“I hate Disneyland. It primes our kids for Las Vegas.”—Tom Waits.
In American culture, Disneyland parks aren’t just family theme parks: they are bywords for big family fun and also big scandal. With its long and eventful history, is Disneyland really the happiest place on earth? Who better to ask than Disney park workers themselves?
Reddit asked employees of both Disneyland (in California) and Walt Disney World (in Florida) to share their stories: what does it take to work for the Big Mouse himself? How do they survive in those sweaty costumes? And who is leaving all these brown “parting gifts” all over the park? Do the hanky-panky in the Epcot monorail to these 42 shocking stories from behind-the-scenes at Disney World.
42. Crocodile Tears
On our family trip to Disney World. I was leaning over a railing looking down into some water. A few unreachable feet below I spot a tiny (1.5ft to 2ft) alligator. Being from Africa and relatively unfazed with a slightly sharp swimming lizard, I thought nothing of it. I called my mother over and said "look an alligator! How cool." This was a mistake.
Not two seconds later (ears everywhere man) a staff member was looking over the railing whispering on the radio. All hell broke loose in the most hushed, professional way ever. We were escorted away on a golf cart and a huge section of the park was cordoned off. We were taken to a room where they were very apologetic for our negative experience and offered us a free day, VIP, the works. So we said very a big thank you and took what was offered.
In the future, I will be smuggling other small harmless creatures in for free stuff. I also got stuck on the Big Thunder Mountain ride in Paris... that was handled in a much more French way: "Je suis désolé," as they blow smoke in my face.
41. The Word of the Mouse
I worked on The Great Movie Ride in Hollywood Studios for a while and I can tell you all 22 minutes of your friendly tour guide's speech is scripted to the very last letter. You get three days to learn your whole monologue (AND all of the speeds/controls/stops/gos of the actual ride) before going "live" as a tour guide.
Most of those three days is spent in a room with your trainer reciting your script until you get every word right. If you accidentally say the word "okay" instead of "alright," you start over from the beginning. Most tedious 3 days of my life. There's also one button on every car that, despite being really close to buttons you have to touch all the time, if pushed gets you fired immediately.
40. A Brave New Disney World
I haven't worked there, but here's something interesting. During a security threat like 9/11, cast members head to the back of the park, link arms, and slowly head to the front.
Normally MK takes like 2 hours to clear out, but (I forgot the exact number) it took them like 15 minutes on 9/11.
39. Beauty and the Breaktime Vent
I was cleaning a Code V backstage, Belle came by and pulled a cigarette out of her bra while talking smack about annoying brats.
38. Behind the Big Ears
I worked at Disneyland in college. It's oddly weird seeing a mouse character without a head. Even worse when the mouse character is the boy mouse but the person inside is a very... aged female. If I remember correctly she was smoking too. Which I thought was odd since I didn't think those in a costume could smoke in them. Backstage at Disney can ruin all the normal fun of the park. It was a great experience though.
37. Happily Ever After For Now
A family friend played Aladdin at Disney world (very gorgeous Italian guy) actually married a girl who played Jasmine. It was an amazing wedding as her family was filthy rich. Wedding at the biggest Catholic church in Seattle, reception was the top 2 floors of the Columbia Tower (tallest building in Seattle). Here I was in awe that I was in these amazing places, and they had a room at reception that was just chocolates. Yes, a freaking chocolate ROOM.
But the truly cool thing was seeing my 5-year-old cousin in awe as Aladdin and Jasmine were dancing their first dance. It was magic. The bride even went out if her way to talk to her as Jasmine. Her own wedding and she played the part. So special.
Sadly, the marriage didn't last, but for that night, seeing a princess through a child's eyes is an amazing memory.
36. Magical Tragedy
A guy in one of my classes works on the monorail. Today, a father brought his 9-yo daughter to the Magical Kingdom and had a complete heart failure on the way into the park.
35. Magic Can’t Comb Everything
When I first started working at WDW I was in the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella Castle. I was a Fairy Godmother in Training and helped do little girls’ hair, "make-up" and nails. It was easily one of the most fun jobs—plus we got tips!
One thing that sticks out is I had a little girl come in and I found two strange lumps in her scalp. I thought maybe they might be moles, but on further inspection they were two ticks. We have a code for lice ("Pumba"), but I wasn't sure what to call this one. I called a manager over and she pulled the parent aside and explained the situation and that we would be unable to do her daughters hair because of the ticks. The mother grabbed her daughter out of the chair and a Kleenex and ripped the ticks out of her daughter’s head and handed them to the manager in the Kleenex. We were all kind of in shock but she got her done.
34. The Smell of Secrets
I went on a "keys to the kingdom" tour once and got to go down into the utilidors. It smells like rotten ketchup down there in a lot of places.
33. Flashing the Splash
I worked at Splash Mountain. Sometimes we had guests decide it was a great idea to hop out of the log because they didn't want to ride anymore. Well, we know about that, every time. The ride is littered with motion sensors, pressure pads, the like. I have a photographic memory of the ride layout and even I wouldn't be able to avoid being detected out of the log.
The flashers don't happen very often, actually, it's usually men with their shirts off. In this case, their ride photo is blanked out and they can't purchase it.
We always had parents trying to sneak in kids who didn't meet the height requirement. I do remember we had one family who kept trying for hours, thinking that the cast don't talk to each other about problematic parents.
Ride evacuations were always interesting. But as long as you were strong and confident with the guests, they always listened. It's really important to walk them through what's going to happen and let them know you've done this more than enough times. I also teased them that they were going to get a backstage tour, but it was gonna be real brief. And as long as they didn't take pictures, they'd get a FastPass for their troubles.
Every day was an event, but I loved every minute of it.
32. The Seven Seas of Professionalism
I have an autistic cousin and once and while we were riding the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, it broke down. My cousin flipped out and Disney security literally appeared out of the walls. They took us into the back tunnels and into a freight elevator. Before we knew it, we were back outside. They were awesome in helping calm him as well.
31. Nausea Is No Reason to Break Character
As a character, you are supposed to throw up in your mask if you are sick. Taking it off is not an option.
You cover one eye with your hand and raise the other arm in the air to alert maintenance that you are not well. Also, if there is another character (same as you) you cannot, under ANY circumstances, be seen with them. You also must take a course to match signature style for autographs.
30. Not a Fun Comparison
A friend of mine told me that the rules for workers at the European Disneyland were so strict that they took to calling it Mouseshwitz. When management got wind of this, they were told that anyone found using that name again would be fired. Apparently, it was only a couple of hours before they were calling it Duckau.
29. Princess and Pixie Dust
My cousin worked at Disney in the '90s. I haven't heard a lot of his experience, but I have been told that the cable that Tinkerbell "flies" down to the castle on once snapped and she got a massive settlement. And that Snow White gave him crabs.
28. A Jedi Is Always Game for Selfies
Saw Mark Hamill backstage put on the guy who played Darth Vader's helmet. I wish we were allowed to take pictures. It was awesome.
27. Stay Purr-fectly Still
Compulsory "I never worked for Disney, but a friend did."
Disney security listens to ALL Disney Radio channels at ALL times for any distress call or other issue that is relevant to Security.
My friend Daniel worked for Disney World in Florida once. He worked in one of the resorts. I'm not quite sure what his job actually was, but his radio call sign was "Movie Runner."
He was walking between resorts one night, and near a pool, he was cornered by a momma bobcat. Usually not a huge deal because the bobcat will eventually realize the person is not a threat, but he radioed the resort to let them know that he was being cornered by a bobcat.
Next radio transmission, without missing a beat: "Movie Runner, this is Disney Security Base, we understand you are being cornered by a bobcat. Please remain calm, we have two units approaching your location, ETA two minutes, please acknowledge, over."
Disney doesn't mess around with Bobcats.
26. What Doesn’t Disney World Have?
I used to work as a candy maker at Disneyland. The candy store was on Main Street and there's a little pot of vanilla scent with a fan behind it to waft vanilla scent out onto the street where people are walking by.
Once I saw a huge rat by the trash compactor when I was taking out some cardboard.
Another time I was written up by my manager for accidentally dropping like $1000 worth of caramel apples because a feral cat came up and scared the heck out of me.
To sum up, there's a cat and mouse turf war backstage and they lure you into the candy store with a pot of vanilla.
25. The Sweet Life of Being in Character
Ex Character performer.
I'm a 6-foot-tall girl so I did all of the tall characters like Goofy, Tigger, Captain Hook and like 10 other characters.
I did a lot of the breakfast meet and greets as Tigger. My head had a small hole where the mouth was, so I would go from table to table drinking orange juice from the kids. The kids were amazed, and It helped me get over my hangovers from the night before.
I was stuck in an elevator for 45 minutes backstage as Tigger.
Doing this job was awesome because I used to do a lot of partying and would get home at 6 am and have to be at work around 8 am, so because I didn't have to show face or do much work, it was perfect.
As Goofy I snuck on rides. One day I went on one of the kiddie roller coasters and almost lost my head. I was eventually disapproved to play Goofy because he was starting to get a "Ghetto Booty" exact words from my supervisors.
When you play the characters, you're 30 minutes on (set) 30 minutes off. So in an 8 hour day you really worked 4 hours but you got paid for 8.
If you talked in costume you'd get in serious trouble.
The underground tunnel is real.
Oh, and I eventually got fired for asking Joey Fatone (back when NSYNC was on FIRE) for a picture before my shift even began.
24. It’s a High-Tech World After All
I went there with my dad, who was working for a radio station at the time. Disney was opening a new ride and doing the press roll out, and invited the radio station there, so I guess you could think of him as a temporary employee.
One of the crew spilled soda on a mic and asked the Disney guy helping the crew where he could look for a replacement locally. He assumed Disney would have spare mics, but he was worried about getting the random special snowflake of a microphone the DJ insisted on. The Disney guy just laughed and took him to the underworld.
They had rooms full of TV/radio equipment new in the box. They have spares from every brand conceivable, by the dozen. Millions and millions of dollars’ worth of it, just sitting there collecting dust most of the time, just in case.
When Disney wants to be prepared, they don't mess around.
23. It’s Tough Being Tink
When I lived in Orlando, I knew a woman that played Tinkerbell. She described the audition to me once, and it's pretty intense. First, you have to be incredibly tiny and light because your job involves you riding a zip line each evening from the top of Cinderella's Castle to the top of a restaurant in Tomorrowland, and if you're heavy, things could get...messy.
The final part of the audition involves being suspended from a hundred-foot crane for like 2 hours to ensure that you aren't afraid of heights. The girls that get this far tend to drop like flies at that stage, many of them in hysterics after about 20 minutes. I had a lot of friends who worked there, many of them characters, and it was apparently a really tough job.
22. The Mouse is Prepared for Anything
I remember once I was leaving the park. You know how it gets ridiculously crowded at the exits when the park is shutting down. I got elbowed in the nose and got a bloody nose. All of a sudden, the staff swooped in and took me to the underground tunnels then to a golf cart that brought us to our car...definitely a quick exit.
21. Work for The Whole Family
Person I went to school with has/had a job with security there. She eventually got married and had children. WDW hired her husband and the kids. They walk/patrol around as a family. As far as I know, they still work there.
20. Big Mickey is Watching You
I worked at the DLR in Anaheim, I won't say which department. (Still afraid of Gestapo Disney HR people!)
I found an unattended lunch pail that was almost certainly harmless. Knowing how much of a stickler that Disney is with security concerns, I decided to call it in. Within 2 minutes, they had three security cars blocking off the area I was in and the "Pluto" (Drug and Bomb Sniffing Dogs that assist Security) teams deployed to sniff the bag. My supervisor's supervisor questioned me for 30 minutes about the situation, told me there was a commendation on my record, and then let me go home early for the day.
After that, I figured out the secret to ID hidden security people in the park, as they were the first to approach me after the radio call—if they have a Bluetooth headset in, they're undercover security.
Don't mess with the mouse, he sees all.
19. Glass Slipper Means Glass Ego
My dad worked at Disney in college. He drove the ferry boats in the Magic Kingdom I believe.
Anyway, one day he was walking around the park and saw some woman kicking the Cinderella castle. He took her aside to reprimand her and she told him a brick had come loose and she was just replacing it.
When he informed her that the bricks are painted on to the castle she threatened a lawsuit for injury to her foot.
18. You’re Pulling My Limb
My dad worked at Disneyland and one of his jobs was a diver on Jungle Cruise. Basically, they'd swim along the boat path and clear debris/check for any issues. He told me that one time, among the many strange objects they would find in the water, he found someone's leg. Not a real leg mind you but a prosthetic. It was never claimed either.
How someone could lose their fake leg AND not report it is beyond me.
17. The Haunted High Seas
My ex-friend used to work there and would tell us about the ghost in Pirates of the Caribbean. "Jeffery?" I think his name was. Basically, at night when the whole place was empty there would be shadow figures that would haunt this one part of the ride. It was creepy.
16. Wrecked With Opportunity
Not a cast member, but I was aboard the Gully Whumper that went around Tom Sawyer's island at Disneyland. It was the last ride of the day and they got it up to or possibly past its capacity. Around the first corner some water came up over the side of the boat. The cast member that was operating the boat commented on it and said we should try and even it out on the other side. You see where this is going. On the third try everyone shifted and the boat capsized.
There was an enclosed inner section where my brother, sister, and I were sitting and being trapped for a few seconds in the water was the scariest part. It didn't take long to realize the water was a little over 5 ft deep. We just focused on getting everyone out. Cast members were coming from every direction from places that seemed improbable. They were throwing inflatable life vests into the water and getting people on dry land ASAP. It was amazing how quickly they responded and how well coordinated they were.
They put us on a bus behind the scenes and took us to a medical facility. They asked us if we were okay, if we had any conditions that should be monitored, what we lost or was ruined. We all were honest and told them we were fine and had some ruined clothing and lost glasses. I will never forget watching people who were fine as we all checked on each other and watching the thought dawn on them of what they might be able to milk Disney for. I will also never forget the look of the cast member who was piloting the boat with his head in his hands crying his eyes out. It was obvious this guy liked his job.
We were compensated for our lost/damaged items and they comped us dinner at the Blue Bayou restaurant. We also got fistfuls of front of the line passes to last us our trip. I was just impressed with how well they handled it.
15. No Death Zone
You cannot and WILL NOT say under any circumstances that you have seen a cockroach, pest, or other nuisance in the park.
You also can't say "died" over the radio. An example would be "My radio battery died." I got chewed out pretty hard about that one from my managers.
14. Splitting Hairs Over Policy
When I worked there I was totally aware of the Disney Look policy. I worked at one of the restaurants. I tried anyway to grow out my moustache there.
After two weeks, a manager saw my half-grown moustache and brought me offstage and back into their office, reminded me about Disney Look, pulled a razor out of the cabinet and told me to go to the bathroom backstage and shave it off.
I could "grow one on [my] own time, but not at work." Was what the manager told me.
13. It’s Hard to Please the Mouse
I was an intern once for Disney. Around Jan, May, Aug, the housing department does a "purge".
They will over accept people into the program, knowing that they will terminate "bad kids". The term "bad kids" is very vague. It can be anything between a kid whose roommate doesn't like them to an actual bad kid who is underage drinking. They really just look at the numbers and terminate interns where they please.
12. Disney After Dark
Just moved back from doing a Disney college program. If you see someone working at Disney has a name tag with their college on it, they are doing it also. I was an international rep, as are about one third of the people living there, adding to the orgy context.
The things that go on in the housing complexes are astonishing. So. Much. Sex. So many drugs. So much alcohol. Hell, every Monday night us internationals have a happy Monday's event, where we get in our countries teams and go to bars to play other countries teams in drinking games.
I know a guy who was Goofy. He used to do cocaine all the time. It's like a typical college campus, except four complexes of people who all work for Disney.
My best story is the day I was working and managed to give a girl who was a guest in the park that day my number and met up with her that night and got up to... Stuff.
11. Stopped by the Stars
Shaq took a dump backstage and clogged the toilet. Not really something to be surprised by but it was all we talked about for a week.
10. Unwanted Parting Gifts
I started working at the Little Mermaid ride in The Magic Kingdom about a couple weeks after it opened. I worked there for 7 months as part of the college internship thing. It was a ton of fun and I'll never need to go to Disney World again because I've been there so many times.
Anyway, the Little Mermaid ride actually broke multiple park records on attendance and speed of getting people through the line. That did not stop huge lines from appearing if people came in big enough crowds. (Seriously, if you see a Brazilian tour group at Disneyworld, just go a different direction. You can look at any cast member's face and see the rancor they harbor).
One particularly hot and crowded day, I went on break and was walking to the secret underground Subway. On my way there, I walk through the backstage side of all of the Little Mermaid ride. There are actually a few passages to the back, but they are pretty boring, and you'll typically be seen pretty quickly. The problem is that those passages are still easily accessible and a large amount of guests actually think they are bathrooms.
As I walked past one of those doorways, I noticed a bit of a weird stain on the wall. I'm got closer and discovered a giant poop stain on the wall that lead to the ground with a huge pile of human feces. Like an adult had to have done this because of both the height of the stain and the sheer size of the turd.
Either way, y'all guests can be nasty.
9. Waiting for Her Pumpkin
My sister was an intern there, and she said the most disenchanting thing for her was standing there watching Cinderella smoke a cigarette in her underwear.
8. Captain Jack’s Playlist from Hell
One time my brother and I got stuck inside the Pirates of the Caribbean water ride for about 20 minutes. Imagine being stuck there we are listening to "Yohoyoho the pirate's life for me" on repeat. Was about 15 minutes in that my brother and I inside the ride yelled "At least turn off the music!!"
7. In Space, No One Can Hear You Eat
I used to work in Epcot in Future World and if I had a street shift, I would get Hub 2 aka Spaceship Earth. During 7-hour shift, I would have at least three or two Code V or "popcorn spills." Which is when people would throw up on the ride. I used to hate cleaning up Code V's on Mission Space.
6. We Interrupt Your Fantasy for This Important Message
If you hear an announcement over the park wide sound system looking for a specific person, it is something very important. Announcements like that have a chain of approval before Disney will allow the "magic" illusion to be broken.
But it's not always bad news like informing families of a death. I've done several park announcements to find someone to inform them an organ donation was matched, a medical courier was on their way to Orlando, and they needed to get to the hospital ASAP.
5. Watch Our For Kitty
Disney security listens to ALL Disney Radio channels at ALL times for any distress call, or other issue that is relevant to Security.
My friend, we'll call him Daniel (because that's his name) worked for Disney World in Florida once. He worked in one of the resorts. I'm not quite sure what his job actually was, but his radio call sign was "Movie Runner."
He was walking between resorts one night, and near a pool he was cornered by a momma bobcat. Usually not a huge deal because the bobcat will eventually realize the person is not a threat, but he radioed the resort to let them know that he was being cornered by a bobcat.
Next radio transmission, without missing a beat: "Movie Runner, this is Disney Security Base, we understand you are being cornered by a bobcat. Please remain calm, we have two units approaching your location, ETA two minutes, please Acknowledge, over."
4. Stop, Chomp, and Run
I think I've left a comment similar to this before, but I briefly trained for Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney World. At one point on the ride, you go over a bridge with crocodiles underneath.
As I was riding with no one in the truck other than my trainer, she felt free to tell me that if anyone were to stand up and fall into the crocodile pit, I was to drive away immediately so that others wouldn't have to see the carnage or try to rescue the person. The crocodiles are apparently fed from that bridge, and anything that drops from there is food to them, and they are surprisingly fast.
3. Call Me By My Stage Name
Everyone in the call centers is given a "stage name," so no two agents have the same name to the guests. Most, er, unique stage names I can remember: Cotton, Casper, Arizona, Lucinda... When you're in training they give you a selection of like 20 names to choose from, so you better hope you're one of the first ones to pick so you can get a normal name and not get stuck with Cotton.
2. Exit Through the Gift Shop
Not an employee, but I have an interesting story about Disney. When I was 7, I went to Disney World. The third night we were there, I rolled out of my bed and cut my forehead on the nightstand. My mom came over to comfort me, not knowing I was bleeding quite profusely. She turned the light on when I wouldn't stop crying and she said it "looked like a murder had taken place."
Paramedics were called, and the room was swarming with what I can only assume were Disney employees. After I was evaluated and patched up, I was taken to the gift shop around 2 AM with my mom and an employee.
I got to choose 3 toys at no cost to my family. It was pretty incredible to be in the completely abandoned gift shop and being told I could have anything. When we returned back to the room 25 minutes later, all the blood was cleaned up, guard rails were put on my bed, and a large basket of candy and other sweets were left on a table. Disney doesn't play around with customer service.
1. Not Worth the Price of Admission
I worked a cash register in Tomorrowland. A guy had a heart attack and died about 10 feet from me.
I called it in as soon as I saw, but they already knew about it. I went on break shortly afterward and saw the family, literally "behind the scenes," crying their eyes out. That never happens. Guests are never allowed behind the scenes, except when somebody dies, I guess. Really kind of heartbreaking.
On a positive note, they all got lifetime passes.