Disney World is the happiest place on Earth, at least according to Disney's copyright lawyers. That description may fit pretty well for kids and a few adults, but working here is a different matter altogether. Don't get me wrong; it's still a Magic Kingdom. But Disney's "magic" is a multifaceted thing, just as liable to make some dude barf on the teacup ride as it is to create precious childhood memories.
I've given years of my life to the greatest theme park in the world, and here's what you never knew about what goes on inside ...
#6. Epcot Is Full of Drunks
On every major holiday, people are shocked -- shocked -- that the parks are crowded. The worst job in Disney World is the Magic Kingdom toll plaza on Christmas Day -- people have driven from Ontario to do the Magic Kingdom at 10 a.m., but oops, we hit capacity at 9 a.m. and there's no more room in the parking lot. What option is left for these people but Epcot?
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Epcot! Experience the culture of the world, without the culture!
You probably remember Epcot as the one with all the weird educational rides, and also that one badass space ride. What people forget is that Epcot also has a fuckload of liquor. Some dejected Epcot refugees try to Drink Around the World, starting at the Mexican pavilion and winding up 11 pavilions later in the U.K. The smart people start at Mexico with a margarita; the dumb ones do straight tequila from the get-go. Because why take the surface streets to Blackout City when the highway is so much faster?
Said blackout usually happens in Italy, when our hapless explorers are five countries deep and fresh off a liter of beer in Germany. Every night we find people passed out in the bathrooms, littering the bushes and trees, dropping in the street. And that's why Epcot has a reputation as "the drunk park."
Not pictured: The magical mound of vomit that had to be avoided to snap this photo.
Tragically, it's also the park with two of our highest-speed attractions -- Test Track and Mission Space -- but plenty of folks try to ride them as many times as possible, in the summer, when it's 90 to 95 degrees in the shade, while drunk. Mission Space, if you aren't aware, is a big centrifuge ride. Don't ride this late in the day: If someone pukes, everyone in the ride wears that dude's tequila-soaked lunch for the rest of the day. Not to mention the sympathy puke.
#5. The Costumes Are Hell
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The regular cast member costumes are bad enough -- wool and heavy polyester in a super-hot and humid climate gets disgusting fast.
H. Michael Miley
All those sleeping princesses aren't waiting for a kiss. They have heat exhaustion.
But the character costumes are in a class all by themselves.
They're heavy, they cover your whole body, and they absorb every last drop of the sweat pouring out of every inch of you, so they stink. It's a hot mess. Wearing a full-body costume will also make you go through a total body change: After a few weeks in costume, my sweat started to run clear. Salt just stopped coming out of my pores. You have to change your diet -- you can't eat burgers and fries all the time or you'll pass out.
Just drink your own sweat. It tastes like hunny.
There's not an inch of your body that isn't wet when you finish a shift. There are ice bandannas you can tie around your neck, vests of ice for parades -- but those all melt immediately, and then you're lugging hot heavy water around. You pretty much just have to suck it up and suffer through. How long you're out there in the heat changes based on temperature: If it's 90 degrees or under, you do the full 30 minutes on/30 minutes off rotation. If it's over 90 but under 100, they might reduce the shift by five or 10 minutes. But the park guests want to see those characters and don't care about how uncomfortable you are, and your manager can always check that temperature in the shade and keep you out there longer.
Then there are the costumes that seem to have been designed to injure their wearers as much as they delight children. The wig for Megara, for example, was so extreme that girls ended up having to seek medical attention because of the strain on their necks.
That hair not being real is tragedy enough.
Meanwhile, the Panic costume needs to be closed by someone else and ends up mashing your face against a metal screen that heats up instantly. Really, any time you can't get into your costume by yourself, you know you're in trouble. I remember struggling through a parade in July when the heat index was well over 100, and I was in one of those horrible costumes that I had been practically sewn into. Well, before the halfway point I was just trying not to pass out, stumbling along, not going over to interact with the kids along the route. When I finally got to the end, I had tunnel vision and was screaming for someone to get me out. When I had finally been unzipped, I shot out of that costume like I'd been squeezed from a birth canal, and I just laid there on the pavement, shivering and dry heaving until the entire parade had finished.
Walt Disney Pictures
Panic's the one on the right. The smiling one.
And before I go any further: Yes, it's all worth it.
You'd be amazed at how happy just showing up as Mickey makes people. It's like being a rock star, with all the photos and autographs and adoration. You really do get to create a kind of magic for people -- the day I die, I will remember what it was like to look out through Mickey's eyes. It sounds corny, but it's true. So try to keep that in mind while I talk about how ...
#4. Visitors Want to Molest the Costume
As Mickey, you get a hand on your crotch a lot. Character training incorporates a male and a female class, because no matter what gender you are, you need to be able to play both, depending on the character. There are plenty of girls who apparently made good Mickeys, because multiple women would slip them room keys or reach out and grab a handful of mouse crotch. (I don't know if that's a fetish or what. Would they insist that you wear the costume to bed?)
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Then how would you show them your steamboat willie?
Other visitors just want you to break character -- it starts with poking and pinching, although some people will straight up punch you in the gut to see if you'll make a noise. I once posed with a bunch of teenage boys while in Minnie Mouse costume. On the count of three, two guys clamped down on my hands and the guys on my feet grabbed them and lifted them up in the air while a fifth guy got a picture of his buddies posing around Minnie's bloomers. Then they ran like hell. Why that is the picture you want to use to remember your time at the Magic Kingdom is beyond me, but they clearly came into it with a plan.
In general, there seems to be a weird desire by visitors to "debunk" the idea of Disney characters, like they're blowing the lid off of some scam. The official position of the Walt Disney company is that all characters are real and there is only one of each of them, and the whole park is organized so that no one will ever see two of a character at once -- Mickey is never dining in a restaurant and walking by in a parade at the same time. And we always have to be ready with an explanation of their schedules, because adults try to trip you up, saying they just saw a character across the park, and now here they are over here as well. You have to try to keep a straight face while pointing out that "Well, you had time to walk over here, so Mickey did, too!"
Walt Disney Pictures
No need to scare them with tales of animate clones.
It's so strange to me, because they're the ones who've decided to spend thousands of dollars to come to Disney World for one of their presumably rare vacations. You paid for the very magic we're trying to preserve here, guys. No one wants to see the wires when they go to a magic show, and no one really wants to see five Cinderellas smoking cigarettes in an alley.
But I think just seeing someone in costume messes with people's brains. Visitors will whisper insane stuff to me, like "So glad we got to see you, the kids don't know we're getting divorced after this trip" or "We haven't told the kids yet that their mom has cancer." Why the fuck would you tell Mickey that? Or a park employee dressed as Mickey?
Especially when the park already has a dedicated confessor.
Speaking of Mickey, every single terminally ill Make-a-Wish kid gets to meet him, and that's hard. And because of how often sick kids visit the park, it can be a painfully regular thing. The Fairy Godmother has it hardest: Kids ask her to cure them. If I made it to the second set without sobbing, it was usually a good day.