What I Learned Working at a Theme Park

During this summer, while I continue to try to regain a position within the IT industry after being laid off last year, I took a seasonal job at one of the theme parks in Orlando (the idea being that it would be easier for a current employee to transfer into the company’s IT department – that didn’t so much work out for me, however). I was employed as a Photo Sales Clerk, primarily working at the shops that sell guests photos of the rides they’ve just been on. I’d like to share with you some of the things I learned over the summer, in the hopes that perhaps both guests and employees might get a glimpse of the other side of the uniform.

There was zero training not pertaining to my job
Now, I’ve only worked for one of the theme park companies in Florida, so maybe things are different at the other two. When I came in for my “training” class about a week before my first shift, we went over the history of the company, the values of the company, and some general park policies and procedures. Then for my department “training” we were given a power point presentation about cash handling, and a “scavenger hunt”, to find the answers to a few merchandise-related questions in the park. At that point we were sent out into the park to explore on our own for about 30 minutes. And that was it. There was nothing about guest services, answers to commonly asked guest questions, how to get help if a guest asks a question you don’t know, etc. As I would soon find out, this is a major oversight, because….
Guests expect me to know everything
As I said, if it didn’t directly pertain to selling photographs, I wasn’t told about it. Now, fortunately, I was a fan of the theme parks, including this one, long before I started working there, so I did know the answers to a few questions. But I knew them because I was a fan and a frequent guest, not because I was an employee. “Where’s the nearest bathroom?” No problem. “Where is the closest place I can eat with my dining plan?” I can give a recommendation or two. But if it’s not about a service I directly (and frequently) used as a guest, I don’t have a clue. “Where’s the nearest ATM?”, “How much does it cost to upgrade to an annual pass?”, “What year did this ride open?”, “What store sells this piece of merchandise I can only vaguely describe to you?”, etc. Those questions, the only answer I can give is “I’m sorry, I really don’t know.” And worse, I also don’t know who I can call to find that answer for you. There is no guest information line I can call, and I am not connected to any other employee or department via any radio. More often than not, guests got extremely upset at me for not having that information readily available for them.
This one surprised me mostly because I never expected that guests would think, “You’re wearing the uniform of this company, you should therefore know everything about this company!” When I used to tell people I worked for Bank of America, not once did anyone expect me to know the teller hours at their local branch, or where the nearest ATM is, or how long ago the company went public. But somehow, themepark employees are thought to simply know absolutely everything there is to know about the themepark they work in, and if I don’t, I’m being unhelpful, rude, ignorant, and lazy.
The number of international guests who don’t know American currency
At least 3 or 4 times a week, after I told a guest their total, they’d pull out the appropriate bills, but then also a handful of change. In this case, I mean “handful” quite literally: their hands cupped open, filled with coins. Usually they’d simply say “can you help?” or even more simply: “Please!”. At that point, I rummaged through their pile of change until I found the exact change (or as close to as possible) to complete their sale. This honestly shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. It’s perfectly logical that someone visiting this country might not have studied up on which of the four common coins is worth 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 25¢ (I’d certainly be no better with any other foreign currency). Especially since the denomenations are not readily marked on the coins, and so the only way to describe them is “The copper one, the middle sized silver one, the tiny silver one, and the big silver one”. Even the order doesn’t make any sense. And then if you add in half-dollars, silver dollars, and golden dollars, forget it!
I never thought I’d need my High-School Spanish again
I took four years of Spanish in Jr High and High School. I was even pretty good, for a 17 year old white kid. But that was 19 years ago. I am not remotely fluent in Spanish any longer. So imagine my surprise at how often I was the most accomplished Spanish speaker working in a given location that shift. Frequently, I’d be called over to help a fellow employee communicate with a Spanish-speaking guest, explaining the different photo options and prices. By the end of the summer, I could give that spiel explaining the sizes and prices, in Spanish, from memory. Which is not, by the way, to say that I could say it well. The most disheartening thing that can happen when you’ve finished telling a family their options is for one of them to turn to another and ask, «¿Qué dijo?» (“What did he say?”). It was always disappointing to know that I could understand them pretty well, but couldn’t speak it intelligently enough for them to understand.
Guest blame you for any problems they have
Rides break down. We frequent park-goers know this. It’s a fact of life. An indicator light fails, some one lost a hat and it got stuck on a track, someone heard a noise that shouldn’t be there, whatever. Rides break down. What I didn’t realize is that guests would take their frustration with that fact out on me, the guy selling photos at the end of the ride. “Why is the ride down?!?” “I can’t believe this thing’s broken, what kind of scam are you trying to pull!?” “Well when the &*$! is it going to be back up?” “It’s not working!? But I want to ride it!”. These and many more shouts of anger and disbelief are common to hear. Sir and/or Madam, please try to understand: I don’t know why it’s down. I didn’t break it. The ride operators don’t tell me why it’s down, nor do they tell me when it will be back up. We don’t like it to be down either – if it’s not working, you’re not riding it, and we’re not taking your picture, and therefore we can’t sell you your picture. That’s not good for you or for us. I found out it was down the exact same time you did – when I heard the announcement over the loudspeaker, “May I have your attention please, due to technical difficulties…”. You have exactly as much information as I have. And no, there is no one I can call to find out when it will be back up – it will be back up when the operators and technicians have decided it’s safe for you to ride.
… ANY problems, including the weather
This goes hand-in-hand with the last one, but deserves special mention. While rides do go down for technical problems, they go down far more frequently for weather-related problems. That’s especially true in Florida, in the summer. Basically, it rains here every single day of the summer, in the mid afternoon, usually for an hour or two. More importantly, there is lightning every day during the summer, in the mid afternoon, usually for an hour or two. Yes, sir, I know it’s not raining right now. But if there’s lightning within a certain distance of the park, the ride operators take the ride down out of safety concerns. No sir, I don’t have the ability to let you “risk it”. There are plenty of things you can do that are indoors that aren’t impacted by the weather (which, by the way, no one told me about in any sort of training, but I figured out as the summer went on), and I’ll be happy to direct you to them. It also amazes me how many guests think that I’m a meteorologist, asking me “When will the rain stop?” I have no idea. I don’t have a weather radar on me, nor do we have one anywhere in our shop. I’m sure someone somewhere does, because they’re monitoring the storm, but I have no access to that person or department.
Many guests do no research of any kind
As a frequent park guest, I suppose this one didn’t surprise me as much. The number of times a guest asked me “Where are the pools for the kids?” was rather shocking, however. They apparently thought this was a water park, in addition to (or instead of?) a theme park. I would explain to them that our company did own water parks and where the nearest one was in relation to us, but that’s a separate ticket purchase, not included in their one-day park ticket they used to get in here today. And that information resulted in both surprise and anger from the guests.
That being said, if not for the ill-prepared guests, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities for what was honestly my favorite part of the job – approaching families in the park who are at a standstill staring at a map. I delighted in walking over to them and asking if I could help them find something. To their credit, most of these guests were appreciative of my assistance, and doubly so when I could give a recommendation for an attraction they should visit. (Again, of course, this is information I learned as a park guest, not as an employee…)
Many smokers think they should be able to smoke anywhere
At least once a day, I would approach a guest smoking somewhere other than the designated smoking areas. Now to be fair, most of them would simply say “Oh, okay” and put the cigarette out when I informed them this wasn’t a smoking area, and where the nearest one was. Some, however, had different reactions. Some guests flat out ignored me – they’d say “uh-huh” and keep right on smoking, while I stood there, refusing to move, telling them with a touch less “request” in my voice that they needed to put it out. Some would try to hide the cigarette when they saw me approaching. A few told me angrily to “mind your own business and go do your job!” (as though telling them not to smoke in the non-smoking areas somehow didn’t fall under the job descriptions of every employee in the park). And one guest who I remember quite vividly shouted at me “Well there’s no sign here telling me I can’t smoke!”. My pointing out to her that the park is non-smoking except for the designated areas, and that there are signs where she can smoke, somehow did not placate her.
I remember one guest smoking in front of my store front while the ride was down (for weather). I kindly informed her where the nearest smoking area was, and that she couldn’t smoke at that particular location. She gave me a look that was half-incredulous, half-condescending, and said, “Really? Even though the ride’s down and no one’s here?”. Now, what I actually said was, “That’s right ma’am, I’m sorry”, while what I wanted to say was “Well, I’m here, my coworkers are here, and oh yes, THE INFANT IN YOUR STROLLER IS HERE!!!”. Which brings up another point. There is no smoking in the section of the park intended for children. Anywhere. The nearest one requires you to leave the kids’ area and walk a ways down a path. This fact was incredible to a great number of guests. That they should be allowed to smoke with their and other people’s children around seemed perfectly logical and reasonable to them. Smokers, please explain to me: Why does my employer care more about your kids’ health than you do??
Guests do not consider me a fellow human being.
Unless I was very busy (or, frankly, hot and tired), I always made an effort to greet as many guests as I could, even if they were just passing through my shop. “Hi sir, how are you?” “Hey guys, how’s it going today?” “What’d you think of the ride, ma’am?”. A few guests would respond to those questions. A far larger number would give me a quick glance and nod. And an alarming number of people would ignore me entirely. They didn’t not hear me, they weren’t engaged in conversation with someone else. They just considered me someone to whom it is not worth responding, because I’m a worker at the place where they’re a guest.
Along the same lines, the frequency with which a guest would approach my counter and say nothing more than the number of the photo they want to see was…. aggravating, to say the least. If the only effort you can expend to utter words in my direction are “220B”, rather than maybe “Can I take a look at number 220B?” or even simply “220B, please?”, you are… not someone I have an overwhelming desire to help. I am a person, I am a human being. Yes, I am working this job. That does not negate the fact that I am still deserving of basic societal politeness.
Guests credit me with far more power and authority than I have
Sir/Madam, I do not set the prices of the photos. I have no influence as to how much my company charges you. Complaining to me about the price has exactly zero effect. I’d say you should be complaining to the upper management, or maybe Guest Services (at least they (theoretically) have a mechanism for recording guest feedback), except that your real problem is with your fellow park goers. If you think this price is too much to pay for a photograph, you should be upset at all the people who are paying that much for a photograph. If they weren’t paying those prices, my company wouldn’t be selling them for those prices. Your beef is with them, not with the management of the park, and certainly not with me.
Similarly, I’m sorry to inform you, Mr. and Mrs. Theme Park Guest, that I have absolutely no connection to any of the Powers That Be who can make changes based on your feedback. At no point did any manager or leader ask me “What kind of feedback are the guests giving you?” or “What do you think we should do to provide a better experience?” I am there to sell photographs. Period. To be honest, I’m with the guests on this one. A guest should be able to give an employee feedback, especially about his own department, and expect that someone with decision-making powers might possibly hear about it at some point. Sadly, it’s simply not the case. So while I’m sympathetic that you’d like to be able to buy Coke Zero from us, or that there should be a military discount (and I do strongly thank you for your service, sir or madam), or that the height restriction should be lowered, there is absolutely nothing that will result from your complaining to me about that fact. I’m sorry.
Almost NO ONE signs their credit cards
The park policy is that if the credit card is not signed, cashiers have to ask for a photo ID. (This is, of course, and idiotic policy, as it does absolutely bupkis. There being a signature on the card doesn’t tell me that the card belongs to that person. That said, it’s the policy I’m told I have to follow). Given that policy, far far FAR more often than not, I had to ask for a photo ID. Significantly more people do not sign their credit cards than do. That shocked me. I’ve always signed my credit cards. Why? Because the credit card company tells you to when they send you the card, and the card even says “Not valid without an authorized signature”. So I always just assumed that everyone else signed it too. Boy was I wrong.
Now, many people, when I asked for ID, would thank me for asking. That makes sense to me, they’re thanking me for making sure they’re not incurring a fraudulent charge on their card. But man, the number of people who got aggravated at me for asking? Shocking! And even more shocking? The number of people who don’t carry photo ID!!!! I’d never even considered that! Who doesn’t carry their license or state/country ID on them when they leave the house? A lot of people, apparently! And somehow, it is considered my fault for having the audacity to check to make sure that the name on the credit card matches the name on a photo ID whose photo resembles the person standing in front of me. That really blew my mind.

There you have it. The surprises I found while working at one of Orlando’s theme parks over the summer. If you’re considering getting a job at one of the parks, maybe this list will help lessen the blow of surprise you might otherwise face. And if you’re a themepark goer, perhaps it might do well to think of these items as you’re going about your day and interacting with the workers who are there to help you.

Do any other current or former theme park employees have anything to add? I welcome your comments!

(And if you or someone you know happens to be looking for a software engineer with a strong background in Perl, PHP, C, C++, and Unix, please let me know…)

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17 Responses to What I Learned Working at a Theme Park

  1. Iris says:

    Very well-written! I enjoyed reading it. 🙂 As always, I do wish you the very best in your job search.

  2. Rene says:

    Fun read. Thank you for sharing.

  3. pirategirl007 says:

    Great article! Glad to see some new updates from you. Sounds like working in the park has its ups and downs.

    My husband (@tncowdaddy) is in a similar field been laid off since last Christmas searching for jobs. How attached to FL are you? There are a few jobs up here in the mountains that might work for you with some remote work possible later on.

  4. Belinda says:

    Thank you for this very well written blog!

  5. Teri says:

    Interesting read. It certainly does give some insight to the other side of being a theme park guest. Good luck on your search for a new job. We all miss your wit and knowledge on Lines.

  6. glamourgirl says:

    I really enjoyed reading this! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. NYGIANTMickeyfan says:

    Very well written! I hope overall you enjoyed your experience. I find it sad that this needs to be written. Common courtesy is not always a given. Good luck on job search!

  8. Lisa says:

    Hi! Glad to see you are “enjoying” a new experience. I am too, as I recently needed extra income and started part time at a theme park near my home. I have encountered some of these, but not quite all, as I was working in attractions and recently made the move over to retail within the parks. I begin my training next week.

    Take care!

    • Staza says:

      Hi Paul. Thank you for your insightful post. I’m a Verizon retiree, with no clue re IT. Therefore very impressed re all of those skills. Noticed how much my company has now become IT related, might be worthwhile checking them out for your next place to be.

  9. MinnieWinnie says:

    Great read, and great reminder to use common courtesy, people! Best of luck to you in your job search. We miss you over on Lines!

  10. Jeneane Cremers says:

    Great read Mr. Itty. I always considered you one of the rock stars of Lines and learned a lot from your posts. Best of luck with your job search!

  11. Chris Coney says:

    Hi! @conefrog here! Great blog as always. Miss you on Lines!

  12. Jetcamp says:

    Great read MrItty. Very informative

  13. DisneyDazeDays says:

    Great article! I really enjoyed reading about your experience from the other side. 1.) I wish people would use their brains. 2.) I wish companies would realize the power of their staff if they would just utilize them. 🙂

    PS. The reason you’re supposed to look at the ID is twofold. The 1st is because it’s what the CC company requires if a card isn’t signed. And, secondly you’re just making sure that the name on the card matches the name on the photo ID that is shown. (I think that theoretically it also would act as a deterrent) I don’t sign my card purposefully because I want them to ask to see the photo ID (and am surprised by how many don’t!) If you do sign the back of the card, then they are supposed to compare the signature on the slip with the signature on the card (which they also don’t do)

    • Paul Lalli says:

      I didn’t mean that it was absurd to check ID. I meant that it was absurd to only check ID if the card is not signed. It *should* be to check ID every time, because a card simply being signed doesn’t in any way indicate that the possessor of the card is the owner of the card. The problem with comparing the signatures (at least at my now-former employer) is that no signature is required for purchases under $25, so there’s nothing to compare it to.

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