Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Dutchman in Orlando - Part 4

By Sam Vlas

Try to imagine, just for a moment… a world where one is surrounded by giant heaps of popcorn, aggressive bees, Dining Plans and late night shifts. That was the amazing world of Outdoor Foods in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. A place filled with kernels, cheese and the craziest nuts… Let’s continue where we left off...

For the first half of my Disney International Program, I was assigned to Outdoor Foods at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Now at first I didn't know what Outdoor Foods really encompassed, but I quickly found out that it meant basically ALL the little food stands scattered around the park. You know the ones: they sell ice cream, pretzels, popcorn, soda’s etc.

At first I was totally NOT excited, I didn't have any food experience, I wanted to do Operations blah blah… Florida can get pretty hot, I am a Dutchman, so that basically means I thought I was gonna melt on the spot. I paid a $1200 plane ticket to sell Mickey bars?! All in all, many things that convinced me I wasn't gonna have a good time… Things turned out to be pretty different than I thought they would go.

Outdoor Foods is basically the place where everyone they couldn't fit otherwise in the Studios is placed. Therefore we were a large group of people, scattered all over the park. That makes for lots of potential friends… and a lot of drama! Of course, being an ICP rather than a regular CP, it takes a bit longer for us to get “involved” with the rest of the people. The first four weeks in ODV (outdoor vending, from now on ODV) were very quiet. I would get to work, get my assignment to work Coffee Cart (our name for the refreshment stand next to the DHS main entrance), work it, sign off and take the E-bus back to Chatham.

Slowly I would start to get to know the people a little bit better. Most of them were Americans, and because I speak English fluently that wasn't exactly a problem. I felt like they were “testing” me, seeing what kind of person I was. Then, after about 4 weeks, things started to get crazy. I was officially part of the group now, which, I should mention, was very tight. Our common hatred for the job (more on that later) bonded us all really well. After almost every shift we would go to the local Applebee’s (whose clientele is for about 80% Disney cast members ;) ) and stuff ourselves with booze and half-prized appetizers, which became a favorite pastime of mine! I became known as “Sam from the Netherlands”, a nickname that stayed with me my whole program!

The people were awesome, some of them remained friends of mine even to this day. The one I really cherished on my DCP were the people I met, and I’m sure anyone who is a College Program alumni will agree.

Now let me take you through a regular day in Outdoor Foods at DHS. We get up in the morning/afternoon, approximately 1,5 hours before your shift. We realize we are late, and since we don’t want another point on our record card, we quickly shower, put on our costume and rush to the Chatham bus stop. Now in order to get to the Hollywood Studios, we have to take the E-bus (so kindly provided by every CP’s friend Transtar). The E-bus can be safely compared to the “Disaster” ride in Universal Studio’s. Never have I experienced a bus that dragged a pylon from the DHS parking lot all the way back over I4 to Chatham, caught fire at multiple occasions, would shut down on the middle of the road and have drivers’ shift changes take 45 minutes. Quite an exciting adventure overall…

Because of the E-bus being half an hour too late, we get to the DHS Costuming Building five minutes before our shift is supposed to start. We rush through the building, pass the backstage of the Indiana Jones stunt show and rush to “The Cage”, which is our headquarters. We clock in and let the computer give us an assignment…

Now this is always a surprise, you never know what you’re gonna get. The computer tells us to go to Star Combo. Now I can hear you think: “but Sam, what is a Star Combo?!” Excellent question, dear reader. It’s the little stand across from the Jedi Training Academy. It’s about 11am so we don’t have to open anything, we walk up to the guy to give him his break and take over the stand. Now here’s when the real fun begins…

Because it’s summer, Frozen Summer Fun is in full swing. The parade is passing by. It doesn’t bother me anymore, I’ve seen it 30 times already! I see the streets getting flogged with people eager to see the parade and, of course, people get thirsty after a while. Then a family sees me, and walks up to my stand. In broken English, a lady asks for “ehh please… eh… two number 1”, while they point at a picture of a Mickey Bar. I’m more than happy to fulfill their desires and lay them on the counter. Then the whole family (about 11 people) joins the lady and they think it’s time to order too. Three people start to talk to me simultaneously about numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 in all different orders. After a while, I get the order out and it’s time to pay. Now, Disney has this wonderful invention called the Dining Plan that comes with snack credits to spend on, in this case, Mickey Bars. I’m a sensible person, so I try to explain that scanning one MagicBand is enough to complete the transaction. Instead, the lady looks at me rather sheepish and says “NO!”, then proceeds to instruct the ENTIRE family to scan each of their bands separately, which (by applying simple math) makes the transaction 11 times longer than it needs to be! Meanwhile, a line had formed behind the family and all the people in that line were getting upset with me for not speeding it up. I encountered things like these daily. I learned a lot of Spanish and Portuguese this way, for sure!

And let’s not even talk about bees! These bloody things were everywhere! Soda fountains and slushy dispensers were inaccessible because of bees swarming around them in groups of 15. Many of my coworkers were allergic to bee stings, so I was ALWAYS called over to places with bees to stand in for people. I managed to not get a single sting in all of my hours working with them, it is quite challenging!

But for every negative, there is a positive story. As a Cast Member in Outdoor Foods, we are given the opportunity to give away free stuff whenever we feel like it. It’s called making a Magical Moment and believe me, it is the most satisfying thing to do. I had a little girl coming to my stand at the FastPass kiosk one day. I’d say she was about 5 or 6, and she was celebrating her birthday. She was by herself; her parents were on the other side of the street. She had four dollar bills in her tiny hands and asked in the cutest and sincerest voice for a Mickey Bar. Of course, that makes my Cast Member’s heart melt and I figured I should do something special. Something special could be something small and even the tiniest gesture could make a world of difference. I took a Mickey Bar from my little freezer and laid it on the counter. I said to her: “Mickey was just here to look for you! Unfortunately he had to make his way to the studio, but he left this surprise for you. It’s on Mickey today!” I give her the Mickey Bar and on her face is the biggest smile I had ever seen on a child. She thanks me and she runs off to her parents, overflowing with joy. It is things like these that make long shifts bearable. The work of a Cast Member is demanding, but very gratifying!

Half of my shifts were Fantasmic shifts. Outdoor Foods is also responsible for all the food offerings in the Fantasmic arena (called the “Hollywood Hills Amphitheater”). If you’re familiar with Fantasmic, you know it has two food pads in the arena, two smaller stands on the little square in front of the arena and people with trays walking up and down Sunset Boulevard and in the arena. Guess what this guy did most of the time… You guessed it! Vending, that’s what I did.

Vending in Fantasmic basically means you are equipped with a giant blue tray that can be filled with one of the following: popcorn, cotton candy, water, soda and beer. Because I was a guy, I was given either water or soda, the two heaviest things. In a tray fit about 20 bottles, imagine that weight on your shoulders! Vending can be a heavy work and quite repetitive. I soon figured that Vending was the only thing I was going to be given by the coordinators, I think because I was an ICP… So after a few times of vending, I figured a way to keep myself distracted from my sore shoulders and to make it fun for the guests: I started dancing with it! You may think I’m nuts, but it actually worked. The Frozen fireworks would go off at 9, I was always vending on Sunset at that time, so I started to respond to and dance with the music. Guests look at me with great joy and I was entertained for a few minutes. I wish you could have seen it in person, I think I created a new art form…

I also distinctly remember a funny story. One night, I was actually given something else than Vending: making popcorn at Pad 2. Basically that means: crank out popcorn until your coordinator tells you to stop. That doesn’t sound too difficult, right? Well… So here I am, rocking the popcorn machine. Popcorn is popping and boxes are filled. My coordinator tells me to stop making popcorn and go help the drink pourer immediately, so I stopped making popcorn. What I had forgotten, was that I had put oil in the machine, but no kernels… Anyone who has worked with popcorn knows what can happen. That’s right folks, a grease fire ALMOST happened! Sam from the Netherlands ALMOST burnt down Pad 2! My coworkers removed the oil before it happened. I was never given popcorn again…

Intense vending look…

Fantasmic is an awesome show, and because I was there so many times it has become very dear to me. I have the soundtrack still on my iPod and I play it regularly. To me, it represents everything what Disney stands for. The fact that I could make the show a bit more special for the guests by being a goof while vending is something I still miss to this day.

After shifts we would always hang out, go to Applebee’s, drink profusely, discuss both good and bad guest stories and just having the time of our lives. In mid-September I was going to be send to EPCOT, to work at the Food & Wine Festival. How will Sam from the Netherlands handle so much amazing food and a new park? Find out next time!


Sam Vlas comes to us from the Netherlands. In everyday life Sam is a Communication major, studying International Event, Music and Entertainment Studies at the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries in Tilburg. He is following the Theme Park course, since he is an aspiring Imagineer. Sam has been a life-long theme park and Disney fan since he was a kid. He has been going to Efteling, which is a world class theme park in the Netherlands. When he was a teenager, Sam became more interested in the technical side of things. It was around that time that he found out that Walt Disney was an actual person, not just some company name. Since then he has been pursuing a creative career in the theme park industry. Sam will be participating in the Academic Exchange Program in Walt Disney World from July 2014 to January 2015. You’ll be hearing much more of that in the near future! Besides Disney and theme parks, Sam has a broad interest in everything fantasy, sci-fi and horror. He writes short stories and is currently working on his own website “Dreamventurer”, which he hopes will be released very soon! Sam will write about many different aspects of the company, from the very well known places and movies to very obscure corners of the Company. Since he will be working in Orlando, he'll be able to share some Cast Member stories too. Everything Disney grabs Sam's attention, so if he finds something exciting, he will be sure to share it!

You can find Sam's articles here.

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