Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Priceless experiences

My previous post was all about those things I regret I didn’t do while living and working in Walt Disney World. Well, as promised, today I will tell you about some of the cool things I got a chance to experience. The list is long so let’s get on with it, in no particular order:

Backstage. As I said before, a lot of people have paid good money to get tours of backstage at the various theme parks and of course as a cast member I could go there anytime. I got to know backstage Epcot particularly well but I also remember that I could walk anywhere in Disney’s Hollywood Studios (then known as Disney-MGM) on the days when there were a lot of areas that guests couldn’t see, except from the tram tour. I could walk anywhere and actually BE a part of the tour!

Characters. I was luckier than most in that one of my roommates was part of the Zoo Crew and would play a variety of characters, including the Big Cheese himself. I got the chance to hang out with her while she was on stage and watch her work, and then come backstage with her and we’d mess around. I also got to meet a lot of the Crew and have an autograph book filled with the weirdest character autographs around. Very cool.

Raising/lowering the China bridge. Admittedly this is cool only on a low level but I picked up a lot of crowd control shifts in Epcot. These were pretty easy shifts, with a very easy afternoon followed by two hours of non-stop action while we policed the guests waiting for Illuminations in the evening. Part of that shift also included raising and lowering the drawbridge between China and Germany, to allow for the pyro carts to get in place for the evening’s fireworks. There was something pretty cool about knowing just what button to push and then to watch people’s faces as the bridge goes up, then goes down. While the barges would float by it would also give us a chance to chat to guests and often they would ask why we were raising the bridge. Our favourite answer was “to dry it” and they would think we were being serious.

Wearing other costumes. After a few months of wearing the same thing every day for work, well, it really does become a uniform. The job itself can become pretty dull too, so I always tried to get overtime in other countries around World Showcase or even in other parks and hotels. I picked up a lot of cool overtime and one part that I really liked was the chance to wear a different costume. I really loved the American Adventure dress so I worked there every chance I had, just so I could wear the pretty dress! I always wanted to work in Norway too, but never managed to get any shifts there.

Getting into parks for free. Our cast member ID could of course get us in anywhere for free (except the water parks) and to this day I find it difficult to pay admission to somewhere I used to be able to get in anytime I wanted!

Disneyana convention. This was another overtime shift I picked up, over two days. The first day I was photographing VIPs to make their convention IDs and I met a couple of old mousketeers from the 50s as well as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, animating legends. It was thrilling to meet them because barely anyone in the room had heard of them! I printed out spare copies of their IDs and still have them, to this day, to prove I met these people. The following day I worked in the wrapping counter, showing people the priceless collectibles they had bought and of course we got to see some beautiful things. The highlight of the day was when we had to very carefully wrap and then unwrap a priceless Faberge egg – only 5 ever made of that type! Can you imagine if we’d broken it? I also remember people offering me money for my nametag, my earrings and even my watch. These Disney fans are crazy, I tell ya.

After hours park parties. About twice a year we would be invited to some sort of ball or party in the parks, after all the guests had gone home and we could get on some rides, have a few drinks and party. They were fantastic parties! We had one at the Magic Kingdom and we must have gotten on Big Thunder Mountain about 20 times. We also had parties on the streets of MGM and once in the American Adventure. Very cool!

Aladdin parade. Yet another overtime shift I picked up, somehow (I was good at finding OT I guess!) and it was to do crowd control for the Aladdin parade that was on MGM at the time. The parade was on twice a day so the first parade I did straightforward crowd control, you know, make sure everyone is behind the line, not climbing anything, etc. But the second parade I got a chance to BE in it: I was holding the banner at the end, that signals the end of the parade! Granted it was a very minor part but how excited was I?! I couldn’t believe I was getting paid for that, it was so much fun.

Fireworks. Because of my China bridge job I got to know the pyro guys quite well and on the 4th of July they invited me to view the special fireworks from a barge just off the American Adventure Theatre – it certainly was an experience. We had the best seats in the house and to watch the fireworks with the guys that make it happen was completely awesome.

School visits. I only got to do this once but school visits were always a popular diversion. We would go in a little group, in our costume, to a local school where the kids would ask us questions about our country, our lives, etc. It was pretty cute and the best part would be that we’d still be getting paid!

Spaceship Earth tour. This one is pretty cool. Somehow I got invited to a cast member only tour of Spaceship Earth, after hours. There were only about 10 of us and got to walk the length of the ride – with all the lights on! We heard a lot of stories of how it was built, how maintenance works and some interesting anecdotes from the cast members that work the attraction (like what does that graffiti really say, which presidents have been ‘recycled’ and what sort of things guests get up to in that dark and starry room). We got close up and personal with the guys in the Greek theatre, the cavemen and had a great view of the hidden Mickey and Donald in the book the Monk is working on. We even took some pictures and if I had a scanner I’d include some here. We also got a handout which has a lot of insider info on Spaceship Earth and has become one of my most valued possessions, even if it is only a photocopy. Spaceship Earth is one of my favourite rides so to experience it like this was definitely special.

I can’t complain, can I? I may never win a castle stay in the Year of a Million Dreams competition (I'll bet I won't even win a lanyard) but these are definitely money-can’t-buy experiences that I feel very lucky to have experienced. And in some cases I was actually getting paid to do them!


Sarah aka Flo said...

oh, you are SO lucky having that walkabout inside Spaceship Earth. It has always been one of my favourite rides too, not sure why as I'm usually a thrill ride person, but it has a definite charm.

the after hours parties sound cool too :)

Shazza911 said...

So many fun things. I remember very well the China bridge as I also did a lot of crowd control shifts. I loved reading this post. It brought back many memories. Perhaps one of these days I'll make a similar post!! It really is the best. If I won the lottery, I"d go back and work there, stress free, generally always happy people, how can you lose!! Thanks for sharing so many cool things!!

Diego Gomes said...

Great Blog!
just found it in triiibes!


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