Working on a Rose Parade Float

Image result for rose parade disney 2016
Image taken from Disney Parks Blog

Happy 2019! I can’t believe we are already into the start of a new year! I apologize for the lack of updates again over the last 2 weeks. It’s been busy with family in town and with me getting really sick. I’ve pretty much slept the last few days away. I was inspired to write this post by January 1’s annual Rose Parade that is held in Pasadena each year.

The Backstory

Each year the annual Rose Parade is held in Pasadena, California in conjunction with the Tournament of Rose’s college football Rose Bowl game. The parade is televised across households all over the US and in other countries around the world. Marching bands, parade floats, horse drawn carriages and other performers march 5.5 miles down Colorado Boulevard in front of thousands of people.

What sets the parade floats apart, however, is the fact that everything used to decorate them is organic. The floats are decorated with thousands of flowers and other materials that are placed on the floats in a race against time. Most of the flowers are only applied at the very last minute to keep them from wilting and looking pristine as long as possible. You can find further information about the parade here.

In 2015, when I was still working at Disneyland, I was presented with the opportunity to be able to volunteer on that year’s ambitious three floats. We were just beginning the 60th anniversary Diamond Celebration festivities of Disneyland theme park and had announced plans to build a new Star Wars themed land earlier that summer. Frozen was the year’s hot movie and it would go on to become the top grossing animated film of all time. How fitting that the planned float design would feature Star Wars, Frozen and the Disneyland Castle.

The Float Warehouse

It was the week before New Year’s and were were given instructions about where we would be going, what to wear and information about our shift. We were told to wear clothes we would be easily able to move around in, clothing that we wouldn’t mind getting dirty and it was highly recommended that we bring gardening gloves. There was also no place for us to store any items so we were advised not to bring any valuables. My shift would be on December 29.

The float warehouse was actually located in Azusa, California. Azusa is about 15 miles from Pasadena. When we arrived at the warehouse, we checked in about 20 minutes before our shift and were asked if we were wit Disney or if we were with one of the other companies. The float warehouse was owned by a design company that was contracted to work on the floats for Disney, the football teams playing in the Rose Bowl game and a bank. About 7 floats in total sat inside.

The floats would be driven over about the day before during the late night hours to Pasadena and assembled when they arrived to the parade site. The final assembly of the three sections of the float would take place the morning of the parade as the unit was so large!

When you walked in, the floats looked huge, but it was shocking to see that they were mostly covered in scaffolding and were bare. The plastic frame of the floats was extremely noticeable. It’s an organized chaos that begins about 72 hours before New Year’s Day when the organic material is actually placed on the floats. Volunteers will work pretty much around the clock until parade day.

Rows and rows of tables sat outside; flowers in pretty much every color you could imaging were sitting on wooden shelves ready to be cut. Buckets of glue lay on the side of the side ready for use. For the floats, I would be working mainly on Elsa’s ice castle and would be working with coconut, and iris flowers.

Working on the Float

When we were told to wear clothes you wouldn’t mind getting dirty, they wern’t kidding. The first portion of my shift was about an hour of cutting purple iris petals. Every single part of the flower from the leaves to the stem were separated out and sorted into its own container by color. Nothing went to waste. The flowers were really sticky though and after about 10 minutes yours hands would be covered in pollen, and would be sore from separating the plant material.

Some volunteers had gloves for the flower cutting, but it didn’t matter. Within 10 minutes your hands were so sweaty you wanted to take the gloves off. It was all part of the experience though and you wouldn’t notice any of this until later on when you went home. It was too much fun being with friends and working on a giant float.

When the Disney imagineers arrived on site (Disney’s name for engineers), we were put to work on the Disney float! I was secretly hoping to work on the Star Wars float, but I was on the Frozen unit with my friends. The crew lead passed out cups of glue and gave us a paint brush to smear it all over the base of the float. We then used our hands to pack as much coconut on the glue as we could. Then we would let the section dry and pack on more coconut. You can see how quickly this got messy.

The left hand side of the float was labeled as the television side and we were told that side had to stand out more than the right side. It was given a lot more detailing than the right side. The flowers we had previously cut were painstakingly placed in as tightly as possible onto the front of the float. We had to be really careful not to touch anything we glued or step on anything.

It was really fun and challenging! We worked great as a team, but it was really sad when we were asked to move when the TV camera crew wanted to have shots of the Frozen animators and upper level management to pretend to glue and work on the area the volunteer team had just finished. We weren’t going to let it ruin our day.

Wrap Up

We were able to walk around the facility and see just how many people it took to work on the other pieces of the puzzle. The Star Wars and Castle sections of the float had just as many volunteers as our sections. I wanted to say about 100 people. It was an absolute amazing experience to see how our efforts turned out in the end.

My friends and I were really sore, dirty and tired about our shift, but it was definitely an experience I had always wanted to have and was glad to be able to take part in. When the parade is on TV on January 1 you really don’t realize how much effort goes into planning and putting these huge works of art. The crowd will never notice the hours spend placing the coconut r other materials onto the float, just Mickey Mouse and the gang. That’s always what it’s like to be part of the magic though. Until next time, happy travels.