“Houston, we have a problem.”
That was the thought that ran through my head
as I watched crowds gather around me. The Jungle
Cruise been closed for nearly ten minutes due to
technical difficulties. It was Thursday of the first
week of Spring Break. The park was projected as
having 55,000 guests– and it felt like all of them
were now staring at me, waiting for an explanation.
A big, tall man wearing his daughter’s bright
pink princess backpack attempted to push passed
me toward the wait cue.
“I’m sorry, sir,” I called as I ran out in front of
him. “We are closed.”
The man looked down at me, his blue eyes
displaying the typical signs of a frustrated, tired,
irritated Disney dad. Clearly, the idea of a 5’3”
twenty-year-old girl blocking his path did not seem
plausible in his mind.
“What?” he said as he inched closer to me.
As if I were stubbornly accepting a dare, I craned
my neck back and looked him in the eye.
“Some hungry, hungry hippos decided they
wanted a boat for an afternoon snack,” I explained
while remaining in character. “So we are sending out
some brave Skippers to handle the situation while
the ride is closed.”
“When will you be open?” He demanded.
“At this time, I cannot give you a time frame,” I
answered before going into the authorized spiel my
coordinators gave me. As I spoke, I saw the frustration
mount in the man’s eyes.
“Okay, cut the show,” the dad said, “What is really
wrong? Why is the ride not open?”
I made direct eye contact with the guest. Out
of the corner of my eye, I saw a group of children
clearly eavesdropping on our conversation. Recognizing
my need to keep the magic alive for them, I
held my ground.
“Sir…” I took a deep breath to control my nerves,
“As I said earlier, we had some hungry hippos. So
for your safety, we are closed at the moment.”
The man looked like he was about to explode.
Just as he opened his mouth, a well-manicured hand
grabbed his fore arm. Suddenly, the man stopped to
turn and see his wife giving him the look of shame.
“We will come back, later,” his wife said to me.
She smiled. “Thank you for your patience.”
It did not end with them.
Minute, after minute, I was approached by
guests and bombarded with questions. Every guest
vented their unique frustrations to me. Every guest
presented their own obstacles– including language
barriers. For those who believe a person only needs
to know English, I dare them to come to Disney
World and try to explain the FastPass system to a
family who only speaks Spanish. Or give directions
to a family who only understands Korean. You will
wish you were able to speak their language, and you
will be very good at learning how to draw universal
directions on a map.
After two hours the ride was open. But the night
was far from over…….
I glanced down at my watch as I walked towards
the bathroom. I had fifteen minutes to walk to the
cast restroom, walk back to the annex, fill my water
bottle, and fix my hair before returning “Onstage.”
As I walked passed the boat dock, I heard a hissing
noise coming from the water. Recognizing the
fact that it was mating season, I assumed the ducks
were just acting up like they had been the last couple
days. I ignored it and went on my way towards the
On my way back from the restroom, I heard the
same noise again coming from the water. I stopped
by one of the boats. The noise sounded like a throaty,
scratchy hiss– not the sound I associated with a duck.
“Hear them gators, sweetheart?” I heard a voice
yell from the other side of the boat storage.
I turned to see one of the older maintenance guys
watching me piece together the puzzle.
“Gators?!” I yelled back.
“Yep,” he said as he wiped his brow with a
towel. “That’s a gator. We occasionally get ’em back
here during the spring and summer.”
My heart started pounding in my chest.
“Just be aware when you come back here from
now on. They won’t hurt you, I promise. Okay,
I nodded my head and began to quickly walk
back to the “Onstage” area to clock back in. At
the moment, I thought the night couldn’t get any
weirder. Little did I know, the Jungle still had one
last surprise for us.
I felt as pathetic as I looked as I stood on the
“Out of all the days I had to forget my rain
gear…” I looked at my coworker Rhodez, “today
had to be the day.”
Rhodez, a girl from Puerto Rico, looked at me
and laughed. It filled the entire que and dock.
“You look like a wet puppy!” She laughed. “It
Florida, I discovered, is a lot like Bend in that the
weather constantly was changing. One second, you
could be dying of heat and humidity. The next, you
could be in the process of taking your second shower
of the day. Wet curls clung to my cheeks as I assisted
guests out of boats, reminding them to watch their
steps. The usual khaki color of my uniform was now
a deep brown as the fabric stuck to my body.
Fun fact about myself: ever since I was little, I
have hated the sensation of wet clothes on my skin.
Seriously, I abhor wet cotton– especially cold, wet
cotton. So as I stood there on the dock contemplating
everything that had happened during the day,
I couldn’t think of the poetic irony of my predicament.
On the day that had been one of the weirdest
and craziest days of my life, it was only fitting that
the night end with me facing my own Kryptonite:
soaking wet clothes.
Finally the rain stopped around midnight, and the
heat did return. My clothes dried within the hour and
I was finally free from my own personal hell. We all
laughed at what the rain had done to our hair. Some
of the skippers were especially impressed that my
hair looked better after the rain storm, than before it.
That night, I crawled into bed and passed out
within minutes of my head hitting the pillow. Looking
back on it now, it felt like a dream. A very weird,
wet, awkward dream. But I realize that the memory
of the day from Oz will stick with me– like cotton on
a rainy, Floridian evening in March.
“Houston, we have a problem.”