What It's Really Like To Work In A Theme Park
The Debrief: Puke, bad food and dodgy rides are standard...
Illustration by Katie Turner
Theme parks. A place of candy floss, projectile vomiting (I did this once – on all fours, may I add – after getting off a waltzer. How lame) and, in the case of Alton Towers, a tragic scandal involving the Smiler rollercoaster crashing and injuring 16 people. While it has reopened, it does feel like the sheen has all but disappeared from Britain’s theme parks (albeit a sheen that was already covered in a light spray of vomit).
So what’s it actually like working behind the scenes at places like this? I spoke to a friend, Amy*, who used to work at a well-known theme park when she left college (which we won’t name) about her experience there as a teenage worker. And it’s pretty eye-opening.
You’re totally overworked
You know that first job you have when you leave school? The one that totally takes the piss, because you’re a kid? This was Amy’s. She got paid around a fiver an hour for seriously long shifts, and always felt totally replaceable when she was working at the park.
‘We were all 16 years old when we started at the theme park,’ Amy told me. ‘They hire loads of kids over the summer holidays and then keep them on throughout the year. We’d work 12- or 13-hour shifts and on Halloween, the park was open until about midnight. And the pay was really crap.
‘We often only had half an hour for lunch and were forced to take it in the staff canteen. We weren’t allowed to eat any food that customers could purchase in the park – it was mostly the food that was reduced and about to go off.’
The rides are often a bit dodgy
Amy’s got stories about dodgy rides too – and they’re a bit close to home, considering what happened at Alton Towers. She told me about an incident with a part of a ride falling ONTO the building she was working in.
‘One day there was a loud bang on the roof – where the ride looped overhead,’ Amy says. ‘The whole cabin shook but we were forbidden from leaving the till unattended and I was working alone so I just stayed put.
‘Groups of children came over to me terrified and told me that a part of the ride had fallen onto my roof. The ride was running with families and children on it at the time. I called maintenance staff and they shut down the ride and came, climbed on the roof and refused to tell me any further information.
‘The ride was always getting shut down temporarily though not for long. It would be back up and running again within hours or days.’
The Alton Towers crash wasn’t surprising
Amy worked a different, but still very well-known theme park to Alton Towers – and she wasn’t surprised by what happened.
‘I worked at the theme park with 10 of my close friends from school, and we’re still mates now,’ Amy says. ‘None of them were surprised. We’d been anticipating it all along, to be honest.
‘It was a ticking time bomb waiting to happen, although, of course, we never anticipated it would be quite so tragic. We had heard stories of people being stuck upside down for long hours in the heat at our park, but never of anyone being seriously injured.
‘I feel so sorry for everyone involved.’
You’re always hungover
‘We were all friends from college when we started working there, so we were always hungover,’ Amy says. ‘Some people didn’t go to sleep before coming in to work. Luckily, none of us were in positions of authority or managing the rides; we were all working on photo cabins and in food and beverage.’
While it’s been made clear that it could take several months or years before it emerges who was specifically to blame for the Smiler’s crash at Alton Towers, staff of a rival theme park not having slept after a massive night out doesn’t sound great, does it?
Cleaning up sick is a daily thing
Don’t think you’ll get through a day without a mop and bucket if you’re angling for a job at a theme park.
‘A lot of us had the joyful task of cleaning up all the sick that people projective vomited when they were on the rides,’ Amy says. ‘It was the most unglamorous job I’ve ever had.’ You don’t say.
Don’t think you’ll get to hang out with your mates all day
Amy might have been working with her college friends, but the theme park wasn’t having any of it and separated them all.
‘They didn’t like us working together,’ Amy says. ‘Often we’d be working marathon shifts completely alone, with a CD player and only one single playing on repeat – normally Akon’s Lonely.’
Things can get sweaty in the summer
This part is pretty gross – Amy says that the staff uniforms never got washed because people couldn’t be bothered to wash them – even the guys in food and beverage.
‘All summer long working outside in the heat, it was disgusting and very unhygienic,’ she says. ‘Nobody wore hair nets, either. My 16-year-old friend was put in charge of cooking raw meat with no experience of having handled or cooked food before. She didn’t even know to keep cooked meat away from raw meat.’
You’ll see a LOT of boobs
It wasn’t ALL ridiculously long shifts and greasy uniforms, obviously. There’s also the teenagers making out on rides to have a laugh at at. Oh, and quite a lot of nudity.
‘People in the park were always flashing their boobs for the photos,’ Amy says. ‘If you’re offended by naked breasts then a theme park probably isn’t the right place for you to work.’
You won’t want to visit a theme park after you’ve worked at one
‘Since working at a theme park I would never go back to one as a customer. I don’t think they’re safe or hygienic. I can’t speak for all the parks in the UK, but it was enough to put me off for life,’ says Amy.
Yep, think I’ll stick to the cinema next time I’m bored…
*Name has been changed
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Illustration by Katie Turner
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