Would you ever want to work at Disney World? Would that be a dream come true or an Actual Living Nightmare? I’m an impatient introvert who melts in the heat so it’s not the job for me, but I loved this interview with Stephanie who is a former Disney World staffer!
Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Stephanie; I’m from Tallahassee and I’m 25 years old. I’m a content strategist and freelance writer. When I’m not working, I’m usually hanging out at my favorite local bars, going vintage shopping or watching Critical Role.
How did you get interested in working at Disney World?
My family has always been a big fan of Disney, but I didn’t get interested in working there until I was in my second year of college and heard about the College Program.
I never really got into the “college” scene, so this seemed like the perfect way to get away from campus for a semester, “live the dream” of working/living at Disney, all while not having to move to Orlando permanently.
What was the application process like?
The application process is actually pretty intense. There are three rounds, not including character auditions.
There’s your basic online application and then it goes to a online personality test of sorts. The test identifies who is best suited for the Disney World environment, which is pretty intense and involves a lot of face-to-face interaction with guests.
he phone interview is last and that’s the notorious part within the College Program. Many college students haven’t experienced an intense job interview, let alone a phone interview.
What was your official job title? What were your assigned duties?
My official job title was Disney College Program Intern/Attractions Cast Member. I worked at the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Playground Adventure Set in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. the basic assigned duties for any cast member are upholding what they refer to as the Four Keys: safety, courtesy, show and efficiency.
But essentially I was a hybrid between a tour guide and lifeguard on land, for those who aren’t familiar with Disney.
Can you walk us through an average day on the job?
I would take the bus to Hollywood Studios every morning and then you enter the park a true what they call a “backstage” entrance, which is for cast members only. I would actually pick up a beach cruiser bike and ride to my break room in the back area of Hollywood Studios. (This section of the park has actually been bulldozed recently to make way for the new Star Wars attractions. I’m pretty bummed about it.)
I would spend my day rotating through a different positions within the playground area. I would greet guests and chat with them, make sure that the kids weren’t doing unsafe things like a climbing up walls they shouldn’t be climbing or running around without their shoes on.
Unlike a lot of other attractions where you are operating a ride (like Space Mountain), I was working with people 100% of every shift.
This came with a lot of it own unique challenges that I wasn’t expecting, like how rude guests can be or how often parents lose track of their children.
Overall the position suited me really well though because I’m good at talking to people and explaining tips and tricks for getting the most out of their day, even though it’s not very glamorous.
For instance, my roommate was a Skipper on the Jungle Cruise–which if you’re going to be a cast member at Disney world is one of the coolest jobs that you can have. I was pretty bummed when I first got my assignment, but I learned to love it.
I was lucky enough to work at the playground during the winter months, when Hollywood Studios was still doing the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights and I got to be on a few firework shifts for private park events.
Which were the ‘best’ jobs in the park? Like, the ones everyone coveted or was trying to work up to? What were the ‘worst’ jobs?
Once you’re a Cast Member, you learn that every job has good shifts and absolutely awful shifts. So it’s hard to say best and worst.
The least desired jobs tended to be the people who didn’t get to work in the actual parks at all (so you worked in a resort or a store outside of the parks,) or worked in the “fast casual” dining areas.
Surprisingly, custodial jobs were pretty high on the list of “cool” jobs once you learned that you get a lot of freedom and get paid almost as much as character performers in that role.
A lot of public-facing service jobs have pretty strict guidelines about appearance, clothing, behavior while employees are in front of guests. What were the guidelines like for you?
There’s a lot of negative press out there about what Disney allows and doesn’t allow Cast Members to wear/look like, but it’s not much more restrictive than a regular office or professional environment.
They really just want everyone to look cohesive and “timeless”, which makes sense when they explain it.
The one thing that did frustrate me was being happy and “on” 100% of the time you’re at work, every single day. For instance, I broke up with a boyfriend and had to go to work the very next day. I got reprimanded for crying and looking sad “onstage” (in a guest area) even though there were no guests around me at the time.
For College Program interns, they have really restrictive rules about visiting hours at the apartment complexes, etc. Just imagine a super strict dorm environment and that’s similar to what it was like in College Program housing.
Can you share some of your more memorable moments with us?
One of the most “magical” moments I had while working was when a little girl lost her autograph book that was full of character signatures. I got to have one of my friends (who was a character performer) fill up a new book with signatures for her.
When I presented it to the little girl, she was genuinely thrilled that “Tinkerbell flew all over” just to get her friends to sign a new book for her. That was pretty awesome.
One weird thing that still happens to this day is that people assume I was a “princess”. I can’t tell you how many times people tell me I must’ve been a great Snow White or Belle.
Which is flattering to a point, but also bums me out a bit because I never got offered a performer role. (Definitely not bitter about that at all!)
Do you have any awesome tips for us about how to make the most of a visit to Disney World?
Absolutely! Here are some of my best tips:
- Pack your own snacks and bring an EMPTY water bottle. Food and empty containers are allowed, which saves you a lot of time and money when you get into the park.
- Always check the schedules and start your day in the park that opens the earliest and end it in the one that’s open the latest. More hours for your money!
- Don’t be afraid to take a break. Whether you go nap at your hotel or post up at a nice seating area for a while, you’ll feel way better than just going full speed all day.
- Be extra nice to cast members and don’t be afraid to ask for advice and tips from them!
Also, a personal favorite of mine is to watch the Wishes fireworks show in Magic Kingdom from behind Cinderella’s castle, between the carousel and New Fantasyland. You end up in the middle of both sets of fireworks and it’s really amazing! (Also I still cry every time.)
Did this experience make you like amusement parks more or less?
Honestly it made me dislike other amusement parks even more than I did before. Anywhere else just isn’t worth the trouble for me.
It definitely made me love Disney even more, because now I have a more profound appreciation for how much work goes into running a park like Disney.
What did you learn from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives?
The biggest lesson I learned is attitude is everything. Whatever energy and intention you bring into a situation, you’ll end up manifesting. I saw this happen to guests and myself every single day.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, Stephanie! Do you guys have any questions for her?