Heads of gods, turkey legs, wedding rings: only a few of the things Disney Parks divers find under water rides

disneyland diver face of mara

Disney Parks seem to have a good balance between water rides and other attractions, such as dark rides, live entertainment, and indoor or outdoor attractions and rides. Too many water rides would make the parks seem unfairly tilted toward mostly indoor attractions; too few water rides would make the Central Florida parks almost unbearable during several weeks of the hot and humid summer.

But with water rides comes an increased amount of time, effort, and responsibility in keeping the attractions not only properly maintained and operating, but also in keeping germs from taking over in the water, and in keeping water out of places where it shouldn’t be. Only recently, the “it’s a small world” attraction at Disneyland in California flooded as the underground chamber that houses the attraction’s motors and machinery became submerged in water.

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And then there are the duties that come with things being accidentally dropped into the water or intentionally thrown into the water. Have you ever stopped to think about the fact that someone at Disney Parks is sometimes charged with the murky underwater task of diving into the waters to retrieve items or to perform maintenance work and repairs that can only be accessed underwater?

Such is the case with Thomas Self, a Cast Member whose special talents include diving for Disneyland. He was once featured in Disney’s book that showcases many of the different jobs performed at Disney Parks across the globe, One Day at Disney. He was also featured in a story by the OC Register.

Disneyland Diver Thomas Self

Disneyland Diver Thomas Self/Credit: Disney

Self is one of several divers whose job it is to take the plunge into the murky, sometimes pitch-black waters of water rides at Disneyland, whether to inspect mechanisms of the rides that lie underwater or to retrieve items from the water. Divers at Disney Parks are responsible for all the work that takes place under the water; talk about a thankless, behind-the-scenes job! But these divers are an important part of the Cast Member team.

He says that working on attractions under the water is a lot like reading Braille since it’s impossible to see in the waters of many of the attractions.

“You know where the stuff is,” Self said. “It’s just braille. You feel around. You know this is a sensor, this is a wheel, this is a chain. A lot of the work is reaching inside or through or under something. You can’t see it, so you just have to know what you’re doing, where your hands are, and where your partner’s hands are. You learn by doing.”

At Disneyland, Self and his team of fellow divers service every single water ride available to Guests, including: 
pirates of the caribbean

Credit: Disney

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Self tells the story of a time when he and his team were called to Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise attraction because the skippers kept hearing what sounded like a thumping on the boats when they reached the scene of the temple ruins next to the Indiana Jones Adventure attraction. Self didn’t know what the problem was until he came face-to-face with it.

After jumping into the black waters of the Jungle Cruise attraction, he was shocked when all of a sudden, the face of Mara met Thomas’s eyes. Mara is the ancient deity from the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. Legend has it that bad things come to anyone who looks into her eyes. Thomas had no choice.

“I wasn’t ready for it,” Self said during an interview. “I jumped back and banged my head on the bottom of the [Jungle Cruise] boat.”

It had rained a lot, and all that rain washed the head of Mara into the river of the attraction, and the thumping sound heard by the skippers was the sound of the boats bumping into her head. After being scared half out of his wits, he decided to play a little prank on those who were waiting for him on the dock, so he rose up out of the inky water with Mara’s head held up above his head so that it was the first thing they saw.

Mara at Indiana Jones attraction

The open eyes of Mara from the Indiana Jones attraction at Disneyland/Credit: Disney Photoblography

RELATED: Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular at Disney World to reopen in December!

“It scared the daylights out of everybody on the dock,” Self said.

But heads of ancient gods aren’t the only things Self and his team have found lurking in the waters beneath Disneyland attractions. They bring up rogue tree branches and palm fronds, which Self says can actually cause problems, especially in underwater tracks.

They’ve also recovered cell phones, shoes, purses, wallets, and even an expensive set of wedding rings. Turkey legs are also a frequent flyer out of boats at Disneyland, like the Mark Twain Riverboat in the Rivers of America.

disneyland diver with hippo at jungle cruise attraction

Credit: Disney

It’s all in a day’s work for Self, who says that in a way, his experience as a Navy brat prepared him for his role at Disneyland

“As a Navy brat, I never was far from the water growing up,” he said. “Water has always been a part of everything.”

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!