This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with a worker at Disney World in Florida. It has been transcribed, condensed, and edited for clarity by Sofia Andrade.
I work as a driver at Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safari. I drive this very large truck through the safari for the slow-moving, cast-guided ride. I spiel all day. I actually get paid extra to say animal facts and stuff. And when we still had our mask requirement, that was half my content: “Please keep your face covering over your nose and mouth at all times until you get off your truck. I’d much rather talk about the animals than about your face coverings, so please keep them on.”
My personal experience is that 99.9 percent of guests are super understanding and get the rules. But I worry. I was working the first day that guests were allowed to take off their masks outside, and being an outside attraction, it was very difficult. It’s kind of hard to explain, “Yes, I know that you’re outside, and I know it’s hot, but we are still in an attraction, so you still have to wear a mask.”
It’s just frustrating because it’s not your call. There’s someone being paid a hell of a lot more than I am to make these decisions, and my job is to enforce it. And I don’t mean to ruin your vacation—I’m just trying to keep you safe. Sometimes, it’s just too much for the cast members. We’re not getting paid enough to babysit.
With Tuesday’s rule change to remove mask requirements everywhere for vaccinated people, I’m just glad they gave us more than 12 hours’ notice. Last time, when they removed the requirement to wear masks outdoors, I found out via Twitter at 11 o’clock the night before my shift. When they announced all the indoor stuff, they gave us I think three or four days, so at least I could mentally prepare.
And honestly, it was kind of like ripping off a Band-Aid. Most of our signage is gone, our barriers are gone, and we don’t have to spiel about it anymore. I’m not an anti-masker or anti-vaxxer … but the change definitely felt a little performative by Disney. It kind of felt like, “OK, well, once the 15th is here, then COVID doesn’t exist anymore. Good luck.” Especially since the barriers got brought down. You’re telling me that we’re going to take away the masks, but then also take away social distancing and the barriers and expect it all to be hunky dory? It just doesn’t add up. There was a lot of pressure from guests and other theme parks too—for instance, Universal, when they announced that they were going maskless outdoors. … Not even three hours later, Disney was like, “Surprise!”
Cast members used to have quite a few tools to help us. We had a COVID hotline and vaccination days that you could go get a free vaccine, and things like that were in place to protect us if something were to happen. So that feels kind of weird that they would take that away as they’re loosening restrictions.
Cast members still have to wear masks for the most part, except in certain roles. Most face-character performers don’t have to wear them anymore. Even at Kilimanjaro, as long as we’re not at departure or unload, we can have our masks off. Disney does still require all face masks on transportation—like the Skyliner, buses, monorail—but not Kilimanjaro, which is weird to me because it’s a 25-minute bus ride. Personally, I feel like I could still tell a guest, “Hey, do you mind taking a step back from me.” I can’t tell them to put on their mask if they’re talking to me, unfortunately, but I can say, “You’re too close.” But you have to do it in the Disney voice.
It does worry me that there’s no proof of vaccination required to go maskless. Because I know that not all guests are fully vaxxed. There’s nothing that I can really do to control that, except just control myself. I worry about the kiddos. Disney never put out a statement about that, and we haven’t been enforcing it for kids, even though you know they’re not vaccinated because they’re not eligible yet. It’s honor code and all that jazz, but at that point, this whole process hasn’t been about honor in the first place.
Honestly, I feel protected knowing I’m vaccinated and knowing I’m doing my part as a cast member. I do have people I can go to: I have a union, I have my leaders, I have security if all else fails. At the end of the day, it’s all on the guests’ shoulders. They think that they’re entitled to the magic of Disney, but it’s like, “You bought your ticket. The fine print was there.”