Working for the theme parks is generally a lot of fun. After all, where else can you get paid to call little girls “princess,” hold impromptu hula hoop contests, and help people hatch elaborate surprises? Of course, talking with guests is one of the most important job duties of all. Normally the conversation lasts a few minutes, and both the employee and the guest walk away with a smile. When dealing with people, though, you can never quite tell what will happen. Here are 5 real life conversations you won’t believe.
1. Back to work!
When working the queue at Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of my favorite conversation starters was to ask guests if they were all packed for their “two week safari that’s so exciting, it feels like 20 minutes.” I usually got one of two responses. Either the guest would chuckle and move on or he would play along, coming up with a few items that would be important to pack for two weeks.
One time, however, I accidentally freaked out a businessman. The line had been stopped for a couple of minutes, so I decided to strike up a conversation with the person nearest me.
Me: Sir, your bag looks rather small. Are you sure you have everything you need for a two-week safari?
Him: Two weeks? What do you mean two weeks?
Me: Oh yes, sir. This is a two-week safari. But don’t worry. It only feels like 20 minutes.
Him (turning white and starting to shake): I can’t be gone for two weeks! I’m crucial to my company! I have to go back to work! Why didn’t somebody tell me this thing lasts two weeks!
Me: Sir, I’m sorry. It was just a joke. It’s a 20 minute ride that simulates a safari in Africa.
Him (paying no attention to me): I’m going to get fired. I’m so going to get fired. Why did I come on this stupid vacation? A weekend away. The wife promised just a weekend away. Why did I listen to her? Two weeks!
The line started moving then, and the guest was lost in the crowd. I hope he felt better when he got off the ride and realized it was still the same day.
2. How do I get to the Magic Kingdom?
As I mentioned last week, one of the most common silly guest questions is for directions to a ride that is in a different park, or even a completely different theme park complex. As a cast member, I never minded explaining where something was. During my off hours, though, I just wanted to relax and enjoy the parks as a guest.
I was in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom on a particularly crowded day. I had spent the morning wondering if I was wearing an invisibility cloak, as guest after guest plowed into me with a stroller or wheelchair, or stopped short while crossing in front of me.
My nerves were already a bit frayed when suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. A booming male voice asked, “Excuse me. Do you know how to get to the Magic Kingdom?”
Feeling very un-Disneylike, I spun around, sarcastic answer at the ready.
Standing before me was my good friend Lou Mongello, author of the Walt Disney World Trivia books and host of WDW Radio. He dissolved into giggles at the look on my face. I immediately burst into laughter myself and gave him a big hug.
While this wasn’t a “typical” guest conversation, it was a good reminder to get over myself and stop being so frustrated in the middle of the most magical place on Earth.
Universal’s Earthquake attraction underwent many changes from opening day until the time I arrived near the end of its lifespan. Yet one thing never changed. During the soundstage portion of the attraction, we had an audience volunteer portray the role of “stuntman.”
One of our sets recreated a portion of an office building that had been destroyed in an earthquake, and the idea was that the “stuntman” was trapped on a high floor. The audience was told that he would rappel down a rope to safety. In actuality, the volunteer remained on the ground out of sight, while we dropped a dummy from 30 feet in the air in a “stunt gone wrong” joke.
We ran this gag every 5 to 15 minutes all day long, depending on crowd levels. Normally, the audience had a stunned moment, then started laughing when they realized what actually happened. On one particular day, however, the volunteer’s son stole the show.
The dummy dropped as usual, and we were just about to reveal the joke when we heard a small voice screaming from the audience. “DADDY!” The poor kid, who couldn’t have been older than four, was on his feet. His mom grabbed him as he started to run toward the stage, and he began sobbing hysterically on her shoulder.
What else could we do? We sent Dad immediately back out to the audience to console his son, and resumed the show. Yet the kid continued to sob, telling his dad all about how he watched him die. I have never felt so bad in my life, and I hope the parents eventually found a way to explain what really happened.