Jeff Continues To Dish On Disneyland’s Skyway

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Disney, Disney History, Disneyland Resort, Features, From the Mouth of the Mouse

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Published on June 12, 2013 at 2:00 am with 14 Comments

In today’s From The Mouth Of The Mouse, we finish up our conversation with Jeff, who worked on the Skyway at Disneyland in the lat 1980s. He tells us more about his experience there, how he moved to Disneyland Paris, and how Disney continues affecting his life today!

To catch up, here is last week’s interview!

Take it away, Jeff!


 

JEFF: Now, you mentioned to me earlier how it was a sort of “boys club” culture on the Skyway. Can you explain a little about that?

JEFF:  Honestly, the all-male Skyway crews were a testosterone-driven group of young men that fostered a locker-room mentality.  That is not to say that we weren’t all committed to our roles and to Disney. But, you’re talking about mostly 18-25 year old men in constant contact with happy people from all over the world on vacation.  I was by far the youngest, still in high school, and had to grow up quickly with these college guys.  First, on both sides of the Skyway, there was a vocabulary and a series of hand signals in order to (at least supposedly) discretely communicate about guests while they were in line or on the attraction themselves.  For example, one area of the queue for the Fantasyland Skyway resembled a wooded recessed nativity scene, so if one cast member saw an attractive female in that area, he would make a “cradle” gesture to the rest of the cast.  There were many others, so much so that there could be entire silent conversations going on, all while cast members stopped Skyway cabins, “threw” cabins, and interacted with guests.  The direct phone line between F-Sky and T-Sky was also used to this end, as each side would alert the receiving side of the cabin number for particularly attractive women. The phone could also be used to notify us of inbound celebrities, and we had many.

JEFF: Sounds like you would get yelled at today for not being so PC! 

JEFF: That’s not to say that the Skyway cast members were the only ones with less than noble thoughts on their mind.  I was floored about how many women - not just teenage girls – would offer up meeting times at Harbor House, phone numbers, and even room keys to hotel/motel rooms near Disneyland.  Especially early on, I was a bit shocked by the aggressiveness of some of the female guests in pursuing us.  At first I thought it was all bluff, and sometimes it was just flirting, but often it wasn’t.  Sometimes it would be innocent younger girls. “Groupies,” as we’d call them. They would ride the Skyway many, many times throughout the day, especially at night, just for a chance to say “hi” and chat a bit with us while we worked.  Sometimes it would be college age women or often mothers or group leaders in town for a few days with school or other youth groups.  I knew many of my fellow team members that ended up dating women from meeting them in the park.

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JEFF: Did the Guests misbehave while on the ride itself?

JEFF: The Skyway was also a difficult attraction to work in certain positions because you had to constantly look out on “the line” in order to view the behavior of the guests in the cabin.  Often, there would be no issue.  However, if guests began swinging the cabins violently for fun, despite warnings and signage in each cabin, we had to hit the emergency stop and shut down the attraction for at least 3-5 minutes while the system reset.  This was often terrifying for some guests who were afraid of heights.  Repeat offenders would be met by security on the other side.  Same for younger folk who insisted on using their Skyway time to smoke their favorite plant or decided to engage in overly amorous activities during their ride.  They went to security also. Hey, get a room - or at least go to the Haunted Mansion!

JEFF: What can you tell me about your interaction with the guests?

JEFF: More than anything, I loved the interaction with the guests, whether it was the Annual Passholder with whom I had built a relationship during the summer or the Make-A-Wish child who I was seeing once and likely never again.  I also very much enjoyed meeting international guests, especially when I could try out my pitiful high school French. Guests were rarely difficult, although you had to deal with your share of line jumpers and other rule breakers.  It was always interesting to see how many guests completely let go in Disneyland, and often asked silly questions in the process such as “Excuse me sir, what time is the 9 o’clock parade?” or when they would leave a child at an attraction and not realize that he/she was gone for an hour or two.

JEFF: Were you trained on any other attractions?

JEFF: I was cross-trained on the rotation Alice-Dumbo-Teacups as well as the Motor Boat Cruise, and worked 20 hours a week my senior year of high school as well as the following summer.

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JEFF: Now, you also worked briefly at Disneyland Paris. Tell me a little about that!  

JEFF: In 1990, as a UCLA student spending a year abroad in Lyon, France, I wrote a letter to Joel Hicks (my casting agent from 1987), who was now working in pre-opening recruitment in France.  Recall that Disneyland Paris was scheduled to open in 1992.  I also wrote Jim Cora, a longtime Disneyland operational executive, who was also in France.  Shortly after sending my letters, I got a call from HR, who wanted to invite me up to the pre-opening offices for a brief discussion.  While I had no intention of starting a job before getting my degree, I made a few valuable contacts.  In 1996, I leveraged those contacts to land an interview that lead to a professional role in market planning for the hotels.  During my first full-year of employment at DLP, the company turned its first meager profit.  Coincidence?  I think not!

JEFF: And now, Disney continues to impact your day to day life for your nine to five, correct?

JEFF: Every day since I finished school at UCLA!  I worked for 15 years in the hospitality/travel industry, and have always incorporated all I learned at Disneyland and the Disney Company more generally.  Standing firm on your values, customer service that is respectful and drives loyalty, pride in your product, and so on have all been instrumental in my career development.

I harbor extremely vivid memories of my entire time with Disney, and this is not by accident.  I have an interesting take on this, because, while as a cast member, you are playing a role and are part of the magic that makes up the fantasy, I have never felt so alive in the present.  Little things have impacted me as well, such as always lowering myself to the level of a child when speaking with him or her so as not to be intimidating.  Pointing with the hand, and not the finger and so many other things like that.  These have all served me well professionally and personally.

My love for all things Disney burns just as brightly today and I continue to devour anything I can read about the company and the brilliant colorful personalities that have contributed to it.  My daughter, currently in high school, aspires to be an Imagineer and may love Disney as much, if not more, than her Dad.  I wonder why???

A big thank you to Jeff for sharing the rest of his story with us! 




By Jeff Heimbuch

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 can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.

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About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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14 Comments

Comments for Jeff Continues To Dish On Disneyland’s Skyway are now closed.

  1. I really miss the skyway. It was always so magical to me as a kid.

  2. [...] Jeff Continues To Dish On Disneyland's Skyway I worked for 15 years in the hospitality/travel industry, and have always incorporated all I learned at Disneyland and the Disney Company more generally. Standing firm on your values, customer service that is respectful and drives loyalty, pride in … Read more on MiceChat [...]

  3. Great memories. Merci beaucoup.

  4. Yes indeed Mr. H, the Skyway was the scene of some fast-paced shenanigans alright – fun with a view. I tried to make the door lock system fool-proof for guests but quick for CMs. But some guests will defeat everything. Once, security was alarmed to find a traveling cabin with it’s door wide open, a youth dangling below, hanging by his ankles held by his on-board posse. Instant ejection from the park by security.

    • That’s an AMAZING story Bob. And if I didn’t hear it from you, I wouldn’t believe it. ;-)

    • Wow, that’s unbelievable!

  5. Nobody seems to mention rebuilding the skyride.

    Seems like one of the more intense(and more engaging) rides to work, your physically touching the ride vehicle.

    • I think it would be a hard one to bring back. Disney removed it from all the parks. It was a liability risk (from both guests and cast). It also showed you the world outside the berm as well as back stage and the ugly rooftops of Tomorrowland and Fantasyland.

      While I loved the attraction, its day is over. I can’t see it coming back, even with new technology in load/unload.

      There are two great sky rides in San Diego, one at the San Diego Zoo and one at SeaWorld.

      • I’ve never taken it but I understand that there’s a great tram in Palm Springs?

      • Liability is the reason I’ve heard for the removal of the Skyway. But if that’s the case, how come they have a Skyway (chair lift) at Blizzard Beach? Seems like it would carry the same liability.

  6. As I was growing up I couldn’t wait to be old enough to smooch on the Skyway…only I had to ride with my brother and that was annoying.

    Maybe younger visitors got escorted away by security for smooching and herbalizing, but y’all were awful lenient on some of us old folks. :)

    I didn’t mind seeing outside the berm. It sorta magnified my feeling that Disneyland was a magical place where the outside world could never intrude. The Force was definitely with Walt.

  7. Miss the old Von Roll At Disneyland..Pretty sad knowing there are only 10 VonRoll Skyrides left in the USA. Want more Skyway info look on Facebook groups VonRoll type 101 Skyrides and the Disneyland Skyway. Tons of info,former mechanics and cast members that operated the great Disneyland Skyway..

  8. Terrific interview, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful experiences, and racy, honest stories with us!

  9. I always wanted the Skyway to stop while I was riding. One day it finally did at Disneyland. Perched close to the entrance to the Matterhorn, we had a great view of the bobsleds racing down the icy slopes…. ah the memories. I remember the Skyway in WDW had a 90 degree turn and a cast member was there to make sure the turn was made without a problem. And isn’t “Skyway” a great name! Thanks for making those doors safe for us Mr. Gurr!