In two weeks I will have officially been here for three months already! It’s hard to believe how fast time flies, and yet at the same time I feel like I’ve been here forever. Perhaps it’s the long hours or busy weeks, or maybe even the heat of the day that is more exhausting than I realize, but I feel as though my program should be coming to an end soon, not that it is only just beginning. Last year, I arrived in February and left in early August, so maybe that too has something to do with my feelings of finality. Luckily, I still have 5 whole months to spend down here with my birds, my Komodo Dragons, and the amazing people I’ve met.
I arrived in Orlando on May 10th after a two an a half day road trip across half of the U.S. with my dad. We traveled nearly 1,300 miles and drove through five different states to arrive at the front door to my new apartment. It was long, it was stressful, but we made it. And all in one piece! My dad flew back home on the 11th and I went to Magic Kingdom with some friends for the first time since October to see the last ever showing of Wishes, the fireworks show that had been the cornerstone of my previous program. It was emotional and final, but all at the same time it was renewing and encouraging. It reminded me that things are ever-changing here at Disney and in my life, and that even though good things might be gone, better things are usually just around the corner.
After a busy first few days and after finally unpacking and putting away all of my things, it was time for check-in, May 15th. Knowing now how the process went, my experience was a little more smooth and a little less hectic- though I still managed to be late to my Casting appointment. I’m telling you, the garage system at Disney Springs is CONFUSING! After that first day, of course I had to wait nearly a week until Traditions and my first day of training, but it was nice to have 4 days to sleep and rest and explore the area around me. I learned very quickly how to get to Walmart from my apartment, and also just how much it costs to move somewhere new.
Traditions was on the 19th, and though I knew what to expect, it still gave me goosebumps to hear Walt talk and to receive my new nametag. Finally, I was home again. We had one day off, and then our Welcome to Operations day, which is basically going over the Four Keys, which are the foundation of the exceptional guest service that Disney and its affiliates are built upon, plus introducing you to your line of business. While my paperwork said “Attractions,” my current role has been changed to fall under the “Animal Science and Environment” (or ASE) category. This was a welcome and exciting surprise for me, because while I had an idea of what I would be doing for my role before I arrived, I wasn’t absolutely certain, and this only reinforced that I was going to be part of something bigger than myself. ASE includes all of the animal keepers, all of the cast who monitor our environmental impact as a whole, and the folks who manage the Disney Conservation Fund, plus all of the animal education cast members like myself who work on the trails and talk to guests. In our small class that day were four of us- myself, Susanah- the other CP who would be on the trail with me, and two new keepers who would be working with the elephants. To me, it was really exciting to sit there alongside the keepers and know that I was in the same category as them. It was inspiring and encouraging all at the same time. I couldn’t wait to step onto the trail.
The next 5 days would all be training and luckily, Susanah and I had the same schedule so we were able to lean on one another when the days became less glamorous and more long and obnoxious. For that week, we learned about the animals on our trail- the Maharajah Jungle Trek- and we practiced speaking to guests. Being fairly comfortable speaking in front of groups, this came pretty easy to me, but the hardest then, and now, remains the conservation message. Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a zoo (No, really. We are.) and we are accredited through the AZA- the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Through them,, we have many great opportunities, like being part of breeding programs for endangered animals and having more recognition from other facilities. One of their main goals is to teach others about conservation and the ways that we can tangibly help the animals. So as an educator on the trails, it is my job to get that message in as often as possible so that my guests have a greater take-away from their experience in the park. While on paper it seems really easy to talk about recycling or donating or gardening with purpose, those things are sometimes difficult to slip into organic conversation, and that’s where I struggle. I worry that I’ll be turning someone off of being part of the conservation effort if I’m not talking to those people who are genuinely interested. And I understand that’s a greater problem than mine- we all tune out the things we’re sick of hearing. However, since being here I have become more conscious of my own actions that have an impact on those creatures around me and I want to leave this earth better than I found it, if possible.
After training week, I was thrown right in on my own, working about 45 or more hours a week. And that’s all I’ve really been doing for the last two and a half months. I have been to the beach twice, and I have been able to play in the parks. But I’ve also done A LOT of sleeping and a lot of watching Netflix, because honestly, most of the time I come home from work and I’m too exhausted to do anything else. I love my work, and I love my location. Soon I’ll be cross-trained on one of the other trails which will offer some variety, and I’m very much looking forward to that. Our trail hours will also be changing soon, meaning we will be open less time during the day as the sun starts to go down sooner, so that will help too I imagine. Hopefully some of my great adventures will happen in the near future and in the coming months.
Thanks for reading the recap and keep an eye out for specific stories very soon, I have plenty to tell about my first couple months on the trails!