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An appreciation for on-ride performers – DePaoli on DeParks

by Jeff DePaoli

I’ve always loved the kind of attraction that mixed my love of theme park rides with live entertainment. I’m talking about the sorts of rides that have live performers on the attraction, guiding the story. These performers can often make or break your ride experience, but I feel they’re often overlooked and under-appreciated. Let’s take a look at some of my favorite on-board ride performer roles.

performers

Since day one of Disneyland, Jungle Cruise has been a staple attraction featuring an on-board skipper. Although these days they’re known for lots of puns and jokes, this role was initially portrayed very seriously, as if you really were on a jungle expedition. For frequent park visitors, it’s always exciting when you hear a new line of dialogue from this classic (and often coveted) skipper role.

performers

Another Disney attraction role I’d always loved was the guide on The Great Movie Ride. As a kid, this looked like a dream job. Not only did you get to ride one of my favorite attractions all day long, but you also got to step off the ride vehicle and perform amongst the audio-animatronic figures. I never could decide whether my dream role was the guide, gangster or cowboy. They all seemed like so much fun.

As much fun as these gigs might look, it’s also worth noting that the repetition, I’m sure, can become exhausting for the performers. This is where I need to give the Universal Studios theme parks a great big thumbs up and standing ovation. Through the years, I’ve seen many Universal team members in these ride performance roles and they always seem so “into it.” Let’s take a look back at some classic Universal on-ride roles.

performers

I think Jaws must have been so much fun to perform and operate. I love water attractions to begin with, but one where you have an excuse to perform so “over the top” while shooting at a shark and experiencing live explosions… win, win, win. Another fun, classic Universal attraction to perform on must have been Kongfrontation, for similar reasons.

One Universal Studios attraction that really doesn’t exist without an on-board entertainer is Hollywood’s studio tour. These guides are often performing and entertaining for approximately an hour. They’re dealing with regular changes and pauses, yet have to keep the guests entertained and informed with their banter. Bravo to past and present team members in this position for always keeping the show rolling even when the tram might not be.

My love for these types of roles got me wondering, what kind of training and/or experience do you need to have in order to perform one of these parts? I was surprised to find out that in most cases, these performers are part of the same union and/or job position as any other ride operator. What?! That seems crazy to me. Yes, in a lot of cases they are pressing buttons to operate a ride, but there is so much more involved in this position.

I think it only makes sense for these roles to be part of a performers union and be compensated appropriately. These kinds of attractions wouldn’t be half as appealing if it weren’t for the entertainers, so the next time you have an on-board guide/host/character that you enjoy, be sure to let them know. I’m sure they’d appreciate it.

How do you feel about these types of attractions? Do you enjoy them or do they make you feel awkward? If you do like them, what are some of your favorites?


Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DizneyCoastToCoast.com.

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1 comment

Paul J. Warwick August 7, 2020 - 8:23 pm

I wOrked Kong back in the 90s. It was fun Tramming, but those jobs are very tough. Have fun, but make sure everyone is safe. You could ” adapt” the script, but not stray too far. You also needed to watch for visual cure for the effects.

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