As I’ve mentioned before, I have worked in a few theme parks over the years. I’ve decided to showcase each of these experiences in a new series called Working In A Theme Park. I’m starting with this article on Walt Disney World, with Cedar Point and Canada’s Wonderland coming soon. Let me know what you think 🙂
This is going to be a long one… Grab yourself that XL Double-Double and bowl of Cheerios, it’s time to take a trip with me as I detail my journey to working for the Mouse. As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am the ultimate Disney fan. Ever since I was a kid, Mickey Mouse and Walt Disney were idols of mine. I decided at a young age that I wanted to work at Walt Disney World, and I made it happen. Here is my story:
I first found out I could work at Disney when I spotted a Castmembers name-tag on vacation. It said they were from Canada. They told me all about the Cultural Representative Program and from that moment I was determined to get my chance to work for the Mouse.
At the time, a company called Cast-A-Way Resort & Cruise Hiring was in charge of doing interviews and picking people for the program. (It’s now Yummy Jobs.) I sent my resume off and waited to hear back. Unfortunately at the time I first applied, I missed the cut off date for applications by a week, ironically while I was on vacation at WDW.
I waited almost a year to reapply, this time making the cut off and getting a phone interview. It wasn’t rocket science, just a basic get to know me type stuff and asking if I had any tattoos or piercings. FYI: You can’t have visible tattoos or piercings if you want to work at Disney. It wrecks the wholesome image and it’s simply not allowed. After being invited to an in-person interview with Cast-A-Way, where we learned more about the program and what our roles would be, I got to the final round with real Disney recruiters. I thought it went well, but a few weeks later I got a rejection letter. To say I was crushed is the biggest understatement of the century. My world crumbled around me for a moment.
So another year goes by and I apply again, with the thought that if they aren’t going to hire me, what type of people are running this place? This time the job was mine. I just had to wait 8 months to start work. So just under 3 years after I started my journey, I was starting my real journey. As they say in the presentation, it’s a journey that will change you. And I couldn’t agree more.
I was lucky enough to work 2 separate contracts for Walt Disney World. The first was from December 2005-December 2006. The second was from September 2009-December 2010.
Disney hires people from all across the United States and the world to help run the resort. With over 65,000 jobs across 47 square miles, they need a lot of people to keep the magic running. A lot of these people are on the College Program, designed for American students to get credit and work experience.
If you’re not aware, working at Disney is not as simple as walking across the border and applying at Casting (what Disney calls H.R.), so Disney has a special Visa from the U.S. Government called the Q-1 that allows them to hire people from all over the world for the Cultural Representative Program. They actually petitioned the government to create this Visa especially for them, dubbing it unofficially the “Disney Visa.” This Visa has restrictions placed upon it so that people must be in a role where they are sharing their cultural heritage and dealing with guests. That’s where the Canadian Pavilion comes in.
Epcot is a very special park, because it’s where you can visit pavilions that recreate different countries and actually meet the people from those countries. It’s one thing to see a giant fake mountain and Chateau, it’s another to ask a real live Canadian questions about their country.
In the Canadian Pavilion, there are 3 types of roles offered. Merchandise, Attractions and Food & Beverage. The most positions available are in F&B, with the least in Attractions. If you plan on applying, Food & Beverage is the most likely place you will work and as a bonus can make some decent money. That’s where my job came in.
When I started, I thought I would be selling popcorn and soda on the cart outside and making minimum wage. When I got to work, I found out that the Canadian Pavilion is home to one of the most popular and beloved restaurants at WDW and you could actually become a server. Being a server at Disney is very lucrative financially, so this was a nice bonus. I expected to make no money, and here was an opportunity to make a lot of money and learn some great new skills. For the record, my experience in the food industry was working at McDonald’s, so working in fancy restaurant was both exciting and intimidating. It was a lot of work with a huge learning curve, so I worked my butt off cleaning tables, learning the table numbers, the entire menu and its ingredients. As with almost everything I set my mind to and after passing my tests, I became a server about 3 months into my program. It’s pretty scary having your first serving job at one of the most popular restaurants at the #1 vacation spot in the world. The expectations were beyond imagination, and we all pulled it off day in and day out.
Working as a server was a fantastic opportunity to share the fascinating cultural heritage of Canada and show pride for our country. It gave lots of time to learn about guests and make that moment a special part of their vacation. Plus learning about different food, wine, drinks and how a restaurant works was fascinating.
The people were what made the entire experience amazing. Whether it was singing “O Canada” each day before service started, to drinking around the world on Canada Day, it was a true camaraderie of people from across this great land.
I must admit, this program isn’t for everyone. It takes a special type of person to quit their job, leave their family and pack up their life to move to Florida. You don’t know anyone and it’s an unfamiliar place at first. Many people’s only experience with Walt Disney World is through the vacation planning DVD’s or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parade on Christmas morning.
With that said, to actually be working in that dreamland is incredible. The magic does wear off a bit, but that’s just natural. For the bulk of us that have worked long hours in the restaurant and spent countless days in the parks as guests, it’s still as magical as the first time you see Cinderella Castle in person and get a hug from Mickey.
You will make lifelong friends there, fall in love, laugh, get drunk, go to the beach, ride rollercoasters, be hung over at work, cry, get angry, get in fights, want to go home and hate your life at some moments. As with any job, there are parts that aren’t that magical to say the least. But for every bad moment, there are a hundred that overshadow it.They say the program is like a rollercoaster ride, and I’d say that’s the best description I can offer. But isn’t that life?
You’re spending 24/7 with the same people, in this incredible vacation kingdom and it really is something that most people never get to experience. There is a reason that I have friends all over the world, it’s because we share this common bond and experience that no one else will understand. It feels like we lived in a reality show.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been introduced to an unfamiliar person who did the Cultural Representative Program or worked at Disney and it’s an instant bond. They just get it. The hardest part was adjusting back to “real life.” There is something called Disney Depression, and it feels like you’re best friend died. It takes MONTHS to get over, and no one outside the Disney Program understands.
It’s funny that when people find out I worked for Disney, the first thing they ask me is if I was Mickey. No I wasn’t. Secondly, they want to know all the deep, dark secrets of working there. What’s it reality like? Are there tunnels, is Walt Disney buried under the park? It’s a great conversation starter. I can’t count the number of times Disney comes up in conversation and all of a sudden I’m giving people advice and sharing my passion. Everyone likes Disney whether they’ll admit it or not, and they want to know everything. I’ve been told I light up when I talk about Disney, which just shows how much I enjoyed my experiences working there.
To say working for Disney was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream is an understatement, and the fact I got to work there twice is simply amazing. The second contract was hard, because you expect everything to be the same but it’s not. You have different faces, managers, guests and experiences. It’s neither better or worse, simply different.
I think I’ve rambled enough and this is just a taste of my experiences working at Walt Disney World. If you’re thinking of doing it, DO IT! Jump in and take a chance, you won’t regret it.
For anyone interested in packing their bags and sailing off to Neverland, you can find all the details at www.disneyinternationalprograms.com and www.yummyjobs.com. Feel free to email me if you have questions, need advice or anything else.
Here are a few videos that give an excellent overview of what working in the pavilion was like.
One more thing, many former Le Cellier servers will tell you they can’t even stand the smell of the Cheddar Cheese soup from Le Cellier after serving it for so long. I on the other hand can’t get enough. Here’s a video, direct from the source, showing you how to make it. Enjoy!