The following is an interview with John Maimone, a Cast Member at the Odyssey Restaurant from 1982 to 1985. Located between World of Motion (now Test Track) and Mexico, the Odyssey closed for normal guest use in 1994.
How long did you work at the Odyssey?
I worked for WDW since fall of 1980. I started in the Crystal Palace. I transferred to Epcot a few months before it opened in October 1982. They needed people to set the place up. It was still under construction right up until the opening. I "retired" on July 4 1985 when I moved out of Florida.
What types of jobs did you do there?
Odyssey was part of three operations. The Odyssey fast food restaurant, outdoor foods selling ice cream, and the employee cafeteria which was right behind the Odyssey. I worked in all three.
How much was your hourly wage?
I was up to $6.55 when I retired after nearly five years. I hired out at $3.75 in 1980 so it was someplace between there. We were a union shop so we got raises now and again. I was a shop steward. I can't remember the name of the Union, it was a hotel restaurant union with headquarters somewhere near the Florida Mall off Sandlake Road and 17-92 in Orlando.
What did your Cast Member costume look like?
Kinda taupe colored pants, like a cross between red and pink, a light brown shirt with maybe three buttons down the front, and a green collar and matching green cuffs on the short sleeves. And unless you worked in Outdoor Foods where it was hot, you had to wear a matching apron which was light brown with the matching green edging. When it was cold we had shiny silver coats and black turtlenecks.
What types of items were on the menu (breakfast, lunch, dinner, beverages)?
The Odyssey Burger, which was your typical Disney burger basket with fries, same as in Pinocchio's or Tomorrowland Terrace. Cheese optional of course.
The Voyager Hot Dog, typical weenie and fries
The Discovery Salad
Cherry tarts for dessert. Yecch!
Coke products, Mr. Pibb, Sprite, the usual. Coffee, tea, milk.
We didn't do breakfast that I recall. I worked mainly nights as I was still in High School the first year. Maybe they might have had muffins in the morning.
A side note about the beverages. I remember that when Epcot opened, Disney changed the sponsors for several foods. Borden went the way of Sealtest, and Coke won out over Pepsi, where as both were served in the Magic Kingdom. We served the left over Pepsi products in the employee cafeteria and it took nearly a year to drink them all.
The hot dogs used to have "caddies" before we switched to regular hot dog buns. They were like sourdough wrap around holders for the dogs. We also switched from "Farm Fries" to another potato company for the fries. The original fries were kinda like batter fries and were really good! I missed them!
Did the menu change any while you were there?
They added the Adventurer Burger, which I think was a quarter pounder type thing, and we started selling real cakes and pies that were pretty good but a bit pricey.
Was there a special kid's meal with a toy or anything?
Nothing like that.
Did you receive many complements or complaints about the food or service?
When it was busy, we put the burgers together on an assembly line basis, so sometimes a bun would get by with no burger on it.
We put the meat on a conveyor type belt that passed though the oven, so all the burgers came out one way. No rare, medium or well done. We tried putting one through twice and it came out charred!
We had a microwave to further cook the burger if desired. As I remember, microwaves were cutting edge at the time. I used one for the first time in the employee cafeteria.
Occasionally someone would ask for a burger with no monosodium glutamate (MSG) on it and we did use that flavor enhancer in our secret spices, which was Lowry's Seasoning Salt by the way!
What were the crowd levels like?
Funny, in the beginning, it was mega busy from opening to closing. There were six registers that took the orders and collected the money. The orders would pop out on a tape machine on the food counter so we could start working on it while the patron was making his way up to the counter. I remember all six of us pulling in ten grand a day in one shift and we had two shifts going.
But then business suddenly dropped off. Odyssey was the restaurant no one knew was there. The other two fast food places, Stargate and Sunrise, were always busy. Located in the Communicore buildings near Spaceship Earth, they had plenty of walk in traffic. But we were kinda on an "island" and you had to take one of two bridges to get to us. One was right by Mexico and the other was leaving Future World on the way to the countries. Later on they built a third bridge that connected GM's World of Motion to the Odyssey. (There is a picture of it on Flickr) Business picked up a bit but Odyssey was never really a hit. I guess that's why they closed it.
They would often ask us to E.R. which meant early release, which meant go home with no pay. If we wanted to stay, they would farm us out to Stargate or Sunrise, usually picking up trash or scrubbing and mopping! Sometimes they would send us to the other countries. Since you couldn't be "out front" without the uniform and without being from that country, it usually meant washing dishes and pots all night. I wanted to make money so I had lots of dish pan hands!
What was bad about the Odyssey? What was good about it?
The pre recorded music on the speakers wasn't very long so it repeated a lot and it was monotonous! It was instrumental department store type music. I must have listen to "Here Comes The Sun" and "I did my best but my best wasn't good enough" a million times. The worst thing was when we were busy they would put more help on and you could only fit so many people behind the counter and we were literally banging into each other trying to fill the orders.
The good thing was working with my friends. We really clicked as a group. After work we would go out and have dinner, or often we would hang out at the 7/11 down the road from Lake Buena Vista. Good memories.
Were there any forms of entertainment going on at the Odyssey while you worked there?
There was a two man band that would sing and play instruments. The stage would rise up out of the floor. I think there was a dance floor, or at least a space with no tables that could be used for dancing. There were colored lights over the stage that flashed with the music. One of the girls working there was dating the lead singer. Even in the future rock stars get all the pretty girls!!
What types of promotions were going on while you worked there?
You could become a "lead" which meant you assigned jobs and handled money and assisted the supervisors. Beyond that, you could become a supervisor.
What was it like working there the first year the park was open in 1982?
It was fun to walk about the park before it opened and see it being built. I snuck inside nearly every building for a peek, dodging security every step of the way.
After that I remember it being so busy they wouldn't let us go home! We made tons of overtime and worked nearly every day. It was rather exhausting trying to balance work with my senior year in High School.
We had computerized NCR cash registers with flat "feather touch buttons" and little CRT screens to verify the order. These were nice in that if someone changed the order, you could easily make changes before finalizing the order. The computers that worked with the registers were located in a small room in the back. The first weeks, every day the registers would freeze up and stop working. We would have to break out the old paper order pads and do things the "old fashioned way" until they could be fixed. Even in the future computers foul up!! The problem was insufficient cooling in the computer room and the computers would get hot. They added more air conditioning ducts and fixed the problem finally.
We were hi tech in clocking in and out as well. Gone were the punch cards we used in the Magic Kingdom. We had hard plastic photo ID cards that we stuck in a slot in a time clock and pressed the in or out button.
Did you have any guests ask you any really strange things about the Odyssey (or the whole park)? Were there any really strange incidents that happened at the Odyssey while you worked there?
I remember most people couldn't manage carrying the tray of food to the dining room without dumping their soda on the other people's feet. The people were corralled by brass railings and it was commonplace to hear the splash followed by the tinkle of ice cubes hitting the railings!
Outdoor foods was the chance to get out of the building and be amongst the people. Two of us would push wagons filled with dry ice and ice cream out to the locations. Then one of us would work the wagon with a big umbrella for shade. Once I got in trouble when a lady walked out in front of the wagon and I hit her. After that incident, we had a third cast member come with us, walking ahead warning the crowds to stand back.
What do you think of the Odyssey as it is now (being closed for normal guest use)?
Seems like a waste. Surly they could put something there that people could enjoy. But if business is slow at WDW, they will close stuff down. As you know, most rides and restaurants had two sides and two lines so they could easily shut down half the attraction and save on payroll.
If there's anything else you'd like to add, feel free to add it in below.
In March of 2009 I flew into Orlando to visit my brother. I was floored by how much Orlando has developed since I moved away. Incredible. It was a short visit so I went to the Animal Kingdom because I wanted to see something new. I haven't been to EPCOT in nearly 24 years. I bet a lot has changed. If the Odyssey was still open, I would have to drop by for a cheeseburger!!