Richard - Kilimanjaro Safari
by, 10-18-2011 at 07:37 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, we're talking to Richard, another participant in the College Program. Much like our very first interview, MiceChat reader Richard worked on Kilimanjaro Safari. He enjoyed reading that column so much that he wrote to me & wanted to share some of his own stories from the ride. I originally wasn't going to run this column so soon, seeing as how we spoke to Cynthia not to long ago, but his stories were so great that I wanted to share them now. It just goes to show you that, even though Cast Members work on the same ride, their experiences are wildly different!
And now, here's Richard!
JEFF: How did you wind up on Kilimanjaro?
RICHARD: One of the things they stress in the College Program is that you are put where you’re most needed. Now, when initially signing up for it, you ARE given certain “area options” that you can choose from. For example, you could choose CUSTODIAL, QUICK FOOD SERVICE, ATTRACTIONS, CHARACTERS, CHARACTER HELPERS, and o on. I came from a background of drama in high school, and of filmmaking & performing in college, so of course I wanted to either be a character or on some kind of attraction with a spiel. I didn’t have the needed “miming” experience required to audition for a character, so I went solely with attractions. This could’ve diminished my chances of getting in, but I ended up getting accepted.
After getting accepted, I wrote a letter to my college rep detailing my background and naming a few attractions where I thought I would flourish the most (If I remember right, they were Great Movie Ride, Backlot Tour, Haunted Mansion, Tower of Terror, Jungle Cruise, and Kilimanjaro Safaris). When college students arrive, they have no idea which location they are going to be. They put us in a big line, and then look us up by name, and fortunately, I got Kilimanjaro Safaris, one of the most unique attractions in the United States. I have no idea if my letter had any effect on my placement or not.
I was very happy with my placement. I wanted a ride with a spiel, and boy, did I get one! With a 20 minute ride cycle, and a script that included constantly talking, I was basically performing for the guests all day. I always tried to sell the dramatic parts of the ride the best I could, especially since the jeep went 101 a long time ago. But it was filled with great times that I’ll never forget and it was still the very best, most fun job I’ve ever had.
Richard, on the bike, with fellow Kilimanjaro Cast Members
JEFF: Tell us a little bit about what a normal day for you was like on Kilimanjaro.
RICHARD: Daily responsibilities started with checking out a 2-way radio from the KSR (Kilimanjaro Safari Ride) offices and going through a checklist of safety and mechanical measures for the ride vehicle. Each vehicle runs on propane, and is filled up the night before. Once the truck’s been thoroughly checked, & the audio system tested, we all drove into a big opening line where a manager would sign off on our checklist.
After that, we’d test the speaker system by driving over a few (as previously mentioned in another interview you did) “pucks” which would trigger Magic Bus, and tell us that the systems were good. Then came a nice long drive around the perimeter of the ride, over the tracks for the Wildlife Express, and onto the ride path near the unloading docks. After that, there’d be another line starting at the loading docks, waiting to take on the first guests of the day. Back when I was there, the daily opening of the park had a special family that would help christen it that day, then lead a small opening parade directly to our attraction, where they would get their own, special, first-of-the-day private safari.
After that, our responsibilities varied upon our positions that were given out when we clocked in and out from our breaks. At the entrance, we’d direct people to the ride, stroller parking, and answered questions. The Fast Pass position would help guests get their fast passes, answer questions, and direct them to other areas of the park. The Fast Pass entrance would check the times of Fast Passes, making sure people were not early in their arrival, though late arrivals were almost always allowed through. There are positions for collecting Fast Passes (called gatekeeper), stroller parking (Pram 1 & 2), wheelchair assistant, opening and loading (where we basically played our version of Tetris by trying to fit as many passengers into the trucks as comfortably as possible), making sure the safety gates at the load dock and on the truck are secure, and then finally unloading. There are all specific names for these positions, but they happen to escape my memory at the moment! These LAND positions were always the treat of the day, because driving around in a hot truck with low A/C, talking to guests for two hours at a time could get a little… grating.
Richard is his natrual habit...a Kilimanjaro jeep
JEFF: You mentioned to me before our interview that you also had some responsibilities during the parades. What did they include?
RICHARD: About an hour before the parade, the assignments began to include parade positions. We would go and help set up parade barriers, VIP zones, and direct guests on where to sit and walk during Mickey’s Jammin’ Jungle Parade. During the parade, we’d mostly make sure that guests stayed out of the parade path, and then gave them permission when to cross during certain long openings in the parade itself. A lot of the time it was fun. We could play with guests, dance along, and wave at everyone involved in the parade. The characters would also interact with us, giving us high fives, snatching our hats away, and generally being mischievous. I thought it was great fun.
JEFF: Something else you mentioned to me before the interview was about one of the trucks catching fire…can you tell us a little bit about that?RICHARD: Sure! It actually happened on my last day of training, when I was going through my evaluation. I had actually just finished it, when suddenly the ride went 101. All we heard was that there was a fire on a truck. Each truck is designed to protect guests from any type of engine fire. There is a fire shield between the back of the cab and the front seat of the guests that’s thicker than a metal plate. From what I heard, the truck had leaked a large amount of oil along the ride path and then the engine caught fire. The driver, who I was not familiar with, did everything that they were trained to do. There is a fire extinguisher in each cab, and they acted along with training very well, and from what I remember, the only guests that were “injured” did so because they had jumped from the truck. I wish I had more details of it for you. My most vivid memory from it was mostly, “Wow, this had to happen on my evaluation day!?”
JEFF: As much of a shame as it is that a Guest was injured, it’s good to know that the Cast Members are very well versed in safety precautions, and that they did everything they could to prevent injury. I suppose you just can’t protect Guests from themselves, though! Speaking of protecting Guests, I know you have a story about a White Rhino that I’m sure everyone would love to hear!
RICHARD: Oh, and it’s a good one, too! Unlike the previously mentioned black rhinos (or dinosaurs) from your previous article (JEFF’S NOTE: When I spoke with Cynthia, our very first FTMOTM interview here!), the white rhinos are rather calm and are allowed to roam freely within the attraction and near the trucks. They are notorious for wanting to just chill out in the ride path, and the trucks have no choice but to sit there and wait until they move. There were times where the entire attraction would be delayed as much as thirty minutes just because of one rhino.
There is a bottleneck right next to the lions, where on one side there is a mound hiding the lion trench, and the other is a large hill. One day we come around the corner, and lo and behold, there is nice big white rhino right in our way. I followed proper procedure, put the truck into park, and radioed in our situation. Then the rhino decided he wanted to move, except we were in his way. The big fella’ wasn’t about to turn around, so he chose to start trying to push us out of his way!
It’s amazing how powerful they can be when moving relatively slowly, so we got some nice rocking and shoving action going on. He broke my lower side mirror and put a few dents in the driver side door. The guests had a good time once I got on the mic and told them how awesome it was. I believe one of the things I said was “This is the coolest thing that has ever happened!”
Now, when a rhino or any other animal gets in the way or comes into contact with a truck, the special animal trainers don’t really have any way of moving them. They’ll drive up, smack the sides of their truck, and try to lure them away with food, but it’s always up to the animals on whether or not they want to move. Eventually the animal handlers got his attention, but by then he was halfway past our truck, so then he decided to back up, and gave us another good few bumps and shakes. The guests got a kick out of it, as it was a truly unique experience. It was easily one of my favorite things that ever happened while working there.
Richard with more fellow Cast Members
JEFF: It definitely sounds like a once in a lifetime experience to me! I’m sure the Guests thought it was pretty magical, too! Not that you could have planned the White Rhino incident, but do you have any other stories of when you made a Guest’s stay better with a dose of Disney magic?
RICHARD: Well, the time of my employment was in the middle of the “Year of a Million Dreams” promotion, so there were literally hundreds of ways that we could make a Guest’s stay “more magical.” One of my favorites was picking out which strollers were the best (as in most decked out or most packed), and giving them a special award for being particularly ready for safari. Other things included animal trivia with guests, singing happy birthday to those with birthday pins, or any other type of celebration pin.
At the Guests with Disabilities Gate, there is a phone for the main KSR office and home base to contact us and visa versa. There are also several special numbers you can dial that will connect the guest to certain special Disney personalities to wish them a happy birthday, anniversary, or whichever. It’s really effective with the younger guests. I’d see a little girl with a birthday button, carefully dial the number, and let her know that someone is on the phone for her. She’d smile nice and wide while Goofy wished her a happy birthday!
JEFF: I’m sure a birthday phone call from any Disney character would be enjoy to brighten a little girl’s day! Did you ever have any interesting experiences with Guests during your time there? I know how some Cast Members like to keep a record of them!
RICHARD: I have to say, one of my favorite things was answering dumb Guest questions. I don’t mean to be mean, but the general feeling I got from Guests is that they turned their brains off at the front gate. I can understand, though…they’re on vacation!
Some of my favorites were:
- “Can you tell me where the stroller parking is?” While the guest was standing in front of the stroller parking sign. “It’s right there sir, right under the stroller parking sign.”
- “Do you know what time the 5:00 o’clock parade starts?”
- “Is this the entrance?” while pointing at the large KILIMANJARO SAFARIS entrance sign.
I also caught Guests letting their kids go to the bathroom in the beautiful foliage of the Animal Kingdom park. Or people caught smoking right after getting off the Wildlife Express from Rafiki’s Planet Watch, where they were told about protecting the planet. Sometimes the Guests could be a real handful to deal with, but a lot of the time they were very polite, enjoyable, and helped make it a magical experience for us as much as we did them.
Some of the most fun experiences came on “Special Safaris” that we were allowed to give. There were three types of special safaris. The first was the Behind-The-Scenes Safari. It’s basically explained in the name…instead of giving the usual spiel, we would give behind-the-scenes facts about the attraction and the Park and also answer guest questions because there were usually much less guests in the truck. The next was a Special Tour Safari. This is where a group of guests would come in with a tour guide that has been guiding them around the Park all day. They would take our mic, and do all the talking during the safari while the driver just drove. And finally, there is the Quiet Safari. That’s when we got an empty truck for whatever reason. Sometimes it would be because we incorrectly docked at the loading station, or sometimes it’d be because we were low on guests at the time. It was my favorite safari because it was the most peaceful time…just the driver driving, and the animals all around us. Most of the time, I wouldn’t say a word while driving around with an empty truck!
Lastly, the spring & summer Cast Members get the special treat of having large amounts of South American high school students visiting the park. We would literally just get an entire truck full of enthusiastic Brazilians who we had to try our best to quiet down so they wouldn’t scare the animals. Their attitude was infectious though. A lot of times, trucks would pull into the dock chanting the name of their driver, or their country…usually spurred on by the driver! Funny times, indeed. It’s very important to know a little Spanish there, or at least “Permanecer sentados, por favor.” (a phrase all Disney fans should know), or simply “Sientate por favor.” Or “silencio, por favor.”
JEFF: How was your relationship with your fellow Cast Members?
RICHARD: That's one of the things I think I forgot to mention earlier, actually. Working with the people there was amazing...I can't say that enough! I made lifelong friends during my time there. Going out to all the special Disney spots together was the best. The Adventurer's Club (RIP), Biergarten in Germany at Epcot, and especially Ohana's. One thing I really want to tell people is that if they only go to one place for a fancy dinner at WDW, I think Ohana's is right choice. The atmosphere and the food is all amazing. But the best part is when they dim the lights and play the fireworks show over the speakers. You can see the fireworks from across the large lagoon. That place was really magical, and that just made it better.Along the same lines of having a good relationship with the other Cast Members was that while working for Disney may not pay the best, the perks are amazing. In addition to the friends I made, of course. I could use one of my off days, and just spend the whole day focusing on one area of a park, or one type of ride. For example, I spent one day exploring Magic Kingdom by myself, and just doing every show there. Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree...you name it, I saw it. It was fantastic. Being able to explore the parks for free was amazing to me.A group of friends and I would even go to Hollywood Studios and JUST do the audience participation part of the Backlot Tour. We'd never go on the tour itself, we'd just volunteer to do the show on the boat. We must have done it ten times over my stay there, and we had our routine perfected.
Richard and friends perfecting their audience particpation
JEFF: That is too funny...you guys must have been professionals by the end! Any other stories that you’d like to share?RICHARD: One time I was working one of the loading docks when a truck pulled up that had just given a special safari. The special safari was given to Peter Mayhew, the man who famously played Chewbacca in Star Wars, and his party. Believe me, this guy is TALL!
Anyway, I helped them disembark, and of course, they all give me the “May the force be with you” goodbye. I don’t remember exactly what I said in response, something to the effect of “And with you as well.” Well, apparently I screwed up, because I was corrected… by CHEWBACCA himself! He turns to me and goes “It’s ‘…and also with you.’” I SCREWED UP IN FRONT OF CHEWBACCA! It was pretty funny.
Another time, the entire attraction had to be shut down due to two of the monkeys on the African trail escaping and making camp on top of the canopy over the loading docks. We spent the better part of two hours explaining that the ride was down due to “technical difficulties,” while they were trying to wrangle the two monkeys back in their enclosures.
Thanks for sharing with us, Richard!
And thank you for reading - please come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse!
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