Growing up, I always told myself “someday I’m going to work at Walt Disney World.” It was always a dream, but entering college I finally found the platform to pursue that dream: the Disney College Program! I attended the on-campus presentation, applied online, and was soon accepted to be a Cast Member on the Disney College Program at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida!
Thinking about the entire process and internship as a whole, I have nothing but positive things to say about the Disney College Program. It was a journey that led to so many new and exciting opportunities to further both my Disney heritage and my career goals in general. With the myriad activities, learning opportunities and special events for Disney Cast Members, my internship was filled with experiences that allowed me to advance as a student and as a professional. Considering all that went into the internship, my growth as an individual is truly based on the resources available.
My internship with the Walt Disney World Resort began at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, a quick-service restaurant in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom Park. I worked as part of a multi-functional team that successfully runs North America’s busiest quick-service restaurant. It was in the first few weeks of my internship where I was introduced to the Disney Quality Standards. These business standards, also known as the Four Keys of the Disney Show, are safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Safety is always put first to promote secure experiences for both Guests and Cast. Courtesy is providing friendly, personalized service to each Guest. Show is delivering flawless and captivating experiences for every Guest. Efficiency is striving for the most effective and efficient processes to provide quality experiences. These “Four Keys” work hand in hand in every part of our daily procedures, in each and every role across property.
Working at Cosmic Ray’s was a wonderful environment for developing transferrable skills I can use for the rest of my career. Clearly, time management always played a key role in delivering quality Guest Service in an efficient manner. Time management also went hand in hand with multitasking skills. There was always work to be done, and it was important to keep busy while performing numerous tasks at once. In all of this, it was important to remember the higher purpose: helping deliver the Walt Disney World vision of positive relationships with our Guests and making those connections last.
The first half of my internship provided me countless opportunities to develop these skills and put them into use on a daily basis. Each day presented new challenges and I thrived on working to find solutions to exceed Guest expectations. After a few months of my role at Cosmic Ray’s, I then transferred from Food and Beverage over to Entertainment, where I would have to learn how to put these skills to use in a new way.
As a Character Performer, the few seconds spent with a child become part of the story of their lifetime. Disney Characters, worldwide, provide joy, reflect the uplifting family values of The Walt Disney Company, and bring quality entertainment to people around the world. The transferrable skills I developed during my time at Cosmic Ray’s were important in successfully transitioning into my role in Entertainment, but were utilized in different ways. Time management now meant keeping track of set times to ensure characters were on time for meet and greet experiences. Partnering skills became a large part of daily operations. The partnership between Character Attendants, Character Performers, and Disney Photo Imaging Photographers helps ensure more impactful Guest interactions, as well as a consistent show flow between each interaction.
The Disney Quality Standard of “Show” became a very important aspect of my daily routine. As a Character Performer, the few seconds I spend with a child in a meet-and-greet interaction become part of their memory for the rest of their life. Every move and gesture I made as a Performer must be “part of the show” and help tell the story with which Guests are familiar.
A large part of my internship experience has been the educational offerings. Disney University and the Disney College Program Education Team offer a number of professional development, career exploratory and accredited collegiate courses. I was lucky enough to be enrolled in four classes: Marketing Exploration Series, Disney Heritage Exploration Series, Guest Relations Exploration Series, and the Entertainment Professional Development Study.
My Marketing Exploration Series course was a look into the marketing tactics of the various business units within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Guest speakers from multiple lines of business, including Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club, spoke about the marketing strategies and campaigns used to promote growth while maintaining the core equities of the Disney Parks brand. The amount of time and effort put into such small details in these marketing campaigns, in order to maintain the rich content and uniqueness of the Disney brand, is astonishing.
The Entertainment Show Production Professional Development Study offered me an opportunity to explore how Walt Disney Creative Entertainment develops, implements, and maintains their productions. Specific topics included business planning and creative investigation, concept development, show development, production and opening, and operations. In-class activities allowed me to partner with other students to solve detailed issues pertinent to show production.
One of the most influential aspects of my Disney College Program was the opportunity to network with Disney leaders. I was lucky enough to meet the Entertainment Manager for Fantasmic and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Melissa oversees the daily operations of both productions, among other live events, and serves as the shows’ stage manager during most performances.
Melissa was gracious enough to give me a personal tour of both performance spaces. I was able to get a close-up, behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of both productions. It was daunting to see how complex, (and at times, how simple,) each production ran. Melissa then invited me to shadow her during a performance of each show. I was able to sit in the control booth and take notes on how each performance is run. That, for me, was the most influential part of my experience in Orlando.
I look back on my experiences and I truly treasure the wealth of knowledge shared with me by passionate leadership teams and Cast Members. Looking forward, I can honestly say that my participation on the Disney College Program has been one of the greatest journeys of my life thus far. With my foot in the door with the Walt Disney Company, I feel very optimistic about a successful future with the Company, or any other path I may take in the future. Knowing myself, and my passion for Disney heritage, I know I will stay with the Company after college. Whether it be Parks and Resorts, or any other number of divisions of the Company, I know my graduation from the Disney College Program will help me secure a position with the Company.
Collecting Disney books (especially coffee-table-style books) is one of my hobbies. Souvenir books from Disney World are my favorite, so I’m always on the hunt for vintage copies.
1. A Pictorial Souvenir of Walt Disney World (1975)
2. Walt Disney World: The First Decade (1982)
3. Walt Disney World: A Pictorial Souvenir (1985)
4. Walt Disney World: 15th Anniversary (1986)
5. Walt Disney World and EPCOT Center (1987)
6. Walt Disney World: 20 Magical Years (1991)
7. Walt Disney World: A Pictorial Souvenir (1993)
8. Walt Disney World: Twenty-Five Years (1996)
9. Walt Disney World Resort: A Souvenir for the Millennium (1999)
10. Walt Disney World: Then, Now, and Forever
by Jeff Kurtti and Bruce Gordon (2008)
11. Secrets of Disney’s Glorious Gardens
by Kevin Markey
12. Designing Disney
by John Hench
13. Tarzan: The Broadway Adventure
by Michael Lassell
14. Windows on Main Street
by Chuck Snyder
15. Encyclopedia of Walt Disney’s Animated Characters
by John Grant
16. The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
by Jason Surrell
17. The Disney Mountains: Imagineering at Its Peak
by Jason Surrell
18. Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies
by Jason Surrell
19. Since the World Began: Walt Disney World - The First 25 Years
by Jeff Kurtti
*Every WDW fan needs to own and read this book!
20. The Little Big Book of Disney
by Monique Peterson
21. Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real
by The Imagineers
22. Walt Disney’s EPCOT Center: Creating the World of Tomorrow
by Richard Beard
23. The Making of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park
by Melody Malmberg
24. From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender and Culture
by Elizabeth Bell, Lynda Haas, and Laura Sells
25. Good Girls & Wicked Witches: Women in Disney’s Feature Animation
by Amy M. Davis
26. Birnbaum’s Walt Disney World 2009
27. Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World
by David Koenig
*Another must-read for all WDW fans
28. Cast Member Confidential: A Disneyfied Memoir
by Chris Mitchell
29. Walt Disney World Resort: Celebrating 100 Years of Magic
30. Disneyland: The First Quarter Century (1979)
31. Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making More Magic Real (2010)
by The Imagineers
32. Poster Art of the Disney Parks
by Daniel Handke and Vanessa Hunt
33. Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World
by Chad Denver Emerson
34. Four Decades of Magic
by Chad Denver Emerson
35. The Vault of Walt
by Jim Korkis
36. Walt Disney World Hidden History
by Kevin Yee
37. The Dark Side of Disney
by Leonard Kinsey