Coronavirus Diaries: I’m Working Rides at the Reopened Disney World

Instead of all-day smiles, I tell people to fix their masks.

Walt Disney World.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Gene Duncan/Disney Parks via Getty Images.

Coronavirus Diaries is a series of dispatches exploring how the coronavirus is affecting people’s lives. For the latest public health information, please refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. For Slate’s coronavirus coverage, click here.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a worker at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. It has been transcribed, condensed, and edited for clarity by Madeline Ducharme.

I work full time in attractions over at Epcot. I operate two rides. We do all the safety checks before you get on the ride, testing seat belts and such. We do everything from when you walk up to the building—we’re the people outside, and we’re the ones you see as you walk through the ride. Then we’re the ones who are completely in control of the ride operation.

When the park first shut down in March, they told us it would be closed for two weeks. And at first, we were getting paid for it, thanks to our union. So at first, everyone was just like, “Oh, cool, two-week paid vacation! We’ll get to stay at home and not do anything.” It was especially nice for the people who do what I do every day: on our feet eight, 10, 14 hours a day, depending on the length of our shift. At work, you have to keep a smile on your face all day, and that gets to be a lot. A lot of us were pretty excited to be able to just sit at home and not have to talk to anybody or go anywhere.

Now, four months later, when we first started hearing rumblings that we were going back, I was just excited to be able to get out of the house. But the more I sat down and thought about it, I was just anxious. I love working with kids, but we have to get down to check their heights to make sure they’re tall enough to get on the rides, especially if it’s a close call or they’re not standing upright and we have to help adjust them. We’re right there, face to face, 6 inches away from them when we do that.

As Disney cast members, we’re always told to be accommodating and do as much as we can for our guests. But the new safety procedures are the polar opposite. There’s no budging at all—it’s concrete. You can’t compromise at all when it comes to safety. It’s such a stressful and scary time.

But I haven’t experienced any confrontations over masks or distancing yet. Most often I just see that people are wearing their masks but not wearing them correctly, with their noses out in the open, or they’ll have them completely under their chins and they’ll be carrying drinks. When I ask them to put the masks on properly, they’ll say, “Well, I’m drinking!” and I’m like, “Yeah, well … ” I sometimes get a little nervous during these conversations because it could escalate very quickly and possibly become dangerous for us.

It’s a very interesting time to plan your vacation. People will come up to me and say, “Oh, my gosh, the lines are so short! It’s awesome! I’ve been on this ride six times today.” When I hear from guests, and especially when I hear people complain about how “you can’t do this now,” or “you can’t do that now,” there’s one thought that always runs through my head: “Well, you’re here by choice, and I’m here by necessity. You had a choice to come, and I did not.” But if they’re going to come and follow the safety guidelines, I’m grateful to have a job. I love what I do. But once people start to complain about the safety measures that have been taken to not only protect them but also us, that’s when I get frustrated.

There are still no guarantees. Recently, my roommate had a COVID-19 scare, and as soon as he was “presumed positive,” I was asked to self-isolate until I knew my test result. Unfortunately, I did not get paid while I waited.

With cases spiking so much in Florida, I’m not sure what conditions would make the park shut down again. My co-workers and I even asked my management team, and they’re not sure either. I’m sure that Disney does have some plan stashed away in a room somewhere, but none of us are privy to that information right now. If things keep going in the direction that they are, I would be in favor of closing—but it also depends on if the Florida unemployment site will be kind to me this time.

For more on the pandemic’s impact on tourism and entertainment, listen to this week’s What Next: TBD.