The first of many Disney posts hopefully! The Disney Cultural exchange program allows university students to live and work at Walt Disney World for 2 months (plus a 30 day travelling period if you wish), it is a very competitive program so I only really applied ‘to just see if I had a chance’, but somehow I ended up going all the way to have an amazing 3 months! I will write about my journey through the application later to give you an idea of what is involved. But for now, lets get onto the program itself!
Arrival: Everybody is in the same boat! Everyone wants to make friends, get themselves settled in and enjoy the Disney parks as soon as possible! The group chats and facebook groups beforehand are really useful to get to know people on the program and find hotel buddies for the first few days. Also they were full of information and help on what to take and what happens. The first few days you have lots of free time as you just have inductions and training sessions so we spent a lot of time exploring the resorts (as you don’t get your park pass yet!) and exploring the nearby International Drive’s attractions.
Housing: This is the part I were most worried about, living and sharing an apartment with up to 8 people you don’t know is a scary prospect. However, most people are there because of the same reason you are, and that is for the love of Disney. So you already have one thing in common! You also share your bedroom with 1 or 2 other cast members but as I found out, you hardly ever see each other because of the variety of shifts you work. I worked mainly evening shifts and my room mate worked mainly morning shifts which meant we had the room to ourselves when we weren’t working! The décor and facilities aren’t the best but you can make it homely with pictures and posters. Every housing complex is within walking distance to a shopping complex and supermarket, plus they all have a pool and Disney themed events to keep you occupied!
Working: I was very lucky and got placed in Magic Kingdom on Main Street USA. Part of the attractions team I worked at Town Square Theatre where I greeted guests and managed queues for Tinkerbelle and Mickey himself! In this position you also rotate to Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom where you train guests to become sorcerers and use their magic spell cards to defeat Disney villains at portals around the park. Both roles really gave you the chance to speak with guests and be at the heart of creating the magic. The training I recieved was top quality, seeing and learning the ‘secrets’ of the Disney parks was very interesting and the team I worked with were so welcoming and supportive. This in fact was what made working so enjoyable, everybody was so friendly and loved their work, plus the mix of international college program students and locals created such a culturally rich and welcoming atmosphere.
Free time: The best part! Living in the heart of the sunshine state with a wealth of world class attractions around you means you are never bored! Add in a Disney cast member pass giving access to all the parks as well as discounts on food, drink and merchandise and you have your entertainment sorted! Now, shift work may mean that you and your friends don’t have time off together but there are plenty of others on the program who have the same problem and failing that, I found it just as enjoyable to wander the parks on your own and take a breather from everything. The evening shows were probably the highlight for me and every day off I tried to finish the evening with one of them, what more could you want than to finish the day with Disney music and fireworks.
Friends: Probably the best part of the program was making friends with people from all over the world. I found it so interesting to talk to your colleagues and other college program participants about their culture, traditions, experiences… I discovered something new everyday and had so much fun joking about the differences. The bad part is now I have friends all over the world who I wish I could see more often!
Travel: As part of the program, you have an optional 30 day travelling period after your 2 months working. I had to take advantage of this so I planned 2 weeks of travels where I took in Miami, Atlanta, Washington D.C & New York City. If you have the budget and time to do so, I would definitely go for it, even if you plan it late so you can go with your program buddies you meet while out there. These were bucket list places for me so I loved getting to experience them in person.
The program was one of the best experiences ever and looking back I wish I could do it all again! The training and learning the ‘Disney way’ was so insightful and such a benefit to my CV and career. Flying across the world and living in a different country not knowing anyone beforehand, was a real step out of my comfort zone but I feel I gained so much out of it. And finally, the fun of living in the Disney Bubble in Florida was such a magical feeling being such a Disney fan. If you have completed or thinking of completing one of the Disney programs let me know, I would love to hear your stories and give help if I can!