More Quirky Things I Learned About Disneyland When I Worked There

by AnomalousArtist

Working at Disneyland many years ago I learned a lot about the park. In this article I reveal some more things for you to think about next time you go for a visit!

As I mentioned in a companion article, many years ago (the late 80's actually) I spent two summers working at Disneyland, one as a sweeper and one as an operator/tour guide on the "Jungle Cruise" ride.

The relatively short time I worked there yielded many interesting stories and changed the way I look at the world in many ways.

Without intending to sling any mud, here are some more "quirky" things I found out while working at the park.

United Airlines Disneyland, Anaheim, California, 1960s
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1) Disneyland uses lots of visual tricks.

My favorite parts of Disneyland are the artificial environments...the glowing serenity of the Blue Bayou cafeteria where it's always night time, the gloomy cemetery in the epic finale of "The Haunted Mansion," the fun black-light adventures you can take on the dark rides in Fantasyland.  The Imagineers were geniuses at taking small spaces and making them look bigger by working with dark and light and using the magician's trick of diversion--grabbing your attention with sound or light so you instinctively look the way they want you to and don't see what they DON'T want you to see.

If you're really interested in being a spoilsport, or you just HAVE to know, you can look "down" in the Haunted Mansion and you'll see the various colored lights shining up, projections of "ghosts," sometimes you can even see below the floor you're riding on. 

On the Jungle Cruise I'd often have lunch right behind where the giraffes were and was amazed that the only parts of the giraffes that "exist" are the parts that can be seen.  From the back they're all opened up and you can observe their mechanical "guts."  There was no reason to finish them for 360 views when they'd never be seen that way, right?

There are certain areas in the park where you'd think you were standing amongst lots of buildings, New Orleans Square is one, Main Street is another, but it's all an illusion.  On Main Street there is one building back stage with painting on it to support this illusion--the only part of the building that is painted is the part that you can see from the street,giving the illusion of depth, but the rest of the building, that you CAN'T see from the street, is like all of back stage: gray and rather industrial. 

I was roommates with another cast member one summer; he worked the now-gone "submarine" ride.  He said the water in the ride was about 3 feet deep most of the time but the backgrounds were painted to make it look deeper.  He was also fond of opening up the top of the sub, where you'd climb in, and looking at the underside of the tunnel that the aquatic craft drifted through.  He showed it to me once--the ceiling above the submarine was very low and covered in years and years of soot!  I'm sure someone had quite a time cleaning that all out when they re-vamped the ride for the Little Nemo adventure!

2) The people who run Disneyland don't want you to know its secrets

I really can't blame them, and I'm not here to spill anything that is damaging or confidential.  I have to be careful because, although I didn't sign a confidentiality contract to work at the park as I did the animation studio, I know the top brass at the park want to protect Disneyland's image and have every right to--I don't blame them for doing so, it's a business.  I have no grudges with my time at the park at all, I mention things I do here for fun and information, but let's just say, if these articles suddenly disappeared one day, I wouldn't be THAT surprised!

But back when I worked at the park I found out first hand how touchy things can be on one of my first tours as a guide around the jungle.  It was a late night and pretty busy and the boats in front of me were all backed up.  Along with the "spiel" we were given we had instructions how to handle certain situations--accidents, breakdowns, the presence of a celebrity (they were always threatening that Michael Jackson was going to show up dressed as an old woman someday but I never saw him). The instructions on how to handle backed up boats was to ask the guests if they had any questions.  I got very smarmy and said, before I opened questions up to my passengers, "YES the boat is on a track and NO the animals are not actually real." 

In a split second my manager came running over, jumped on the hood of my boat, leaned in and looked at me with a mixture of panic and fury, shook his head "no" and motioned for me to zip up my lips.  Woops! 

He told me later it wasn't that big a deal but to watch my mouth as someone was ALWAYS listening in, and I could get into big trouble if the wrong person heard me!

3) Cast members who work at Disneyland are just human beings

We had a set spiel we were supposed to use on the Jungle Cruise but some of the guys just couldn't keep from editorializing.  They'd make up new lines out of boredom or an excess of creativity they just couldn't hide, and often managers would let them get away with it.  Some of my favorite "illegal" spiels were:

  • "As we approach the dock you'll be greeted by two friendly young people to help you out of the boat...and you'll understand why some animals eat their young..."

  • "Be sure to catch 'Fantasy In The Sky Fireworks' tonight folks, that's where we toss Tinkerbell off Matterhorn Mountain and try to shoot her down with fireworks..."

To me there was no more humbling sight than one of the costumed characters walking around back stage, on a break.  Usually they would be wearing the bottom half of their costume, held up by suspenders, and holding the top half and the effect was comical.  You got very used to the sound of clicking heels on pavement as these half-effigies of beloved characters would walk by.  Their lower half would be bright and bouncy with big floppy shoes; their top half would be a sweaty, red-faced 20 year old with a pained expression.   It must have been unbelievably hot in those costumes and as such the characters were never "on stage" for very long.

Usually the cast members inside would look pretty weary until they'd mount their costume again, step out on-stage and become bouncy and alive once more.  There are plenty of stories of things that have happened with the people in character costumes, some compiled in books--I never saw any of it first hand so I won't comment here, but if you're interested in tracking them down they ARE pretty funny.

The only visual that really sticks out in my mind was watching "Mickey," who was played by a diminutive middle-aged woman, scowling and smoking a cigarette as she trudged to the break room to escape the punishing late-summer heat.  I thought how lucky I was to be in my Jungle Cruise khaki shorts by comparison!

4) Sometimes the guests who come to Disneyland are NOT human beings

The most challenging summer of the two I spent at Disneyland was when I worked as a custodial sweeper.  Aside from it being a rather dirty job, and feeling pretty humble while I did it, I'd often run into guests who were less than polite.  OK, let's be honest, some people were just MONSTERS!

I fasked a young boy once to please not throw his popcorn on the ground--it was bad for the birds and I had to sweep it up; that was what we were instructed to say.  The boy responded by staring at me defiantly, dumping his entire box of popcorn on the ground and walking away.

Sometimes families were broken up during the parades while trying to cross the street.  If I was working a parade, particularly the night ones, I was given strict orders to shut the crosswalks over Main Street down and not let anyone pass, no exceptions. Sometimes members of a family would be trapped on my side until I was allowed to open the path again, and sometimes people would  start to panic while part of their family was on the other side. We were instructed to smile warmly and say, "Please don't worry, if your family loves you they'll still be waiting on the other side for you!"  I only used the line once because when I did, a tough young mother of three responded to me (and perhaps rightfully) with a common two word, four-letter insult, the second word being "you" and the first word being one that rhymes with "truck!" 

Someone was clearly not enjoying her time at the "Happiest Place On Earth" that day, to be sure!

4) Tinkerbell doesn't really fly.

OK, I never thought she actually could, even when I was at the park as a kid...but I never really thought about it either.  I'm not even sure they still feature Tinkerbell as I haven't been to the park in several years now. 

But one night I was working the Electric Light Parade and I looked up, along with everyone, and it hit me:  someone actually climbs up through Matterhorn Mountain, gets attached to a wire and is flung over the park every night...that's her JOB!  There was a rumor going around when I was there that it was the same person who had been at the park from the start, 30 years earlier, but I never heard this confirmed. 

What I DO know is that, at least at the time I worked there, a crowd would always gather around the Pinocchio restaurant in Fantasyland to watch "Tinkerbell" land.  An even better vantage point was just inside the cast member area "back stage" in this location.  I finally asked a fellow cast member what was going on, why people gathered like that every night and he said to me, "Join us next time and you'll see." 

The next night I gathered with a small crowd of people of various ages, some in costume, some not, in the back stage area.  They all had smug, expectant looks on their faces.  I soon found out why.

Each night, Tinkerbell would go sailing over the park on a wire, lit with a strong spot light.  The spot light would turn off after she passed the turrets of Sleeping Beauty castle and you wouldn't see her anymore, and anyway, the spectacular fireworks show would begin and you'd get caught up in that (again, it's the Magician's Diversion I was talking about before). 

However, if you happened to stand in the locations I mentioned at the right time, you'd see a small "chalet" at the end of the line Tinkerbell sailed on sitting high in the sky.  You'd see two strong young men in the chalet, holding a mattress up expectantly. 

Then you'd see Tinkerbell go sailing down, dignity and grace forgotten, and slam head-first into the mattress with an audible "Floomph!" sound as she barreled into the mattress and men holding it. 

The crowd I stood with  that first night (and every night after) chuckled agreeably, looked at one other with knowing smiles and went back to whatever they were doing. 

They did this every single night!

I have to admit it was addicting and I eventually began recruiting friends and family into the ritual, to the point there were almost as many people watching Tink's landing as there were people gathered out front to watch the fireworks!

One night we were joined by a certain famous produce/director with ties to the park at the time, a person whose name I won't mention, but let's just say he laughed pretty "force"-ably when he saw Tinkerbell's landing, as did we all!

5) Conclusion

The more I write about my time at Disneyland the more I think of it as one of the more profound adventures of my life, something that will be a "sign post" moment...I've never met anyone yet who doesn't know what Disneyland is and doesn't get interested once I mention I worked there once.  As I said in another article, it really was just a "job" at the end of the day of course, but it was certainly an interesting one that yielded many fun stories I've told over the years.

Backstage Disneyland circa 1987!

Behind Main Street
Behind Main Street
Behind "Space Mountain" before a parade
Behind "Space Mountain" before a parade
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Updated: 05/12/2013, AnomalousArtist
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AnomalousArtist on 05/13/2013

Thank you! :)

WordChazer on 05/13/2013

Thanks ;-)

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