The Disney College Program Will Change Your Life
The Disney College Program is an experience unlike any other on earth. If you think it would be cool to live and work in a place with Castles, Pirates, Space Exploration, Foreign Countries, a Giant Geodesic Dome, Dinosaurs, Wild Animals, Ghosts, Princesses and Princes, Monorails, The Past, The Present and the Future then the Disney College Program is for you. If you do not think that would be cool then go see your doctor because you might be dead.
When you first look into the Disney College Program and decide that it is right for you, you know you are going to have an amazing time but it is not until it is over that you realize that you have become a better person.
First Glimpse of the Disney College Program
My first exposure to the Disney College Program was in the spring of 1999 when I went to visit my sister who was doing the program. She was working at Beaches and Cream and living at Vista Way. The first night I arrived to Florida I was picked up by my sister and her friend and we went straight back to Vista Way. I immediately felt the spirit of the Disney College Program as soon as we got to Vista. Within a few minutes of hanging out at her apartment with some of her friends I knew I wanted to be a CP. The weird thing was my first thought was “It would be very hard to leave this place.” Everyone was so happy that I met that the magic was just pouring out of them.
My Journey Begins
In the Fall of 2001 I started my first semester of college and as soon as I could I signed up for the Disney Internship. I was accepted for the spring 2002 program and my role was in attractions.
When I first arrived I was obviously excited but I had no idea how easy it was going to be to make friends. I have always been an outgoing person but never have I made friends as easily as I did when I was a CP. While I was an outgoing person I felt I could still use some confidence in my life. To begin with I knew who I was but I also knew the kind of person I wanted to be. I wanted to be more confident and I wanted to be a leader.
Roommates and Vista Way
I moved into a two bedroom apartment in building 33 apartment number 3311. I had three other roommates which two out of the three ended up being awesome and the other one was not so great but he also could have been a lot worse. In the beginning though all four of us got along great. We went to our housing meeting together and went to downtown Disney on the first night together.
Traditions and my Position
Traditions class was an eight hour training class that took place in the building we checked into at Vista Way. It was long and boring for the most part. I was struggling to pay attention. This was different than my second program. They later changed the traditions class and made it much more interesting and fun. The first time I took traditions though I just remember it being long and boring as opposed to my second experience with it was fun and did not seem so long.
After traditions class I got all checked in with Disney getting my Disney ID. I knew I would be in Fastpass at Magic Kingdom but I had no idea what exactly that meant. I was hoping I was going to get to actually control the rides and the lines but it ended up being a position only in Fastpass meaning the three Fastpass positions at any Fastpass attraction were mine to work. I wasn’t sure it was going to be much fun. I quickly learned how much fun it actually was. I had a blast working at Fastpass. One of the best perks of working Fastpass is since you are in control of the lines of the busy rides at the parks you know everyone who works those positions so whenever I came in to play I never had to wait in the normal lines.
My position was in Fastpass at the Magic Kingdom. I would move between three rides every day and work only Fastpass positions. The most intense position was merge point which is where you merge the Fastpass line with the standby line and put guests on teh ride. This was an intimidating position because you had people from the standby line constantly upset that they had to wait so long while all these other people got to on before them plus you had to keep track of how many guests you were putting in each row of the attraction.
During my training I was a bit scared of doing this position. I lacked the total confidence I needed in the beginning to handle merge point. I did however pass my training test and was able to put in regular rotation. It did not take long before my confidence level grew and I felt comfortable with handling the merge point and all of my positions.
The confidence that I got from doing my job carried with me into everything I did and I still hold it with me today. Not only did I gain confidence from my job but I gained it from interacting with hundreds of other CP’s from around the world.
After Work Social Life and Play Time
After work was time to play and there were always new people to hang out with. Even though I did go into the parks by myself a lot of the time. I loved going to the parks by myself every now and then. I felt so free being away from home for the first time and getting to go and do anything I wanted to and ride any ride I wanted to. It was nice to be able to just do whatever I wanted to especially being at Disney World where there is SO much to do.
The other CP’s in building 33 were awesome. We all pretty much hung out together all the time. We just hung out in someones apartment or outside together but every night we were hanging out together. We had a really tight group of people. This group of people just in building 33 were from all over the country and the world. The harsh reality of the Disney College Program though is that you will more likely than not have friends who get kicked out of the program. This happened to our group. One day about a month or so after the program began I had come home from a mini 3 day vacation with my grandparents who were down in Florida to visit and I found out that four of my friends from building 33 had gotten caught with a 6 pack of beer and were getting kicked out for underage drinking. This changed everything within our group at building 33. Everyone began to kind of go their own ways and find new friends.
At first I was sad that our group had kind of disbanded but it ended up being a good thing for me. I had more time to do what I wanted to go and do. I spent more time meeting new people hanging out with them and then meeting more people. It went on like this for a while.
The Second Chapter of my First Disney College Program
Then one day I was on my break in Magic Kingdom cafeteria in the tunnels and I thought to myself I’m not going to eat alone today. I looked up and saw a girl sitting alone and decided to sit with her. It turned out she was a CP and lived in Vista Way too. She had a car and gave me a ride home after work and we became best friends. We hung out all the time and it was awesome. It was great too because we still met new people and went and did fun things but I had a good friend that was my partner in crime. Her roommate was awesome too and three of us did everything together.
As luck would have it though another tragedy in my Disney College Program would strike. My new best friend who I had been hanging out with for a good month and half to two months got termed early. She called into work a lot and honestly I think they were even kind of lenient with her so she kind of had it coming plus she was not super in love with her position at the time. Either way though I was sad to see her go. She was my best friend that I made on the program. In both my Disney Internships I would say I really only made two best friends and she was one of them.
The Third Chapter of My First Disney College Program
After she left I felt kind of lost because this was the second time my group had got broken up because of terminations. I was kind of sick of starting over. But that feeling was pushed aside because while I lost my best friend I still had lots of friends to hang out with. I started just bouncing around from group to group and meeting as many people as I could.
Hanging out with people from so many different cultures of America and many different countries opened my eyes up to how others view things. I learned that a lot of what I thought was normal was really just cultural norms based on where I was from. I found out that things I thought were important to everyone really just seemed important to the people of the culture of where I came from and to the rest of the world it was no big deal.
Being around people from other parts of the country and the world make you realize your uniqueness that you have because of where you are from too. For instance when you go to school from Elementary school all the way up through high school in the same town and region of a state you find there are certain things that people just do and it is normal. You do them too and you do not feel as unique. It’s harder to see outside the box when the box is all you know. When you leave that box and are around people from many different boxes you then can see what was really just nonsense and unimportant from your own box as well as what is really unique about your box that you can appreciate and be thankful for.
This is one of the greatest things about the Disney College Program. You are surrounded by people from all over the world with different cultures. You get to learn about their cultures and see the differences and similarities. You can then take pieces of other cultures that you like and apply them to your life. You also get to share your culture with others and give them pieces to take with them. The one thing that everyone on the Disney College Program seems to have in common though is, for the most part, kind hearts and respect for one another. When you are a CP you are not alone. You immediately feel a connection to other CP’s because you are in the journey together.
My First Disney College Program Comes To An End
By the end of my first program in May I felt that I had become the person I had always wanted to be at that time. Not only did I become a better person but I discovered things about myself that I had no idea I was capable of. I learned that I could really do what I set my mind to.
On my first day home I woke up in my old room and realized my dream was over. I was so sad I started crying. It took me a week or so just to start getting used to being home again. Luckily for me I have some great friends at home that made me happy to be home and around them but still I missed living and working at Disney World and that lifestyle. Disney withdrawal is real people! Especially withdrawal from being part of the Disney College Program.
First Thoughts of a Second Disney Internship
I decided I would do a second Disney Internship however I wanted to graduate from college at some point so I had to make a choice whether or not to further delay my graduation. I then decided I would finish up my degree and do another program the semester after I graduated. Since I didn’t know what I wanted to major in I ended up taking time off after I got my associates degree. Long story short by the time I picked a degree and tried out 3 different schools I was finally on track to graduate with my bachelors degree. I had gone to three Disney College Program campus presentations while I was going for my degree but each time I decided I needed to finish school before I did another program. That hope really motivated me to work hard in school to finish things up.
The Time Was Right For My Second Disney College Program
In the spring of 2010 I went to the very first campus presentation I could go to for sign ups for the 2010 fall semester of the Disney College Program. I signed up, did my phone interview and got accepted! Again! My role was attractions which was my first choice! Again! I was so excited and this time I knew what to expect so I planned to make my second program even better than my first.
I was set to start my second Disney Internship on August 11th 2010. I decided this time I was going to drive myself all the way from Chicago. About a month before I left I bought a new car so I had one more thing to be excited about.
My sister worked for Marriott at the time so she was able to get me rooms for 35 bucks a night. Since the rooms were so cheap and I was driving myself I decided to make the drive in three days instead of two.
Finally After All These Years It Was Time To Go Back To Disney!
I will never forget how excited I was on the day I left. It was a Sunday morning when I left. I packed my car up the night before and that morning I said my goodbyes to my family and began the drive. I did not plan a route at all. I just put in the address of my first nights hotel into my GPS and hit the road. As I was leaving Illinois I hit some bad traffic. My GPS reported there was a new route available that would be 45 minutes shorter so I said yes please! It took me off the highway and as I was following the route I realized the area was getting worse. I’m glad it was a Sunday morning because as I was getting back on the highway I saw a sign that said “Thanks for visiting Gary Indiana home of Michael Jackson” for those of you who don’t know Gary Indiana is a bad place to be especially the part I was guided through and my new car stuck out like a sore thumb. It was my first adventure on my trip.
I arrived at my first nights hotel in Kentucky and was so excited I could barely sleep. I ended up talking to a bunch of my friends and family that night. I realized I needed a Web Cam so I could communicate better with everyone so the next morning I left the hotel and stopped at a target near by and grabbed a webcam.
The next part of the drive was really fun. I was out of the flat landscapes I was used to and into the rolling foothills of Tennessee. There were some crazy steep roads that were really fun to drive through.
As I came up to Atlanta I remembered my Grandma told me to make sure I take the route that goes around the city. My GPS said the quickest route was through downtown Atlanta. I thought why not, when am I going to do this again. The roads in Atlanta were crazy. At one point it was 7 lanes wide on each side. Traffic in Chicago is crazy but no roads are 7 lanes wide. It was pretty intense. As I came into the city I could see traffic coming to a full stop ahead but lucky for me my exit was directly before the traffic jam. I put on some Outkast to jam since I was in ATL and flew through the city no problem.
Arriving In Orlando
I made it to my next stop and I was still so excited I could barely sleep again. The next day would be the last and shortest day of my drive. I wanted to get to Orlando early so I could relax a bit before my big day plus my Aunt, Uncle and cousins were down in Orlando on vacation staying at the Universal hotels. I checked into my hotel which was the Marriott right between Vista and the Commons. At this point I was overwhelmed with excitement.
I met up with my relatives at Universals City Walk and we ate dinner at the NBC Sports Grill and Brew. It was a yummy dinner. I finally felt like I was back in part 2 of my dream. All the years of waiting was paying off in what was about to be the best experience of my life.
Check In Day
That night I could barely sleep. I woke up the next day, got ready and went over to Vista Way for check in. When I got there the line was not that long like it was on my first program. I got in and out in like 20 minutes. I did have to plead with them a little bit to give me a one bedroom because otherwise it was a 3 or 4 bedroom apartment and I really did not want that. I got my one bedroom at Chatham, hopped in my car and drove over.
When I got to my new apartment I was shocked to find the place was completely trashed from the current tenant. Since I had to push my way into a one bedroom apartment they put me in an apartment that had a current CP who’s program was ending a few days later. He had been living there by himself for a few weeks now and was not expecting anyone moving in. You can read more about that situation below.
I was excited for my first class; Traditions! Lucky for me this was the one of a couple times I actually took the bus anywhere. Pretty much because I had to. This time was much different then my first time around. I was 28 years old and I had lived away from home a few times now. Most of the people in my group were fresh out of high school like I was on my first program and just feeling the high of being on their own for the first time. It felt good though because I knew what to expect from the program. I made my mistakes the first time around. I knew exactly how I was going to handle myself this time around and I knew I was going to make the most of every moment.
Getting My New Role at the Wildlife Express Train at DAK
I found out I would be working the Wildlife Express Train at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Now I had been to Disney a ton of times and like I said even did an internship before but I was not sure what the Wildlife Express was. As I thought more about it I remembered on my first program my friends and I went into Animal Kingdom and rode a train. We did not like the train nor where it took us too. That was the one and only time I rode the train before becoming a Cast Member at it.
At first I was not too sure about my position. I was happy that it was at an actual “ride” but I had said before going down that the last park I wanted to work at was Animal Kingdom. This soon changed though and is now the number one park I would want to work at. As a Cast Member at the Wildlife Express I would get to drive the train as engineer and give a spiel as a conductor. I was super excited that I was going to get to spiel. I really wanted a position that I got to talk on a mic to lots a guests and I got it! I absolutely loved spieling! Driving the train was super awesome fun too!
Loving Working at The Wildlife Express
I quickly began to love the Wildlife Express Train. Not only were the positions fun to be at but the other Cast Members I worked with were amazing. The other CP’s I worked with became my best friends both my first and second semester.
When I got accepted to my second Disney College Program I decided a three things. I was there to work as much as I could, I would do whatever my managers asked me to do without hesitation and when I was at work I was there to make the guests vacation better. These were the three most important decisions I made that made my experience such a success.
I enjoyed everyone I worked with immensely minus one dude who will remain nameless. This guy I refer to was a guy who’s idea of coming up is pulling everyone else down. I only mention him because you will encounter these people who will make you feel like you are doing something wrong at your position. If they say something to you go and ask your manager immediately if what you did was wrong. Your manager will appreciate that you are taking a proactive approach to correct your actions. Not too mention every time I would go to my manager and say “Hey so-and-so said that I was supposed to do this but I was never trained on that. Should I be doing this?” They would always tell me that what so-and-so said was just his preference and was not in our guidelines so just ignore him next time. Which is exactly what I did. I will also take this time to mention that if someone wrongs you or another Cast Member in anyways please tell your manager. Disney takes that stuff very seriously and a corrective action will take place with that person.
Loving Life as a CP
Back to the fun stuff. I loved being a CP in every way. I loved being a Cast Member at Disney. I loved living at Chatham. I loved that all my friends were on the College Program too. I loved living in Florida. I loved the Weather. I just loved everything about being a CP.
One of the things I was worried about was being away from home during the holidays. However working at Disney during the holidays is awesome. Sure you miss your family but if you are going to be away from home for the holidays, Disney is the best place to be. Thanksgiving was one of the funnest days I specifically remember working at Disney. It was not as crowded as you’d think and everyone was in a terrific mood. The guests and Cast Members were all just happy that day.
My family loves Disney and since I got a 60% off discount on hotel rooms, my Mom, Grandma, two Aunts and Uncle came down to visit me a couple weeks before Christmas. I got to spend a week with them and we had such a fun time together. They came and saw me do my thing on the train and after work I got to meet up with them and go have fun in the parks. It ended up being one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had.
When Christmas day was coming up I was excited to work it. Being that one of my rules was to make the guests vacations as best as they can be I was looking forward to making their Christmas Vacation awesome! Up until this point I had not missed one single day of work and then the unfortunate happened where I had to miss work. The night before Christmas Eve I took my contacts out and ended up scratching my eye. I ended up having to miss work not just for Christmas Eve but for Christmas day too. I was so sad. It was my Blind CP Christmas.
Pushing Myself to be Better
My least favorite position at the Wildlife Express was called Platform. At platform you would stand on the platform in between where the train comes into the station and where the guests stood behind the gates. When the train came into the station we would unload the previous guests from the train, load up the new group and safely get the train on it’s way to Rafiki’s Planet Watch. I enjoyed the loading and unloading process. The part I did not like was the five to seven minutes in between trains, at first. See, at this point you had two options, stand there and do nothing until the next train comes or talk to the guests.
At first I was very apprehensive about talking to guests at platform. I had no problem in the other positions because it was always for a short time and usually was answering a question but at platform it was up to you to engage the guest. I did not want to just stand there and I really did not like that I was scared to talk to people. I saw an opportunity to grow myself and become better in conversations.
I made a goal for myself very early on that as soon as the train would leave the station that the first person I could eye contact with I would talk to whether I wanted to or not. This was hard at first. A lot of my conversations ended with people looking at me like I was stupid. I would say things to try and get a laugh and they would end up not being funny at all. This did not help my confidence at first but I knew if I kept trying I would eventually get better at it.
After a few weeks to a month of trying I started to realize that I was getting more comfortable talking to guests. I wasn’t much better with the conversations but I felt comfortable doing it. When you are in the platform position you are there for an hour before you rotate or get a break. Sometimes you are there multiple times a day. When you have made a fool of yourself 20 times an hour sometimes multiple times a day for a month straight you stop caring what people think of you and you can just relax and be yourself. Again though it was only in this one position that I felt this way.
I stopped trying so hard to move conversations and let them come more naturally. As I became more comfortable with the Platform position I became more comfortable with all my other positions as well. My spiel as conductor grew. I had jokes that people actually laughed at. I was able to communicate and be funny on the fly if the train came to an unexpected stop I was able to keep the guests entertained instead of just sitting there waiting for the train to start up again.
Finally I had become so comfortable with Platform where I actually looked forward to it like all my other positions. I successfully overcame my fear of having a conversation with strangers. I had never felt so confident in all my life. This confidence has carried with me through to today. I have the Wildlife Express Platform position to thank for giving me the boost in confidence I needed by providing me with an atmosphere that I could grow and thrive in.
I ended up extending my program through the spring term so I was there for two semesters of the Disney College Program my second time which was awesome! When the second group came in I have to admit I thought to myself these people aren’t as awesome as my first group of people. I was sad that my friends had all went home.
I was still getting better at everything I did at the Wildlife Express. My confidence kept growing and I became a solid Cast Member at that attraction. The new group that came in like I said at first I was not too thrilled about but I said to myself I need to give everyone a chance, it will never be like it was last semester but it can be something new and just as good if I make it that way. I ended up meeting one of the best friends I could ever have on the second semester. We did everything together. After work just about every single day we organized all of our friends getting together to go places and have fun. We always had a group of people going places with us and there were almost always new people joining us each time. This came about just because we would make up our minds about what we wanted to do and let everyone know that was the plan. We would tell them that we were going somewhere and they should come but if not we will be there anyways.
My Second Disney College Program Coming To An End
By the end of my second Disney College Program I had coordinators and managers tell me I was one of the best Cast Members they had had. I won the ServicEAR award for outstanding service, which I was told they normally do not give this to College Program Interns. I did everything I wanted to do and more. I had a plan and I completely followed through with it. Decide before you go on your program what you are going to make of it and make it happen. Don’t let anything stop you. Be a leader.
I felt like a new and improved me by the time my program ended. I had the people skills and confidence I had always wanted my whole life. I have I have the Disney College Program to thank for much of what I have now in my life. The only thing in my life that I want but wont ever have again is the Disney College Program but I do have the memories from it that I cherish on a daily basis.
If you are thinking about doing the Disney College Program do not let anything else stand in your way. The experience at Disney World is unlike anything you will ever come across anywhere in the entire world. The magic that you feel is real but it is up to you to have the right attitude. I’ve seen people hate the program and I can tell you 99% of the time it’s because they have a bad attitude. The Disney College Program really is what YOU make of it. Make it the best and it will forever leave a lasting impression on who you are. You can become that better you you have always wanted to be by letting the Disney College Program work it’s magic on you. Have fun, work hard, make lots of friends and let the memories begin!