Awesome fact about working at Star Tours: you get to wear a light saber. It definitely won me some street cred with the male guests.
When I was given my nametag that said the Happiest Place on Earth (Year of a Million Dreams wouldn’t launch until that October) I was as far from happy as one could get. I was very anxious and scared that I would screw up someone’s vacation by breaking the simulator mid-ride. So I don’t know whether it was fate or just merely the Disney schedulers, but for the first few weeks, I had the morning shift. Most people didn’t like it and I saw more sunrises that first week than I had my entire life, but let me explain something about opening a ride — it’s quiet. For the first 30 minutes you’re simply starting the thing up. You test the seatbelts, play the film, run the ride and simply work down a very helpful checklist. Once guests started to arrive (gotta love those early Star Wars enthusiasts!) you’re up for your break. In the beginning, the quiet time helped me adjust.
I was also paired with a seasoned worker while I learned the ropes. My trainer’s name was Rich and he was incredible. He had been at Star Tours for a couple of years (probably is still there) and he did a wonderful job at calming my fears. We rotated positions and I learned very quickly which position I liked and which I dreaded. Most of our time was spent running the actual simulator. There were a lot of buttons and safety precautions to remember. I also had to learn a spiel — Welcome to Star Tours! Please keep all your belongings under your seat, no video taping or flash photography allowed… yada, yada, yada. At first you stick to the basics, you repeat every word, every detail and a few weeks later when you realize NO ONE is paying attention, you ham it up. I asked guests to guess where the hidden Mickey was in that horribly dated opening video (the Ewok was holding a Mickey doll!). I asked them where they were from and had light saber duels with some Jedis-in-training. Believe it or not, the hardest part about running the simulator was seating people. You have a bunch of folks coming at you and you have to quickly put them in each row. Some cast members simply counted the people off and dictated which row they were going to go to. I tried not to do that too often. I took into account people’s preferences and I tried to make them happy. This wasn’t so easy when we were swamped though.
My favorite position was outside greeter. This position promised heavy guest interaction and to me, it was the most fun. People came up to you and asked all kinds of questions. Mostly, they asked about the ride and I would assure some or tease others. I helped out with fast passes (oh the headaches I got when we were crowded!) and of course, I always had a smile ready for the silly guest that would ask, “when is the 3 o’clock parade?” (Yes… they exist.) My favorite time was when the park was rented out by certain companies and it would close to the public. They would play Disney music on the loud speakers and I would dance and sing along with any guests that passed me by.
The greeter position also had a rare power: we could let guests cut the line. Technically, this was a magical moment and we were all schooled on what exactly “a magical moment” was. However, let me be frank: we picked and chose who we wanted to have this moment with. For example, if a little girl had on a Belle costume, that princess ALWAYS got to cut the line when I was outside. One time midway through the internship when I was feeling very homesick, I saw a family with Montauk sweatshirts on. When I stopped to chat, they told me they were from Long Island. I was so happy to see a little piece from home, I nearly started to cry. That family got to cut the line and I also ensured them front row seating. There were kids having birthdays, couples on their honeymoon, parents who looked like they would never make it through a long line with their screaming kids… I tried to help them as much as I could. It was a great feeling to see someone’s face light up when you led them through to the side that was normally only reserved for wheelchairs.
One of my favorite moments ever was seeing a family with two young boys. One was tall enough and the other wasn’t. I could tell the father had gotten to ride all the rides that day while the mother got stuck soothing her little boy, promising him he’d be tall enough next year. In those cases, when it wasn’t too crowded, we were allowed to offer them something called a flight check. I led them through the crowd and asked one of the cast members at a simulator to allow them a sim all to themselves. They would play the movie, but not actually start the simulator. It was a special flight just for them. At last, the little one wouldn’t feel so left out and afterwards, the older sibling could ride it again (the real thing this time) with his dad without hearing his brother scream that it wasn’t fair.
They must have said something to a manager because I received an Applause-o-Gram for that. Those are certificates cast members receive if they create a magical moment and a manager hears of it. Let me tell you, after some LONG days of cranky kids, screaming parents, faulty equipment or just plain heat, it feels good to get one of those and know that you really made a difference for someone. So I urge you all, if you ever have a really good experience with a cast member, TELL SOMEONE. It’s a satisfying feeling no amount of money could buy.
But, as I said, you will deal with difficult guests. For some reason that never failed to vex me; parents just didn’t read the height signs. So many times they would wait on line, come up to a sim only to have me give them an apologetic shrug and say, “Sorry folks, maybe next time.” Some parents relented easily when you mentioned the safety precautions we were taking. You know, you don’t want your kid to fall through the seatbelt and get hurt or anything? Other parents were not as practical. There were many a time I was challenged on this decision so I would have to measure the little Jedi. Sometimes, the parents were waaaay off (don’t you know how tall your kid is, Mom?) but other times, when it was very close, things got very ugly. We are trained to handle guest situations with a smile and an apology. In extreme cases we can hand them fast passes for other rides or maybe a free ice cream. I, for one, did not feel the need to reward parents who couldn’t take the time to read the THREE warnings on the way up. One time I was even cursed out by a guest who refused to let me measure his son. In that case, I called over a manager because I was about five seconds away from teaching this man what a curse REALLY was.
There were days you loved the job and then there were days you wanted to tell Mickey Mouse where he could stuff his magical moments. But that’s any job really.
I met some amazing people from all around the country who were also doing the program and I came away with three great friends — Allison, Allison, and Trell (that sounds like a sitcom). Allison 1 was from Michigan and she reminded me a lot of Jaclyn in the way she conducted herself. She always had a smile on her face and a warm greeting for every person. Her cheerfulness helped me from punching out a guest many a time. Allison 2 was from Ohio and she had to be one of the funniest chicks I met down there. I remember the exact moment when I knew we would be friends. I was in Tower (the main control center for Star Tours) and I hadn’t gotten much sleep that night. I was dreadfully homesick so much so that it was hard to keep from crying. So hard that I burst into tears right then. I don’t remember the name of the manager on duty that afternoon but he was the nicest guy on the planet. He let me go home early that day and Allison drove me to my apartment. She didn’t ask me questions; she didn’t try to cheer me up with lame jokes. She just offered herself if I ever needed someone to talk to and told me to get some sleep. It doesn’t seem like much, but that is still one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. To this day, I don’t even think she knew the real reason why I was crying. Contrell or Trell rather was my southern gentleman from Mississippi. Trell was undoubtedly, my closest friend in Florida. We hung out a lot and he was the only boy who didn’t raise Peter’s suspicions for some reason. Because of that, we started to refer to each other as secret bf and secret gf (a name we use to this day). He always had a smile and a quip ready for me. He was laidback with a real southern accent and together we made fun of guests and took late trips to Taco Bell after we got paid. I had never had a platonic male best friend (who was actually straight) and I really cherished his friendship.
That being said, it wasn’t always scary guests and hysterical break downs at work. We had a lot of fun too! We had MANY inside jokes, one mainly being about another cast member who tried to open the doors to a simulator after it had e-stopped (that’s basic code for the ride stopped). One of the managers fiercely had to yell into the phone (that every worker at different positions could pick up the receiver and hear) that he needed to “get away from the doors or you will die! Just stop! Come into Tower RIGHT NOW!” A group of us got stuck on the bus once coming in because the traffic was horrendous. We realized that the manager was probably freaking out because five people from the afternoon shift were missing. You could almost hear the Armageddon soundtrack playing in the background as we walked up side by side in slow motion to the back door of Star Tours. I really think the manager, Rob, was about to have a heart attack. We shared stories, we stood up for each other against guests, we vented and bitched about everything after work, and we gave each other rides home. We were like a little family by the time the internship ended.
So was I a full fledged Jedi by the end of it? Who knows? I would like to think I would have made Obi Wan Kenobi proud but for all the amazing things working for Disney College Program had to offer, I was still missing the Big Apple.