Today marks an entire year since I had to leave the Most Magical Place on Earth, and I'm hopeless with nostalgia. If you haven't heard of it, there are a multitude of articles online that explain what exactly the Disney College Program is. In Fall 2018, I worked as a Custodial Guest Services cast member in Magic Kingdom (Ad-Lib represent!), and I extended my program into Spring 2019 to work as an EPCOT Park Greeter. While initially I believed the program would mainly consist of working in blistering heat and riding Space Mountain to my heart's content, I was surprised by how much else living in Disney World had to offer. These surprises have turned out to be my most cherished memories since my program ended.
I Participated in Amazing Park Events
Rick Springfield at the American Pavilion
The Disney parks host incredible events throughout the entire year, and as a Guest you can experience some pretty cool things. In the Fall, you can attend the Halloween and Christmas parties at Magic Kingdom, apply to be an audience member for televised Christmas celebrations, and watch EPCOT's annual Candlelight Processional, which is hosted by a celebrity every night. (I got to see Neil Patrick Harris!) In the Spring, EPCOT holds the Festival of the Arts and the Flower and Garden Festival. Stands throughout the park offer amazing food and merchandise, and there's a rocking concert series which offers amazing free performances every night. I got to see some of my favorite artists perform live, and yes -- Rick Springfield really did jump up on the bench in front of me!
I Made Some of My Favorite Holiday Memories
Goofing off at our Thanksgiving Party (Cat, Katlin, Jackie, Mandy, Me)
Being away from family during the holidays can be really tough, but I was so blessed to become super close to all of my roommates. I never imagined living across the country from my best friends, but that's just one thing the DCP will do to you! It's not often that all of your roommates' schedules align because of the variation of roles that the company offers, but we were all lucky enough to have Thanksgiving off. We threw a huge Holiday Party, including silly party favors, a game of mini-golf at one of Disney's on-property courses, rides at Magic Kingdom, a potluck dinner, and cookie decorating. We topped it all off by watching the firework show on the Polynesian Resort beach while eating Dole Whips. I am definitely not going to forget that Thanksgiving anytime soon.
I Learned How to Work ... HARD
Holding My Graduation Ears in Front of Cinderella Castle
Nothing in the world could have prepared me for what was in store when I applied to the Disney College Program. The jobs you are placed in are demanding, exhausting, and -- at times -- frustrating. They are mostly all Guest-facing roles, so you deal with both happy and upset Guests all day long. When I was a Custodian, I was constantly performing physical tasks and getting messy. As a Park Greeter, I had to help fix issues with ticketing, which could really rile people up. While sometimes I was completely exhausted, I wouldn't have had it any other way. I think it's so important to work entry-level positions, because you gain an appreciation for how hard people work. I performed the least-desirable job at the busiest theme park in the world during the busiest time of the year; sometimes, whenever I feel discouraged, it helps to remember that anything is possible if you care enough. Those jobs have motivated me to appreciate the job position I have currently.
I Figured Out What I Wanted From My Career
The Happily Ever After Fireworks Show
Like I said before, working at Disney was so much fun, but it was a lot of work and could sometimes be discouraging. There are plenty of people who become full-time after their College Program, but I just wasn't interested in staying on in a similar role. However, my time in the program opened my eyes to opportunities with the company as a Professional Intern, and in other capacities. I realized how much I love entertainment, and would love to build a lifelong career out of it. I'm continuing to take college classes in Entertainment, and I owe my passion and the path I'm on now to my time with Disney. Who knows, I could make a return to the company in the future!
I Got Seriously in Shape
Posing in Front of Cinderella Castle on My Last Week of Work
Let's just say that before I started my program, the gym wasn't regularly in my routine. By the end, however, I had done so much walking as a Guest visiting the parks and as a Custodian that I started to get into shape without noticing (sometimes, I'd walk around 15 miles in a single 6-hour shift!) One of my favorite things to do, also, was to walk around Disney Springs. There were always new things added to the shops, or yummy food items to check out. The Disney College Program definitely keeps you active and engaged, and I hadn't expected that it would positively impact my health and well-being.
I Had Opportunities to Network
My Beloved Nametag
The DCP offers incredible seminars and courses that you can take for credit, or even for fun! I had to apply to the seminar I took, which was called "Entertainment Show Production." Every week for about a month, we got to hear from notable guest speakers in the industry, such as the lead Show Director and the Show Writer for the Orlando parks. During one class, one of the original animators from films such as Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast drew Mickey right in front of our eyes. We also got to take an in-depth, behind-the-scenes tour of the Fantasmic! show in Hollywood Studios. I'll never forget the experiences; they were an invaluable opportunity to learn from leaders in the industry, and I'll always be grateful.
I Learned How to Live on My Own
The Notorious Vista Way
It can be really scary to move to a different state on your own, especially when the farthest you've lived from home is a dorm one hour away. However, the Disney College Program provided an eye-opening chance for me to practice living alone before I left college. It helped that Disney provided apartment complexes and bus transportation for participants. I gained a sense of independence that continues to impact my life in a positive way, and I feel much more confident in professional situations. It really helped me to learn how to navigate an enormous company on my own, in a new city, living with new people. It teaches you how to adapt to situations, and that can be valuable in any life situation (*cough cough* Coronavirus).
I Saw What Makes the Disney Company Tick
My First Day As a Cast Member!
While training one day, a Cast Member said something that stood out to me: "The real 'magic' at Disney is emotional connection." This philosophy is clear throughout the company, no matter what role you find yourself in. Every Cast Member strives to do their job to the fullest, and it shows when the Guests notice and appreciate it. I've learned a lot through the business practices and philosophies that the company holds dear, and I bring them with me to the other jobs I work. Disney truly is a one-of-a-kind operation.
I Got Used to Staying Up Very, Very Late
Posing in an Empty Magic Kingdom ... at 1:47 a.m.
There is a common joke among Disney College Program participants that CP doesn't stand for "college program," but instead it means "closing person." While this isn't always the case, it definitely was for me. I would always work the night shifts as a custodian, and I'm talking LATE. My average shift would end at around 12:45 a.m. if I was lucky, and because I took the housing-provided bus home I would walk in the door between 3-4 a.m. every single night. This schedule had its perks, however; it became almost a nightly tradition for a while to stop by a fast food restaurant with friends for a late-night hangout. I also got to see the park completely empty, which never ceased to feel surreal. All in all, it was more fun than it sounds!
I Explored Orlando
It's hard to imagine growing tired of Disney World, but I'll be honest -- it happened a lot. When you start to commit every park, ride, show, character spot, and even restroom to memory, sometimes you need a break. Luckily, Orlando was full of fun things to do outside of the Disney Parks. I spent time at the mall with my friends, went on a day trip to SeaWorld, and even visited a local Cat Cafe (I particularly enjoyed that day!) Disney also has spectacular water parks, which I relished as a way to relax after a stressful work week. The Universal parks and City Walk are nearby as well, which are always worth visiting. If you were willing to travel further, other CP's I knew took day trips to the nearest beaches. You will never run out of fun options living in a tourism-heavy city like Orlando.
If you think you might be interested in the Disney College Program, I highly recommend that you check it out! It changed my life for the better, and I owe a lot to those experiences.
- 20 Reasons A 20 Year Old Still Loves Disney World ›
- The Disney College Program: What It Is And How To Apply. ›