Friday, June 14, 2013

Things They Don't Tell You About The Disney College Program

I have been lucky enough to participate in TWO programs, where I spent 10 months as a character performer hanging out with Mickey and Minnie, and 2 months exploring the rivers of the world on the Jungle Cruise. The Disney College Program was truly a magical experience for me, but even with it being magical, there's stuff people don't warn you about. So here I am, warning you myself.

Section One: Disney Transportation.

1. The Disney Bubble. If you fly to Orlando, chances are pretty much 100% you plan to use the buses provided by the Disney housing to get to work and around Orlando. Let me tell you, the only 'non-Disney' affiliated stops are at the post office, Walmart, Publix, and a few other necessity stores. While this did not bug me in the slightest, it did irritate some friends, who were forced to wait for the occasional Universal Studios bus or the even less occasional 'Party Bus' to Miami. If you plan to travel outside the Disney Bubble, quickly make friends with someone who's got a car.

2. Grocery Shopping. It's a nightmare for us bus riders. Why, you may ask? Because instead of pushing your convenient shopping cart to your trunk, loading it up, driving to your home and unloading from your driveway... you push your shopping cart to the bus stop, hang every single bag on your arms, haul them up the bus steps, sit hunched over your possessions like Gollom, and then take every single bag off the bus and walk/run back to your apartment before you loose all sensation in both arms. And don't forget the mandated stop at security to show your housing ID. So better have that sucker in your mouth to hurry along the process. You're welcome for the tip.

3. The bus drivers. Now, don't get me wrong. I am very grateful that these individuals drove me from stop to stop every single day of my 5 months in Orlando. Without them, I would have walked everywhere, or become very proficient at hitch hiking. I'm sure these souls get bored throughout their day, which turns the timid, silent creature into a living, talking, singing human being. That's fine, driver, go ahead and talk with the sucker who sat right next to the entrance door. But for the love of all things, whistling and making police siren noises? Please, dear driver, stop. Especially at 4:54 in the bloody morning.

4. The morning bus drivers. When I say morning, I'm talking about my 6 A.M character dining shifts, which required me to board a bus at 4:54 in the morning. These trips to the parks were usually incredibly cold and silent, and all the poor souls on the bus were just as sleepy as me. While some days Whistling Bob was our driver (see above) most mornings the kindest gentleman drove. He asked each one of us our destination while boarding that pitifully early in the morning, and would take care to make sure that everyone got off at their destination. This did require him to occasionally park, unbuckle, and walk back to wake a kid up and gently tell them they were at the sleeper's stop. While that was never required for me (once I'm up, I'm up) it was nice to know that if I did miraculously fall back asleep, he'd be there to ensure Mickey Mouse would be at the resort for breakfast with the kiddos. Thank you, morning driver.

5. Bus reliability. I had heard horror stories of the unreliable buses making kids late for work, so, to be safe, I always found the bus that would get me to work within minutes of my shift starting, and I'd take the bus before that one, usually giving myself 20-30 minutes to get ready for warm ups and my clock in time. In the five months I worked there, only one 4:54 A.M bus never showed, which meant I had to wait for the 5:15 bus, which sent me running willy-nilly through the tunnels to clock in exactly-on-time and nearly cause a heart attack.The buses that were notorious for no-show's? The resort buses. Dear friends, if there is even a remote possibility that you may get a role at a hotel, consider driving yourself. The resort buses usually hit 3-5 hotels, and yours may be last, making the ride long and tedious. I really never had a problem with park buses, but maybe I was incredibly fortunate.

Section Two: Housing.

6. I loved Chatham Square. It's such a great place to live. Most activities were at the Chatham lawn, and it was the last complex to get picked up on most bus routes, which meant getting to your destination was the fastest. (On the flip side, getting home was the slowest) If I could recommend a particular apartment, go for a 6 person apartment. while you do pay a few bucks more each week than an 8 person apartment, the perks are so worth it. The 8 person layout has 4 people to a bathroom, with one spare half bath in the hallway. The 6 person layout provides a bathroom to each bedroom, meaning 2 people to a full bath. For the convenience of that alone, choose the 6.

7. Please remember your passport or Social Security Card. I completely forgot my SS card, and my daddy had to overnight it to me at who knows what expense so I could start training. It's crazy to think that if he hadn't done that for me, I wouldn't have trained with the people who have become such wonderful friends to me. Tape your card to your forehead if you think you'll forget.

8. Understand that Disney housing is quite expensive.  Since the cast-wide pay raise near the end of 2014, program housing has gone up quite dramatically. Expect to pay $110 a week for a 6 person Chatham, and upwards of $125 a week for smaller apartments. Disney has now introduced bunk-beds in some apartments, which will shave a few dollars off your rent each week, if that is a situation you are willing to live with.

9. Get familiar with DORMS. Online check in wasn't a thing during my first program in 2012. Now, you can pick roommates and request a specific housing complex through DORMS, which has been a great improvement in the housing process. The program blog has fantastic information on how it works. Give them a look-see.

Section Three: Money.

10. Disney Scheduling. A large part of recruitment is Disney's emphasis on your full-time status as a cast member. Fun fact: full-time is considered 32 hours, not 40 like you would expect. This means you are guaranteed 32 hours each week, no more, no less. This was very surprising to CP's who found themselves working significantly less hours than they anticipated, and making less money than they hoped. The good news, though, is CP's are welcome to pick up additional shifts as available on the extra hours hotline. One week I worked 74 hours, and none of my leaders had an issue with it.

11. Your anticipated pay. The cast-wide pay raise in 2014 bumped everyone to $9 an hour minimum wage. I, as a character performer took home $9.20 an hour, with the only higher CP pay being face character performers. Doing some quick math shows that 32 hours at 9 dollars an hour comes to 288 dollars a week, before housing is automatically deducted, and before taxes. Keep in mind this is based on the minimum guaranteed hours, and you may easily be scheduled far more than 32 hours a week.

Section Four: Disney Depression.

12. Homesickness. I went to university in the same state I was raised in. Visiting family was an easy 2 hour drive on the weekend, so moving across the country was a huge change for me. Luckily, I never had a breakdown or cried because I missed my family so much. We Skyped occasionally and talked and texted regularly. It was easy for me to be so far from home, but I know many people who considered going home because the homesickness was so bad. I know a few who actually did go home. Really evaluate if you can go months without seeing family before signing up for this experience.

13. After Disney Depression. It's real. Almost daily, I think back to something about the Disney College Program. I now have the job I've wanted all my life, but I would drop everything in an instant just for the chance to go back to Florida again. Living and working at Disney will, without a doubt, be the most magical time in your life. Sure, you'll have rough days, days when the bus doesn't show, or a guest drives you crazy, or your costume digs in uncomfortable places. But when you get over those bumps in the road, the DCP is an amazing experience. You are lucky to be accepted to a CP, and you will grow to love the experience. My suggestion for combating Disney Depression is to reach out to the friends you made on the CP and talk to them, chances are they miss it just as much as you do.

The number one thing people don't tell you about the DCP is that it will be the best experience of your life if you put a positive attitude into it. If you go with a good attitude, and it turns into a sucky attitude, so will your memories. Go and have the time of your life.


No comments:

Post a Comment