– By Sam Hendrian –
Combining exciting attractions, joyful employees, and pure magic, the Disney theme parks are often known as the happiest places on Earth. For millions of kids, a trip to Disney marks a landmark in their childhood, and sparks in many a desire to be part of creating the magic when they grow up. Established in 1981, the Disney College Program provides a way for this dream to come true for thousands of college students every year. For a period of usually four to six months, students can live and work at Disneyland in California or Walt Disney World in Florida for an incredible life experience. To learn more about what this experience is like, I asked a series of questions to two current JPCatholic students who have participated in the program in Florida: Lexi Lovetere and Chris Bradley.
What attracted you to the Disney College Program?
Lexi: Like a lot of people, I grew up on Disney. I’ve always loved the stories and the characters, so working for such a big company always kind of seemed like an impossible thing. When I was in middle school, my friend had found the DCP (Disney College Program) online, and she said it was something we should do when we got to college. I honestly forgot about it when I got to college until a different friend of mine said she was going to do it. At the time, I was more interested on staying on track to get my degree. However, in my second year of college, the timing worked out perfectly, and with a little encouragement from my friend who had done it the previous year, I decided to apply.
Chris: I have always loved the Walt Disney Company. My family probably brought in most of their revenue when I was a kid, because it was basically our second home. We would vacation there every single year. In all seriousness, the idea of working at Disney always excited me. It was even more special for me because my aunt worked there when she was around my age. I had always dreamed of continuing her legacy.
What was the interview process like?
Lexi: The interview process had about three different phases, I believe. The first phase was based off your application and whether they believed you were a good candidate to move forward to the next phase. The second phase was the web-based interview which was entirely multiple choice. Based on those answers, a computer would calculate if you could move on to the phone interview. Here you would set up a day and time an interviewer would call you. This was the most nerve-wracking because the interviewer could ask you anything from, “What role do you think you’re most qualified for?” to “What would you do if a guest was trying to ask you a question, but could not speak English?”. If the question was role specific, say a character attendant, they could ask, “What would you do/tell the guests if Chip and Dale came out in the same costume?”. They can really test your knowledge and your imagination with the company.
Chris: The interview process consisted of a web-based interview and a phone interview. It also consisted of an audition close to my hometown in Michigan.
For how many months did you live in Florida?
Lexi: I lived in Florida just under 6 months doing the Spring Program.
Chris: Four months.
Were you able to earn any college credits while out there?
Lexi: At the time I was at a community college back home and could earn credit for my Associate’s Degree. That’s why the program worked out so perfectly. I only needed nine more credits to complete my Associate’s Degree, and the college program counted for six. I took an online class while I was there to fulfill the last three and was able to earn money and spend my free time in the parks at the same time.
Chris: It counted as six college credits at JPCatholic.
What is the housing situation like?
Lexi: Disney offers four different housing complexes for the DCP: Vista Way, The Commons, Chatham Square and Patterson Court. I lived with five other girls in a Patterson Court three-room apartment. We had two to a room with a little kitchen and living room. Disney provides you with furnishings and things like basic plates and pots and pans, but a lot of people end up bringing their own things as well. You can choose your roommates or have them randomly chosen for you which can be a good or bad experience no matter which way you decide. I had found my roommates previously through various Facebook pages and by a stroke of luck ended up living with people who soon became lifelong best friends. Although I had a car, Disney offers bussing for the CPs to get to and from work or the parks. There are also different housing events and opportunities (like classes or seminars) while you are there as well. A great perk for me was the housing complexes were right next to Mary, Queen of the Universe Catholic Church which made getting to Mass easy.
Chris: The housing is incredible. You have the choice to room with a cast member that you already know going into the program, or you can choose to go in blind. I chose the adventurous route and ended up with five unique housemates. It was an extraordinary experience and I still remain in close contact with some of them today!
What was your specific job at Disney? Could you describe a typical day on the job?
Lexi: When I was first accepted into the program I knew that I had gotten the role of Merchandiser but didn’t know where my location was until I got there. I was placed at Big Top Souvenirs at Storybook Circus in the Magic Kingdom. My location was a little different because not only did I sell merchandise, but I was also a candy maker since my location had a small confectionery. This was an unexpected part of my job, but I learned to really like it. Because I was a CP employee, I got the late closing hours. I could get anywhere from 30 hours to 50+ hours a week depending on how busy the parks were.
A typical day for me (if I was assigned to be candy maker) would be to clock-in in costume (oh yeah, the costumes could look pretty ridiculous) and look at what number I was assigned. Each number corresponded to the schedule I would follow. For example, Candy Maker 4 might have the schedule of making cotton candy for four hours, move on to making caramel popcorn for two hours and then make cake pops to finish up. At that time, it would usually be 11 PM (when our location closed), and everyone would start their closing duties. We all would try to go as fast as we could to see if we could get out before 1 am (since it usually took two hours to close the kitchen). Closing the kitchen included things like washing dishes, scrubbing everything sticky (cotton candy machine, chocolate melting machines, caramel station, or the slushy machines), wrapping treats leftover from the day, etc. If I wasn’t a candy maker and was on merchandise instead, my day would consist of helping people find merchandise they were looking for, working the register, stocking shelves, and Mickey Mouse hat embroidering. Closing duties for this station took about an hour, as we restocked shelves and made things look nice for the next day. It was a lot of work, and I learned a lot doing it.
Chris: I worked as a Character Performer. My job was different every single day because I performed as a variety of characters. I worked at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. I would get to work, check in at the entertainment base, and then dress to go warm-up. Then I would go check out my costume and either catch a shuttle to my location or walk. The costumes were incredible and quite expensive to fashion. Once I got to my location, I would meet my character attendants for the day and we would have so much fun!
What was the most rewarding part of the experience?
Lexi: There were so many rewarding experiences through the program. Of course, there will always be tough moments like unhappy guests or long hours, but there are so many things that make it worth it. Most roles in the parks allow you to make what they call “Magical Moments” for guests, which could be replacing a dad’s hat he lost on a ride for free or playing a game with the kids who come into the store. My favorite was when little kids would watch me make some of our treats from behind the glass. If it was their birthday or they had been watching me for awhile, I would put a marshmallow on a stick, dip it in chocolate, cover it in multi-colored sugar and give it to them. Their face would light up after getting a treat from Disney especially made for them. The other parts that were really rewarding were the people I met. It was cool to become friends with my co-workers, who were from all over the world, and to spend time with them in the parks on our days off. The best part of my experience by far were my roommates. I felt extremely blessed to live with people who made the tough days easier and the great days even better.
Chris: My job was too rewarding to be honest. There is nothing more satisfying than acting for guests of all ages. It is really a nostalgic feeling when I think about it. The kids literally lose their minds when they meet their favorite characters, some more than others. Even the adults seem to feel the reality of the characters. I have never seen so many hard-working adults smile in my life. The very fact that I was able to bring joy to so many people through my acting made the job worth it! I believe that people in the world today deal with a lot of heartache and trouble. When they get to Disney World, they tend to leave a lot of that at the gates. Even though the parks have a tendency to be stressful due to the crowds and the heat, nobody frowns when they meet the characters. Unless you are scared, which is an entirely different story. Disney World is all about character, so it was nice to play a big role in literally bringing the magic to life.
Overall, did you enjoy the experience, and would you recommend it to JPCatholic students?
Lexi: Overall, I enjoyed my experience. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had. I would definitely recommend the DCP to JPCatholic students if they have the chance and the opportunity. Working for Disney can sound like a completely magical experience, and it can be on some days, but going into it you should know that it is going to be a lot of hard work first and foremost. The DCP is a job, and you have a responsibility to that job even when it’s not so fun. After understanding that, you enjoy the perks way more (like going to the parks for free! …and a great resume builder). You get to spend so much time in Disney that the 7-year-old you would be jealous. I loved my experience and miss it all the time. The Disney Program will give you memories that will last a lifetime.
Chris: At the end of the program, I was incredibly sad to be leaving. I actually almost stayed for an extra semester because I loved it so much. I believe that the Disney College Program is an amazing experience for anyone. Even if you don’t get cast as a character, there are several jobs available. It is a wonderful opportunity to take a risk on! I promise that it will be worth your while if you are interested in bringing joy to people. It will definitely be a lot of work, and not every single day will be a magical one, but at the end of the day, I know it will change your life. It changed mine!