This is the latest in a series of articles on Theme Park Tourist in which we'll talk to Cast Members at Walt Disney World to understand their roles and the part that they play in "creating the magic" for guests.
The interviews will offer an insight into Cast Members' day-to-day roles, the training that they undergo and the aspects of their jobs that they find the most rewarding. We might even uncover a funny story or two.
Star Tours, the classic simulator attraction that thrilled crowds at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios for decades, could have been very different. The ride was originally conceived as an attraction based on Disney's own Star Wars rip-off The Black Hole, but was shelved due its enormous cost (as well as a mediocre critical reception for the movie).
After new CEO Michael Eisner's arrival in 1984, the concept was revived - but this time, Disney would work in conjunction with George Lucas to bring his Star Wars universe to life. Lucas' own Industrial Light & Magic produced the movie footage, which was then carefully synchronized with the motions of the simulators. The total cost ballooneed to a then-astronomical $32 million - but it had been worth it. Simulator rides had existed before, but none had been this convincing. Star Tours proved to be an enduring hit, remaining in place at Disneyland for more than two decades and spawning clones at Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Rides such as SeaWorld Orlando's Wild Arctic owe a lot to Disney's creation.
Staffing the attraction were "Flight Attendants". Former Walt Disney World Cast Member Amy Ziese played this role back in 2007, shortly before the Disney's Hollywood Studios version of the ride closed to become Star Tours: The Adventures Continue. She was kind enough to talk to us about her experiences working on the ride.
Amy had worked at Walt Disney World for several years before landing the job at Star Tours, but was new to Disney's Hollywood Studios (then still known by its original name of Disney-MGM Studios): "I transferred to Star Tours from an existing role. Before training in my area, I had a one-day class called 'On With the Show' that introduces Cast Members to Studios. Cast Members tour the park, ride some of the attractions, and go through some of the orientation in a classroom."
"You learn about the various areas of the park so you can always answer guests’ questions and direct them toward what they’re looking for. We also learned some of the lore behind the look of the Studios. Since this park is meant to look like a working Hollywood studio, you’re allowed to walk through any area in costume. This is very different from the Magic Kingdom where you have to use the tunnels to get from one area to another so you never show up in the wrong spot in a costume that doesn’t match."
"After 'On With the Show' I trained at Star Tours for I believe three days. We learned to open and close the attraction as well as how to work all the different positions."
"Many of the positions at Star Tours are identical," remembers Amy, "because there are six simulators that you can be assigned to and every Sim position is the same. I worked there before it became a 3-D attraction, so I’m sure there are some new positions now. There are positions outside to check children’s heights and check FastPasses, a position at the top of the ramp to send guests to their Sim, operator positions at each Sim, a tower position, and a position in the hallway where guests exit."
"The position with the most duties was operating one of the Sims. You had to group guests as they got to you, deliver a spiel before the doors opened, and follow them into the simulator. There you would check all the seat belts on a panel at the front of the Sim and go around to close each set of doors. After you left the Sim, you would close the last doors and start the attraction."
"There are four sets of doors that you close before the ride will operate, and you close each set separately. The positioning of the buttons forces you to walk across the entrance and exit ramps so you can check for any dropped items. It’s easy to retrieve them from the ramps but if they’re left there when the ramps lift and they fall into the bay below, you have to call maintenance to retrieve them. Delicate items like sunglasses can also get broken that way."