During the summer I was lucky enough to gain a place on the Walt Disney World College Program as a character attendant and I can honestly say it was the most unusual and inspiring experience of my life. As a child I always said I would love to work at Disney, but I never believed this could actually be a reality. The placement is run by yummy jobs (www.yummyjobs.com) and runs for University students during the summer months, applications open in August for the following year and interviews start in October. I found out I had got the job in November, then it was a seven month wait before I could leave. I spent 11 weeks in Florida in total and definitely made the most of my time there with the many different opportunities and experiences I engaged in.
The program is about living, learning and earning. Participants come from all over the world so you are encouraged to learn about different cultures, with a focus on America, and each month you have to document an American cultural activity you have taken part in. For the living part of the program you are in Disney college program housing, which is comparable to our University halls in England, but with swimming pools, you are placed in one of four complexes and you share with up to seven other people.
I was slightly worried about sharing an actual bedroom with someone, as although this is common place in dorms in America, it is not something that many students have to do in England, yet I had a great experience with this and luckily got on well with my roommate. At the beginning of the program you pay a housing fee which covers different events that run at the complexes such a pool parties and grocery bingo (where you can win your groceries for a week!) and at the end of your program you get to attend a graduation where you receive a graduation Mickey cap and there is a BBQ and character meet and greets, it is these extra touches that Disney is renowned for an these that make the experience extra special.
The learning came at the beginning of the program with an intensive training week related to Disney in general, and then more specifically to my particular role. All Disney employees attend 'Traditions' which is about learning about the company and the Disney way of life. All these sessions took place at 'Disney University'.
Being a Disney Cast Member is a job like no other I've ever had and on top of working for one of the biggest companies in the world, you also get many perks. Unlimited free entry to all the Disney parks is one benefit, and having a card which lets you bring in up to three friends or family members is another. There are also merchandise discounts, food and beverage discounts, a free bus service and special cast experiences available.
The earning experience, for me, was amazing. I had chosen the role of character attendant as I had remembered the characters being such a big part of my Disney experience as a child and I really wanted to be part of that magic. It was such a rewarding job, it was very demanding as it meant having to be in charge of the timing for the characters so making sure they were on and off stage on time, judging the line of guests, making sure you preserved character integrity, making sure safety guidelines were kept to, and learning the way in which each character area worked.
I was placed in Magic Kingdom, which has over twenty different spots to meet characters, and therefore there were many differing queue lines and schedules to learn, this was a challenge when I was only working for 10 weeks but it was a very enjoyable challenge. Work could be hard at some points, with angry guests when you had to close the queue line and thunderstorms which could sometimes mean characters had to be taken offstage at quick notice, but the moments where guests met their favourite character made up for this all.
Overall it was an amazing experience, living the other side of the world, embracing the American way of life, making friends from all over the world and working in what is said to be the most magical place on earth was all I could have ever dreamed it would be. It was like being in a parallel universe, but it has taught me a lot about how a large corporation is run well as Disney, regardless of its size, still manages to pay attention to very particular details and this has kept its popularity even after Walt Disney World has celebrated its 40th birthday. I have made some friends for life and some memories I will never forget. It has really taught me to go with your dreams and don't let anything hold you back.
If you would like to read more, I blogged about my experience at cmgiles.tumblr.com