Real Talk: I Spent a Semester in Disney World!

By Melanie Kaplan

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In front of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

I always knew Walt Disney World as a magical vacation and thought it would be amazing to work there one day. When people say that Disney is where dreams come true, they aren’t lying. I was ecstatic after receiving my acceptance for the Disney College Program. I was accepted as an Attractions Cast Member for the Spring Advantage 2014 program, meaning I would be in Florida from January to August instead of ending my program in May.

Many people asked me what was the purpose of taking off a semester of college to work at Disney World. I always answered by telling them it was a dream come true. It was a wonderful opportunity and I knew I would regret it if I turned the chance down.

Upon check-in day in January at the Vista Way apartment complex in Orlando, I found out my work location: Frontierland in Magic Kingdom. I later discovered I would be working at one of my favorite attractions, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

People think that I worked at a roller coaster for 6 ½ months, but it was much more than pushing buttons. The friendships I made with my fellow cast members and roommates, free park admission, and half a year of fun was only a part of my Disney College Program experience. The skills I learned from working at one of the busiest, most popular attractions in Walt Disney World will stay with me for the rest of my life and can be utilized in any career I pursue. Here are just a few of those skills:

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Beautiful day at Magic Kingdom

  1. Communication: I interacted with thousands of guests per hour from all over the world. Many of these guests did not speak English and made me think of how to provide the same magic and helpfulness I would with an English-speaking guest. By using hand gestures and even high school Spanish, I provided memorable experiences for these guests. In addition, I worked with people from all different backgrounds and of all ages. Communication was necessary at my role because so many things were happening at once and you had to be able to communicate with other cast members as well as guests with what was going on.
  2. Working in a fast paced environment: When I say fast paced, I mean a rapid paced environment. Every roller coaster train had to be dispatched within 36 seconds. This means that the guests had to be double grouped in order to board the trains quickly, their lap bars had to be checked for safety, and the buttons had to be pushed at the right time. Everyone was constantly moving to become more efficient.
  3. Teamwork: This goes hand-in-hand with communication. The attraction could not operate unless everyone worked together. If one cast member was slacking, we had to help out to make sure the guests were having a wonderful experience.
  4. Patience: How can you have patience if you are working in a fast paced environment? Well, since not all guests speak English, you have to be patient enough to help them understand what is happening. Guests with disabilities also required patience, especially when boarding and exiting the train.
  5. Working long hours: Magic Kingdom is known for the long, late hours. Many days I would get off work at 2 or 3 in the morning. Even though I was tired and wanted to go to bed, I continued to smile because there were still guests in the park who were enjoying their time.
  6. Independence: This was the first time I was living on my own and providing for myself. Most importantly, I learned how to budget my money. I was responsible for arriving to the bus stop early to allow enough time to get to work. I also had to buy groceries and take time out of my life for laundry. It was definitely an adjustment from a college dorm and living at home.
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Some downtime at Epcot

Besides the skills and friendships, the most important part of the Disney College Program is the memories. I knew going into the program I wanted to have more than just pictures. I decided to become a Disney Vlogger and video-blogged my entire program on YouTube. It was a big commitment, but was definitely worth the hours of editing. It was always rewarding to have random guests of all ages visit me at work and recognize me from YouTube; I felt famous! Now that my program has ended, I love to rewatch the wonderful times I had in Disney and continue to relive the magic.

If you are interested in applying for the Disney College Program, here are some things you should know:

  1. You must be at least 18 years old and currently enrolled in a college or university to apply. This means you can be a graduating senior and apply for the semester after you graduate.
  2. Applications open in February for the Fall programs and in September for the Spring programs. You can apply for both the Walt Disney World Resort and/or the Disneyland Resort.
  3. Have an idea of which roles you would be interested in, knowing that anything with interest is fair game. For example, if you don’t want to be working in Quick Service Food and Beverage for 4 months, indicate no interest.
  4. There is a web-based interview that you must pass before you are asked for a phone interview.
  5. Be confident in yourself and don’t forget to smile!

The Disney College Program is a wonderful opportunity. The skills you learn help with any career whether you are going into the hospitality field, business, communications, or medical field. I definitely suggest this internship because what better way to learn, grow, and prepare yourself for the workplace than in the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World!

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