When you’re entrusted with eight hours of someone’s holiday, you want to make that time special. Ben Ireland reports
How do you start your day?
I wake up two hours before work, drink coffee and catch up on world news and pop culture online. Many guests want to talk about current events, so it helps to know what Fortnite is and the latest dance. Next, I watch creators’ in-depth discussions about Harry Potter, Marvel, Jurassic Park or any of the intellectual properties in our parks. Then I watch videos about theme parks around the globe. Guests get excited when they can talk to me about their favourite park back home.
My daily duties involve…
All tour guides get together first thing and go over information they need to know. Then they disperse to the areas where they expect to meet guests. Before mine arrive, I help with other guests’ check-in. Each group has different ideas and expectations. Some days we run straight to the nearest rollercoaster; others we’ll have a VIP breakfast and map out the day. One of my favourite parts of the job is getting to know guests and finding ways to give them the best experience.
I’ve been at Universal Orlando Resort for…
Five years, and I’ve been a VIP Experience Guide for all but the first three months.
I’m a VIP Experience Guide because…
I became friends with tour guides during my job as a photographer for a theme park in Tampa. During one busy season there were extra shifts giving tours, and a zoo manager asked if I would stay the night to follow a tour and keep the group together. I picked up tour shifts for the rest of the season and led a few myself. I stayed for three years, then worked 21 jobs over eight years, such as digging trenches, inspecting welding and managing a cinema. I have always remembered the fun I had as a tour guide, so when my girlfriend was going to study in Orlando I applied to Universal Orlando Resort.
The most rewarding part of my job is…
Knowing I can make my guests’ vacation everything they want, and more. People take holidays to get away and spend time with the people who matter to them. When someone books the VIP Experience, they are entrusting me with eight hours of their vacation. I feel I’ve accomplished the most when guests start the day on high alert, but are visibly relaxed by the end. Then I know I’ve done my job.
The most challenging part of my job is…
The same as the most rewarding part.
What’s your favourite ride?
Revenge of the Mummy. The first time I came to Universal Orlando, aged 19, my best friend and I hadn’t done any research. While walking through ‘New York’, we were asked if we wanted to try a new ride that was in soft opening. Obviously, we said yes. There was no one waiting in line and we didn’t realise what we were signing up for. I don’t remember how many times we rode Revenge of the Mummy that day, but it’s the only ride I remember from the trip. The excitement of a new ride, and a rollercoaster in the dark, has always stuck with me.
My favourite destinations are…
Chicago, where my wife and I like to watch a Cubs [baseball] game, and New York, where we like to see Broadway shows.
The most common thing that I’m asked is…
‘Where are you from?’, ‘Why did you move here?’, ‘What’s your favourite ride?’ and ‘Do you get to skip the lines when you visit with your family?’. You would think being asked the same questions every day would be tiresome and elicit canned responses, but I’m an open book.
To relax I like to…
Experience new things. But some nights I’ll relax by watching The Voice or The Bachelor.
What’s the one thing you would take to a desert island?
My wife. If I’m going to be stranded, I’m not doing it alone!
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