Escape from Casey Jr.
By Daniel Butcher
You will probably find me strange. It has been my dream to experience a significant evacuation from a Disney attraction. I am convinced that it would be exciting and a cherished memory! Seriously, how cool would it be to be walked off from Space Mountain with the lights on? Would it not be great to see the Haunted Mansion from outside a Doom Buggy? My daughter and I have both held our breaths as ours came to a halt in the graveyard scene. Some may believe these sorts of incidents would lessen the magic, but for me it would only increase it!
Sure I have had my near misses but nothing significant. Several years and a kid ago my family was stuck on Peter Pan’s Flight. We dangled in our ship above the scene, staring at Captain Hook as the crocodile attempted to swallow him. After about ten minutes of hanging, the ride resumed and we returned from Neverland. In 2011, we were actually walked off, Monster Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue. Yes we were guided past the immobile show scenes and led to the exit. We were not even given a Fastpass for our troubles. Of course, when I say walked off, we walked out from the very last scene and the only real difference in our tour of Monstropolis was Roz failed to speak to my family and we had to walk a little further. These near misses just made me even more anxious for a significant ride evacuation.
All the signs for our August 2012 vacation pointed to the fact that a serious evacuation was going to happen! Every day the entire family began to note the large number of attractions going 101, the Disneyland radio code for a closed attraction. When the children begin to notice the number of closed rides, Disneyland you may have a problem.
Then the near misses began and my heart broke as I thought I missed my chance. First, as we were standing waiting to enter our hanger at Soarin’ Over California, Patrick quit talking but we were still standing. But we did not realize anything was atypical. A cast member exited from the hanger and informed us that the ride was not working. We were all given a special Fastpass, which we could use to speed our wait through the other hanger, or in the case of my family speeding up our wait for Toy Story Midway Mania later in the day since it could be used on most rides within Disney California Adventure. Yes, Radiator Springs Racers was excluded! In this near miss we did not even get to enter the ride and there was nothing backstage for us to witness.
A larger tragedy was to come. The family had reentered Disney California Adventure after an afternoon nap. Our direction was clear; the taller members of the family were set with our journey straight back to Paradise Pier to ride California Screamin’. Then we made what to me was a critical error. We stopped and took advantage of the short wait for Grizzly River Run since the whole family could enjoy the attraction together. After getting soaked, we exited and headed back towards our desired roller coaster, hoping it would dry us off. As we crested the path next to The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, I saw the unthinkable. Guests were standing on California Sreamin’s tallest lift hill, and I was not one of them. I looked on with envy as the guests dismounted the train and stood staring out into what had to have been a fantastic view of the park and the sprawl around the park. I imagined myself standing at the top of the lift hill with my cell phone out snapping photos that I would enjoy for a lifetime. My wife awoke me from my daydream with, “we are so lucky we stopped, that could have been us. I would have hated it.” Dear, I would have been in heaven. With a tear in my eye, I still did not know my day was coming as I decided to go undersea in a poor alternative to getting stuck on one of my favorite coasters. My moment was awaiting me in Disneyland Park with an attraction that opened in the inaugural year of 1955.
It was a hot August morning at Disneyland. The family had just exited from it’s a small world walking back into the heart of Fantasyland. The youngest member of the family made his pitch to ride the Casey Jr. Circus Train, a ride we had yet to enjoy on this visit. For the adults in the family we do not enjoy Casey Jr. since it is more of a kid sized ride. And I for one am a full sized adult. But knowing that he had been dragged to all the rides and shows the older members of the family wanted, I could not tell him no. We walked up to the queue and were shocked to find the switchbacks not full of families. I looked at my wife and said, “We have to do it.” She looked back and gave me a look that said, “Enjoy!” With my wife deciding to take a break from rides after our busy morning, the smart choice, I marched my kids up the ramp towards destiny.
As we moved through the queue the cast members were loading the train which was preparing to chug out the station. I thought that we would likely be waiting until the next trip. Except the cast members failed to shut the gate and my son in the lead proudly marched through and declared, “cages please.” I had to admit, I liked the fact he knew what he wanted! The cast member told me we would probably be waiting for the next train. I reassured her it was fine. Then the other loading cast member found a space for us in a monkey cage. And as my son led me to my fate, he smiled from ear to ear knowing he was getting his desired seat.
I wedged myself into the corner of a monkey cage and noticed my riding companions. Two young mothers and their daughters had already staked claim to most of the cage. I nodded, knowing that our interactions would only be lasting the three minutes of our journey since their children clearly had not yet passed the blessed 42 inch barrier which had opened up a whole new world for my son. I settled down to what I hoped would be a few moments of sitting and resting my feet, and a quick check of my email.
Everything was running as normal as we left the station. The soundtrack was putting me in a good mood and Casey Jr. was reassuring us that he could. But he couldn’t. As we climbed up the hill behind the Storybook Land Canal Boats, Casey Jr. stopped! Having been on rides which had stopped before for a variety of reasons I expected the train to restart at any moment, instead the engineer pulled on the whistle as a distress call. That caught my attention. After the whistle nothing happened yet again. A few minutes later the silence was broken by the engineer informing us that Casey Jr. was not operating and she was awaiting assistance so we could be evacuated. My dream had happened, on what could only be called a kiddy ride!
The cast member announcement was followed by sitting. This is when I realized how different I was from my riding companions. Yes, we may all have been parents but these young mothers began to alternate between gossiping about their daycare situations and giving me questioning looks. Was this strange man in a baseball cap, t-shirt and shorts a threat? If the train was forced to cannibalism how much of a threat was he, and if eaten first how many days could he feed their kids? I attempted to avert my eyes and risk conversation with my companions. Instead I texted my wife and let her know I would be on the train FOR-EV-ER!
The sitting was fully on. The next seven to ten minutes had none of the romance I dreamed of when daydreaming of a ride evacuation. Instead it was a lot of sweating. My son’s desired ride vehicle, the monkey cage, was quickly becoming the sweat box of prison movies and television shows. We were in the hole! And with the car stopped next to a high hedge, there was little air flow through the cage. I moved my body to avoid the gaze of the moms, and so I could look out at what would have to be a unique view. What could I see? There were some bushes, a small part of the Story Book Canal, and some cage bar in my sights. Then I remembered I could have been stuck at the top of California Screamin’ instead! I stuck my phone through the bars and took some of the most boring pictures ever of the Story Book Canal, without boats, which suddenly quit passing by. Perhaps Disney wished to avoid witnesses to the anarchy that was sure to break as the train passengers established new lives upon the hill!
As I sat with my kids, reassuring them that someday we would leave the train, I wondered how we would escape. And being locked in a hot cage, unlike those in the open cars, I did mean escape! A second cast member arrived and began leading us to freedom. Being locked in a monkey cage I could not see the exit route those in the cars in front of us were taking. When we had been evacuated from Monster’s Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue, cast members walked guests out of the attraction. They collected those in each vehicle one at a time and added to a group walking from the heart of the ride. Here it appeared they were releasing guests one car at a time. So hopes of walking the track back to the entrance seemed unlikely.
Finally, escape was provided for my family. The car to the monkey cage was opened by a cast member who scooted between the hedge and the cage. Then I saw problem one with our evacuation. The closeness of the hedge meant there was only one path for escape. The open door combined with the hedge created a gate which meant we could not exit to the rear of the car. We would only be able to move to the front, and any attempts to walk back meant we would have to walk up to the engine and then walk back from the Story Book Canal Boats facing side of the train.
The second problem occurred as I attempted to leave the hot car first. As I stepped out I saw next to the hedge was a small concrete lip, then a drop off and finally the monkey cage. Therefore a misstep would result in fall for the escapees. I moved my foot to the ledge and squeezed my frame up past the front of the monkey cage. Then I saw the head of a cast member awaiting me, poking out from the hedge! I paused and entered what turned out to the most anxious moments of my escape, my son on a ledge. As the youngest member of the family he was also the least agile. He reached out cautiously with his foot and very gingerly moved forward on the ledge with no stumbles and no fear in his eyes. He understood the value of adventure. Finally, my daughter followed, also serving as a safety net for her brother. The two youngsters with their smaller masses proved to handle the small ledge with more confidence than I had!
I waited for my party of two to catch up to me. Then we shimmed past two empty cars to the smiling cast member. She led us to a hole that now existed in the hedge. A hidden door was now evident with it open to the concrete areas of backstage behind the hedge that previously had appeared to be part of the landscape. Then the smiling cast member gave me my first real direction, “Sir, please put away your cell phone, we are about to go backstage?” I had kept my phone in my hand while I worked the ledge, acting as if I was texting my wife about our escape. Instead, I was capturing precious memories of my children walking the ledge. Yes, my camera was the open application. And yes, I had intended to take pictures wherever we were lead. Begrudgingly I turned off my phone and placed it in my pocket! Disney had successfully kept me from preserving a hidden secret in pictures.
My traveling companion moms were still in the cage as I escaped with my family. I guess they had spent enough time with the man bold enough to ride the Casey Jr. Circus Train unaccompanied by an adult female companion.
What we found backstage was an island of concrete. The area we had dropped into was paved and clearly a service area. From my left there was a concrete path that came from what I would assume were dressing rooms, more on that later. What dominated my view were large metal trash bins. I had found where the trash from Fantasyland came together. Standing next to the bins and unconcerned with our comings and goings was a custodial cast member searching through the trash to reclaim recyclables, proving one should be kind to these hard working cast members by putting trash in trash bins and recyclables in recycling. Because those things mishandled have to be manually separated by a person.
We walked down some stairs past the trash and were met by a third cast member. She issued a Fastpass good for any ride, except the Matterhorn Bobsleds, for my entire party including my very lucky wife. Yes, she benefited for our inconvenience! The cast member then pointed us to exit to the right. As my view moved I noticed a break table where two cast members in Fantasyland costumes were smoking and conversing. They seemed to not notice the invasion of small groups of guests moving from the hedge. We were clearly in their area, where they could relax and the inclusion of outsiders was not going to ruin their break before returning to the heat. On the other side of the path was a storage area for the canal boats. At least 16 unused boats were lined up side by side in a packed in area under a low ceiling. The holding area appeared to be behind King Triton’s underwater castle from the boat ride. This is the entry point where one can witness new boats being added to the attraction as additional capacity is needed.
But the real royal treat was yet to come! As we made our turn we stepped behind a trio that was strolling from the path on the left. We were suddenly in a party of Ariel, Belle and their royal attendant. This grouping, I believe, noticed our presence and the fact I was accompanied by children. For from the moment we spotted them they were regal! The princesses walked side by side at a purposeful pace. Their heads were both held high with their shoulders tall and straight. Their hands were held high clasped together. They had smiles on their face as they conversed, like two close friends sharing their tales of being princesses, not paid actresses. They were perfect! The attendant walked behind at a respectful pace. With their presence and demeanor I could sense the magic was about to resume. And I was correct, they slipped past a wooden partition ahead and we followed. We spilled out into Fantasyland once more, directly facing the Disney princess meet and great area, being held on the walkway area opposite it’s a small world after the closing of the Princess Fantasy Faire. My dream adventure was over!
As my wife returned to us she just giggled. She knew I had finally been evacuated and had my adventure. It was even on an attraction that Walt Disney would have been familiar with from his days personally overseeing Disneyland. But in the end it was nothing like what I imagined or hoped for. I will still continue to cross my fingers, for something to safely break!
Daniel Butcher is a husband and father who looks forward to spending time with
his family in Disney Parks. Daniel can be reached at [email protected]