In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we finish up our multi-part series we started a few weeks ago where we talk to Stan, who worked all over the Walt Disney World Resort. We think you’ll find this final interview to be a lot of fun. Catch up on previous installments with Stan:
Today, we hear about how Stan transferred over to EPCOT to work on Test Track, and many of the Future World East attractions, and then finally onto Animal Kingdom and Coronado Springs!
Let’s jump right in!
JEFF: So when we last left you, you were transferring from Disney-MGM Studios over to EPCOT.
STAN: That’s right. I transferred to EPCOT in November of 2002. I was, again, looking for a new challenge and wanted to get back into technical attractions. So, I chose to go to the biggest challenge of them all on property…Test Track.
JEFF: I’ve heard from other Cast Members about what a nightmare it could be. Tell us about the challenges you faced.
STAN: This ride had been notorious for “technical difficulties”. Over the years, it had garnered a reputation as the easiest ride to break down. However, it was a huge balancing act. You have one of the most popular rides on property (and the first thrill ride at EPCOT) that is also the biggest breakdown beast around. Sure, that sounds like a fun challenge to me!
When I get to an attraction like this, it helps me (knowing that I will be training it to others, eventually) to learn it from the trainer who knows it best from a technical standpoint. So, they put me with someone who knew it as well as (if not better than) some of the attraction maintenance guys did. This helped tremendously.
I would never have thought about it prior to transferring over there, but working at this attraction is a serious workout. You are constantly moving, but time went by so fast. No matter if you were at the grouper position, keeping the loading area full with 6 per car, or even standing out front at a greeter position, you just never stopped.
One of quite a few things that was interesting about my time there was the superstition involved. We had several of us that were considered bad luck for the ride. There was this thing called the “Tower Triangle”. If any 3 of us were in positions including the tower and any 2 of the next closest positions, you could guarantee that the ride would mysteriously have an issue in the next half hour or so. It sounds crazy, but was true in the majority of cases.
JEFF: So it was a superstitious bunch over there! Did you have any other interesting experiences while at EPCOT?
STAN: I probably had the coolest experience as a trainer, while I was at Test Track. As a team building exercise, we were taken on a surprise excursion. We were all taken over to The Living Seas, and taken on the Seas Aqua Tour. This is a phenomenal experience that I highly recommend. After some detailed behind the scenes touring, you are given a wetsuit SCUBA tank and vest that allows you to stay at snorkel depth, given some brief training and get a half hour to explore a large section of the aquarium. This was an unforgettable experience, and showed just one way the company could make magic for its cast members, in addition to the guests.
However, the best thing to happen in my entire time working for Disney happened at Test Track! This was where I met my beautiful wife, Stacy. She was down on the College Program working at the attraction, and nearly finished with her program by the time I transferred over. But, we found that we had so much in common that we hit it off very quickly and were inseparable while she was there.
We had a long distance relationship for a few years until she moved down to Florida and started working for Disney again. I saved the best magical moment I had in me, just for her. I arranged with one of our managers for a VIP Illuminations viewing location in Italy. After dinner and a full day in the parks, we headed over to get our spot, but it started pouring rain. Since we’ve seen the show so many times, she was ready to call it a night and leave, to which I responded by getting ponchos. Luckily, the rain stopped before the show. During the crescendo of the music, prior to the end of first act of the show, I asked her to marry me (to the gasps of quite a few people around us). After some speechless time, she said, yes. And we watched the full finale as if it was our celebration. Needless to say, that music holds a very special place in our hearts.
Stacy is as big of a Disney fan as I am, so we still make time to get down to the parks (both coasts) and take cruises as much as possible (though it is never as much as we would like). Stacy eventually trained at Mission: Space and then became a GM Product Specialist in the showroom at Test Track.
JEFF: It sounds like quite the Disney romance. That’s very sweet! Did you ever work over on Mission: Space as well?
STAN: After some time at Test Track, I waited through the opening of Mission: Space and was in the first wave of new trainees after the attraction opening. This allowed me to have yet another technical attraction under my belt, and some variety to my weeks. But, WOW, was this attraction a doozy to work.
Inevitably, no matter how many warning signs existed, we ALWAYS had people vomiting on the ride. It always happened at the most inopportune times (long lines, technical difficulties in another ride bay). Any time this happened in any major way, the shutdown of one of the 4 ride bays happened for no less than a half hour, since the capsules had to be partially disassembled to be thoroughly cleaned out.
This was problematic because (since the time frame I was there was before the “less intense / more intense” splitting up of the attraction) any time you lost a ride bay, your wait time went up by as much as half of what it already was. Funny enough, it seemed as though when someone lost it in one bay, it would happen in another shortly after.
JEFF: A dirty job, but someone has to do it, eh? Were you able to keep the guests occupied during those long wait times?
STAN: Working at Space was rewarding in its own way. We had so many opportunities to give kids extra attention. Since we were dressed futuristically, we could make them feel as though they really were getting trained for spaceflight. So, we would always have kids that were stopping and saluting us, and took that extra time with them to talk them through what they were going to do inside.
We also got to meet Gary Sinise! He came backstage and met with all of us, posed for pictures and signed autographs. It was surreal, because here is this guy that talks to you on a video screen day-in and day-out, every day, and here he is, in real life. Of all the many celebrities I met during my time at Disney, he was the most grounded. He is a real Disney fan and was very interested in meeting with us.
JEFF: Let’s move on at bit, and talk about how you expanded your role at EPCOT.
STAN: Well, it was during this time that I also became an attraction coordinator. So, I got the opportunity to train on the remaining attractions in Future World East. I quickly trained in succession on Spaceship Earth, Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Body Wars, Cranium Command and The Making of Me. This was exciting, since I never knew where I would end up on any given day. We also got to ride around on Segways, which I probably never would have done otherwise.
I had my eye on another attraction that was under construction. It was my goal to get on the opening team from the time I heard the announcement. So, when the time came for interviews to open for Expedition Everest, I jumped on it.
JEFF: Another coaster! Did your fear of heights affect you on this one as well?
STAN: Funny enough, one of the questions during the interview process was “How well do you handle heights?” I was honest that I had a great fear, and told the story of overcoming that at Space Mountain. I also mentioned that since I was so excited to get to the attraction, I would find a way to get over the fear. They believed me and I was chosen to open the attraction as a trainer.
On our first day, we walked the track. I think this may have been to weed out those who couldn’t handle it. About halfway up the main lift hill, I froze. I was sure I was going to be sent back to EPCOT at this point. But, I stood there for a few minutes, and was able to slowly continue up the stairs. The scary part about that hill is just how open it is. You are literally out there on stairs with a handrail on one side and a chain lift on the other…That is it. As scary as it is on the ride, it is far worse to walk it.
I eventually got somewhat more comfortable with it. Although, admittedly, I was never so comfortable that I could just walk the track with no fears. One very cold morning, I was walking down the lift stairs and hit a small patch of ice near the top. I slipped and thought I was going to tumble all the way down. I was able to catch myself, but I had to sit on the stairs for a few long minutes while I contemplated the sanctity of life. I still toughed it out and was able to continue and stayed for my 6 month commitment
As much as I was scared of working it, we had a lot of fun there. Especially during the test and adjust phase. We had a period where we had to keep the ride running for a few days straight as a stress test. So we were there all day and all night cycling trains. We would occasionally just hop on and ride. That is a crazy experience to ride Everest in the middle of the night, nevermind riding it in the middle of the night with ALL of the lights off. You think Space Mountain is freaky? Try doing that.
JEFF: Based on all your past experiences, I’m sure you had some other interesting ones while working at Expedition Everest. Do tell!
STAN: I was there while they filmed the commercial that ran nationwide before the attraction opened. It was different, because we had to take the film crew on the track while the trains ran (to keep them in safe areas). However, because the commercial was directed by Rob Cohen (a known action director who did The first “Fast and the Furious” film among others) , they were trying to get shots that required some positioning that was dicey at best.
I also spent some time talking to Imagineer Joe Rohde! Since he was around all the time, he was very open to talking to us about various aspects of the attraction, and his experiences. He pointed out all the little details about the village area that came from his time in the region. He would walk the entire attraction with us and tell stories that really enhanced the experience for us, and made us feel as though we were really a part of the story being told. If you ever get the chance to interview him, he is amazing to talk to.
I was also able to walk David Copperfield through the queue and give him a tour of the attraction. He was very interested in the details of the story and how it related to the actual region. Additionally, I had a tour come in to the tower while I was in there. The creators of Avenue Q were there to look at the Yeti animatronic. I didn’t know it at the time, but they were there while prepping for the announcement of what would become “Finding Nemo: The Musical.”
JEFF: Were you able to work on any other attractions at Animal Kingdom?
STAN: I trained on Kali River Rapids and Flights of Wonder. These would actually be the last attractions I would learn over my time with the company. I was looking for a new challenge out of attractions, since I had now worked in all 4 parks. So, I applied for a position at Coronado Springs Resort as a Concierge.
JEFF: From attractions to the resorts. That must have been quite the change!
STAN: This was a very different aspect of the company. In this position, you deal with people outside the parks, so you get both sides of the coin. You get those who are excited and also have to deal with those who have encountered problems throughout their day. So, it could be challenging at times, but it allowed for greater flexibility in problem solving. We could go to some pretty great lengths to preserve the magic. I was always impressed with the ability to magically be in the room when guests returned. We would do this, and have characters sign cards to leave for the guests.
I wasn’t at Coronado for long, though. Life intervened (and we were getting tired of the environment of Central Florida outside of Disney World) and my wife and I decided to move to Illinois. This would put us closer to her family, and ultimately set us up to really get our lives together started.
As I said, I still make as much time as I can to get to the parks. I look back on my time with the company fondly. It was one of the best times of my life. Many people have asked me if having seen it from the inside negatively affects my view of the company. The answer to that is a definite no. I have to say that I think I enjoy it more to have been a part of it. When you put it in perspective, not many people around the world can say that they have had a hand in something so well known. I am proud to be able to say that I did.
A big, thank you to Stan for sharing with us all of his wonderful stories the past four columns! They were fantastic!
A brand new book from a Disney Legend, as told to MiceChat’s own Jeff Heimbuch!
The Imagineers, those men and women who helped Walt Disney bring his creations to life, have achieved legendary status among theme park enthusiasts. It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is the life story of one of the most beloved Imagineers, Rolly Crump. Covering his long and varied career, including designing some of Disney’s most famous attractions and working directly with Walt himself, Rolly’s stories weave into a lighthearted yet riveting narrative of his life and accomplishments. Packed with over 200 photos, many of which have never been seen before, It’s Kind Of A Cute Story is a tribute to the life and work of a true original.
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I’d love to hear from you!
You can read older columns of From The Mouth Of The Mouse here!
Jeff also writes a MiceChat column titled The 626. We invite you to check it out!
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