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Cast Member Corner: Another "Cautionary Tale" Rebuttal

Cast Member Corner: Another "Cautionary Tale" Rebuttal

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Okay. I give.

Over the past week, I have received dozens of angry e-mails from former and current WDW cast members. Each of them taking issue with the "A Cautionary Tale" that I ran here on JHM last Tuesday. Claiming that that article was full of exaggerations, if not outright lies.

Now -- given that, prior to actually running last Tuesday's "Cast Member Corner" article -- I had actually ran this e-mail by someone who still works with Disney World's College Program and asked for their comments. (Their response? "Basically truthful. Clearly, this guy had a miserable time while he was staying at Vista Way. Which is why he's probably out for a little revenge here by exaggerating some stuff that happened to him. But his comments aren't really that far off the mark, Jim. So I'd say that it's safe for you to run this letter on your site...") Which is why I assumed that it then would be okay to run this particular letter on JimHillMedia.com.

Well, I guess I assumed wrong.

Given the large numbers of you that have written in over the past seven days, who have gone point-by-point through that article -- pointing out the over-statements and inaccuracies ... this issue clearly has be addressed.

Which is why I've decided to allow (NAME WITHHELD) to use today's "Cast Member Corner" column to address many of the concerns that some of you folks had with this particular article:

Hello Jim!

First, I just want to say how much I love your website. I've been reading for years. Also, I hope you are having a wonderful vacation in southern California and wish I could be there to take one of your tours. Somehow, my vacations are never scheduled at the same time as yours. I was there last week!

Now, I just want to respond to the WDW College Program horror story you posted on your site on Monday, March 15. It is full of inaccuracies and exaggerations and I feel your readers deserve a more accurate look at the program before they start making judgments regarding the program. If you do choose to use any of this e-mail on your site, please do not disclose my name as I do still work for the company and would like to continue working for the company!

I hate to break it to you, but that story is just that: a story. I did the CP Spring semester 2000 and have been very involved with the program and online discussion forums about it since then. Even though I have had wonderful experiences working for the mouse, I do know that it's not all bells and whistles. There are many people who get terminated or leave the program with bitterness, who go home and COMPLETELY exaggerate their stories to make Disney look like the bad guy, which is not always the case. I can usually tell the real stories from the fake and this one is definitely fake. Let me point out a few things:

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.

First of all, Guest Relations is an Advanced Internship, which is ONLY offered to alumni of the WDWCP. All recruiters know this and know that everybody who wants to do an Advanced Internship (with the exception of a few positions) MUST do the regular program first. I know several recruiters and there is no way that any of them would have made an applicant believe he/she could move directly into a Guest Relations role.

He mentioned that another student was told by a recruiter that he might be able to work in Imagineering. Again, that is completely untrue, considering that College Recruiting hires for entry-level park jobs and is NOT associated with Imagineering, even for Advanced Internship positions.

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."

This is incorrect also, but is a very common misconception. This is a WDWCP urban legend that goes back well over a decade. Some other alumni have researched every issue of Penthouse and Playboy as far back as 1992 trying to confirm this rumor and found nothing; however, the program has been listed on playboy.com as one the sexiest internships, but it wasn't specifically a ranking on top places to get laid.

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.

Disney does not provide transportation to Vista Way upon arrival at the airport. I'm not sure if they still do this, but they used to refer students to Mears, which as you may know from your travels is a private company that offers airport shuttle service to hotels throughout the Orlando area. I remember getting a $1 off coupon, but it was up to me to call ahead to book it and if they weren't operating in the wee hours of the morning, like this person stated, then that was not Disney's fault. They could have done things differently in the past, but I know this person did his internship after I did simply by the fact that he said it was 8 months in length. Disney only started offering 8 month long internships in late 2000 after I did my program and I've followed the program closely since then, so this is a flat out lie.

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.

While the loud music and drinking is probably true and this technically COULD have happened, this sounds like something copied straight out of a porn magazine, as someone pointed out in the discussion forum. Considering that he had also said earlier "the first feeling I received was a magical stirring in my loins" is another clue that this guy is exaggerating the sex thing.

Also, considering that he arrived at Vista Way so early in the morning, his roommates may not have had time to get that comfortable and that messy yet. In most cases, students move in with other students who arrive on the same day. Usually they fill up one apartment at a time, so the people standing in line around you are likely to be your roommates. That being the case 90% of the time for new arrivals, they may have had time to turn on the loud music, get out the beer and light up cigarettes, but they wouldn't have had time get messy, reach hangover stage, and even though it's possible, probably hadn't gotten laid quite THAT quickly.

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.

Yes, I'll admit that there are full-time cast members who have a pessimistic attitude toward CPs, but I've never really heard one speak like this to somebody on their first day! Most people tend to still put things in friendly Disney terms even when they are being very negative, especially trainers.

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.

Okay, first of all, this isn't really how it works. Disney KNOWS that you will not be working much during the first week, so they don't take rent out of the first paycheck. 1-2 days (or 3-4 if you're lucky) of training aren't enough to cover the weekly rent and they realize that. To make up for that, they take out 2 weeks (that's the $130 he mentioned) worth of rent on the 2nd paycheck. Yes, it is possible to have a minus paycheck, but that is only when people call in sick or take so many days off in a week that their paycheck doesn't cover the rent. Then they just take that out of the following paycheck.

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 tax break for the some 6,000 students enrolled in the College Program.

To start with, the rent is not insane. $67 dollars a week to live in a very nice, fully furnished apartment with all utilities and cable included is definitely not insane. It's a bargain. Secondly, there are not tax breaks, BUT, yes the reality is that it is cheaper for Disney to fill its staff with interns. Lower pay, few benefits, improved bottom-line: it's very sad for the full-time cast members, but it's unfortunately true and part of business.

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.

Sorry Charlie, you break the rules and you're out. All the rules are clearly stated and all new students are told about the zero tolerance policy. Even if he didn't participate, if this cast member had a problem with his roommates breaking these rules then he should have reported it and/or asked to be moved to cover himself. And as in most cases with disgruntled former CPs, this one event is most likely why the person is so sour about the program and has exaggerated things here.

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.

Even though some people may be concerned about Disney and safety considering recent events, safety still comes first and if this cast member put a guest in danger then yes, he should have been terminated.

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.

They weren't really recruiters, just representatives who actually attend the school where the presentation is held at and have done the program. I am a rep, and yes, we need to live up to Disney standards, but we don't lie when we get to speak about our experience. In fact, I know reps who told the audience they started out having a bad experience, but stuck it out and it turned out great and changed their lives. We're there to a put a real face on the program that students can relate to, because we've all been through it and know both the positives and negatives.

I am the first to tell people that it's not all fun-and-games all the time. You do have to work really hard, you're most likely not working in a job that's related to your major, you don't make much money, a lot of full-timers do have a bad attitude toward you, and it can be difficult to move up the ranks, but overall it is an amazing experience that you can learn a great deal from. This person failed to mention any of the positives.

The College Program is a great way to start a career whether you want to work for Disney or not. I have been asked several questions about Disney at EVERY job interview I have gone on for other companies. The employer is usually so fascinated by it that a large portion of the interview is spent talking about Disney. Also, I did the college program, kept in touch with my managers and recruiters, went back and did an advanced internship directly related to my major, and am well on my way to getting a full-time position on the professional side of the company.

This goes to show that the college program is not a dead end. I realize that it's not for everyone and that many people DO have negative experiences, but the story you posted is full of inaccuracies, which do not truly represent the college program. I feel that it definitely is important to see both sides of a story and I hope that if you choose to post this that it has corrected any misconceptions of the Walt Disney World College Program that your readers have, while still giving a realistic viewpoint of both sides, and I haven't even begun to write about all the great things the program has to offer! This is probably long enough, so I'll leave you with that.

Okay. So -- hopefully -- the above article addresses many of the inaccuracies that some of you found in the original "Cautionary Tale" article.

So what happens now? To be honest, I'm not sure. Given that today's story basically calls the author of the original "Cautionary Tale" story a liar, I'd like to give the poor guy a chance to respond. So I'll be heaving an e-mail his way later this week (once I get back home to New Hampshire). See if he'd be willing to send along a follow-up e-mail of his own. One that perhaps addresses whether he actually really remembers things happening exactly the way he described OR is willing to admit that he exaggerated a few items, with the hope of producing a more entertaining story for JHM readers.

One thing I can tell you, folks. Even though the brouhaha that bubbled over because of last Tuesday's "Cautionary Tale" column may have dinged JHM's credibility a bit, that's NOT going to stop me from covering the Disney World College Program story. For there are still lots of stories that have yet to be told. Some good ... and some bad.

That said, I now want to apologize to those of you who were upset by last Tuesdays' "Cast Member Corner" column. Who were surprised to see an extremely negative article like "A Cautionary Tale" pop up on JHM.

But you also have to understand that "Cast Member Corner" is intended to be a place on JimHillMedia.com where the cast members -- the people who actually work at the Disney theme parks, who see what really goes on behind the scenes -- are allowed to speak their minds. To have their say.

That's why I try to do very little editing and/or massaging of the articles that run in JHM's "Cast Member Corner" section. (Last Tuesday's "Cautionary Tale" column? The only thing that I actually removed from that article was a reference to a used condom. Which -- given the number of kids who come by the site on a regular basis -- I felt wasn't really appropriate.) I want these stories to come across -- for the most part -- as they were originally written. So that we can then hear the authentic voice of Disney members.

Mind you -- as I mentioned at the top of today's article -- I DO make an effort to verify the truthfulness of each of the letters that I run in JHM's "Cast Member Corner" section PRIOR to posting them on the site. But -- in this case -- one person's acceptable exaggeration turned out to be everyone else's out-and-out lie.

Clearly, given the reaction that "Cautionary Tale" got from JHM readers (particularly from those of you who are familiar with the way the WDW CP actually operates), something has to be done here. Which is why now I promise to redouble my efforts when it comes to verifying "Cast Member Corner" stories before they run on the site. From here on in, I'll see if I can't get find TWO Disney insiders to confirm whether questionable info contained in a particular e-mail is legit BEFORE we post that piece on JHM.

Just be aware, folks: I've made mistakes before. And I know that I'll make mistakes again in the future. That's why JimHillMedia.com has its "Jim, You Ignorant ***!" section.

So let's review: Last Tuesday, we ran a "Cast Member Corner" story (that some people said was filled with out-and-out lies). Today, JimHillMedia.com ran an article that went -- point-by-point -- through "A Cautionary Tale," disputing that author's claims. Sometime in the future, we're hoping that the author of the original e-mail responds to my queries and drops by to defend himself.

Whatever happens next ... you have to admit that -- between the articles in question as well as the fiery debate over on the JHM discussion boards -- all this hub bub made for a pretty entertaining week of reading. At the very least, we now all have an intimate knowledge of how Disney World's College Program actually works.

So -- what the hey. I guess it all worked out in the end. After all, any day where -- before your head hits the pillow -- you can say to yourself: "I actually learned something new today" ... THAT'S a good day.

And -- provided that this guy actually ever writes back to me -- we may yet all have another extremely entertaining, if somewhat controversial, e-mail to read in the not-so-distant future. And that could turn out to be a good thing too.

But -- in closing -- I want to thank (NAME WITHHELD) for coming forward and clearing up some of the misconceptions that the original "Cautionary Tale" column may have foisted on JHM readers.

I also -- once again -- want to apologize to those of you who were offended by the original "Cautionary Tale" article. Both for the alleged misinformation that it contained as well as its somewhat adult, caustic tone.

Okay. That's enough apologizing for a Tuesday. I'm sorry that there's only the one story for today. But -- as you read this -- I'm in the process of getting back home to New Hampshire.

Speaking of which ... I gotta finish up packing.

So look for JimHillMedia.com to get fully back up to speed on Thursday and Friday, okay?

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