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 ...
6Epcot 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 ...