Please Rain on My Parade: Disney Parades and Friendship

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Once upon a time (as recently as last year) I was a performer at a certain popular theme park in central Florida. And yes (magic spoiler alert) I was one of THOSE performers, wink wink (I’m forgoing the “nudge nudge, say no more” so it doesn’t sound like an innuendo. If you thought it was an innuendo, shame on you). Did I enjoy my job? Yes. Do I miss it terribly and sometimes tear up watching Disney travel commercials or even Mickey Mouse Club House? Embarrassingly, yes. In the end however it was a job. A complain about your managers, count down the hours till quitting time job.

The Disney World Entertainment department is vast and complicated. Spanning all four theme parks, two water parks, special events, resorts, parades, shows and probably more things I’m forgetting. When I started there I had just moved to Florida and didn’t know anyone besides my boyfriend (now husband) who I’d moved there with. It’s hard to make good friends in Disney entertainment since a performer could find themselves in a completely different area everyday. If you’re full-time you’re allowed to “bid” a location for the season. This helps but even if you are scheduled your bid location everyday (there’s no guarantee you will be) it’s still only temporary. I found myself making friends in each new bid only to end up at a different location then all of my new-found friends for the next bid season. So for the first several years I worked there I didn’t make any really close friends.

Then something changed, something I had mixed feeling about. Since I first got the job I’d wanted to get trained in a show or parade. I finally got scheduled parade training, unfortunately it was in a parade and role I really didn’t want to learn. I was going to learn a role that had a reputation for being very physically taxing in the Magic Kingdom daily parade as well as general training in the night parade (which I wasn’t as worried about). Now you need to realize I was one of those kids who barely finished the mile run in gym and always brought up the rear. (I’m not sure how I ever survived my job, really). I somehow completed the training then wasn’t scheduled to perform my new role for months.

When I finally did it for the first time….I hated it. Not only was it physically exhausting but I found I actually preferred having one on one interactions with the guests (Disney speak for theme park customers). Many performers prefer parades and shows because they love dancing or they like performing for a larger crowd but mostly because they don’t like the one on one guest interaction. That sounds terrible but I don’t blame them. This might burst your bubble but guests can be annoying, obnoxious and flat-out rude. Let me get something straight it’s NEVER okay to pull, poke, grab, push, hit, grope or physically or verbally abuse ANYONE no matter what they are wearing or what job they are doing. Also not okay to encourage you’re children to do those things, for that matter. Yes, sadly, it’s totally common for performers to be mistreated besides the standards annoyances. Can you really blame people for not wanting to deal with that? Not that I was perfectly patient or impervious to rude guests. For me the magic just outweighed the bad. The moments of playing peekaboo with babies, making a little kid’s day just with a high five or the middle aged women with autograph books exclaiming as excitedly as any child “it’s our first time at Disney World!” All these little magical moments were worth the prodding and obnoxious questions (not to mention the dripping sweat and sore muscles).

Okay, tangent over, back to the story. At first I was rarely scheduled parade shifts, mostly just on overtime days. Then after a couple of years they revamped the parade, meaning they changed the music and choreography and gave the floats a makeover. At first I wasn’t scheduled to train for the new incarnation and I was ecstatic. Then, the week of training, they added it to my schedule and being the good cast member (Disney speak for employee) I was, I didn’t call in sick. This time it was different because they didn’t train very many people to start with so I was scheduled it constantly. Then the worst happened. They “cast” me in the parade. Casting is different than bidding in that you have no say in if or where the powers of Disney will cast you. Then part way through the season they trained me in an even worse role for the night parade, which up to this point had been the easiest part of my day. I have a theory that if you show up to work and do your job well they train you in all the crap no one want to do because they know you’ll show up and do it.
Parades weren’t all bad. In a ten-hour shift I only was actually performing for less than 2 1/2 hours. (Of course there was costume prep time and such as well). Entertainment cast members always get a lot of down time (you know, so they don’t pass out or get heat stroke) but even by those standards that’s a lot of break time. Don’t get me wrong you need the time to recover from performing parades but it’s still pretty awesome. It also gives you time to get to know people. In fact I made most my best friends doing those parades. Even after they changed the parades again and I wasn’t trained in the new ones, we stayed friends. Even now that I’ve moved half way a crossed the country we’re still friends and I miss them fiercely. No offense to the friends I’ve made here but it takes years to build the kind of friendships I had in Florida.
I got use to performing in the parades after doing it every single day, though I can’t say I really liked it, at least most of the time. Have you ever tried doing the same routine to the same short clip of music over and over for 30-45 minutes 5-6 times a week? It’s monotonous to say the least and it was still exhausting till the end. I hoped for rain every day, particularly for the night parade since my unit didn’t go out in even light rain. But now when I look back at my time in the parades department, I don’t think of the sweat, exhaustion, aching back and even bruises. I think of stopping for ice cream in the cafeteria, chatting at lunch and walking from the tunnels (yes Magic Kingdom has tunnels under it. No they’re not very interesting) to the production center with friends. The backstage board games and inside jokes are what I take from those years and I wouldn’t trade them for an easier shift. I hate to say my point is that every cloud has a silver lining because sometimes something just sucks. But sometimes clouds do have silver linings and something that sucks turns out to be kind of wonderful.
Disclaimer: I’m sorry to people who have never worked at Disney if this wasn’t the scandalous tell-all account to were hoping for. I’m sorry to Disney cast members (current and former) if this blog entry revealed too much magic. (We can be very serious about preserving the magic). I tried to only give as many secrets away as I needed to tell the story.
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