A Typical Night at the TTC

~Warning: Long Post Ahead!~

The TTC: my home and occasionally my own personal Hell (just kidding). For those of you who don’t know, TTC stands for Ticket and Transportation Center and it’s pretty much the first thing anyone sees when they arrive at Disney World, assuming that you drove your car of course. It’s composed of a parking lot that is roughly 125 acres in size and contains over 12,000 parking spaces, load zones for the trams, ticket booths, several monorail entrances, a bus drop-off, a gift shop, and a dock for the ferries running back and forth to Magic Kingdom.

Many different Cast Members called the TTC their home. Also found in the break room could be folks from custodial, monorails, busing, and water transportation as well as those who worked in the gift shop and ticket booths. While we all existed in the same space, my completely unhidden bias is that the TTC belonged to those of us in parking. On any given day, your parking crew Cast Members will see anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 guests. The parking lot is split into two sides because it is so large, a Villains and a Heroes side. At peak times, up to eight trams will be running bringing guests to and from the parking lot, typically 4 for either half of the lot. Each tram is composed of 7 cars and a cab, and when fully loaded can hold 30 people per car for a grand total of 210 guests per one way trip. Trams cannot exceed a speed of 15 miles per hour, though we all know they topped out at 13 (except 12A, which went about 13.5 mph). A full round-trip during exit(that is, when everyone was leaving the park for the night) would take roughly 10-12 minutes to complete, and would usually last anywhere from around 9:00-11:30 pm assuming the park closed at midnight. I typically worked the night shift, which meant that I would start around 4 or 5 in the evening and work until 2am on the average. The days were long, the guests were grumpy, and the environment wasn’t always magical, but it was exciting and fast-paced and looking back, the only place I would have wanted to be.

There are many jobs in the parking lot, each one essential to the operation, and some better than others. There were some nights I ended up on a tram for my entire shift, and still others when I would barely get through one full trip before being pulled off, so instead I’ll walk you through my ideal night and hopefully hit all of the highlights along the way.

I always liked to be in the lot first thing, because it seemed to make the rest of the night go by a little bit faster. Since we were primarily outside, we got breaks every two hours, so if I could spend two hours in the lot at the beginning of my shift, even in blistering heat, I knew the rest of the night would cruise by. When in the lot, there were two positions- you were either at point or parking the single or the double. While at first point scared me, it quickly became my favorite spot to be in.

Me, at point, being visited by my roomies!

You had ultimate power at point: directing cars down the row or up to the handicap lot, calling in row numbers, and making sure the transitions between rows was moving smoothly. In the morning it was an incredibly intimidating position, one I would have never volunteered for, but after about 5 pm, the traffic is moving slowly and cars come at a nice steady pace. It gives you a chance to chat with your co-workers and enjoy the weather (that is unless it was raining or the parking lot was steaming from the heat). If not at point, then you were rotating through the rows, parking cars. Each row could hold two back-to-back rows of cars- the single and the double. I would much rather have been parking the double for no real reason other than because I didn’t like cars almost running me over while I motioned them forward. While the lot was where I became frustrated the quickest, it was also where I made some of my favorite memories, like when I belted Adele with a guest, or where I watched it rain on the opposite side of the tram lane 20 feet from where I stood, or where I parked Peter Pan for the first and only time (this lot has rows that become shorter and shorter meaning that as cars come in at their steady morning pace, you have to run to your next spot to keep from getting run over and not stall the operation) or maybe when I forgot that I was in costume and began cursing because there was an alligator 20 feet away from me.

If I was not in the lot first thing, then I would volunteer for Villain’s(or Heroes) Point. In the morning, the Heroes side of the lot would be parked, with the switch happening around noon or 1pm. In the evening, your job at Villain’s Point was to direct cars down the appropriate side that was currently being parked. It was a one person job, and also kind of dangerous, but if I was in a particular mood, I loved the solitude. It also gave me the chance to listen to my music… but don’t tell my coordinators that! Similar to Villain’s Point was working in preferred parking, but this spot I didn’t enjoy as much. As cars came down the aisle, you took their colored tag, distributed water bottles, and directed them to a spot near the front. I think I didn’t like Preferred because there just wasn’t a whole lot to do in the evening, as opposed to the lot or Villain’s Point, and if you were with someone you didn’t know very well, there was a lot of awkward silence. There was one other spot that I was stuck in a few times, only in the morning, and that was Crosswalk. In the morning, it’s important to make sure that the trams have a clear pathway to and from the lot, so a Cast Member was needed to stop the flow of pedestrian traffic. This position was only used in the morning, but did have it’s partner at night- Jack’s Point. The difference was that in the morning, most people were still very friendly and excited about their day. On my first day at the TTC, I had not yet begun my real training and so of course could not drive any trams, so I had to stand at the Crosswalk for four hours, and push wheelchairs for another two. That shift was probably longer than any of my others, including the 15 hours I worked during Fourth of July.

After our first break, which was typically our longest for lunch or dinner, if I was working a particularly long shift I would want to be back out in the lot. Something about being in the lot at sun down was always calming, and I loved every opportunity I had to experience it.

Cary spieling!

However, most of my second trips landed me on a tram. Three basic duties come from dealing with the trams, you were either spieling, driving, or tram walking. In a previous post I believe I mentioned my particular distaste for tram walking, and fortunately I can count on one hand the number of times that I had to do that job. Standing in the load zones, or in the morning out in the lot, was one the most overwhelming and stressful experiences I had while working in parking. I didn’t find joy from being stern or yelling at the guests to stay behind the yellow safety line, and I kid you not when I tell you that the anger and frustration rolling off of the people was palpable. Luckily, I was able to be on trams far more often. The two sides of the lot, Heroes and Villains, were composed of 6 lots each. On the Villains side you had Jafar, Zurg, Captain Hook, Scar and Ursula, and on the Heroes side was Woody(for Cast Members only), Aladdin, Simba, Peter Pan, Mulan, and Rapunzel. I most definitely would rather have been on a Heroes tram, as the Villains side not only seemed to draw the grumpier guests, but the tram lane was bumpier, and something always seemed to go wrong over there(I had two trams break down on me on the Villains side). Additionally, there were trams that were better than others. 7A had the worst accelerator, and if you didn’t know how to finesse the throttle you would be stuck at 11mph, which trust me is really slow. 19A had breaks that were especially sticky, and you had to really put your foot down to stop the tram. One tram had an air conditioner that leaked, and another had a socket for the spieler’s microphone that didn’t always cooperate. There was one that had a horn that only worked sometimes, one that had a seat that was always stuck in one position, and one had speakers that just barely worked. One thing was certain: each tram had it’s own unique personality.

Ingrid in the driver’s seat!

You might expect me to say that I enjoyed spieling the most, but honestly I think it was a fairly even split. Driving was relaxing and spieling allowed you to have more guest interactions. It was the driver’s job to indicate a switch, and the rule of thumb was to switch with your spieler after every 3 full rounds, or if your break was coming up in the next half hour. Try as we might, the CP’s (that is, the college program kids) always seemed to do the switching at the wrong time, according to those who had been there forever. There isn’t much to say about the driving or spieling duties, it’s pretty straight forward stuff. The driver kept the tram on the white line, and the spieler kept everyone on board in line. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to write out my spiel for old times’ sake, but for now I’ll keep it short and just say that the main points to hit were what part of the lot you were coming from (lot name and row number), what time the park closed, and when the main events were happening in the park. Of course, always remember to wish your guests a magical day and the end of their ride! A little wiggle room was granted in the spieling department and so everyone’s was just a little different, with some people keeping it short and sweet, and others adding jokes and character voices (no, I didn’t do voices; yes, I had a cache of Disney jokes I told when things were slow). Around the fourth month of my program I truly perfected my spiel, and I remember that I was on the Heroes side of the lot when I used my closing line for the first time- “We hope you have a wonderful rest of your night, and a great, big beautiful tomorrow!”

During exit, when the most trams were running and the load zones were full with upwards of 600 people a piece, Jack’s Point was up and running. This was the partner of Crosswalk in the morning, except instead of stopping pedestrian traffic you were rerouting it. It was safer for guests to walk under the bridge and cross the tram lane once on the other side since the tram traffic was less constant and the area was better lit. This concept seemed to confuse many people, and while I personally ruined many vacations by directing traffic away from the tram lane, at least no one got run over by an enormous tram full of people on my watch. Jack’s Point was also a solitary position, but if you were out there at 10 pm, you had a front row seat for the Wishes fireworks show, and it was always nice to be able to stand and watch the crowds move around you. It was kind of like standing in the eye of a storm, only you got a light wand and you were asked 100 times where the buses picked up (“Straight ahead, on the other side of those white pavilions, and there will be a map to your left that shows you where the spaces are”). There was one other job that got going towards the end of exit: collecting wheelchairs. I had the chance to tag along once, “once” being the key word, mostly because I was completely useless. I have no upper body strength and so the best I could do was point and say, “Oh, there’s one!” There was a reason I wasn’t asked to help with wheelchairs again. After exit, and after most of the cars had left for the night, the crew was reduced to only 10 or so people. You were either on a tram, resetting the lot, or running the loop. Resetting the lot meant walking the length of the Heroes or Villains side, up and back, and kicking the cones back into their original positions for the morning crew. I personally loved resetting the lot, having the chance to walk alone and survey the empty lots was always calming for me. After finishing resetting the lot, we were typically down to one, maybe two, trams so you helped bring in the wheelchairs from the handicapped and preferred lots (Zurg and Jafar), and then helped to walk the loop. Walking the loop was pretty simple work: check for wheelchairs at the dock, the monorail stations, and the bus load-zone, sweep the tram load-zone, and drop the chains between the stalls. By this time of the night, there would only be one tram running (which you didn’t want to be on or you would risk being there long after everyone else had gone home) and it was mostly busy work to fill the last half hour or so.

Yep, we even have a toy in the gift shop!

I came to love the TTC, and even now, I miss it more than I can say. Most days, I long for the chance to just drive a tram one more time. I made so many memories and so many great friends while working in the parking lot. I know that anyone will say they had the best crew to work with, but Parking was truly a family of its own. Everyone bonded over forgotten rain gear, grumpy guests, and temperamental trams; we were all on the same page and that camaraderie is something I miss dearly.

So here’s to you, Parking fam: may your shoes stay dry and your trams stay Code V free!

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