Interview with 20Ker Chris Valenti
Chris worked 20K from 1992-1993, Almost right up to the bitter end. He probably saw the ride at its most run down state...
How did you get selected to work on 20K?
I was in college and was selected into the Disney College Program. When I interviewed I told them I would like to be an attractions host. When I showed up, they told me I was going to work 20k.
At what stage in your life did you sign on?
I was in college, not wanting to be in college.
Were there hazing rituals for new recruits?
Were the 20Kers a tighter knit group than other ride crews? If so, why do you think such camaraderie developed?
Since 20k was my first attraction, I didn’t really have anything to compare it to. I can say however that it really wasn’t a tight knit group at all. There were definitely different clicks that existed. The spectrum was wide with different types of guys, some older, some younger, some gay, some straight. There were the types that were all about the Disney look and show, and some there just because it was their job at the time. It really was a strange mesh. As different as everyone was, it always seemed to work on stage.
What was your favorite section of the ride (i.e. Atlantis, the giant squid)?
Tough call, to be honest, I really can’t say I had a favorite part. I really enjoyed it all.
Were your friends jealous of your job or did they make fun of it?
It varied, some would poke fun, and some would think it was cool. All I know is that a lot of my friends in the college program had jobs a lot worse than mine!!
Did you enjoy your job? What aspect did you enjoy/dislike the most?
I really did enjoy it. The thing I enjoyed most was… I was working a ride at frickin’ Disney World!! That right there should be enough said. I really liked everything except probably having to grab the pan and broom and sweep up the queue. There was a strange feeling about how people would stare at you like you were doing maybe the most interesting thing they had seen all day. I guess any kind of entertainment in line is better than nothing at all!
There were some nights that I also enjoyed getting sent over to the parade as well. After spending a long afternoon and night on the rear dock, once it was brought down, going over to do a little PAC was a nice change of pace. Spectromagic was not only a really cool parade itself, but I think that people watching was at its best at this time of day in the park. The change you notice in people is truly amazing. In the morning you see so many happy, loving families excited to be in Disney World and enjoy their day. Now at parade time, these families have had enough of each other, no more smiles, and lots of tension. People would fight for their spot, do stupid things like climbing trees, or garbage cans, sitting in flowerbeds and I’d get to chase them off. All fun stuff. Then the lights would go off and the music would start and that Disney magic would take over and calm everyone down and bring back the smiles that everyone had lost waiting for the parade. How could you not enjoy seeing all that? The only truly bad spot was when you got stuck working a crosswalk. Ugh.
How seriously did people take their 20K jobs?
For the most part, everyone who I worked with took their job seriously enough. Of course there were some who took it a lot more seriously than others. Even the guys who backstage seemed they could care less about the ride, I always noticed that out on the dock they were always doing things right.
Any troublemakers who had to be brought in line or overly serious guys who had to be loosened up?
I never really saw anything that would have required an intervention.
Did piloting one of those subs fire up your imagination just like riding them did for the people below?
For the first couple of weeks it did. Then it kind of turned into more of just a habitual loop where I’d kind of forget about everything except putting on a good show.
Did you get a kick out of seeing people and kids enjoy the ride?
Absolutely. Most of the time, the people in the sub had no clue that those legs they walked past were attached to a real person so they would truly have no reservations about how excited they got seeing the ride. It was always nice to see.
Did any kid ever ask if you were Nemo or talk to you like you were really a submariner?
Yes. A lot of people would say thanks Captain Nemo as they exited the sub. I don’t know how long it had been going on for either but the kid’s autograph books were very popular at the time too. Rather than take the time to explain that I was just the guy who operated the ride and not Captain Nemo, I’d just sign their books for them with a real sloppy Captain Nemo.
Many people feel it was the best ride at Disney world, why do you feel the ride had such an impact on people?
Love it or hate it, you have to admit it was a pretty cool effect. For a ride where you could actually see the boats floating above the water for the first half of the ride, and still have adults asking if we really went underwater when it was over, you have to give it the respect it deserves.
Some people feel the ride was slow and boring and fake looking, what you think you think they’re missing that others clearly respond to?
The problem 20K had towards the end of its run was that everything around it was getting more modern and high tech. I think that it took a special kind of imagination to truly appreciate 20k. It was a slow fake looking ride after all, but you actually had the feeling of being under real water, in a kick ass looking replica of the Nautilus! Some people just didn’t get it.
Would you have been scared to swim in the ride tank at night? Did anyone do that? Or fall in?
I wouldn’t have been scared if the water wasn’t so gross. I think it would have been kind of fun. I was never scared of falling in. You would have had to screw up pretty bad to fall in.
What’s one (or more) crazy story you have related to the ride?
I don’t really have any crazy stories, supervision was tight when I was there so not to many people bent the rules at all. One time I was in the sail close to closing time and we weren’t too busy, I had a couple on one side that I guess thought they had the place to themselves and were getting pretty friendly. They were more than a little embarrassed when it was over and I bent down to say have a good night.
I was also working on New Years Eve in 92’. Now this was a particularly crazy night just because the crowds were rowdy, the park was open super late, and everybody with absolutely no seniority was working. I was just bumped out for a break about 5 minutes before midnight. I cut across to go down to the tunnel and I bumped into my lead and another 20K operator who looked like they were up to no good. I questioned what they were up to and they just said follow us. I followed them up a ladder to the roof of Mr. Toads wild ride. They had a tip that there was no place like it for seeing the fireworks. When midnight hit, the fireworks display that was put on was unlike anything I had ever seen. The view was totally unobstructed and the park also sent up perimeter fireworks that night. It was the most amazing fireworks show I had ever seen in my life, and to this day I cannot appreciate any fireworks show anywhere because of it. Chalk it up to good timing I guess, but that was definitely one of the coolest 20K nights ever for me.
Any fun pranks people pulled to mix it up?
Pretty much just the different ways to harass the poor guy at unload. I once got an entire sub full of guests to sing It’s a small world when we pulled back into the dock. That was pretty funny. 10 codes were a very popular way of communicating with the radios at the time too. Sometimes if the right guy had a radio, he can have an entire conversation in 10 codes.
Was there any legendary figure among the 20Kers?
There was a guy there who knew everything about everything when I was there. He was definitely old school and I haven’t forgotten his name so I guess he’s legendary to me. I even saw a picture of him on the site here Jim Rayburn.
Did you come back to ride 20K after you stopped working there?
A couple times.
Do you keep in touch with other 20Kers?
-Why do you think the ride was shut down? What was problematic about it?
I’ll have to go with the money thing. I was there in 93’ and it really was run down. The subs were leaking and looking like they were about to fall apart. The show itself was in need of updating and I guess if you had to start from scratch with new boats, and an all-new presentation, it would have cost a ton. I know I was only making about $4.90 an hour at the time, so I’m sure it wasn’t the staffing costs that were killing it.
How did you feel when you heard it was shut down?
I was sad. I spent a lot of time working that ride. I wish I could have shown it to my kids.
What would you like to see done with the land?
I’d have like to seen an updated version of the ride. If not with water and boats, then maybe something with simulators like a star tours or body wars kind of simulation.
How do you feel when you peruse 20kride.com?
Like I told Dave, it brings back a lot of great memories.
Any other anecdotes you’d like to add related to 20K or Disney World in general?
I thought they were kidding when they told us people would ask what time the 3:00 parade started. They weren’t.