Growing up in Spokane, Lexi Thiede loved all things Disney. And especially going to Disneyland.
When you live 1,000 miles from The Happiest Place on Earth – well, 1,228.8 depending on your route – even as a young girl, she knew to cherish every family vacation to Anaheim.
“It was just like the commercials and the little kids on the videos,” she explained last week. “My parents would save money and then say, ‘Guess where we are going?’ Then I would cry because I was so excited to go there.
“So many of my core memories are being at Disneyland with my family and are still some of my happiest times ever. Being able to go was such a treat that I would literally dream about being on ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ and wonder what it would be like to do that every day.”
Now she can.
As a full-time student at Penn State, the 22-year-old graduate of Central Valley High School became a member of the Disney College Program in January 2018. When her internship was over, she continued both her online college classes and her employment at Disneyland.
That means she can ride “Pirates of the Caribbean” every day, if she wants. And she often does.
It also means she got a sneak peek at the largest and most expensive expansion in Disneyland’s history, the opening of “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” Cast members – which are what all Disneyland employees are called – got to experience the new 14-acre site before the rest of the world could visit a galaxy far, far away.
Each cast member could bring one guest. Lexi didn’t even have to think about who she would invite. It had to her brother, Kyle, who just graduated from Central Valley and is headed to Gonzaga University.
But how should she tell him? Especially since he loved “Star Wars.”
“It’s his favorite thing in the world,” Lexi said.
She called her parents to see if they were OK with her younger brother making a warp-speed trip to California for an impromptu visit. Their parents quietly bought Kyle a flight, then it was up to Lexi to break the news.
She called him on FaceTime so they could see each other. Then Lexi asked her brother, “Hey, guess what I get to do!” Well, thinking about it now, it was more of a statement than a question, but you get the point.
Then she told him she got to see “Galaxy’s Edge” before it opens to the public.
He totally freaked out. He excitedly told her she had to tell him everything about it. Then she asked, “Well, then why don’t you come with me?”
This time it really was a question. Mostly.
Kyle laughed. Then he was quiet. “Wait. Seriously?!”
It was just like when they were kids and first found out that they were going to Disneyland, only this time, it was just the older sister and her younger brother. And they were going to see this planet’s most-anticipated theme-park attraction ever. In the most exclusive sneak peek ever.
They both loved it. They explored. They took it all in. They laughed. They never stopped smiling. They rode the new ride that lets you pilot the Millennium Falcon. They got to visit the most famous cantina this side of Mos Eisley.
What’s really wild is that until a few weeks ago, there was no tangible evidence any of it had actually happened. Phones were strictly prohibited at the cast previews. No photos of anything.
Lexi and Kyle simply had the memories neither would forget.
Then right before “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” opened to the public, the cast members and their guests received the photos taken of them during their preview visit, right smack in front of Han Solo’s famous freighter.
There was Kyle, wearing his Central Valley Bears hoodie, with his arm around Lexi. Both beaming. Just like when they’d go to Disneyland as kids. Only Kyle is much taller now.
“Wicked” is how Kyle explains the otherworldly experience. That means he loved it.
His description makes Lexi laugh. It also makes her proud. She got to give her brother something he’ll remember forever, something that only she could give him.
And they got to experience it together. Just two kids from Spokane hanging out with Chewbacca.
Lexi’s job at Disneyland is also in another world. She works at multiple attractions in “Tomorrowland,” including “Space Mountain,” “Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters” and “Autopia.” She’s even one of the trainers for new employees at “Autopia.”
But you’ll mostly find her at “Space Mountain,” which is currently rethemed as “Hyperspace Mountain” to fit in with all of the excitement surrounding “Star Wars.” She does any number of jobs at “Space Mountain.” She might begin her shift as a greeter at the beginning of the ride queue, helping people with questions.
Then she might move to the tower. What’s the tower? If you’ve ever ridden “Space Mountain,” it’s the last person you see above you before the ride begins. It’s the person basically in charge of the ride. It’s fast-paced and an extremely detail-oriented assignment, making sure it’s all as safe as it is fun. She’s also pretty darn good at it.
Riders often wave at that person before the ride begins. Lexi always waves back.
For anyone who’s competitive, it’s Lexi’s experience working at the Buzz Lightyear ride that might be the most useful. The goal of the attraction is to shoot one of the blasters from the “Toy Story” movies at different moving targets. And score points. Preferably, more than the person sitting next to you.
Does she have any tips?
“The first Zurg you run into, there’s actually a black hole underneath his little Z medallion,” she explained. “If you aim for the black hole underneath him, you’ll get all the points. It will bring your score up quite a bit.”
Lexi is on her last semester at Penn State and is close to graduating with a bachelor’s degree in International Politics/Business. She uses her time at Disneyland to work on her leadership development. She’s always the first to raise a hand for opportunities to grow.
Along with becoming a trainer in her “Tomorrowland” attractions, she’s taken Ambassador 101 courses and is preparing to get involved in the Youth Education series program. She’d love to work at the massive entertainment-media company long-term and isn’t afraid of hard work.
“Disney is such a big company, and there are so many positions for so many people with so many different types of skills that I’d really like to pursue a career here,” she said. “I know I’ll find it when it comes because I want to be with this company.”
Despite working in Southern California at her childhood dream job, she still loves and misses Spokane. Disneyland cast members’ name tags have their hometown listed. Under her name, Lexi’s badge says: Spokane, WA.
She was back home just last week. She loved being around her family. Coming home is now the “treat” that going to Disneyland used to be for her.
“I miss ‘Wake Up Call’ and all of the other great coffee in Spokane,” she said. “I miss the hiking, being out by the pine trees, even being on the river and especially the smell of the fresh air. Having that kind of home environment is really nice with such beautiful places like Manito Park and Riverfront Park.”
It comes back to all of those memories. Which takes her back to the first time she rode “Space Mountain” as a young girl.
“When you see these little girls come up to you when you’re a greeter and they are dressed as princesses and they have their buttons that say ‘first visit,’ they’re excited and nervous because they’ve never done this before,” she said. “They ask all of these questions and it all takes me back to my first time here.
“Then I start asking them questions, finding out where they are from and making sure they are having a great day. I want them to have the same amazing memories I had because I can relate to them.”
Especially when a visiting princess shares the same hometown as Lexi – 1,228.8 miles away.
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