2018 marks 5 years since I made the best decision of my life thus far.
In January of 2013, I began my journey as a Walt Disney World cast member.
**This post is a bit on the long side so I won’t be mad if you scroll past to the program.
I was in a weird place. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. My 3.5, almost 4, year long relationship with the love of my life was crumbling right before my eyes.
It was the only thing I had been sure about in life because it consumed such a significant portion of my adolescent years.
But something inside of me told me it was the end of an era. And that scared the hell out of me.
I was freshly 19 years old and just beginning to realize that young marriage and popping out babies left and right while working a mediocre underpaying job with no real life goals was just not me. And I knew that’s exactly the direction I was headed.
During that summer, I had felt like I was Jack freezing to death in the water while there was plenty of room for Rose to move over so we could both live. A happier life was in my reach, I just had to do the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point in my life: dump him.
Okay, I’m being super dramatic, but let’s just say I needed change and it just so happened that my aunt had the answer.
Her son, my cousin, had participated in the Disney College Program (DCP) a couple years prior so she knew a thing or two about it and suggested I look into it. She thought I’d be perfect for it.
Honestly, I brushed it off at first. I thought there was no way in hell I’d move so far away all by myself. That, and I was not in the right state of mind to be rejected if they didn’t end up wanting me.
By the end of the summer, however, my aunt received an email advertising that the DCP was accepting applications for the spring 2013 term so naturally she forwarded it to my mom to have her encourage me to try once again.
Saturday, September 15, 2012
I gave in.
I figured, what was the worst that could happen? I’d apply and they’d say no?
That same day, I received an email offer to do a web-based interview (basically just a questionnaire.) Then they sent an email requesting I schedule a phone interview with a recruiter.
I was so shocked at how fast everything was moving.
I did the phone interview at 3:00pm on September 27th. After that, though, I had to wait a painfully-long time to receive notification of my inevitable rejection (I was pretty cynical back then.)
Then it happened.
Tuesday, October 16, 2012 @ 10:37am
From that moment until the end of January 2013 was a complete whirlwind. During those few months I was still in emotional turmoil as I was pulling myself away from my ex. This was not an easy thing for me, but I knew that I’d be peacing out and starting over soon enough so I’d just have to stick it out.
AT LAST, the day had come for me to leave the cold and snow of New York for my sunny, warm destination of Orlando, Florida.
Saturday, January 26, 2013
My mom and little sister dropped me off at the airport. I was a complete nervous-wreck on the inside because, before that point, I had never flown on an airplane before. To make matters scarier, I was flying for the first time all by myself.
But hey, this was a new chapter for me and I was ready to embrace every bit of it.
I arrived in Florida two days early so I could orient myself with just being there. I ended up staying with my great aunt for the weekend so she could help me get situated. She lives about 30 minutes from Disney World so this was another justification for doing the program. If anything went wrong, I had family close by to help.
Sunday, January 27, 2013
My aunt and I hopped in her car with my luggage and drove down to get me checked in.
**It was so long ago and such a crazy day that the timing of everything kind of evades me, but I’ll try my best.
I think we arrived by around 9:30am at Vista Way. The College Program offered four housing complexes: Vista Way, Patterson Court, Chatham Square, and The Commons. Vista just happened to be the registration point.
Once there, I was almost immediately split up from my aunt and placed in a group. We listened to someone talk and eventually got into a line to find out where we’d be living and who we’d be rooming with.
The DCP allows you to make a request for a complex and your roommates, if you knew anyone.
I didn’t, but I had researched the complexes ahead of time just to have some frame of reference.
Vista Way: The OG complex. It’s the least well-taken care of. I’m talking bugs, old appliances, dirty bathrooms, etc. (This is a mix of what I researched and what I observed.)
The Commons: In 2013, this complex was almost exclusively for the ICPs (International College Program.) Rumor has it that those apartments had washers and dryers inside of them. Oh, what I would’ve given for that luxury…
Chatham Square: I believe this complex was the only to offer 1 bedrooms (meaning you’d only live with one other person.) It’s a nicer complex with a courtyard of sorts where they usually held CP events.
Patterson Court: …Or what I thought of as the Holy Grail. It was the newest complex and, from pictures, by far the nicest. The only downfall was that it didn’t have it’s own bus stop so you’d have to walk to Chatham to get a ride to work (unless you were fancy and had a car.)
When I got to the table to make my request, I (obviously) wanted Patterson, but I also said Chatham would do. I remember the person specifically saying, “Oh sorry, it looks like the only complex left is Vista Way.”
My heart sank. I knew I could probably make the most of it, but I really didn’t want to spend four months of my life there.
The person stationed at the table next to us overheard and said, “if you don’t mind paying a little more, there’s one spot left in a 1 bedroom in Chatham.”
I immediately lit up and said I’d take it!
Mind you, “paying a little more” really just meant like a $10 or $15 difference per week.
As I moved forward in the line, a few people were able to point out the girl who was to be my new roommate.
Let me preface my explanation of her by saying that I simply could not have been luckier when being matched up. She was a friendship that I never knew I needed in life before that point.
Her name? Taylor.
No seriously! Taylor and Tayler…It was clearly meant to be. I came to the realization that she was the southern belle, barrel-racing, one-year-older version of me.
Our personalities clicked instantly and the rest was history.
I was placed in the Park Greeter role at EPCOT and, as far as CP roles go, I’d have to say I was pretty damn lucky in that department as well. Food and Beverage cast members and those in Merchandise have it rough (or so I’ve been told.)
As a Park Greeter, I was basically the first cast member you’d see as you entered the park. I checked ticket validity, blew bubbles, and handed out stickers. AND I earned 6 college credits for doing this! Life was hard, man.
I’m getting ahead of myself though.
Before I started officially training in my role, I was shuttled to this magical building called Disney University (*not an actual university) where I sat with a bunch of other newbies for Traditions.
Traditions: Basically this class where they teach you the company’s values and history and what not.
When we were done with that, though, we got to take a sneaky tour of Magic Kingdom and check out the utilidoors!
…Yes, the well-known rumor of the tunnels under the park is true.
That day marked my second time ever being in a Disney park; the first having been 8 years prior when I was 11. So needless to say, I had stars in my eyes and Mickey on my mind.
By the end of that day, I had my name tag and my Main Gate.
Main Gate: A cast member’s ticket to the park. It also gave them access to get up to 3 guests into the park with them on any one day fo’ free.
I WAS OFFICIAL.
Now getting back to what I was saying about EPCOT.
They have you start off with an orientation day at the park. They called this class Discovery Day. We were talked at for a while and given a tour of the park. This was my first time ever seeing EPCOT so that was pretty sick.
I’m pretty sure we were then split up into groups for our respective roles and introduced to our trainers.
On our first day of training we got our fugly costumes, did a bunch of reading, and started learning the positions. The second day was more of the same. I wanna say the third day was assessment day.
This is just a test of sorts to see if you’re competent enough to run the machines and restock the map racks. Each role on property has a different training process. Our role was pretty straight-forward so that’s why our training was only a few days.
Just to be clear, the Disney College Program wasn’t created with the intention of making college kids’ dreams come true, although that’s an added bonus and a great marketing tool.
It was actually created so the company could have tons of cheap labor without breaking any laws.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the company for that. Quite the opposite actually. I think they’re genius for coming up with a ploy so devious.
I was only paid $7.76/hour in the College Program with a little more than $100/week going to rent so from my point of view it was shitty, but from a business point of view, I can’t really blame them.
The people I met during my short 4 month stint in Walt Disney World probably has to be my favorite part.
I became so much more culturally-immersed than I had ever dreamed of.
I had American friends from every corner of the country, Australian friends, German friends, Chinese friends, Korean friends, Canadian friends, Puerto Rican friends. You name it!
I think I grew the most just by opening myself up to the other cast members. Many of whom I am still best friends with today.
Taylor still works at Disney so she’s lives close. We don’t see each other as much as I’d like, but I know she’s always there for me if I need her and visa versa.
John was my coordinator at EPCOT. At the time, I didn’t know it was allowed for us to be friends outside of work, but it happened anyway and I’m glad it did. He currently lives in the Orlando area still so we try to catch up as regularly as possible.
Shane worked as a Park Greeter with me. I hadn’t met him until a month or two into my program cause he was worked elsewhere for a bit, but when he decided to show up in my life it was the greatest thing ever. Him and his family come down at least once a year for vacation so I always make it a point to see him.
I met Zach in line at registration with Taylor. We all immediately hit it off and kept in touch throughout the program.
Later, he introduced us to his roommate Brian who ended up becoming the fourth member of our little group. These two live on the west coast so I rarely see them, but I’m taking a trip to meet up with them in Salt Lake City this month. I can’t wait for us to catch up!
As for everyone else, I still keep tabs on just about all of them through social media. I’d love to catch up with more of them, but life happens and people grow apart.
What’re you to do?
I am still, and forever will be, a HUGE advocate for the Disney College Program.
I was able to smoothly move on from my ex by literally putting hundreds of miles between us.
I was able to grow mentally, physically, and emotionally.
I became more goal-oriented and selfish/focused on bettering myself.
I created forever friendships and gained personal skills.
It was seriously the experience of a lifetime.
I ended up leaving at the beginning of June to go back to New York and boy did that post-DCP depression hit hard…I lasted about two months before I realized that Syracuse was not where I needed to be anymore. I had to move.
Now here I am, 5 years later, living in Central Florida.
I ended up being a Disney cast member for a total of almost 4 years and I transferred to a school down here.
The transition was not easy by any means, but I firmly believe that I am exactly where I need to be right now in life. Thanks to Disney.
If I ever begin questioning my decisions up to this point or reminiscing on how I got to where I am, I just have to remembered that “it was all started by a mouse.”
This post could good on and on forever so I had to cut it off at some point. If you have any questions about the Disney College Program or being a cast member, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment.
Be sure to click here to see about applying! It just might change your life…
I’ll probably do more posts on what its like to be a cast member, why I left Disney, etc. So keep an eye out for those!
If you made it this far, thanks so much for reading!
I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience with the Disney College Program.