Monday, January 26, 2009

5-Year Mouse Anniversary

January 19th marked my 5-year anniversary from starting my Disney College Program Internship. I had just turned 21 and was out to acknowledge and rule the world. Ah, the naivety of my younger self....

I spent 6 months in sunny Orlando, Fla. having some of the best and worst times of my late adolescence life; here's a reflection.

I worked at Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney's Animal Kingdom. It was the "must-see" attraction at the park, and boy was it intense. We (the cast members/safari team) drove large, Ford E450 trucks over a 2.1 miles course without a track. We would travel thru rivers, jungles, forests, savannah's and a large waterfall viewing over 50 types of African wildlife. Encounters with lions, cheetahs , zebras, elephants, flamingos, rhinos, and other African animals were a daily occurrence. Each safari covered over 200 acres of land - that's close to 3 times the size of the Magic Kingdom for example. While it was loads of fun, it was quite hard having to man the trucks, deal with standing guests and being awake of the animals running in front of me.

Yes, it was great, but the downside was I was just a number- a plebe if you will. With over 200 people alone at the attraction, it was hard to really have a relationship with the 8 managers I had. Also, several whom are now long gone were known for picking favorites, or getting in the way of the "disney magic". Also, working 40 hours a week on a $6.70/hr wage did not exactly cover the costs of living in America's tourist mecca. One of the biggest was the feeling of being hired slave labor. With over 55,00 workers alone at WDW, 5,500+ were college interns. It was hard to have any job where your actual skills and knowledge could be used and worked upon (minus communications)

But I got over those things - why gripe about the bad stuff when so many great things came out of my time there? I made awesome friends - Kim, Mandy, Gordo, Dave, Tim, Laurie, Scott, Mere and Nicole just to name a few. There was always something to do- any day we were off, we were at the beach, or playing in the parks. Many trips to Pleasure Island for dancing and drinking were enjoyed. Jellyrolls, a dueling piano bar was a hotspot on cast nights. Hearing Scott rock out "Rainbow Connection" ala Kermit was a highlight. Hanging out with OAR and the VIP area at House of Blues was kick-ass. Old Town yards of beer on a hot night quenched our throats. Trips to Universal Studios, or Cici's All-you-can-eat pizza were highlights. Visiting all the college kids at Daytona was a trip! Taking "sick days" to sit by the pool and vent were awesome. Sneaking behind the parks and in the tunnels were memories forevermore. "Black Tuesday", for any of you KSR alum may have been the best day at the park! VIP and Celeb safaris were always cool. So many great things happened when I was there.

My friend the other day asked me if I would ever work there again- that is quite hard to answer because I just do not know. Though I loved being there, I had a hell of a time where I worked. When I went back upon UD graduation, all I could get after an interview (and a full degree) was a bellhop position at an economy resort. Prices living in the area are, as well, astronomical for the salary the workers are paid.
But the good things are I'd be able to go to the parks all the time- something I cherished while there. I rode Tower of Terror 78 times for crying out loud (never made it to the 100 mark we were trying for, sigh). I'd be close to the beach, nightlife and people my own age. I'd be in Florida where it's warm and sunny almost the entire year.

The pros and cons of returning are just a source of question whenever I think about going back. If I was 5 years younger and could do the College Program again, I would - serious changes have been made since my program that have made it better for the interns. But for now, I think I'll stay in NYC where I am loving every minute of being here. Besides, it's more fun going to Disney and being a guest- you get that "Disney Magic" way more wearing a tourist outfit, than a polyester hot house and a mickey mouse name tag.

Do not take this as an insult for workers there- I, myself, just did not feel that it was my true calling. If I could be an Immagineer or work in the Guest Service area, I'd be back right away I have an affinity for anyone that has been there, and worked for the mouse - they really know what hard work is and I applaud them.

So, I come to the end of this rant. Maybe it has interested you, maybe not. But if you take one thing from this, remember that Walt Disney World truly is a fantastic place. I still love it just as much as I did before working there. But having grown, and reflected on the past 5 years, I am thrilled with the experience and the experiences since that I've been able to enjoy.

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