Unbelievable fact: it’s been almost ten years since I completed the Disney College Program.
In mid August 2004, I boarded the Autotrain in Virginia for the overnight trip to Orlando.
My time at Walt Disney World (that’s the Florida park, for those who don’t know) was truly an unforgettable time of my life, and something I would recommend to almost anyone.
That being said, like most things, there are pros and cons to dedicating a few months of your oh so precious college years to work for the Mouse, and here is my list for anyone who is considering applying or received their acceptance letter.
Note: This list could apply to Disneyland (California) program as well, but I don’t know enough about it to comment. For comprehensive info about working at Disneyland, check out SarahSnitch on YouTube.
Pro: You get to live in sunny central Florida for 4 to 6 months.
When people ask what was the CP like, I always reply: Like being on spring break for an entire semester.
Orlando isn’t the Caribbean, and it’s not as warm as Miami or a coastal city like Tampa, but the weather (as opposed to the weather where I lived at the time, State College, which was unpredictable at best) is pretty phenomenal.
Not only is it sunny and warm most days, but like clockwork, I looked forward to the 15 minute rain storm at 3 in the afternoon that would cool the temperature just enough to be pleasant for the rest of day.
Also, I only got sick once during my program (although I definitely took more than one sick day… sorry Disney).
My allergies cleared up completely and the combination of air conditioning and humidity did wonders for my aching sinuses.
Con: You have to live in central Florida for 4 to 6 months.
Growing up in the northeast, I’m used to humid summers and mosquitos making me an all night buffet, but if you’re from a drier climate, or not used to strange creatures (we found a frog, some salamanders, and a rat in our apartment, and saw a couple of alligators in our complex’s runoff pond) be forewarned.
Orlando is also very spread out. Getting anywhere beyond the parks feels more like a voyage and the traffic on Rt. 4 can get intense at certain hours.
Also, growing up just a few miles south of New York City, I’ve gotten accustomed to having everything at my fingertips, including endless international cuisine options and cultural events.
While Orlando has a rich Hispanic population, it’s definitely lacking a lot of amenities beyond the theme parks.
If this is truly a concern for you, you want to try the Disneyland program which is just a short drive from Los Angeles.
Pro: You have unlimited free access to all of the Walt Disney World parks.
This is kind of a no-brainer. And trust me, even if you work directly in the park every day, you will absolutely take advantage of this privilege – when else will you get to go to WDW and go on one ride after work?
Con: Pleasure Island is closed.
Another perk during my program was free access to Disney’s version of CityWalk on Thursday nights (which coincided with the arrival of our weekly paychecks. Coincidence?).
It was a great way to meet up with friends outside of work, blow off some steam, and dance – and, Disney even provided free transportation from the apartments and back.
However, after it’s closure in late 2008, I’m not sure where CPs go now, besides drinking around the world at Epcot, and, my absolute favorite bar in the world, Jellyrolls (an amazing dueling piano bar located at the Boardwalk Resort – best on Tuesday nights), which are both amazing but limited nonetheless.
There’s always CityWalk (far), and Church Street (also far), and apartment parties of course, but the closure of PI left a big gaping hole of fun on Thursdays. If you’re a current CP or fairly new alum, let me know where you go now in the comments!
Pro: It’s the first thing future employers will ask about.
Not surprisingly, my follow-up internship after the program was for Radio Disney in Manhattan, and they were thrilled that I had experience with the Walt Disney Co.
However, even after graduating college most employers saw WDW on my resume and immediately asked me more about it.
It’s a Fortune 100 Company and in the Dow 30 – use this to your advantage.
Con: It’s the first thing future employers ask about.
Another Fortune 100 Company flew me to Virginia for an interview and they spent quite a lot of time asking about my Disney experience, then said: “Your eyes light up when you talk about Disney, so why do you want to work here?”
Obviously, I didn’t end up getting a job offer there (although at the time and even more so now I’m very happy about that), but let that be a lesson: talk positively about your college program, but try to change the topic after a minute or two – unless you’re applying for a job at Disney, of course.
Pro: You will make new friends from all parts of country and world.
Currently, I have friends from my program living in Chicago, Texas, Colorado, Orlando (which makes visits back even better), Missouri, Michigan, and Norway – meeting friends during your program is as easy as it was freshman year of college, and most of them will stick with you long after you return home.
Con: You will talk excessively about the program to your home friends and family.
For the non CPs about there, hearing about your program is really interesting (Ooohh – did you see the tunnels? Mickey with his head off? etc. etc.) in the beginning.
After the initial shiny-ness of your return fades away, you’ll find yourself bringing up your program way more than a sane person who no longer works for Disney should.
Embrace that your friends will make fun of you – it’s only natural – think of how non excited you become when someone incessantly shares stories from their amazing vacation or study abroad program.
Not to worry, annoying our friends with our quirks is inevitable, and hopefully you shared plenty enviable bikini clad photos of yourself in January – before the ridicule begins.
Pro: It’s a paid position.
Con: But it doesn’t pay that much.
When I left Orlando in January ‘05, I came home with little more than a killer tan.
Disney makes it easy to pay rent by directly taking out of your paychecks before you receive it, but Florida’s minimum wage is hardly a livable salary.
I had to call my parents and ask for help about midway through my program, but if you are particularly frugal you can get by – but not much else.
Pro: You don’t need a car.
Disney provides free transportation to all of the work locations (the theme parks, water parks, hotels, etc.), the local grocery store, a few other essential stops.
Con: You kind of need a car.
But that’s where it ends. If you want to venture out of the Disney bubble (and I recommend this from time to time to retain sanity), you’ll either have to take a cab (which is expensive), befriend someone with a car, or like I did, bring your car with you.
Not only will you get to sleep in a little longer and get home faster (without several bus stops on Disney’s bus), but should you want to go to a real beach, Cocoa Beach is less than an hour away and definitely worth checking out at least once.
Pro: You might love your job.
I was a deep water lifeguard at the Port Orleans Resort and absolutely loved my job. I got to be outside for the entire day, hop in the pool if got too hot, was required to play an hour of kids games daily, and had to complete in service training – which refreshed my first aid skills, or we had to do physical challenges (basically getting paid to work out) but above all, the reason why I loved my job was because a few times I got to save lives.
There hasn’t been a better feeling in my entire life and I owe that to Disney.
Con: You might hate your job.
A friend of mine worked at a quick service hotdog stand at the Magic Kingdom and detested her job.
While there are some people well suited for that position, Disney’s method of work placement remains a mystery and it could result in job dissatisfaction.
The good news is, your role is determined by the time you receive your acceptance letter, so it will clearly state what you’ll being doing during your program, but not where – and that could mean the difference of loving or hating your position.
As I mentioned above, I loved my job, but I was deployed (as most CPs are at some point to fill in for sick leave or holidays) to the Pop Century Resort for a few days and had that been my home pool I wouldn’t have been nearly as happy with my job as I was at Port Orleans.
I hope you enjoyed this list, and stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll share some valuable tips to know before you go. Have a magical day!