered. Add milk and cook for 30 minutes or until rice is tender and the mixture is thick. Chill rice in the refrigerator.

2. Whip cream and sugar and vanilla. Gently fold whipped cream into chilled rice. Set aside in refrigerator.

3. Place sauce ingredients in the work bowl of a blender. Mix until combined.

4. Spoon rice mixture into serving cups. Garnish with strawberry sauce.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Photo Friday: Beware the Forbidden Mountain

Welcome to another photo Friday!

This week's shot comes from Animal Kingdom. I took this shot in 2008 on my very first visit to AK. I was heading into the standby line for Expedition Everest because I (like so many others) wanted to see the new Yeti (little did I know that he already was in B-mode by now).

Anyway, I saw this sign and remembered it from the Everest special that was on the Travel Channel about the making of the attraction. I happened to see a fantastic angle and set up the shot. What I like most about this image is the sense of foreboding it creates with Everest in the soft background.

Too bad the warning to beware the Yeti is a bit unnecessary these days. Maybe one day the feared creature will rear is ugly head again.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tip Tuesday: 100,000 target on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

This week's tip is short and sweet -- especially if you're interested in scoring that elusive 999,999 on Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin.

There are a few 100,000 point targets you can hit in this attraction. I talked about another 100,000 point target more than two years ago.

This target can be found in the opening scene of the attraction. See that big claw attached to the robot on the right side of your car? There is a Z-target underneath.

If you can hit the target, each shot is worth 100,000 points. The trick is to hit the target as you approach and leave the claw. Once you're right underneath it, your blaster can't tilt up far enough to hit it.

So the next time you're trying to defeat Zurg and save the universe, keep an eye out for this high point target and you could be the next Galactic Hero!!!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Photo Friday: A "Dramatic" Chinese Theatre

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week's photo is from Disney Hollywood Studios. I took this photo of Mann's Chinese Theatre (home of the Great Movie Ride) in March 2010. I have been playing with shooting tilted-angle photos of different subjects and I liked how this came out. I did a little Photoshop action to acccentuate the shadows a bit.

Hope you enjoy it -- and did you bring the popcorn?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Star Tours 2 - Skip the FastPass

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!

A few weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure to travel to a galaxy far, far away thanks to Star Tours! Star Tours: The Adventures Continue has been open at Disney Hollywood Studios for more than a month now and the crowds are still lining up for this incredible experience.

Now, with the old Star Tours, I often told people not to worry with FastPass. The reason was fairly obvious - except for the busiest of times during the year, Star Tours usually was a walk on, so there was no need to waste a FastPass on it.

Now, however, it's common to see 30, 40 even 50 minute wait times, making FastPass an option worth considering. Even with these greatly increased wait times, making FastPass much more attractive, I still say skip the FastPass. There's a very good reason for this tip.

Part of the charm of Star Tours is not the attraction itself. It's the queue. The major problem with using FastPass is that you go through the queue so fast, you don't have time to take in all the great details and pure entertainment the queue has to offer.

Some of the best parts of the Star Tours 2 experience can be found in three different scenes in the queue area. The first is the repair bay as you initially walk into the attraction building. Here you will find two very familiar characters, C-3PO and R2-D2. The banter that happens between these two droids is something not to be missed. In addition, a very large monitor over your head presents promos for various Star Tours destinations and different announcements.

As you pass by C-3PO, you enter the baggage claim area. As you enter this area, look to your left to see if you recognize an old friend from the original version of Star Tours. Take a moment and listen to catch a few familiar phrases. On your right, you will meet a very unusual and interesting G2-4T droid who is scanning pieces of luggage - think of him as the droid version of TSA.

Anyway, you'll want to take several minutes to watch what happens as this droid scans different items and reacts what he finds. There are several tributes to other attractions and characters and at least one hidden Mickey.

Turning the corner, on your left you will meet another G2-4T droid. This less-than-cheerful droid is scanning you! If you watch the panel directly in front of the droid, you will notice a thermal image of the guests waiting in the queue. Like the baggage droid, pay attention to the droid's spiel, which reminds me, for some reason, of Patrick Warburton (the flight attendant in the Soarin' safety video for you Disney geeks out there).

Once you line up to board your Starspeeder 1000, pay close attention to the safety video. There are a bunch of hidden details and gags that are very funny.

So there you go -- that's why I say for Star Tours: The Adventures Continue, skip the FastPass and enjoy the wait.

Until next time, May the Force be With You!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Photo Friday: A different perspective on the Tori Gate

Welcome to another Photo Friday!

This week, I wanted to take you to Epcot (my favorite park) for a shot I took in June 2009. This photo was taken just before Illuminations began from the balcony over Mitsukoshi. This is one of my favorite places to watch Illuminations because you get a different perspective on the show and you get a wider view of World Showcase as a whole.

I especially like the lighting here with the lighting on the Tori Gate helping it to stand out from the darkened background and the lagoon. I also like Spaceship Earth in the distance, though it would have been nice if that tree was just a bit shorter.

I hope you enjoy this photo and look for another photo next week!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Disney (ABC Family) and Seventeen magazine try to stop cyberbullying - you can help!

Seventeen magazine and ABC Family want you to help Delete Digital Drama! Show your support to end cyberbullying by adding this Delete Digital Drama badge to your Facebook and Twitter profile pic today – please feel free to share with your readers!

When you show your support via Facebook, your profile picture will be overlaid with the Twibbon Image, and a post will appear on your wall saying: “I just joined ABCFamily and Seventeen magazine to end cyberbullying. Add the Delete Digital Drama badge to your Facebook profile to show your support ”

When you show your support via Twitter, your avatar will be overlaid with the Twibbon image, you will follow @abcfamily, and a tweet will be sent on your behalf saying: “I just joined @ABCFamily & @SeventeenMag to end cyberbullying. Add the #DeleteDigitalDrama badge to show your support”

To learn more about the Delete Digital Drama Twibbon Pledge, visit:

To add the Delete Digital Drama Twibbon to you Twitter or Facebook:

Other ways to Delete Digital Drama:

Cyberbully, starring Emily Osment, premieres on Sunday, July 17 at 8/7c!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Tip Tuesday: Stitch's Great Escape

Welcome to another Tip Tuesday!


I know you've read the headline and seen the photo, but don't click the back button just yet!!!

Ok, Ok... so Stitch's Great Escape isn't the most popular of attractions at Walt Disney World (actually, it just might take the prize for the most hated attraction), but hear me out.

Despite a few completely gross moments, Stitch has some elements that make this attraction worth visiting every once in a while, especially if you know how to avoid the things that make you want to (glurp!).... well, you get the point.

So why is Stitch worth checking out occasionally? It's all about the audio-animatronics. If you're a fan of these fantastic creations that were invented by Disney, then you'll want to check out Stitch.

The Pre-Show
The pre-show presents a humorous skit featuring "Sarge" who helps you (the new recruits) to understand how the detention area works. Sarge is another very well-articulated audio-animatronic. While the story is a bit lacking, it is fun to see just how life-like the Imagineers were able to make Sarge.

Anyway, an emergency arises and the next thing you know you're heading for the main teleport area. TIP: try to stand on the right side of the pre-show area. This way you'll be among the first to enter the main attraction and, thus, have your pick of seats. Keep reading to see why this is helpful.

The attraction
You'll want to try to sit on the lowest row possible. There's a reason for this which I'll discuss in a bit. Above your head is a large U-shaped bar which looks a lot like a roller-coaster harness. It has nothing to do with keeping you safe, it's just there to get your body into position so all the other sensory effects will work.

One of the problems guests often have with this attraction is the bar pressing too hard on your shoulders. So here's how you avoid this. When the cast member begins to lower the bars, hunch up your shoulders and sit up VERY straight. This will raise your shoulder line a few inches. Stay this way until the bar touches your shoulders and stops. Now relax. Ahh... you have room to breathe.

As the show continues, of course, Stitch makes his appearance. As with Sarge, Stitch is a great audio-animatronic as are the two "guns" in the room. You don't need to pay too much attention to what Stitch is saying just yet -- enjoy the advanced movement of Stitch and the guns.

Oh, why do I suggest sitting along the lowest row? During the first part, Stitch will spit water at an unsuspecting guest. By sitting in the lowest row, you're pretty much guaranteed you won't get a stream of water in your face (and this isn't just a slight sprinkle, it's a full jet of water).

At one point, Stitch will make the power go out and the room will become pitch dark. Now it's time to pay attention to what the little blue guy is saying. At one point Stitch will "jump" on your shoulders. Here's where you'll be glad if you did the shoulder trick I mentioned earlier. While you might feel slight pressure on your shoulders, it won't be uncomfortable at all.

As I said, pay attention to what Stitch is saying. When he mentions finding a chili dog, take a deep breath and hold it. Stitch will burp and then the smell of chili dog will briefly fill the room. This is why you're holding your breath for a few seconds. Fortunately it doesn't last long. Stitch's lack of manners is the other major part that many guests find completely nauseating. After a few moments, you can breathe cleanly again, the power will be restored, the lights will come back on, Stitch will make his escape (to Walt Disney World, naturally) and the attraction is over.

The darkness portion also is the point that freaks most children out -- mine included. I strongly DO NOT recommend any kids under the age of 8 experience this attraction, especially if they have issues with darkness.

While I still agree with many that Stitch's Great Escape needs to permanently teleport off planet, I don't think people should just avoid it completely. There are some great audio-animatronics that I think are worth the effort, chili dog burps and all.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Photo Friday: Cinderella Castle in the "fog"

Photo details: F/32, 1/80th, ISO 100

Welcome to a new series here on DisneyDaddy. I'm calling it Photo Friday and the purpose is pretty basic. I take a LOT of photos at Walt Disney World (at least 1200 on each trip) and up until now, they've just been sitting in a folder on one of my hard drives. Well it's time I started sharing some of the unique images I've managed to capture over the years and a bit of the story behind the image.

So for the inaugural image, I decided to post the shot that gave me the idea for Photo Friday.

This is a picture of Cinderella Castle I took during a trip in June 2011. While it looks like it was a foggy morning, actually the skies were clear, but it was very muggy. My camera had been in my backpack in the resort room overnight (a well air-conditioned resort room), and when I finally pulled it out intending to take a shot of the sun behind the castle, my lens fogged up. I thought about just putting the camera away and forgetting the shot, but changed my mind and decided to just see what happened.

You can see the result.

I hope you'll enjoy this new series and I enjoy sharing some of the fun photos I've taken.

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