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. Back in the mid-1980s as Universal's then-owner MCA was plotting to build Universal Studios Florida, Disney's Imagineers were busy designing a new pavilion for Epcot's Future World. This would be focused on the entertainment industry, and would feature a headline attraction dubbed the Great Movie Ride that would take guests on a tour of movies past and present. When Disney CEO Michael Eisner decided that he wouldn't take Universal's competition lying down, he asked the Imagineers to expand their ideas for the entertainment pavilion, to create a full-scale movie studio-themed park. The resulting park, Disney-MGM Studios, opened in 1989 - and the Great Movie Ride was its heart.
Upon entering the park, guests could see straight down the main drag to a stunning replica of what was then known as Mann’s Chinese Theatre. In 2001, the Sorcerer’s Hat appeared directly in front of the Great Movie Ride, obscuring the once-breathtaking view and taking over as the park’s icon. But ride lives on to this day, in a largely unchanged format. Amy Ziese worked as a Tour Guide on the Great Movie Ride in 2007 and 2008. She was kind enough to share her memories of that experience with us.
Amy moved to the Great Movie Ride from Star Tours, where she worked as a "Flight Attendant". "I didn't have to apply for the role," she recalls. "I just put in for cross training."
At the Great Movie Ride, everyone is first trained as a Tour Guide - before they can take on the more unusual roles as a gangster or bandit. "I didn't do the character training while I was there," says Amy. "So I only trained as a tour guide." "Since the most difficult part of the Great Movie Ride is spieling, you get your spiel on the first day so you have lots of time to work on it. I got my hands on a spiel ahead of time, though, so I had it memorized by the time I got there. I believe the training was three or four days before the assessment."
Life as Tour Guide
Amy's day-to-day duties involving working a number of different positions in the Great Movie Ride rotation. "The easiest ones are standing at greeter or in the theater," she explains. "If you’re on the dock, you have to group guests onto one or two vehicles and run 'hand packs.' If a tour guide needs something while they’re on the ride track, they have a device like a radio where they push a button and it alerts the dock to their location. On dock, you’ll hear an alarm and see a light illuminate showing you where the hand pack is. You then have to walk out to the tour guide and see what they need." "As for the tour guide position, while it’s technically the most complex because you have to memorize the spiel and the vehicle speeds, it's one of the most entertaining places to be, because you get to run the actual show."
There were fewer rules and safety restrictions associated with the Great Movie Ride than with Amy's previous roles on Dinosaur and Star Tours. "There's no height limit for GMR and not a whole lot of safety precautions so it’s pretty easy if you’re comfortable spieling", says Amy. "The ride is unique in that you get off the vehicle and walk around the ride itself on every single trip. Your movements are choreographed so you know where you have to go and how to interact with your gangster or bandit." "Otherwise, the rules are pretty much the same as other attractions as far as Disney look, appropriate theming, and those kinds of things."
Amy's favorite part of the role was running shows as a Tour Guide: "The show is 22 minutes and when you’re on a vehicle the time passes in a flash. Sometimes I would come back to dock and not even remember exactly what happened during the show. You kind of go on autopilot after awhile and don’t really register everything unless something goes wrong. Since you're inside, it’s a comfortable position and the time flies. If you get a good gangster or bandit it’s a lot of fun interacting with them, as well." "Another great perk of working at the Great Movie Ride was the break room. It's easily one of the best on property. We had really comfortable couches, private bathrooms, and a television. There's even a small courtyard out back with picnic tables. Since the Great Movie Ride is right in the middle of the park, that outside area is typically only GMR cast members, where the outside areas around other attractions are open to all of the backstage area, and are sometimes shared with restaurants where you deal with unpleasant smells and things."