Confessions of a Disney College Program Intern

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    Hello, Geeks + Gamers,

    In light of the decisions Disney has made in recent years, I’ve considered sharing my experiences with the Disney College Program (and in between internships through my employment in the Disney Store). I don’t have anything against the people I worked with at the Disney Parks and Resorts and the Disney Store. However, multiple decisions one after the other from this company have brought me into a phase of mourning; mourning what Disney was to me, compared to what they are now.

    For those who might not know, the Disney College Program is a college internship that allows for active students of higher learning to work for the Disney Parks and Resorts, take educational classes pertaining to business attributes the company values (like ‘Corporate Analysis’, ‘Creativity and Innovation’, and ‘Exploring Disney Heritage’). It all begins with the application online, where you put in your college, your major, work experiences, and more. If there are no outstanding issues you have with Disney (such as accidentally having one of their employee uniform pieces. Oh, yes, I have stories…), you may be granted a web interview. It is imperative that when answering the questions, also say that you either ‘Strongly Agree’ or ‘Strongly Disagree’. Using the ‘Neutral’ option too many times will prevent them from choosing you for a phone interview! If the web interview likes your answers, they will likely let you schedule a phone interview, in which a person from Disney will call you up to 15 minutes before or after your scheduled time, with a blocked number. If they see that you have job experience in a specific field, like hospitality or food and beverage, there is a HIGH chance they will put you there should they want you for the program. I had done some food and beverage jobs before interviewing and politely asked for something new and different, like retail. They put me in the food and beverage anyway.

    In Orlando, Florida, if you consent to Disney housing, you are placed in one of four apartment complexes: the Disney sponsored party center Chatham Square, the  infamous, NON-Disney sponsored party center Vista Way, nice and quiet Patterson Court, and The Commons, where they are washers and dryers in every apartment (my complex, Patterson Court, had little huts filled with them, 25 cents for washing, another 25 to dry). If you were under 21, you were put in a Wellness Apartment, one that disallows alcohol. I was 20 when I entered the DCP initially, and I roomed with five other ladies in the 19 and 20 year old age group who needed to stay there as well. Walt Disney World uses a brand of buses called TranStar to transport employees (or Cast Members) to their work places, the market for grocery shopping, and the Florida Mall. I preferred to use my car, because TranStar has a bad habit of breaking down…

    In California, Disney Housing is a complex called Carnegie Plaza, located in the heart of Downtown Anaheim. I was on the top floor in a large apartment with a different set of five ladies, where right below us was a parking garage that required a card key to get into. A five minute walk takes you to the library, and a ten minute walk takes you to the Anaheim Packing House, where they are several little eateries to choose one in just one building. You could get a fried chicken meal from Georgia’s and then walk across the hall to the ice cream shop for some white raspberry cheesecake ice cream. I strongly recommend interns bring a car to Anaheim, because without one, you would utilize the Anaheim bus system (Disney-sponsored bus pass and all). Always try to get to work ahead of time in case the buses run late. Otherwise, utilize a car to go to one of the three parking lots designated for Cast Members and Downtown Disney employees.

    Your position at the Disney Parks and Resorts could be almost anywhere. At Walt Disney World, I was Quick Service Food and Beverage at the Art of Animation Resort’s Landscape of Flavors. The hotel is a value resort (that being a resort intended for families on a budget), and represent two films from Disney’s animation library, and two from Pixar: The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, Finding Nemo, and Cars. The walls are lined with concept art of the four films, and the hotel rooms are color coded to whatever film they’re trying to represent. The Lion King rooms, for instance, sit comfortably along sidewalks where life-sized figures of Timon, Pumbaa, and young Simba take their recognizable walk over you as you go to your Lion King themed room. The Landscape of Flavors serve different types of cuisine. You could go to one side of the room and request pork bahn mi and a slice of nahn bread for lunch, then go to the pizza/pasta section on the other side of the room and request a pasta with alfredo and shrimp for dinner. The food is alright for the most part.

    At Disneyland for my second internship, I was passed around from role to role. I began as a Guest Services person for the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, was later put into an attractions union and learned how to operate Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Dumbo, and Casey Junior (my personal favorite), and as an ultimatum, I was put in Custodial in Disney’s California Adventure (complete with an initiation into the Custodial union). Custodial is actually a very popular role at Disney and I can understand why. You can walk around and pass out maps and buttons to guests, and when you’re switching out full trash bags for empty ones, the time goes by so much faster. I was blessed to be able to be around other cast members who wanted to see my succeed, even when I struggled in each role I was in. Though sweeping doesn’t look glamorous from up close, Custodial did wonders for my confidence. When you’re sweeping, taking out trash, and sorting trash from bottles and cans, your area is your domain.

    Unlike Walt Disney World, you are required to take a Disney education course at Disneyland (thankfully, the networking opportunities are immense). During my Florida internship, I took a Creativity and Innovation class and an Exploring Leadership class. C&I felt like an actual class, with projects, homework, and group collaborations. One particular project I had was to help organize an art fair, for which I drew and colored a Winnie the Pooh inspired piece in which Stan Woozle and Heff Heffalump from The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh watch the silly old bear and Piglet walk towards a waterfall. I was glad to find that I wasn’t the only one to remember this minor woozle and heffalump from a series that ended 1992. Exploring Leadership was more of a seminar type of class where group projects mostly stayed inside the class, and your final grade was a simple Pass/Fail. I received certificates for Perfect Attendance and pass both classes with relative ease. In Disneyland, I took a Corporate Analysis class, where we learned how exactly a corporation like Disney works. We learned about the rise and fall of Michael Eisner, were given projects where each of us were to analyze a certain faction of Disney (I got to research Touchstone Pictures, for instance), and got to partake in conversations about the evolution of Disney characters and ask questions like ‘are we ready for a plus sized princess’ or ‘can we pull off an LGBT princess’. I passed the class and found at least one good friend in Corporate Analysis, and I hope she’s doing alright…

    But the part I always loved the most was the complimentary access to the Parks, especially my explorations on both coasts’ Tom Sawyer’s Island. You have not lived until you have agreed with your coworkers to exchange shifts with you, so that you could go to a 24 hour party at Magic Kingdom Park, called Rock Your Disney Side. One full 24 hour day at Disney, where you, an adult, can dress up as a Disney character and marvel at the Heroes vs. Villains theme. My roommates didn’t think I could do last the entire 6AM to 6AM party, but you better BELIEVE I did!! The entire 24 hours with no espresso, no naps, and encounters with rare characters to go around; I’ve always had a particular fondness for Brer Fox from Song of the South/Splash Mountain, so I dressed up as him using clothes from Walmart (you may laugh now…). I also spent many nights at Disneyland Park admiring the fireworks and castle show, plus the Paint the Night parade as part of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary; the Diamond Celebration.

    These were very ideal times for me when I genuinely believed I could make a career out of Disney, and live prosperously with them. January 2013 to August 2013 was when I did my Orlando program, and August 2015 to January 2016 was when I did my Anaheim program. For context, I graduated college in May 2015, and in between May and August, I had gotten a part time job at the Disney Store in Houston, TX, which went pretty well all things considered. I had gone into the Anaheim program hoping I could a second job and make living in SoCal work. Unfortunately, even with a second job at the Garden Grove Mall’s Sunglass Hut, SoCal was just too expensive for me. I completed my college program in California, collected my Thank-You gift in the form of the little black leather boxes Disney gives out at the end of every program (I use mine to hold jewelry and spare change), left for Houston, and took up more sustainable jobs in Fort Worth.

    Five years ago, if you had asked me if the DCP was worth it, I’d have told you ‘absolutely, go for it!’ However, perhaps it was for the better that I never came back as a full timer or for one of their professional internships. My dream to come back and work for Disney has dwindled extensively over the years. First, they got rid of Steve Whitmire for disagreeing with Disney’s treatment of the Muppets (even though he actually knew Jim Henson and knew how the Muppets should be treated). Then, the live-action remakes kept coming and not even holding a candle to the originals. Then, my fellow Cast Members go under and get laid off, while Senior Ops at the company get raises. And who could forget the demonization of those who disagree and have opinions on Captain Marvel and the Last Jedi. And now with Lucasfilm’s double standards, and the firing of Gina Carano, do I even want to work for Disney anymore? Not at the moment…

    I appreciate and thank Disney for letting me partake in both College Programs, but I don’t see myself going back to Disney at the moment. I miss and mourn what it used to be. Winnie the Pooh, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Great Mouse Detective, I love these Disney titles and many more, and I will not deny how much I loved adventuring in the Parks, Downtown Disney, and Tom Sawyer’s Island. Nowadays, Disney’s something far worse, and far scarier than I had thought it could ever be. I know who some of these Disney employees are through the Disney Store and parks, but until there is a huge reformation from the inside out, backed up by actions and content that avoids demonization of ANY people group, I’m sorry, Mickey, but I miss what Walt’s company used to be…

    Thanks again for the black boxes.

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