So it’s been a while since I landed back in Aus but I thought I’d take the time to share my experience working at Walt Disney World in Florida. Possibly the most spontaneous, hard and fun thing I’ve ever done with my life. I thought I’d share some thoughts now for anyone who’s thinking of going, about to go or just outright curious.
Hi and hello if you’re new here! As a quick debrief, at the end of 2016 I applied for the International College Program (ICP) with Disney, straight off the back of finishing university. I was accepted and travelled to Florida at the beginning of 2017 – and worked there for 5 months. And then travelled for one month. So, shall we begin?
What? Where? How?
I travelled to the United States at the beginning of January with no idea what was really in store for me. I’m a Disney fanatic, sure – but when you arrive at that place and work with the people who LIVE and BREATHE everything Disney, you feel as though you’ve never even watched a Disney movie. [[the pictures following are some of the costumes I wore in different merchandise locations]]
The ICP ran for 5 months and you were sorted (much like being at Hogwarts) into a sector where you would work for the entirety of your program. This being the case just for Australians and Americans doing the regular College Program (CP). Some other countries have only one place they’ll go to – others rotate.
This all happened in sunny Orlando, Florida – possibly the only other place in the world that could rival Melbourne for how quickly it rotates through all four seasons in one day. The process of getting into this program involved attending an info session, applying for an interview (and getting accepted for interview – that form is so long, dang) and then actually having the interview with one of their travelling agents.
Then approximately 91716 years later, they will message you with a yes or a no as to whether you’ve been accepted. Which is the longest wait of your life and the most anxiety you will ever feel opening an e-mail.
What is a Disney College Program?
A Disney College Program is sort of like an internship. You’re hired for the fantastically low fee of $10USD/hour (and that’s before tax), have no sick, holiday or personal leave and you will work 40+, 50+, 60+ (and yes I’ve even see a 70+) work week. If you’re not prepared to hate the company, love the company, get 4-6 hours of sleep on average and still find the excitement and energy to run around the parks – this ain’t for you kiddo.
Disney sounds like a dream but my word of advice is that you’ve GOT to be ready for the experience. It’s what you make of it. There are a bunch of roles you can be put into. Every employee of Disney is called a cast member, no matter where you are. Some roles include:
- Character Performer
- Food & Beverage (in stalls)
- Food & Beverage (in restaurants)
- Front of House (resorts)
- Custodial (janitors)
- Life Saver (pools)
And so on and so forth. You have some sway in your interview process as to which of these roles you’ll end up in. But at the end of the day, there are thousands upon thousands of applications for this program, so ya gotta be flexible.
What My Role Was
I ended up in Merchandise. I was very happy with this. I got to stare are novelty mugs and Star Wars slippers all day and did not once have to clean up vomit – although there was that one time when it rained so hard the roof leaked and it essentially rained inside, too. That was fun.
Now, you’re given a location too! And might I say, you will not find this out until you’re there. You will be told what role it is but not where. After numerous inductions and mandatory checks, you line up to speak to a person who says: CONGRATS! YOU’RE WORKING >>insert cool place here<<. And unless you had the grand idea to research what you were getting into (I totally didn’t, so prepared) you go . . . and where is that?
I got placed in the Marketplace Co-Op. Sounds exciting right?! *awkward silence* It’s located in Disney Springs, they said and I went oh yeah sure *casually checks map*. It’s the big-ass shopping district, and it’s cool. Be excited if you’re working here. See, I’d only ever been to Disneyland (I say “only”, pft) and just hadn’t checked anything about the differences for Disney World. And it was a great way to do it.
The Coop – as we called it – is a great place to work, but it’s also arguably one of the least exciting locations you could possibly get when you’re GOING TO DISNEY WOOO. Ya know. But unless you’re operating Space Mountain and everyone goes ooo-aaaa when you say that, you’re always going to think the grass is greener on the other side. It’s what you make of it guys. Take that to heart.
The Coop was a boutique store consisting of six smaller stores. It’s function is to sort of try out these products and when they do well, they become mainstream Disney merch. Which is cool – Be Our Guest wine glasses, The Dress Shop (I was there for that opening! MADNESS) and paintings. I sold stuff in a cool funky, left-of-centre type of place.
Being in the location I was, I was rotated around three stores. There was the Coop, Pin Traders (the main hub and biggest pin store – if you don’t know what pins are, lemme tell you there’s a whole new world waiting for you) and Tren-D (see what they did there?). Tren-D is a fashion boutique.
You can, however, also trade locations. So during my time I worked in all four parks: Fantasyland & Frontierland (my favourite location) in Magic Kingdom; Mouse Gears in Epcot, Discovery Island & Mount Everest merchandise store in Animal Kingdom and finally, Hollywood Studios. I worked just about everywhere there – Hollywood Studios was my favourite park to work in. The vibe, guys, THE VIBE.
Working for Disney
It’s a magical place, guys. You will forever hold your standards of service to a Disney Level – and you will pick at things and mutter that’s not how we did it at Disney forevermore. But it. is. hard. work.
SO many people get into this program and leave before they even get a month into it because it’s just freaking hard. And you can’t believe that until you’re there. One girl I worked with did stroller (pram) rental at the front of the parks and was adamant that when she got back home, she’d tell and warn everyone that it sucks and not to work for Disney.
This was also at the end of a 14 hour shift. And not her only 14 hour shift for the week.
But what I will say is this: if you love Disney and you don’t mind being bone tired for months on end doing jobs that are over-exciting, menial and hard-work all at once then you’ll be just fine. The perks of making life-long friends, being in the Disney bubble and riding rollercoasters on your days off make it worth it. At least 9/10, anyway!
Living at Disney
How does living at Disney work? Well let me tell you. This was yet another thing my shockingly unprepared self did not look into. When you first fly in from wherever you’re coming from, you’ll come a day or more early (I came three days early to the start of my program) and stayed at one of the resorts.
Some people stay at other, nearby accommodation but I’d actually recommend teaming up with someone (there are Facebook pages for you to link up with your future ICP friends!) and book a resort room.
Why? Because a) you can catch Disney transport that is free for guests all over the resort area, Disney Springs and the Parks (although you won’t be able to get into those with your staff ID yet) – and b) you have an idea what the resorts and service there is like. Which is always nice to know a bit about the company you’re working for. PLUS, you can complimentary airport-resort transfers. Huge stress off your shoulders right there. Hit the magic from the word GO, my friends.
But then you move into Housing. There are four housing complexes – these are basically small suburbs owned by Disney with giant house-looking apartment blocks on them. They’re all numbered and have a bunch of tiny apartments inside. They range from 2 person to 6. Maybe more, I’m not sure.
I lived at Chatham Square (I wish I had a t-shirt now dangit) and it’s a really nice one. The people are chill, all the special cast events (we get those, yes) are hosted there and all the buses pick up from the front of the housing area. Unlike places like Paterson Court where not all of them do #PainInTheAss. But that’s okay, Disney Cast Member = Professional Long Distance Walker.
SPECIFICALLY, MY HOUSING
I lived with 5 other girls – three to each bedroom. This meant one single bed and one bunk bed. Two bathrooms, galley kitchen (we had two fridges though #Blessed) and a living/dining area. Smol. Smol. Smol. But you don’t need that much space. Between working and being at the parks the number one thing you’re doing at home is passing out in bed or cooking up your meals for the week. Ain’t no-body got time to fix food every night. Especially if you work a location that finishes past midnight on the regular. #GoodLuckMagicKingdom.
It was a tight space to share with 5 other girls. We had our ups and serious downs and fighting was a daily occurrence between at least some variation of us. I paid $99/week for rent and so you just have to not think too hard about how much they’re charging altogether for the space you’re in and CONSTANTLY REMIND YOURSELF YOU’RE AT DISNEY.
I love bunk beds. And I loved my roommates – like the actual ones in my room (I loved the others too) BUT IT’S IMPORTANT. You want to make an effort to get along with the people who wake you up with their almighty snoring or it all goes to
bleep. Loving bunk beds was an important point – I’m part of that 5% of the population that will run through a new house screaming I DIBS THE TOP BUNK because I like it. I get to sit up there and pretend it’s a fort that’s guarded by my pet dragon, Norbert. It’s a wonderful life.
Less wonderful when you need to pee or just want to sit down in your room for five seconds and then have ask permission from your sleep-deprive roommate who resembles a dragon . . . ehhhh anyway.
I feel like I need to address this because the most wonderful thing about Orlando if you’re a foreigner who did not fly their car over, is that you have to walk everywhere and Uber is your new best friend. Except you’re poor, so actually it’s just walking.
The closest shops are a 20min walk away. Sounds alright? But ORLANDO IS HOT AND SWEATY AND UGH. And when you have to make that walk more than once a week (coz you don’t got no time for more food shopping than that, lesbereal) and you’re sweating doing your best impression of the lady-carrying-all-the-shopping-from-the-car-in-one-go meme, your perspective on 20 mins changes.
There is a bus that runs by it – Disney cast members in housing get a special bus that runs once an hour to various shops – but whether you frequent Publix or Walmart (your two options) you’re going to be travelling an hour on that loop. Bleh. Which is only a thing you fancy when it’s a hurricane or you need cold foods. #Struggles.
And as an extra bit of fun, there’s nothing like the days when you’re so tired you walk home to the wrong unit and spend ages trying your key in the wrong, identical door. Those are good moments.
Other amenities that are free and available are a pool, a gym and those little delicious cookies they offer in the admin building. Non-free stuff would be your washing facilities. Chatham Square does not offer apartments with washing machines – I think some Patterson Court units do, but not ours. So you gotta walk to the nearest laundry room with your five quarters that you NEVER have handy (and the card machines are always breaking) and do it that way. Fun fun fun. Especially when it’s raining.
Oh the parks! The glorious parks of Disney. At Disney World there are four parks (and two water parks which I’m not talking about today). I love them all but my favourite park is Animal Kingdom, closely followed by Hollywood Studios. They’re all themed differently and have different things going for them.
This is the main park that everyone loves. When you visit the parks you don’t have to go to all of them – so if you were to only visit one, this is the one most people go for. It has four themed lands in it and allllll the magic. Plus the 3 o’clock parade, Festival of Fantasy, which is the best parade you will ever see in your life.
My favourite ride in this park is Space Mountain (although the version of it in DisneyLand is arguably better). This is closely followed by Big Thunder Fountain which is THE WILDEST RIDE IN THE WIIIIILDERNESS.
My favourite food in this park is the Maple Popcorn because I am a child. You can buy popcorn buckets – BUCKETS I SAY – for $10 *gasp* but, with a $1 refill *sigh of relief*, which is a wicked bargain for someone frequently visiting the parks for 6 moths *nodding*. Tips n’ tricks of Disney Cast Members right there. Obviously this is absolutely of no good to anyone else out there who is not living at Disney. Apologies.
My favourite restaurant is Pecos Tall Tale Inn. It’s yummy and Mexican. And whilst Be Our Guest is notoriously hard to get into, crazily designed AND you can meet the Beast – does it have tacos? I think not.
My favourite character to meet here is Merida because she is my favourite character. My favourite character experience was when I was working in Frontierland (I say that with a heavy south accent every time without fail) a Country Bear came and ran into – yes, into – the window next to the till on purpose to scare me. It was funny after the initial shock.
Magic Kingdom has my favourite “night-time spectacular” which is of course their famous fireworks. When I was there last year, I lived through the shocking change over of fireworks shows – Wishes to Happily Ever After. And once everyone got over their tantrums of this change happening (it doesn’t happen often) we all discovered that Happily Ever After might just be the best thing that has ever come into our lives. I cry every time during Merida’s segment – I WILL RIDE, I WILL FLY, CHASE THE WIND AND TOUCH THE SKY!
The furthest away of all the parks AND the biggest. Also not the furthest away if you’re staying at the Animal Kingdom Lodge but shush. This is an awesome, uber-chill-person friendly park that balances out is mild and meagre rides with ONE EPICLY HUGE AND AHHHH-WORTHY ROLLERCOASTER. There are real animals to see here and because of this there are no fireworks displays nightly, but a water-light show. Very cool.
My favourite ride in this park is obviously Expedition Everest (which I call Mount Everest by mistake twelve times out of ten) which is the rollercoaster. Fun fact, the Yeti animatronic in this is broken – it’s supposed to move but it dun work. Still bloody terrifying. My favourite thing about this ride is one of two things: one, trying to hold a pose for the photo spot (which is right as you go down a massive drop) and two, riding it during Rivers of Light (the night-time spectacular) and seeing the view from the top of the incline.
I’m also a fan of Primeval Whirl because the whiplash is real on that thing and taking people on It’s Tough to Be a Bug for their first time without warning them of the freaking huge spiders that drop down above the audience mid-way through.
My favourite food is the Turtle Brownie from Restaurantosaurus and the soft-serve ice-cream from the Anandapur Ice Cream Truck. I did my time trying everything, alright. My favourite restaurant is hands down the Yak and Yeti because oh my lawd, so tasty.
My favourite character to meet here was Balloo and I especially loved the one time I was there as he was coming out. The assistant was marching in front of him yelling: MAKE WAY FOR KING LOUIE AND BALLOOOOO! Because they come out together and Balloo was just lapping up the attention.
Several of my roommates worked in this park and I picked up a bunch of shifts here so it makes me sad-happy to think of this park. It’s so fun and chill and ahhh I love it. Studios has themes like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Pixar and other fun stuff in it. It’s seriously a great park and you’re missing out by not going. The whole time I was there more than half of it was closed for its expansion for the Star Wars & Pixar lands and it was still awesome. It has THE FUNNEST places to eat at.
My favourite ride in this park was Tower of Terror. I initially resisted going on a ride as it is a drop ride. Like most sane people I was not eager to plummet to my death when I was a newbie in the Disney world. I was eventually coerced into riding it – I was so scared I physically couldn’t scream on the drop, nor breathe – mostly just do the wide-eyed omg I’m dying thing. Since that moment, I’d go on it at least twice every visit.
However, Rockin’ Roller Coaster came a close second – but the queue is almost always long for that and why wait when you could do the Frozen sing along instead? Am I right or am I right?
My favourite food here was probably the popcorn because $1 refill! Woo! No, okay. My favourite food was the sweets in the sweet shop. I always bought cake pop and crispy treats here. The scales also proved this to be my favourite by the time I rolled back to Australia.
My favourite restaurant is Prime Time because you’re treat like a family sitting down for dinner and the waiters tell you off for not eating vegetables or having elbows on the table, etc. It’s very funny. But the Sci-Fi Dine-In is cute too. You get to sit in legit cars.
My favourite character(s) to meet here were Buzz and Woody. I have a funny story about my experience meeting them for the first time that absolutely won’t be funny to tell now. But I’ll tell anyway. Basically, there’s one of me and two of them (duh). And I went to hug Buzz first (I have no preference) and Woody was standing there, arms wide open and waiting as I sailed by him into Buzz’s arms. He was devastated and it was funny. That’s your cue to laugh.
The fireworks were pretty cool – Star Wars themed, but Fantasmic (this park has two night-time spectaculars! But I recommend booking a fastpass to Fantasmic if you wanna get in) is so much better. You sit in an amphitheatre and watch this epic performance on an island in the middle a lagoon, complete with fire, fireworks and like a million characters. It’s awesome.
Epcot is the only park that freely serves alcohol, it is very popular for this reason. It’s themed in two ways – an around the world experience and the FUTURE. I spent my 21st birthday here and had an awesome day drinking my way through the countries, as one does.
My favourite ride here is Test Track. It’s not quite a rollercoaster but you go around in a car at high speeds on a track and it’s wicked fun. Your hair will be wild coming off it. That being said, Soarin’ is also genuinely amazing – and too hard to explain – and the new Frozen ride is almost worth the 2+ hour wait times it gets up to.
My favourite food was the Frushi (Sushi but fruit) they did during the Flower & Garden Festival at the Japan pavilion. My favourite restaurant is the San Angel Inn restaurant located inside the Mexico pavilion. Super duper cool. Chefs de France (France) is quite nice too which does some beautiful desserts.
My favourite character to meet here was Baymax (Big Hero Six). I love Baymax, he is adorable. I have so many pictures with him it’s not even funny. There are fireworks at night here as well and they are pretty fine.
I loved shopping for my merchandise at Epcot because Mouse Gears – the big merch shop – has just about everything and it’s themed coolly. If enormous and a little stressful to work at. Otherwise good.
YES OKAY THIS ISN’T A PARK. But I worked here and it’s my beloved section of Disney so let me sell it to you. Disney Springs is a Disney shopper’s dream come true. It’s big, it’s full of cute and different Disney themed merch and THERE. IS. SO. MUCH. FOOD.
My favourite place to eat was totally Blaze Pizza which I think is something you can get in a few places across America but it’s so yum. However, AristoCrêpes was awesome, the Rainforest and T-Rex cafes were fun and D-Luxe Burger was exactly what you needed in a hungry moment. Bongos was a Cuban restaurant with live dancing and yummy food and Cooke’s of Dublin did a fantastic burger and chips.
Splitsville was a bowling complex and they does REALLY good loaded fries. Ghirardelli was my new found love, bless America for bringing that into existence. Not to mention, food aside, all the shopping to be done – things like World of Disney (the biggest Disney merchandise store in the world) and Days of Christmas where you can buy Disney Christmas stuff all year round.
Other Notable Places To Eat
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue (Wilderness Lodge Resort):
This is where I went for my birthday and it was AWESOME. It’s located at the Wilderness Lodge and somewhat tricky to get to if you’re not staying there. Well not tricky, just takes some time. But it’s worth it. You pay a set price and it’s all you can eat food and all you can drink Sangria all night long. You sit at tables and watch a live performance of acting, singing and dancing. A real experience!
The Whispering Canyon (Wilderness Lodge Resort):
This is also located at the Wilderness Lodge (it has all the best food okay) and once again you can buy the skillet of food that’s all you can eat. So myself and two friends got that and each a refillable milkshake and ate until we couldn’t breathe. So good.
Beaches & Cream Soda Shop (Beach Club Resort):
This is a book-only place so bear that in mind. It does all sorts of sundaes but they’re famous for The Kitchen Sink. Which has so many scoops of ice cream and toppings it comes in a legitimate sink and a WHOLE CAN OF WHIPPED CREAM. They actually make this whole deal out of it every time it’s ordered. I recommend getting yourself a sundae and watching when someone else orders The Kitchen Sink.
Gaston’s Tavern (Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom):
Not for the food, this is a quick service place, but because it offers Gaston’s Brew. And it’s genuinely quite yummy (alcohol-free). It’s fun to do and just nicely tucked away so I recommend checking it out when you visit the kingdom.
Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar (Italy, Epcot):
This is obviously a 21+ only area and a wine bar. I went here on my birthday and it’s always busy and sometimes you have to wait to go in. But it’s cute and small and tucked away and just one of those cool things to try out. Also, wine, yum.
And That’s a Wrap!
I’m going to stop there with my experience and advice! I could start a whole other blog up about Disney easy-peasy and this is already enormously long.
Have you worked at Disney World or visited? Are you planning to? Let me know in the comments below and I’m more than happy to answer any questions you might have!