So my Disney program ended three months ago today, and I think it’s time that I write about it, if not to make sure none of it disappears in light of whatever the next few months bring to me. So here we go, a full, detailed(kind of) recap of my six months working for Walt Disney!
|I was able to sit at the foot of castle to get this picture. One of my favorite moments!
|My program began on February 8th and ended on August 4th, 2016. I worked for the Walt Disney World Resort for 185 days in the parking lot at Magic Kingdom. Now as some know, I had quite the first week, the first couple of days even, in Florida(find the full story HERE). It was an interesting transition to say the least, and upon finding out that I would be in the parking lot, I won’t lie- I was disappointed. I wanted so badly to be in the park itself, and when I was initially assigned the role of “Hopper” I didn’t entirely understand that that meant I would be assigned a permanent role, they just hadn’t quite decided yet.
Upon my arrival, I spent a week moving in, checking in, and settling down and another week in training. I learned how to drive the tram in the parking lot and how to deliver the safety and informational spiel. I learned how to correctly and efficiently park cars and I learned about the gloriously long breaks at the Ticket and Transportation Center. And you know what? After a month, the parking lot wasn’t all that bad. I had made friends with the other CPs and I got along with my other peers and supervisors. I learned very quickly that the parking lot was a boy’s club and you had to have thick skin if you were going to keep up- both with the coworkers and the guests. My role is probably at the bottom of most anyone’s list when it comes to things they’d like to do for Disney, but let me tell you that I am not lying when I say that I would gladly trade in my cashier nametag and go back to the TTC at the drop of a hat. I loved (almost) every moment of my time in the parking lot and I absolutely wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. If not for the memories, then for the people I met. You couldn’t have dropped me into a more diverse and eclectic group of humans if you tried, and yet I came away with a new family. I met some of the most genuine and loving people while on my program, and I met some real assholes too. But family nevertheless, the parking lot was my home, and safety yellow was my color of choice.
A quick word about the uniforms-never in my life have I ever worn something that was simultaneously hideous, unflattering,uncomfortable, and awesome as Hell. When I arrived, I was so worried that the parking uniforms were going to be white. Now that may sound like an odd concern, but let me explain: nearly every costume at Disney involves obnoxious colors and horrendous patterns, and I was going to be heartbroken if I traveled all the way from Iowa to be told that I didn’t get to wear one of the outrageous uniforms. I wanted to be part of the show! You can imagine my elation when halfway through a training day, I saw my first picture of a parking cast member and they were wearing the bright yellow stripes in all of their glory. Not only are the uniforms made from some kind of horrible polyester/canvas blend, but they come up right under your boobs, at least for the women, and any one item always had an odd odor. I came to know that as the parking lot smell- a mix of sweat, dirt, oil, and various fumes that just didn’t seem to disappear, no matter how many washes you put your clothes through. I swear I can almost smell it now… As if the stripes and canvas weren’t bad enough, we had to wear the bright orange and yellow safety vests because we operated machinery. Any semblance of a human shape sprints out the door when you slip on your zippered vest, but have no fear, you’re visible, rain or shine!
|The best group of CPs a girl could ask for! From left to right: Chantal,
me, Kevin, Sarah, Ingrid, Brittney, and Jenn (Not Pictured:
Cary, Rachel, and MacKenzie)
The majority of my time spent in Florida was spent at work. I had a few friends who really made the most of their free passes into the parks, and others who spent even MORE time than I did at the TTC. I worked the night shift, as did the other CPs, so a typical day for me meant waking up at noon or 1pm because I didn’t get to bed until 4 the night before and getting ready for the day. I learned two things very quickly: one, makeup was pretty much useless in the parking lot. Unless you wanted to throw on a little mascara, the rest was going to quite literally melt off within the first 2 hours of your shift. Everyone was gross, and no one was looking, so I saved my full-face days for dressing up and going to the parks. Two: always always ALWAYS take the earlier bus. TranStar has a knack for being horribly late and extremely off schedule. If you needed to be at work at 2pm, you most definitely should take the 1 o’clock bus and sit in the break room for 20 minutes, because otherwise you’d be SOL.
My average shift was about 10 hours, and most of the time I was off at 2am so I was heading into work around 4 or 5 daily. There were a few positions in the parking lot, and most times you got to rotate through almost every spot throughout the night, I think I can only recall one or two days where I was stuck on a tram the entire shift. I won’t go into detail about every position, maybe in a later post just for posterity sake, but everyone had their favorites and everyone had the one they absolutely hated. For me, being at point in the actual lot or spieling on a tram for the Heroes side were probably my favorites, with Villain’s point and setting the lot and the end of the night being in close contention for third.
Being point in the lot meant being in charge of sending cars down the line to park. It was clearly the best spot to be in because you got to talk to everyone who was rotating through the lot parking the cars and all you really had to do was call in row numbers on the radio. Spieling in general was always fun, but specifically I enjoyed the Heroes half of the lot because it just seemed more laid back. The crazy guests really did seem to gravitate to the Villains trams.
Not only did I like the Heroes side better but there was a perfect time of day to be on a tram as well: somewhere between 7-10pm, as it’s just starting to get busy from everyone exiting the park, the sun is setting, and you get to see Wishes from the back of the tram- if you’re lucky! I came to love our parking lot, not only because it was massive (at over 130 acres, it can hold Disneyland and its entire parking lot), but because it really was beautiful. I was able to watch the 4th of July fireworks show from the back lots and had a spectacular view, I saw Wishes again and again from the back of the tram, I witnessed roughly 100 gorgeous and unique sunsets along the way, and there was always something special about parking cars at twilight as the sun dipped below the trees.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are days when the lot and I just didn’t get along. Days when guests were extra cranky, or when it was just miserably hot and humid. Days when would have to tram walk. In case you were curious about the position that I hated, this was it. I didn’t like to create or be in the middle of guest conflict, though I know a few people who enjoyed just that, and so to be a tram walker was my worst nightmare. The job description was basically this: stand in front of 500 angry, tired, and impatient guests while the trams make their rounds. Tell those people to stand behind the yellow line, to fold their strollers, to sit in their own seats and not on laps, and to stop boarding the tram. All of these duties you performed as a spieler as well, but when you pissed someone off, you got to leave with the tram. As a tram walker, you had to remain right there right along with everyone you made angry. You were the scapegoat for all of the pent up frustration, and I kid you not when I say that you could always feel the anger rolling off of the guests. Did I mention I hated tram walking? You might think now that the guests I encountered were all rude and angry, but that is simply not true. While being a parking cast member is mostly a thankless job, I had several moments with families that will forever stick out in my mind as moments that make it all worth it.
Not only did I have a job that I loved, but as a cast member I was given a free pass into all four of the parks.This meant that most any day, I could get into any park at no cost. I was also allotted a number of guest passes based on how many hours I had worked, which allowed me to get friends and family in for free as well. As I mentioned before,I have friends who have taken advantage of this particular perk more than I ever did, but I don’t regret any time I spent inside the parks. Maybe I’m just biased because I worked there, but Magic Kingdom was my absolute favorite place to go. The atmosphere and the sense that Walt had been there was tangible. Walking down Main Street always took me back to a different time and place, and I was never disappointed by the small details I discovered as I moved around the park. The nighttime entertainment was superb, with Celebrate the Magic (RIP)and Wishes still being pieces of music that get stuck in my head. My favorite ride, The People Mover in Tomorrowland was always a must as well as strawberry ice cream cone from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor.
I met my first princess at the age of 22 inside Magic Kingdom, Princess Tiana, and I realized a childhood dream come true when I met Ariel a few weeks later. I always enjoyed spending time with friends at the park watching the Festival of Fantasy parade or riding Pirates of the Caribbean, but something about taking the day for myself to wander around and people watch was so relaxing and so joyful. Turning away and leaving Main Street and the Castle behind me for the last time was heartbreaking for me, because it truly felt like I was leaving my home. The feeling of joy and wonder that I experienced every time I stepped through those gates was overwhelming, and I never expected to fall so in love with a place like Disney. I have worried since I returned home that wanting to go back was childish, but I think I have decided that there is nothing immature about being happy where you work and wanting to bring that same joy to the people you serve. I made the difference for a handful of families while I worked for Walt,and I know that’s what he always wanted. If I can continue to make someone’s day a little brighter simply by being myself, I think I’ll be able to go home happy at the end of the day.
|A good friend took this on my last night at Magic Kingdom.
Saying goodbye was emotional, but I’m glad she captured it.
I did spend some time outside of the parks and outside of work, but for the most part I stayed within my Disney bubble. I made great friends and amazing memories, and aside from the handful of times I had to be in a position that I wasn’t excited about, or the moments when I had to deal with a frustrated guest, I truly loved the parking lot- have said that at all yet? I grew to love my co-workers (most of them), and I certainly came to appreciate the various duties in the lot. I even kind of miss my costume. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss being there, and I do have plans to return. Those plans may come to fruition a little sooner than I had originally thought due to some unforeseen circumstances, as I am currently and anxiously waiting for an email that will confirm or deny my position in the Spring 2017 program. If I am granted the chance to go back, I knew exactly what I will do differently: I will take more pictures, I will write more stories, and I will adventure more outside of my comfort zone. The ultimate goal will be to make as much money as I can to save for school, but I know that I can take a moment and truly enjoy every moment. Even if I am denied the opportunity to return for a second program, my end goal remains the same: finish school, and return to Walt Disney World. I had the time of my life there, and I learned so many new things about myself. I became more of who I believe I’m supposed to be and I wouldn’t change a single moment of the time I spent there or the time I have spent since leaving. Until next time, Walt!