Editor's note: The following is a true story. We'd just like to mention that Orlando Weekly does not condone criminal behavior, and does not recommend you try this at a theme park near you. Orlando Weekly believes in wholesome living, drinking lots of milk, getting plenty of sleep and obeying the law. Please read responsibly.
Having abandoned the plan, we were improvising. That's what good park jumpers do. We were on the second floor of an administration building near the front gate of Universal Studios, inside what looked like an executive dining room. Fortunately, only my brother Chris and I are in the room, but I'm expecting security to rush in any second because we're trespassing. That, and our entrance into this employees-only building was a little sloppy. (Chris got in clean, but an employee saw me walk in.) One wall of this dining room consists of five French doors, which lead to a balcony, a stairwell and a descent into the park sans heavy-duty ticket prices. We try the first few doors, but they are locked. We keep trying. Success depends on it.
You see, I sneak into theme parks. And I don't really even like theme parks. Why do I do it? Boredom? Machismo? Revenge? No, no and no. Tourists and I go to the theme parks for the same reason: adventure. Unlike the tourist who is thrilled by riding a perfectly safe roller coaster, however, I require a bigger jolt. For me, the real ride is getting in free. You, Disney, Universal and everyone else may call it stealing. I call it park jumping.
Yes, it's a crime; criminal trespassing by name, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. First-time offenders would likely get the fine and a year of probation. And no, you shouldn't try it. This is my hobby, and I'm just relating a tale here, not printing a how-to manual. Besides, once this story goes public all the techniques mentioned will instantly become obsolete. You'd be a fool to follow in my footsteps. If you try it and get caught, you're on your own. Don't say you weren't warned.
Actually, I'm doing the parks a favor. In this post-Sept. 11 world, security is paramount. After this article, they'll know where they need to tighten up. Consider it a free security review, folks. You're welcome.
Jump No. 1: Blizzard Beach
Blizzard Beach is where I got my start in this life of petty crime. On a Saturday last summer, a friend of mine, Brian, was in town. By 10 a.m. it was already hot enough to make a trip to one of Orlando's many water parks sound like a good idea. We'd both been to Wet 'n Wild, so we decided to pay a visit to Blizzard Beach.
But when we got there, I nearly gagged at the price of tickets: 32 big ones! (Note: I call $1 bills "big ones.")
Necessity is the mother of invention, and we had a serious necessity not to pay $64 just to get in the gate. We needed to save some cash to gorge ourselves on sushi later. So we invented a way in, and my new hobby.
But we didn't know it at that moment, because we simply got back in the car, fully intending to leave. As we drove out the way we came in, Brian noticed a road leading to another parking lot just behind the Blizzard Beach main entrance. We followed the road around back, past a sign warning us about "speed humps" (that's what Disney calls 'em), over a few speed humps, and parked without a hitch. Then we sat there for about 10 minutes before another car arrived. The driver -- an employee, we reasoned -- got out and walked into a small building hidden from our view by low hills and fences. A few moments later, the same guy exited the building from the other side, walked down an alley and disappeared through a wooden gate. We could see the rides looming not far in the background, and reasoned that water-slide goodness was only a hop, skip and a jump past the gate. There could be all kinds of security on the other side of that gate, but we'd figure that out later. Park jumpers don't let obstacles get in their way.
We each developed a plan.
Brian envisioned crashing the gate looking just like we did at the moment: dressed in bathing suits and flip-flops, towels draped around our necks and our hair wet. We'd bypass the building and walk right up to the gate, open it and stroll right into the park. If someone confronted us at or just beyond the gate, we'd do the lost-tourists act and pretend we'd already been inside (thus the wet hair), wandered through the wrong gate and found ourselves in a strange parking lot. We were just trying to get back in the park, you see. Brian's scenario had any employee we happened on giving us friendly directions back into the park.
My plan, on the other hand, called for the unpleasant task of driving back home to change so that we had bathing suits on underneath dress pants, shirt and tie. We'd return to Blizzard Beach. We'd park the car. We'd approach the gate. We'd open said gate like we owned the theme park. We'd breeze past any confrontation on the other side of gate because no one would dare question two high-powered managers on an inspection tour. Once in the park, we'd rent a locker, stuff our managerial disguises inside and make for the nearest water slide.
Brian's plan had the major advantage of not having to drive all the way home. But it also had a flaw: it didn't allow for any confrontation on the other side of the gate. It would be pretty tough convincing a guard that we wandered right past him while accidentally exiting the park and were now trying to re-enter.
My plan, on the other hand, allowed for such an encounter. We drove home, changed and returned.
When we got back at 12:30 p.m it was even hotter outside. But we weren't dressed for it; Brian and I were now sporting pants, long-sleeved shirts and ties. We sat in the car for a minute or two to build up our nerve. Then, we exited the car and marched toward the gate like we were on a mission, which, of course, we were. About three-quarters of the way there, we encountered five employees. Luckily, they were harmless: they sat on a raised porch, talking and smoking. We hadn't noticed the porch on the stakeout, but there was no turning back now. The employees looked at us, then looked away. We kept walking.
We curved toward the left and our worst-case scenario appeared before our eyes: a security guard leaning against the gate. I fought back the urge to spin around and power-walk to the car. The guard was in full uniform, but had a lit cigarette in his hand and was talking to the other employees taking a break on the porch. We kept walking.
Incredibly, the guard stepped to the right, out of our way, acting as if he had done something wrong. An illicit smoke break perhaps? Whatever the case, our way was clear. Brian said hello to the guard; the guard said, "Hey, guys." I opened the gate. We walked through and the gate swung shut behind us.
There was nothing on the other side of the gate except water park. In fact, the instant transition from dirty alleyway to immaculate Disney theme park was mind-boggling. In line at the locker rental, we were just two guys ready to cool off. The lady handed us our locker key. An all-day rental cost $5, with a $2 deposit. Lots of money left over for sushi.
Jump No. 2: Universal Studios
Brian wasn't available on the day I wanted to hit Universal; too busy working for a living or something. So I invited my younger brother, Chris. I regaled him with tales of the Blizzard Beach exploit, and he wanted in.
On the appointed Saturday, Chris arrived at my apartment at 10:58 a.m., two minutes early. It was the first time in 10 years that he wasn't one, two or three hours late. I viewed it as an omen for the day's success.
I wanted to be better prepared for this attempt than I was at Blizzard Beach, so a week before Chris arrived I staked out Universal Studios. As I did so, the word "impenetrable" came repeatedly to mind. Not truly impenetrable, mind you. It's just that the turnstiles were well-staffed, perimeter fences were topped with barbed wire and security guards were everywhere. It took me five days to think of a way in.
To brief Chris on my plan, I used a chessboard as a visual aid. I lined up a row of pawns to represent the main gate with all the turnstiles, and I used the wooden box that holds the pieces to represent an administration/guest services building, located just to the right of the main entrance.
Thanks to the stakeout, I was well aware of this building's workings. Since the rear of the building empties into park territory on the other side of the gates and turnstiles, one could theoretically enter the building in the front, exit in the back and be in the park. On stakeout day, I noticed plenty of employees coming and going in just such a fashion.
The only problem was getting into the building, made difficult by the fact that security guards (bishops on my chessboard) work out of it, and the fact that the door only opens when someone (a queen) in the box office buzzes you in.
Fully briefed, we selected our attire: business casual, the all-purpose park-jumping wear. In the event of steam (i.e., security-related trouble) we'd recite our cover story: We're brothers (true) inquiring about group rates for an upcoming family reunion (not true).
Group rates are in fact discussed in this building, so our cover story would fly. Group-ticket discussions, however, occur with you outside in line, with an employee in the box office. They don't bring you into the building. In the event of an employee asking, "How'd you get in here?" our story was that we walked in through the front door, unaware of the whole employees-only, gotta-be-buzzed-in thing. My theory was that people would be willing to believe two well-dressed, befuddled young men sooner than they would a couple of idiots in Metallica T-shirts.
Of course, the cover story would not help us talk our way out the other side of the building. Getting into Universal Studios required us to not encounter anyone, leaving us free to exit out the back and straight into the park.
At 1:15 p.m., we pulled into a hotel parking lot across the street from Universal. It's even easier to scam free parking than it is to get into theme parks, by the way. We simply stopped at the security gate, where a sexy Portuguese woman asked, "Checking in?"
"Yep," Chris answered. And the gate went up, saving us the expense ($8) and trouble (lots of walking) of parking at the Universal lot.
Walking to Universal, I noticed a lot of security guards. I also noticed that they were concentrated by the main gates where people who actually purchased tickets were plodding through the turnstiles. I pointed out the "administration" building just to the right of all the turnstiles. We got into position.
Chris stood about five feet away from the door, poised to stop it from closing the next time someone went in or out. Thanks to my intel, he knew that the door takes about 20 seconds to close, and that security and other employees don't stick around waiting for it to do so -- they're usually 30 feet away by the time the door fully closes.
After a minute or so, two security guards exited the building. Chris looked to me, but I was already approaching. Quietly, I hissed, "This is it, get the door, get the door!" Chris obeyed like a robot. He took two steps and grabbed the door handle, preventing it from closing with a millimeter to spare. I looked into the box office and saw two employees busy answering tourists' questions. Chris walked in first, unnoticed. But as I walked in I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a woman in the box office turn and look at me. But I kept going.
Inside, we literally hit a wall. There were no hallways as I had imagined. We were in a very small foyer. There was a fancy stairwell lined with oil paintings and an elevator. Nothing else.
And here we had to abandon the plan and improvise. We needed to get beyond sight of the people who might use the glass doors we'd just walked through, so I pressed the elevator call button. The door opened instantly, and we got in. It was a bit of a relief being inside it, because we'd disappeared beyond the box office. But as the elevator rose to the second floor, new stress formed in my mind. For all we knew, the elevator led to security central, right where they take captured park jumpers. I whispered this thought to Chris, who whispered back his concerns about being trapped on the second floor.
The elevator doors opened, revealing a very small, empty lobby. There was a desk ahead. I approached and found no one behind it, thankfully. There was only one door in this area. We tried it and it opened, finding ourselves in a large banquet hall, or perhaps the CEO's private dining parlor. The tables were laid with white linen, and one wall was comprised of lovely French doors.
At this point our cover story was worthless. If five security guards had entered the room, perhaps alerted by the woman in the box office, no story in the world could explain why we were snooping around the imperial dining room.
It was here, while looking at the French doors, that I realized the solution. When I staked this building out, I saw a balcony encircling a second-floor room with French doors. And I noticed that the balcony had a stairwell that led straight into the park. I never pursued this idea because I never thought we'd be on the second floor, or in this room.
We needed to get on the balcony, so we started trying doors. The first three were all dead-bolted and required keys. The final two didn't take keys -- they could be unlocked from the inside. I flipped one door's dead bolt, but it just spun in my hand. The last door was not locked at all, and it pushed open.
We made it to the balcony. Descending the stairs, I thought I heard a door slamming up in the dining room. We power-walked to the nearest attraction with plenty of people in line and disappeared.
Jump No. 3: Magic Kingdom
The next day, Sunday, Chris and I staked out the Magic Kingdom. We figured we'd jump it the following Saturday, after I came up with a plan. We parked at a hotel on Disney property, using the "hotel shuffle" again, and took the monorail from the hotel to the Magic Kingdom's front gates.
To my surprise, the Magic Kingdom looked kind of easy to get into. As always, turnstiles lined the front entrance. Then we noticed a building to the left, with employees milling about. It had a side entrance through an unmarked gate. The front of the building was visible: It opened into the "in" side of the park, about 20 feet beyond the turnstiles. We watched as an employee walked through the side gate, and then, a few minutes later (perhaps after clocking in?) exited the building parkside.
We were intrigued, but we walked the row of turnstiles to explore possibilities. Plenty of people were coming and going, so we blended in. We noticed that the last five turnstiles were covered, unmanned and not in use. To the right of the turnstiles sat another building, this one much more active than the one on the opposite side. Security guards were walking in and out. Although the building's doors were glass, they were covered with a curtain, meaning we wouldn't see a guard coming out until the door opened.
Chris and I agreed that the Magic Kingdom looked like the easiest of the three parks to jump. I suggested that we forget staking it out, and just go in. He agreed. We positioned ourselves right by the turnstiles.
All turnstiles have a small gate connected to them for people in wheelchairs. My hand was now casually hanging down the back of the gate. I turned a little knob -- it was locked. I found a little button on the underside of the knob. While I was doing this, Chris assured me that the employees five turnstiles away weren't looking at us. I was prepared to snatch my hand back up the second I saw the security building door open.
When I pushed the button, I heard a click and I pulled the gate inward. We walked through and casually entered a nearby gift shop. There, we feigned interest in sunglasses, but we were really looking back toward the turnstiles and the security building to see if we'd be visiting those legendary underground Disney jails soon. No one was running toward us, no alarms were going off, everything seemed cool. Chris and I headed into the park. We agreed on the first ride: Space Mountain.
Several hours later, as the jam-packed monorail sped us back to the hotel, I looked out the window and saw fireworks above the castle at the Magic Kingdom. It was dark outside, but below me, Disney's domain was well-illuminated. The recording on the monorail thanked us all for visiting, and reminded us that the World of Disney has 45 miles of parks and resorts.
I smiled then, and whispered a thought to Chris: We might need another chessboard.