Interview with a BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN Cast Member
Cast Members are an integral part of the Disney theme park experience. Former Big Thunder Mountain Cast Member “Jake” took the time to answer a few questions regarding his time operating the attraction.
What was your introduction to the world of Disney theme parks?
I first visited the Disneyland Paris as an adolescent in 1992. I came back again and again and grew more and more enamored with the park. Eventually, after finishing my studies, I decided to spend some time working as a Cast Member at the park. I had hoped to work at Phantom Manor at first but became a “miner” at Big Thunder Mountain instead. Not too bad either!
Do you remember your first ride on Big Thunder Mountain?
Yes, the ride broke down while we were in line and we ended up waiting for an hour and a half! When we finally got on, it was too tame for my taste! (laughs) It was only a few years later that I really started to appreciate BTM as a very fun family roller coaster with excellent show elements.
What does a usual work day at Big Thunder Mountain look like?
We arrive over an hour before the ride is supposed to open and begin by filling out a checklist while starting up the attraction, zone by zone. One CM stays at the tower console while another walks through the attraction in the opposite sense to the direction of the trains, starting up lift hills and opening brakes in order to allow the first test train to pass through. Other CMs will prepare the queue area and the FastPass machines. Once everything is ready, the test train, filled with water bags that replace the weight of actual passengers, will make its first round empty. When it comes back, a CM will get on board and see if all show elements are working properly. Once we open to our guests, we move from position to position in a specific order. At the end of our rotation, we have a 15 minute break or a 45 minute lunch break. The most important concern for everyone is the safety of our guests… We also try our best to keep wait times down and to avoid break-downs which easily happen on a complex attraction like BTM. If one happens, everything stops and we have to start up the attraction once again, zone by zone, just like we do every morning! At the end of the day, we clean everything up for the following day and hand the attraction over to the third shift maintenance team to do their routine maintenance procedures.
What did you like best about working on the attraction?
Probably the environment. It’s so well-designed and filled with interesting artifacts. Even when I was having a bad day at work, I was able to look around me and appreciate the unique workplace I had. Also, dressed like a cowboy you were a hero to the kids. I even taught myself to flick a toy gun to amuse our guests.
What did you like least?
There’s one role that we worked in that I wasn’t too fond of: The “grouper” position where you ask guests the size of their party and tell them in which rows to stand. You’re under a lot of pressure as any major delay can mean a break-down for the ride, and it’s not always easy communicating with our multi-national clientele. I’d often get really stressed out. But I don’t think I ever caused the ride to break down.
Which were your favorite kind of guests?
Those who knew in advance how many were in their party (not a given!) and would follow my directions to their seats. Of course we’d happily accommodate any special requests whenever possible, especially if guests asked politely.
Are there any favorite stories from your time at BTM?
One little anecdote: The fact that the ride takes place on an island makes our attraction stand out but it’s also a source of confusion to some of our guests. I’ve had a group of people exit the ride and ask how they can get on “that other ride on the island over there!” They didn’t understand that they just came from there!
What’s your favorite “secret” of BTM?
Every now and then, we have to evacuate the trains, for a drawn-out break-down for example. We won’t let people sit out there for longer than half an hour. That’s one of the rare occasions when our guests get to see the parts usually kept behind the scenes, the parts inside the mountain structure. It’s really impressive – one moment you’re on a mountain in the Old West, the next you’re in this strange steel and concrete structure with neon lights and machinery everywhere.
Did you end up working at Phantom Manor as you originally wanted?
Yes, I was trained and got to help out on occasion! It was a refreshing change of pace; I especially loved the stretching rooms late at night when there weren’t a lot of people. You could get really creative with your role at those times. I’m happy that I can say I’ve worked for Mr Ravenswood both in his mining company and in his Manor.