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Cast Member Corner: A Cautionary Tale about WDW's College Program

Cast Member Corner: A Cautionary Tale about WDW's College Program

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When I first heard there was to be a rep from the Walt Disney World College Program on my campus,(name of school withheld) the first feeling I received was a magical stirring in my loins. Imagine working at Walt Disney World, the place of magical childhood dreams! I eagerly went to the informational seminar where past College Program participants stood on stage with a microphone in front of hundreds of starry-eyed prospective "Mousketeers" like myself and told story after story of how wonderful their time in the 8 month program was in making new friends, learning important career-building skills, and how future employers will look fondly upon seeing "Walt Disney World" on their resumes.

Hmmmm...Put off school for an 8 month sabbatical to work at Walt Disney World, The Vacation Kingdom of the World??? You betcha!

After acing the interviews and talking to my CP Recruiter, who told me that he might be able to "pull a few strings" and get me into working at Guest Relations at one of the Parks, (which is in line with my major of Public Relations), I was packed and ready to go. My folks, when I told them of my plans to work the College Program, weren't exactly overjoyed. My Dad cited a Penthouse Forum article that quotes Vista Way apartments (one of the apartment complexes housing the college program) as "the # 2 place to get laid in the United States." I was still excited about leaving boring college for fun, sun and learning opportunities galore at Walt Disney World!

$450 later, my plane landed in Orlando. My bags were lost somewhere between Cleveland and Kansas City the baggage claims rep told me at 1 am. I was tired but excited at the very idea I was in Orlando, home of Mickey Mouse.

I called the "Vista Transportation" number given to me for pickup at the airport when I arrived. After 50 rings, a man with a thick foreign accent groggily answered, "Vista Transportation." I explained that I arrived at Orlando International and needed to be picked up. He replied that the earliest van he could get to me would be arriving at 7 am. It was 1:30 am! He said only, "Sorry, but you can get a taxi. Disney might reimburse you." I chose to sleep.

The van arrived as scheduled at 7:30 am. There were two others from the College Program, one from my school and another from Texas A&M. They also arrived late the previous night and were ruby-eyed and weary like myself. It started to rain when we got into the van and rained the whole way to the apartment complex, Vista Way. My new friend Jim, who was from my school, told me that his major is Computer Engineering. His recruiter said that would "pull some strings" and get him into something more along his field of interest, possibly working with Disney's Imagineers, the creative department.

After lugging my worldly possessions into the rain and into the lobby of Vista Way, I waited in line with about 20 other students to check in.

I finally got my apartment number and headed for my new home. Loud rap music wafted from the building where my apartment was located. As I got closer, I realized that the increasingly louder noise was coming from my apartment! I hesitantly knocked. No response. I knocked louder. Finally, the door swung wide open. Rap music booming louder than ever. A stoned-looking punk "kid" answered the door. (I say "kid" as if he was a "kid.") "Welcome to Vista Lay!" He chortled, beer in one hand, cigarette in another.

I heaved my heavy bags into the apartment. "Where's my room?" I asked. "Oh, dude. It's over there," pointing at it. I opened the door and an embarrassed nude girl draped in a bed sheet ran out of the room.

The place was a pig sty. Clothes strewn everywhere. Crooked venetian blinds immediately told a tale of wild parties and blasphemous orgies. Some guy lay in his bed moaning, "Dude...you must be my new roommate." He wore a leather bracelet with studs and seemed to nursing a hangover. A cigarette dangled carelessly from his mouth. "That's your bed over there." It looked as someone had sex on it the night before. Crumbs of Doritos were sprinkled all over it. Disgusting.

The bathroom was even worse. A dark ring of black mold ringed the bowl. Burned-out cigarette butts lay all over the floor. It reeked badly.

"This is what I signed up for???" I asked myself.

I went through the 8 hour class that all new Disney employees, or "Cast Members" must attend, called "Traditions."

It was sharp contrast to what I experienced already, but was a welcome escape into Neverland.

People with snazzy costumes walked into the classroom and ringed the perimeter. They were Trainers. Each called out names.

My job assignment. Magic Kingdom. Frontierland. "Pecos Bill's Cafe" Food Service. Food service? I thought I would get Guest Relations! I was pissed.

My Trainer, "Ruth" a hag-faced 45 year-old masculine lady with missing teeth told me in a gravely voice that my tasks were to flip burgers in the back kitchen, bus tables and fill orders.

When I told her my recruiter said he would get me into Guest Relations, she cackled loudly. "Pull a few strings? Ha ha ha!!! I've heard it before, kid!! The truth is they need a warm body to fill a space. You're just a faceless cog in the corporate wheel! Ha ha ha!!!" I sank lower. I wanted to leave right away.

I remember the scene from Pinocchio where naive boys were recruited to visit "Pleasure Island" and turned into Jackasses.

I called my Dad sobbing, "I made a mistake." I want to get back home. "You're a man now, Son. You made the decision. Just suck it up and make the best out of it."

My first paycheck was a moment of excitement. I eagerly tore the borders off and opened the check. My eyes grew wide. "Minus $26.83???" Ruth cackled loudly. "It's called "indentured servitude!"" She laughed even louder. "You pay them to work for them! Ain't it a hoot??!!!" Apparently they took out two weeks of rent in advance, minus $130 for the first check, and $65 a week thereafter. All at $6 an hour.

I realized quickly that Disney was not interested in hiring real employees with benefits and decent wages. It was wanting to hire college kids and foreign college students for up to 8 months at a time with no benefits and no rights on the job, and charge us insane rent.

The full-timers were not happy with us, as they rightfully felt that Disney is using the College and International Programs to subdue their union's bargaining power at the negotiating table and depress their pay scales.

Many full-timers pointed out that Disney receives some sort of taxbreak for the some 6,000 students enrolled in the College Program and that Disney plans to expand the program to double and even triple it to wipe out Full-time jobs.

How can a full-timer in Orlando expect to live alone on $6.75 an hour? Let alone support a family?

After 2 months into the Program, our apartment was raided by apartment security guards. Marijuana, booze (we were all under 21) was found in our apartment and we were all evicted and terminated. It didn't matter who it belonged to. Zero tolerance. "Don't let the door hit you on the way out," seemed to be their attitude.

I was relieved to be on my way home. But saddened.

My friend Jim? He got to work on the Dumbo ride in the Magic Kingdom, but was terminated when someone filed a complaint against him at Guest Relations, saying he started the ride up when they weren't seatbelted in. He denied the allegations, and the union rep gave him advice on how to fight it, but explained he wasn't covered under the union contract since he's not full-time.

Advice to college students when the WDW CP Program (aka. "The P.T. Barnum Program--A sucker's born every minute!) comes into town? Stay in school. Don't blow it. Don't waste your time.

P.S. The students who got on stage and babbled how wonderful the College Program is? Most were Recruiters trying to further their own Mickey Mouse careers.

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  • Hi!

    My name is Priscila and I'm leaving my comfortable living to this WDWCP, please tell me more about it!

  • Wow...although there is some merit to this post.  Most of it is probably fabricated.  The main thing that gives it away is you find out what job you're going to have way before you go to Traditions.  You find out what type of job area you'll be working in when you receive your acceptance letter....which for most is about 3 months before you even leave.  After that you find out which park you'll be working in on the first day, when you sign in.  After that you find out your exact job and location by phone.  When you go to Traditions you're going to a specific brainwashing class designed for your area of work (ie: operations, quick service foods) and park.

    What he describes is a bunch of caricatures that you'd find in a bad stage play.  I'm sure these people existed, but they make better characters in writing than they probably played out in real life.  The full timers aren't as harsh as he described, and Disney is so picky about personal appearance that even if he lived with a "punk kid"....he wouldn't be as hardcore as he described.

    And I'm not defending Disney.  I had an awful experience on program, and the only enjoyment I got out of working for Disney was being able to see the under belly that is so corrupt and profit driven.  It was heartbreaking, but enlightening in a way.  What I am saying is to anyone who's reading this looking for answers....look somewhere else.  This is a polarized example full of lies.

  • There are 3 types of people who should do the Disney college program...

    1. Those who are desperate to escape their small hick town but could not get into the armed forces

    2. Anyone who seriously wants to work in the hospitality industry

    3. Disney loving freaks (though by the end, your pixie dust will be gone)

    Some advice...

    1. During your interview, do not accept just any position. Insist that you are only interested in Front Desk, Housekeeping, whatever. Don't think they won't hire you because you refuse to sell hot dogs or clean bathrooms. (However, the good thing about custodial is that you are afforded some independence and don't have someone constantly hovering over you) These hours are long and hard. Consider that before they try to sucker you into a job you really don't want to do.

    2. Do not stay in Florida if you are from somewhere else. Go back home and finish school when your program is over!

    I did CP in 2004 and it was one of the worst experiences of my life. I slept at night for 3 hours or so (I got off at midnight then took the bus for 90 minutes then took a shower and got back on the bus at 5 am) and was treated horribly. It's true that if some evil person wants to spread a lie about you, you can be fired over it. I almost was. There is no time for fun whatsoever. I never had a day off. I had no food because not only did I have no money but I didn't even have time to go to the store. One day at work in a moment of desperation, I reached for a pancake in the garbage and the chef (whom I did not realize was watching) threatened to fire me - for trying to eat garbage.

    So what are the positives? I did stay friends with two of the people I lived with. That's nice. Outside of Florida, the words Disney and Internship on a resume do carry some weight since most do not realize that all the "internship" entails is menial labor.

    The best thing that came out of it is that because of the incredible suffering I endured, I hit a very low point and turned to God. I was already a churchy person but I never realized how much I needed a relationship with God until I was physically overextended, emotionally tortured, and mentally manipulated. It made me nearly suicidal. Hitting rock bottom and getting closer to God helped me endure the last two months of the college program.

  • please. where are some decent, cheap rooms for rent by downtown disney area for cast members? any and all help is appreciated!!!

  • Many are quick to publicly rip apart the WDWCP (specially those who were term'd). Lots of those complaints are from people who seemed to not understand what they were getting themselves into... long hours, low pay, high rent, etc.... but everyone should experience these situations before graduating.  Many people from all different majors go which is a mistake... WDWCP DOES NOT PROVIDE ANY TRUELY VALUABLE CAREER SKILLS for any majors other than HOSPITALITY!  Today, as a hospitality professional, I am thankful for every angry and ignorant guest that walked through those gates during my time as a CP,   they taught me to be patient, and to never let customers upset you.

    My greatest suggestion to anyone going, is to "drink the koolaid"!  By allowing the magic take you away you will open yourself to such an amazing adventure!  Learn everything you can, from everyone that will talk to you! oh and bring a car

    last i have to address housing.... yes... it is ***... it is overpriced... it is too crowded with strangers.... but unless you're arriving in lake buena vista straight from mom and dads... wasnt your apartment at college just as bad?

  • This story is completely fake!  I did the college program and there are so many things in here that are inaccurate.

    - As ImaginaryVisionary already said, you find out what your job would be (e.g. attractions, food, merchandise) right when you are offered the job.  It's not a surprise when you get there!

    - CPs' pay checks are not in paper form, but rather they automatically go onto a debit pay card.

    - There is no way they would have been able to gotten away with constantly smoking in their apartment and not keeping it tidy.

    - Vista Way's check in area is in a completely different building than their lobby.

    - "Disney plans to expand the program to double and even triple it to wipe out Full-time jobs" - no idea where this comes from

    - Traditions is only 3-4 hours, not 8

    - No recruiter would have claimed to be able to get a CP working with Imagineering

    - "Pull a few strings? Ha ha ha!!! I've heard it before, kid!! The truth is they need a warm body to fill a space. You're just a faceless cog in the corporate wheel! Ha ha ha!!!" - no trainer or any other CM would be able to or want to say this while working, especially while training someone.  During training they want to get the new CMs excited about working there, not discouraged

  • I've read a lot of things both good and bad about the program.  Is it really as easy to get terminated as I've heard? As in even if you had nothing to do with something your housemates did, or have no knowledge of, you get term'd as well? It seems a lot of trouble to go through and get kicked out through no fault of your own.

  • The van arrived as scheduled at 7:30 am. There were two others from the College Program, one from my school and another from Texas A&M. They also arrived late the previous night and were ruby-eyed and weary like myself. It started to rain when we got into the van and rained the whole way to the apartment complex, Vista Way. My new friend Jim, who was from my school, told me that his major is Computer Engineering. His recruiter said that would "pull some strings" and get him into something more along his field of interest, possibly working with Disney's Imagineers, the creative department.

  • What a cool story! I almost feel everything like you did. I wish i have the same opportunituy but i think my knowledges are weak for it. I tried to study hard but i had no time on my hobbies so some <a href="pro-papers.com/.../a> were made not by me. And i think it Had influenced a little bit on my graduation. In few words - it was hard enough.

  • Most of it is probably fabricated.  The main thing that gives it away is you find out what job you're going to have way before you go to Traditions.  You find out what type of job area you'll be working in when you receive your acceptance letter....which for most is about 3 months before you even leave.

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