“A wish is a dream your heart makes!”
Flashback to 2012: A recent college graduate applies to be part of The Disney College Program, forever shaping the destiny of his life and providing a path that would ultimately lead to this article.
Dramatic flair aside, this year marks my 5th anniversary of being accepted to The Disney College Program and moving down to Southern California to be a part of one of the best adventures I could imagine. Throughout the course of that journey, I had the unique opportunity to document and share my experiences through videos and personal vlogs.
A full playlist is above. It was a lot of fun to document my journey and share it with you all!
Yet, I have never really written about the program officially. I wanted to take this week’s post to reflect on those wonderful months with Disney, provide some advice for anyone that may be curiouser and curiouser, as well as highlight something truly special shared by all those who have or will participate in this internship.
That adventure started in January of 2013. A Northern California native, I had never spent more than a few days at a time in Southern California and was completely uprooted to make the dream come true of working for The Walt Disney Company. All the promotions, videos, and positive press marketing aside, I really wanted to find somewhere I truly felt like I was making a difference.
Applying to the college program allowed me to do that. Thousands upon thousands of applicants apply every year for two seasons of the internship (Fall and Spring) with the slim chance of becoming a Disneyland Cast Member and intern with the company. Only 400 or so are accepted out of all those applicants. Excitement was fierce, friendships were made, and a bond was created. We were all in this together, even though it had nothing to do with High School Musical.
On that first day, I had all my possessions packed into a tiny car and only a half bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream Ruffles to get me through the week. I had no money in my bank account, and I was eager to get to work while everyone else was just happy to relax and enjoy the calm before the storm of training and orientations. The check in process can be a bit daunting and tiring, so for anyone interested in taking the plunge and moving down to Anaheim, I highly recommend packing light and getting to your arrival location as early as you can.
Take note of what you see when you first move in, as the apartments will be furnished and should be left in the same condition as they were found upon that first day. In my case, we had to replace at least a couple of bowls due to a few clumsy moments I had over the program. You will also be responsible for partnering with your roommates to keep the place clean for weekly inspections from the program staff. If you are lucky, you will have a roommate you have chosen yourself; however, if not, it’s a great opportunity to get to know your roommates and get a once over of what your place has and may need for your time there.
For most program terms, a Facebook page or other media group will form to allow fellow interns to speak to one another, learn about the program, and provide support. It also gives you the chance to find a potential roommate, though there are no guarantees. These pages are monitored by Disney and the program though, so be mindful what you put out there for all to see.
The very first day I made some long term friends, a few that I am still in touch with to this day. We helped each other buy groceries, apartment supplies, and explore the area around us. It was a wonderful start, and the program gave me a lot of opportunities to meet and greet with so many new faces. If you’re lucky, you can really make a lasting bond with someone, which will make the experience that much more fun.
Though, I also know things aren’t perfect. During my program, not everyone got along, and for most, it was the first time being away from home or family. Even though I had been living on my own for a while, not everyone had that shared experience. There may be some conflict, some drama, and some misunderstandings between the people you will get to know over the course of the program.
I know we had our share of issues as a group, and though I won’t go into detail about any of those interesting memories, I will say that it’s important to stray away from anyone you don’t trust or feel comfortable around. I was very fortunate for the friends and roommates I spent my time with, but not everyone could say the same.
Be on your best behavior. Though it seems obvious, it can make things a lot harder and could potentially end up in a packed bag and a trip home if you are too far off the cuff. Thankfully, I had plenty of time to adjust to the new people and living situation. Now that I was settled in, I could leap into to my next step: Training.
Most job sites give you maybe a day to a couple of hours of training before sending you out into the fray. Disney; however, puts you through a pretty intensive training process that is a nice surprise to those who are used to being tossed into the mix before they have a chance to ask any questions. A lot can be said for experience on the job, but actually having the opportunity to learn and spend some time getting comfortable with the company you work for is a definite asset to success.
Multiple classes take you through the process of what it means to be a part of the Disney brand. You learn how to handle tough situations, what to expect in your assigned role, and how to put your best foot forward in a positive way. Being a Cast Member, even if you are just an intern, is a big representation of Disney. This is both fun, but a very serious responsibility and should not be taken lightly.
Going through my college program was some serious work, and for anyone reading this article interested in applying, please note: This is not a vacation. Yes, there is a lot of fun, magical, and surprising moments, but you will have to roll up your sleeves and work hard to succeed.
Training also allows you to see where you will spend your time while with the company. In my case, I was one of the first new hires brought into Cars Land. Along with a small handful of CPs, I found my home at the late Luigi’s Flying Tires attraction. I couldn’t be more excited. I had two great trainers who answered all my questions, allowed me to make mistakes, and gave me real support going into my final assessment.
Before you can be officially signed off to work, you will need to be tested on your training skills and on the job knowledge. Doing some light studying and research is a great tool, and will be necessary pending on your role. To make it fun, I also learned as much about my location as possible, that way I had something to surprise my own training staff with.
When training, use your resources, buckle down, and relax. Your trainers are there to support you and make sure you succeed in your role. Starting out can be a challenge, especially as a CP. You will be working alongside seasoned Cast Members, who are there full time, and are expected to be role models for anyone new coming in. Take advantage of their experience. It’s okay to ask questions, and if you aren’t sure about something, take a step back and let your trainer get you back on track.
It doesn’t hurt to be friendly either. Like I said, you are working along with seasoned Cast. Creating a friendship and common interest will make the job more fun and easier when things get tough. Some of my most potent memories of that experience come from those first few days of training. It makes a big impact.
Working your location will also provide you with opportunities to partner with other roles and Cast Members in your area. Though I was in Attractions, I worked very closely with PhotoPass, Custodial, Security, and Maintenance CMs.
If you haven’t noticed, The Disneyland Resort works in sync to provide all the entertainment, food, and events that we all take for granted. Every single person works together in a collective goal at keeping the resort running. Just because you are in one role, doesn’t mean that you are separate from everyone else around you.
It takes a lot of effort to get the park ready, open, and then closed at the end of the day. Thousands upon thousands work hard to provide the fun and memories we all cherish. I have a lot of respect for how Disneyland functions, and the College Program really helped me understand how much elbow grease goes into every inch of that park.
When completing the program, you will also have to learn to balance class and education with your workload. As an intern, I received full time hours and scheduling priority to ensure I could have my shifts revolve around either my days off or my shift times. Each CP will have to take one class during their term, and since I did the Spring program, I had to take two over the course of the program.
These classes are designed to be a resource in learning about the company, how to brush up on your interview skills, and how to succeed out there in the adult world. The more intense courses also provide college credit. As a graduate, this wasn’t as appealing to me, since I had already received my degree. However, for anyone that is still going through the motions in college, it’s a great bonus and incentive. Those classes were fun, and gave me a wider scope of the resort and company.
As time went on, I grew confident in my skills, and wanted to learn what else there was to do after my program had ended. Each program is a fixed set of time and there is no guarantee you will remain with the company pending on the role you were assigned to. While I did my program, I researched other roles and departments, seeing what transfer opportunities there were to find out what I would do when graduation commenced.
Ultimately, I focused on Guest Relations as well as Hotel Operations. I also began the transfer process before my program came to a close. So, I recommend for those who are interested in staying on after their program ends to speak to their manager about any opportunities early. It’s better to be prepared than to wait last minute. Even if you aren’t interested in transferring or staying on after the program ends, the more you know about the process the better.
The reason I decided to switch from my role was due to my scheduling. As said earlier, all CPs get scheduling priority, and for most roles, you are treated like a brand new CM right when your program ends. This means you start completely over, and have to build up your seniority. When you are used to more hours and flexible scheduling, it can be a rough transition. So be prepared. Some of my first shifts right off the program were only four hours, and sometimes at closing. It was a huge change and one that will be harder to balance with anything going on outside of your role.
It’s not all about work and books though, as the program tries to allow you a chance to add a little bit more fun than the average internship. Special events are hosted throughout the CP to help keep you motivated and inspired. These will include tours of various locations such as The Walt Disney Studios, exclusive film screenings, raffles, and hosted events.
Nothing beats being able to spend time in Walt Disney’s apartment, riding Space Mountain with the lights on, or seeing a free movie with no crowds or lines. The events change each program, so it’s hard to say what the future holds for anyone new to it all. Ultimately, I was very pleased and excited with every event I went to.
Scheduling was very important to keep in mind though. I almost missed the Space Mountain event I went to due to working a night shift. Make sure that if you want to experience a special tour or event, that you work with your location to try and coordinate your schedule around it. It’s not a guarantee, but keeping an eye on your work schedule could make the difference between a memory and a missed opportunity.
Even when I ventured out on my own, I always found new things to do at Disneyland and was one of the first people to experience Mickey and the Magical Map, and the newest Fantasyland expansion of Fantasy Faire. Growing up as a regular park guest, I never got the opportunity to see the park change or evolve.
This was my first real taste of Disney’s progress and I couldn’t have been more excited. Though the park has gone through some more drastic changes since then, those were the first steps into the hardcore Disneyland fan that I am today. Funny to think about, as I already thought I was obsessed before I moved down to work there.
5 years later, I am no longer a Disney Parks Cast Member, but I will always hold onto the special moments I shared because of that first few months with the College Program. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for those times. Each program has a unique experience, and though the program has also grown and changed since I was a part of it all, we all carry a special bond.
Every program participant has a love for the impossible, the optimism, and legacy that Walt Disney has left behind in the Disney brand. The program is a way to express that admiration and passion. For those interested, it’s a bucket list experience that is hard to pass up.
Though, for anyone wanting to sign up, there’s a lot of information to review and tips out there to make the experience the best it can be. So many past participants have shared their own advice, posted videos, and given a guide on how to apply and go through the program. My advice is make the program your own. Everyone’s path is different.
You may have different reasons behind your application, your own story to share during the interview process, and other unique chances that alumni may not know about. When you do your research, make sure to set some time aside to reflect on what Disney means to you. What’s your history with the brand and the park?
Dare to dream, and to have fun!