Disney Skipper Takes Wit to Tokyo

Beth Schafer spent three days in a Tokyo jungle and now jokes about it.

Schafer, a Davenport resident, was one of two Orlando Walt Disney World Jungle Cruise skippers selected by Disney to showcase their abilities at Walt Disney World Tokyo in March. The competition was part of Tokyo Disney’s 25th anniversary.

Jungle Cruise skippers are known for their dry wit and quick humor, and Schafer. 25, follows suit in her unique way.

“She’s passionate about what she does,” said Disney Operations Manager Jim Beeson. “She truly loves the guest experience, and she’s good at what she does.”

Relying on a little slapstick and a lot of sarcasm, the Michigan native was selected from a pool of 35 other cruise captains to join skippers from around the world in Tokyo. Her winsome stage presence is the result of natural talent and training; she graduated from Saginaw Valley State University (Mich.) with a degree in theater.

After college, she took a seven-day vacation to Orlando in 2006 and applied for a full-time position at Disney. She had the job by week’s end. She flew home to Michigan and drove to Orlando four days later, belongings in tow.

“I took the plunge and hoped for the best,” she said, “and it worked.”

On an average day at the Jungle Cruise attraction in Adventureland, skippers guide 25 to 35 groups of 32 people through the attraction. Renowned for litanies of one-liners, the cruise captains garner enough snickers and smirks to make any comedian jealous.

Wisecracks accustomed to falling on English ears, however, aren’t always buoyant in international waters. Performing in Japan posed a translation problem, Schafer says.

“Believe it or not, I was a little worried,” she said. Schafer wasn’t sure if the language barrier would meet her puns with silence or laughter. Hundreds of Tokyo Disney cast members lined up outside the park in pre-dawn frost to navigate through fictional jungles with Schafer’s comedic compass.

“It was really interesting to see how the humor transcended all those language barriers,” she said. During her stay Schafer noticed the American style of humor is considerably more sarcastic than that of Japanese skippers, who coaxed laughs with light-hearted physical humor. The 1 1/2-year veteran of one of Disney’s more popular attractions said she emphasized her body language and added more physical elements to cater to the international crowd.

“Slapstick translates to all continents,” she said.

In both comedy and culture, Schafer counts the trip a success.

“It was such an honor to see people that went that far out of their way to ride one boat before the park opens,” said Schafer.

“That experience made me realize how many people want to have the job that we are lucky to do every day.”



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