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Cast Member Corner: Rebutting Tuesday's "Cautionary Tale"

Cast Member Corner: Rebutting Tuesday's "Cautionary Tale"

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Now, I know that a lot of you are upset that I'd allow something that inflammatory -- Tuesday's article, "A Cautionary Tale about WDW's College Program" -- to be posted on this website. But I think you folks need to understand that Walt Disney World's College Program is (obviously) a somewhat controversial enterprise. Some folks who go through the program just love their 8 months in Orlando. While still others are like the gentleman who wrote Tuesday's article. They get disillusioned right from the get-go. And then things go steadily downhill from there.

Me? I don't know quite what to think yet. When I initially started investigating this story in December of last year, I was spurred on by an absolute horror story that I'd heard. One that (if you can believe it) was actually worse than the one that I ran on Tuesday.

But -- in quizzing many veterans of Disney World's College Program -- I found this weird schism. Those who loved having taken part in the WDW CP REALLY loved it. By that I mean: They wouldn't tolerate any criticism at all of the program. To do so ... Well, it seemed to ruin one of their favorite memories of their times in college. And they just wouldn't allow me to do that.

Meanwhile, the folks who hadn't really enjoyed their time in the WDW CP couldn't help but tell me horror stories about the awful jobs they got assigned, the disagreeable room-mates that they got stuck with, the way their WDW recruiter reneged on all the promises that they made prior to this person's arrival in Orlando ...

So here we have two very different opinions about the very same program. Both sides can't be right ... Can they?

This is why I decided to use JHM's new "Cast Member Corner" column as a way to investigate Disney World's College Program. (Oh -- and for those of you who are keeping scoring -- Tuesday article wasn't actually the first column in this series. Last Thursday's "Cast Member Corner" article -- "Promises Made and Promises Not Kept" column by Disgruntled Goat -- was. Which I think -- if you'll re-read that piece -- you'll find it to be a much more balanced take on what actually happens inside WDW's CP.)

Speaking of balance ... That's what I'm actually shooting for here, folks. A balanced take on this story. Which is why -- over the next couple of weeks -- you'll see JimHillMedia.com run a number of letters from Disney World College Program veterans. Some of these stories will be upbeat and positive. While other articles ... will not be.

The end result? Well, I always think -- whenever I'm dealing with extremes of opinion -- that the truth has to lie somewhere in the middle. Based on what I've read and heard so far, it's clear that there are a number of folks who actually get a lot of Disney World's College Program. The letter that follows -- from a WDW CP vet who goes by the pseudonym of Scooter -- is a perfect example of that.

Yeah, Scooter got stuck with a custodial job during his 8 months in Orlando. But because he chose to be pro-active about what was happening to him, because he chose to have a good attitude about the whole situation, Scooter was actually able to accomplish a whole lot while he was down at Disney World.

But -- just because this guy had a great time during his hitch in Disney World's College Program -- does that mean everyone who's going to go down to Orlando to take part in this program is going to have a similar experience? Hell, no.

After all, we're all individuals, folks. We all have our very own way of viewing the universe.

Take -- for example -- myself and Chuck Oberleitner. In Tuesday's "Don't Fence Me In" article, Chuck described how he had walked around Disneyland this past weekend and was disgusted and depressed to see all of these construction fences as he strolled through the park.

Whereas I went to this very same theme park on Sunday and saw all those construction fences and thought: "Cool. Disneyland's finally getting some much needed maintenance done. It's nice to see that the Mouse is finally pumping some money back into this place. Turning this theme park back into the crown jewel that it used to be."

You see what I'm saying here? Two people experiencing the very same theme park. Yet they still had very different reactions to what they saw and felt.

That's what (I think) is going on with the strong reaction that this Walt Disney World's College Program series is having over on the JHM discussion boards. That people who have extremely fond memories of their time in this program just can't stand the idea of anyone ever trashing the WDW CP. Whereas those folks who DIDN'T have such a great time during their 8 months in Orlando are thrilled to finally have an opportunity here to vent.

So I guess what I'm saying is ... Get ready for a real seesaw of a series, folks. Where some people will be using JHM's "Cast Member Corner" to relive fond memories of their time in Disney World's College Program. While still others will use this opportunity as a way to exorcise a few demons. To talk about the job they hated and/or the room-mate that they never ever got along with.

My hope is that the end result will be a fairly balanced take on Disney World's College Program. That -- once JHM readers have read through all the articles that we'll eventually have on file here -- that we'll all have a better understanding of what this program really entails.

Of course, if I'm not quite getting the balance right, I'm sure you folks will let me know about it.

Anyway ... Here's Scooter to tell you about his time in the program...

I am a product of the Walt Disney World College Program. For 7 months, I lived and worked for the Mouse at the Disney-MGM Studios. I read Tuesday's article with awe. (For) this person had the exact opposite experience of what I had.

Now, the author failed to mention when they did the college program. So things may have changed. But I'm going to doubt (that) they changed too much. I did my program in 2003. In about October of 2002, I went to the recruitment meeting, and I interviewed the next day. The recruiter asked me: "What job would you like to do?" Attractions or Merchandise I guess. I wouldn't be adverse to Custodial either.

So I got Custodial. But I knew long before I left home that that's what I would be doing. My acceptance letter clearly stated "You are accepted as a custodial host/hostess." I was less than enthusiastic, but I went along with it.

I arrived in Florida and they assigned me an apartment with 3 great roommates and 2 not-so-great ones. It's a random assignment, so I don't blame Disney for my 2 bad roommates. And if they were so bad, you could always move to another apartment building. We were told 'way up front how everything works -- $6.00/hr pay, $65 a week rent for a 3 or 4 bedroom apt ($74 for a 1 or 2 bedroom apt), at least 30 hours a week -- there were no surprises. We got to pick our apartment sizes, so that wasn't an issue either.

I started training at the Disney MGM Studios and -- just like anyone -- I had the blues at first. I came down here to work Custodial for 8 months? This is a little ridiculous. What was I thinking?

But then one of my managers sat down with me and asked me what I wanted to accomplish on my program. I told her I wanted to be a puppeteer for a living, and I really wanted to be able to shadow the "Playhouse Disney" and "(Voyage of the) Little Mermaid" crew. "Okay," she said "I'll make some phone calls and try to set that up. Give me a while to make some arrangements and we'll try -- but no promises."

5 weeks later, I was in a full black suit in the middle of the "Little Mermaid" stage during a show watching the puppeteers perform around me.

Now, I've always been a Disney trivia nerd. I love collecting little trivia here and there about every little thing I can. And when I met a certain maintenance man, we became fast friends. He asked me what I had wanted to accomplish or experience on my CP, and I told him: "You know, I'd love to take a tour of some of the attractions and learn some trivia and see the technical side of things."

The next day, I watched a Star Tours simulator fly, and made arrangements to walk the track of the Rock n' Roller Coaster, and tour the Fantasmic island.

I had a great time on my college program, made lots of connections, and learned a lot of things that are useful to me and my career path.

But let me tell you one thing: I didn't just wait for things to fall in my lap and happen to me. I went out and sought out new opportunities. The CP has its ups and downs, but I disagree that it's just an excuse to get cheap labor in their parks. Granted, they do hire a few thousand CP's to fill the ranks at $6, but I think they use the program more to give people a chance to have an amazing experience. They only give you the opportunity. Making it great is up to you.

I worked hard and got what I wanted out of my program. And I know people who didn't work hard at all and didn't get anything they wanted, and (they complained) that Mickey lied to them. I always have to hold my tongue back because I will defend the College Program to the death. I hate the rumors that Disney gets government kickbacks for us. Honestly, Disney paid us $6 an hour and got none of it back in return from Uncle Sam.

Yes, they charged us rent. And $65 x 6 roommates x 4 weeks = $1560, but that included a gated community, workout rooms, cable, heat and air conditioning, water, and maintenance. That's still high, but -- considering all that you got -- they're not profiting off of the CP's.

So -- in the end -- the CP is what you make of it. And if you choose to be a whiner and complain (that) it sucked, it's your own fault and nobody else's.

But for anyone considering the CP, do your homework before you blindly say "Yes." It's a big decision and it's not for everybody. Ask questions, search the web -- there's plenty of websites out there to give you the straight dope.

Sign me as Scooter

Okay. So that was obviously a markedly different take on Disney World's College Program than Tuesday's "Cast Member Corner" article.

So what are your thoughts NOW?

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