Home » Secrets of a Great Movie Ride Tour Guide at Walt Disney World

Secrets of a Great Movie Ride Tour Guide at Walt Disney World

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.

Training up

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.”

The Rules

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.”

The upsides

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.”

The downsides


There were some downsides to working on the Great Movie Ride, as Amy explains: “The Great Movie Ride is really unique in that there are two separate costumes you rotate between all day long. The original costumes involved putting on a jacket to go outside which is totally counterintuitive in Florida. With the new costumes, you put on the jacket when you come in, so it’s a little more comfortable temperature-wise. However, the new costumes only have a hat in the outdoor roles and not inside (the original costumes had a hat for both roles), so if you get hat-hair when you’re sweating outside, it’s going to be noticeable when you come in and take the hat off again.” 

“Since you’re putting on a show, you naturally want the guests to appreciate the work that’s going into the role. Unfortunately, a lot of guests come to the Great Movie Ride just to get inside and enjoy the cool for awhile. Brazilian tour groups are the worst because they often don’t speak English and don’t understand what you’re saying. They’re also a nightmare to group because they either don’t know how many are in the party, or there are 30 or 40 of them. I would just step back and let them group themselves.” “You have bench seating on the ride, so you can usually fit between four and six people per row, depending how big they are. The Brazilian groups would just pile in, eight or nine to a row and insist on sitting that way. When you’re getting dozens of groups like that in peak season, it’s just not worth fighting with them over it.”

The hidden secrets

Were there any hidden elements of the Great Movie Ride that guests don’t get to see? Yes, Amy recalls: “The Great Movie Ride has catwalks above nearly all of the attraction. Managers can go stand up there to evaluate cast shows without them knowing that they’re being observed. The only time regular Cast Members get to go up to the catwalks is during training, which is a lot of fun.” “The Great Movie Ride has two possible shows, known as ‘A’ and ‘B’. When the park isn’t busy, only the ‘B’ show will run and you’ll see a single vehicle sitting on the dock. If there are two vehicles on the dock and you happen to get into the front one, you’re in for a real treat. This is the much rarer ‘A’ version of the ride. Even when this show is running, it typically only shows up in one or two of the five sets. If you really want to get onto this vehicle, you can always ask if an ‘A’ is running. Cast Members will usually accommodate if they can.”

“Once you’ve settled into your vehicle, a live tour guide will take you on a tour through the movies. The first scene you see is a tall cake of dancers from Footlight Parade. Passing through the first set of doors, you find yourself in a seedy alley. To the right is James Cagney from The Public Enemy. If you’re on a ‘B’ vehicle, you’ll stop here to wait for a red light. A live gangster enters the scene and hijacks your vehicle, taking over for the next leg of the show.” “If you’re in an ‘A’ vehicle, you’ll pass right through the gangster scene and stop on an old Western set with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne. This show is hijacked by a bandit and features pyrotechnics in the ensuing firefight. For both the flames and the general rarity of the scene, most people consider the bandit the better of the two options.”


Sometimes, things can go wrong – and that’s when the character actors on the Great Movie Ride come into their own. “One of the most common reasons for a tour guide to hand pack is because a light doesn’t turn green. There are lights throughout the ride that turn from red to green when you’re clear to proceed. This keeps the vehicles spaced out and makes sure each scene has time to reset before the next vehicle comes through. There are four scenes in the ride that actually go through a whole show sequence, instead of just repeating a few actions or phrases. You’ll only see three on any given show, since you have either the bandit or the gangster.” 

“When a light doesn’t turn green after awhile, you have to hand pack because it’s probably just an error. The Cast Member who comes to assist you will peek on the other side of the door to make sure you’re clear and manually open the doors for you to proceed. If you get a hand pack in gangster or bandit, things can get really interesting. Gangsters and bandits typically stay in character all through the hand pack, so they’ll react to the new Cast Member entering the scene. There’s no script for this kind of thing, so you all just ad lib through the scene and it can get really entertaining.” Thanks to Amy for sharing her memories with us. If you’d like to learn more about Cast Members’ roles and experiences at Walt Disney World, sign up now to be notified when Creating the Magic: Life as a Disney Cast Member is released.