Interview with a PHANTOM MANOR Cast Member
A substantial part of the ride experience is determined by the butlers and maids which you may encounter. Here’s our 2001 interview with one manservant by the name of Thomas, who was known to have taken great care of the Manor during his time of service in the Ravenswood family.
What was your introduction to the world of Disney theme parks?
After talking to a former Cast Member who was working at Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril at that time, I realized that I could be a Cast Member as well. I had been to the park as a guest so many times. I wanted to get a look behind the scenes and to feel “at home” in the park. So I just sent a letter to Casting and I got in. Well, at first I worked in Food but the second time I got a contract for Phantom Manor, which was what I had requested from the beginning.
Do you remember your first visit to Phantom Manor?
I just remember that I appreciated it a lot. I was there with my brother and sister-in-law when I was 15, and it was the only attraction we did twice. Once during the day, another time just before the fireworks. I didn’t actually fall in love with the attraction back then, though. I really learned to love it when a friend of mine worked there and I was in the Food division. I came to visit him so often that I soon knew the attraction by heart. He started showing me around backstage, and I really fell in love then.
Which is your favorite scene in the ride?
I don’t really like the scenes of the catacombs and the ghost town, Phantom Canyon. I do like the rest of the attraction very much. I think the best place is the Bride’s Boudoir. Nice music, very nice props, wonderful atmosphere... well... it’s – to me – the best part of the ride.
If you could change one thing – anything at all – about the attraction itself, what would it be?
Whoa... I don’t really know. If I could change big things, I’d completely redo the Phantom Canyon scene. I don’t really like it, as I’ve mentioned before. If I could only change some little details, well... I’d like to see the Grand Staircase as it originally was, smoke in the Catacombs and Phantom Canyon, the pharmacist as he formerly was, and I’d restore some audio tracks which are no longer played in the ride or which you can hardly hear.
Of course, you already have changed quite a few things during your time at Phantom Manor... Can you tell us something about that?
When I’m there, I just want everything to work. I spent hours on the phone, calling maintenance, checking the show three or four times a day, reading documents about the attraction, coming before and after my shift to check that everything’s ok. I was really proud when my manager asked me to work on the 2001 refurbishment. I made a long list with the help of a co-worker. Some of our ideas were kept and done. I feel like I’m very involved in the show at Phantom Manor. While management does its best for the ride’s capacity, I’m doing my best for the show. It’s not always easy not having the same objectives as your management. But I find it interesting to work all day long for Guests to see a good and fully working show.
What do you think was the most important thing you did at Phantom Manor?
Making my fellow Cast Members realize that Phantom Manor is a gem and that they should take good care of it.
What does a usual work day at Phantom Manor look like?
First, several Cast Members arrive one hour before the park opens and attend a briefing about the day, the attendance, the VIPs and, of course, the attractions in their complex. Then they take the keys of the attraction and go to the lead office of Phantom to prepare everything – they check the queue line, open the lockers with the remote controls and walk through the ride to check the emergency exits, intercoms and the general cleanliness of the ride. Then, as soon as the maintenance crew allows them the use the ride, they perform the “power up” procedure, switch off the lights and switch on the audio, and they start up the vehicles. Then they test the remote controls and the ride’s intrusion system. The next step is to test the stretching rooms. When everything is done, a few Cast Members ride through the attraction and check everything in normal operating mode, exactly like guests. As soon as the land opens, everyone is in position to welcome our guests. We have more Cast Members than we have positions. That means that one person has fifteen minutes of break and then “bumps” the person at the front gate, also known as the portier. The portier bumps the next person in the rotation who’s in the Foyer and so on... The Cast Member in the unload position, also known as the sommelier, goes to break for fifteen minutes. That’s the way it works, so we don’t stay in the same position for the whole day. A typical day at Phantom Manor is generally fun in the morning and late in the evening... But the rest of the time goes by extremely fast. We have to be efficient and move quickly at all times. Deciding between quality and efficiency it always has to be both.
As for an unusual work day... you were in the park on the day of the storm of Winter 1999 when the park was closed at mid-day – can you tell us what that was like?
Actually, there was no train due to the storm so, since I really wanted to go to Phantom and to be helpful, I had to take a taxi cab to get to the park. That was kind of expensive but I had to be there. Frontierland was not heavily damaged. Well... a lot of trees were uprooted, but it wasn’t so bad. Phantom Manor was hit only lightly; mainly exteriour light fixtures were out of order, and some signs too. It was weird to walk through Main Street, Discoveryland, Fantasyland and Adventureland in my Phantom Manor costume, with no Background music and no guests... that was a very special day.
Did you have any encounters with real ghosts, like some of your colleagues in the older Haunted Mansions?
No, but I often got as scared as if I had met a ghost in this attraction. When the ride’s audio system is switched off, there’s still a lot of noise – compressed air, door-knockers in the Corridor of Doors, and many other noisy mechanisms. At any time you may find a maintenance crew member behind you without having heard him arriving. I was scared a lot of times.
So what was the scariest thing that happened to you at Phantom Manor?
Late one evening, I was just inside the ride to have a look at some props. No audio, work lights... I was alone. At one moment, I was about to touch a painting. When my finger touched it, the morning start-up spiel ran. “Votre attention s’il vous plait, cette attraction va demarrer immediatement...”. A pre-recorded voice, very loud and startling just after the silence of the closed attraction. I was so scared I ran away. I guess the maintenance crew was just about to test the doombuggies as they do quite often.
And what was the greatest or most wonderful thing that happened to you there?
I fell in love with another Cast Member.