Waking up at 5:30 in the morning is never fun, but back in July 2010 it was totally worth crawling out of bed at that unholy hour. You see, one of my fellow Canadian Cast Members and good friend Steph managed to sign us up for the Canoe Races of the World. A tradition dating back to 1973 at Disneyland, this Cast Member only event had seventy-nine teams of 10 race through the Rivers of America in big canoes past Thunder Mountain, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Haunted Mansion and back to the starting place near the Country Bear Jamboree.
Our team consisted of Cast Members from the Canadian Pavilion in Epcot. Home to the ‘O’ Canada 360 film and super popular restaurant Le Cellier. We had a few mornings of practice at the crack of dawn, afterwards which I would have to work and deal with the pain of rowing my heart out. That lead to a qualifying race for the main event.
I must say, there is nothing more magical than walking through the Magic Kingdom while it’s empty. For such a popular park, being there when it’s eerily quiet feels like you’re breaking the rules. Cast Members are still power washing the pavement and everything is still covered by early morning dew. It was one of the most memorable moments of working at WDW. I mean, who else gets the chance to walk peacefully through the Magic Kingdom without the craziness of parents, screaming babies and little girls dressed as princesses? I did, and it was awesome. FYI we did not make it to the finals, at that point it didn’t even matter. We got to experience a time honoured tradition at the world’s most magical place. Certainly one of the best experiences I had while working for the mouse.
Check out the press release from the event below:
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., July 16, 2010 – Long before the sunrise at Magic Kingdom, chants of “stroke, stroke, stroke” can be heard throughout all of Frontierland as Walt Disney World Cast Members gather along the Rivers of America to compete in the annual Canoe Races of the World July 12-23. For some, it’s their first chance for team building and fun but for others, it’s an intense competition for the coveted paddles awarded to each division winner.
In a tradition dating back to 1973, hundreds of Cast Members come together pre-dawn over a period of two weeks in July to race in canoes before heading in for a full day of work. The seventy-nine teams of 10 people take less than six minutes to pass Thunder Mountain, the Walt Disney World Railroad, the Haunted Mansion and return to the starting place near the Country Bear Jamboree.
This year will be the twelfth year for veteran Steve Whittington and his team, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugl-IE”, last year’s men’s pro division champions.
“In 1998 I was an Industrial Engineering intern and they needed another person to row, so I thought ‘Why not?’ Whittington said. His team went on to win the men’s pro division that year and since then he’s only missed one race. “Once we finished the races, I was hooked. It was such a blast.”
Last year’s Spirit Award winners, the Toasted BLTs, were a newly-formed group from the Contemporary Resort’s new Bay Lake Tower. “We were the opening team at Bay Lake so it was a great team builder,” Captain Eric O’Leary said. “Our main goal was to have fun. One guy [intern Jonathan Theriault] put himself in a giant sandwich and danced around with people as our mascot, Toasty the Sandwich.”
Regardless of walking away with a paddle or not, O’Leary says “it’s not about winning. The canoe races are always a fun time and we’re excited for everyone else doing it.”