Connect with us


Cast Member Corner: Further Thoughts on WDW’s College Program

Yes, I’m serious, folks. Thanks to Michelle P.’s recent e-mail, now gets to revisit the somewhat-controversial subject of Disney World’s College Program. (If you want me, I’ll be down in the JHM bunker covering my @$$ …)



Yeah, I think it may be time for me to find a nice place to hide. Take a look at this email I received about Disney’s College Program that made me think it was time to open this can of worms again…


The truth about the College Program really does lie somewhere in between, and like most things in life, your attitude determines your experience. I think there are three kinds of people that do the WDW College Program: Disney-lovers who jump at the chance to work in the Parks and maybe start a Disney career; students who think the idea of getting college credit for a semester in the Florida sun at the “Happiest Place on Earth” sounds like a lot more fun than regular class at their school, even though they don’t feel especially drawn to Disney; students who have heard “through the grape-vine” that Vista Way is an intense place to party and “get laid” and they don’t care about Disney at all. I am one of the Disney lovers who desperately wanted to perform on stage at Disney World. My College Program lasted 4 months in the Spring of 2003. In my experience meeting people on the program, about 20 percent are Disney-lovers, 50 percent want to get college credit for fun in the sun, and 30 percent are only there to party, (these are generous percentages, since it felt like there were a lot less Disney-lovers and a lot more partiers).

While I do feel that some aspects of the College Program were misrepresented in the recruitment, the recruiters really did not lie. The biggest disappointment for me reaching Florida was the realization that the College Program is not a “selective” internship experience. They give you the impression while you are applying and interviewing that it is very difficult to get accepted, when in reality it’s not. There was one guy I met who said he hated Disney and hated working with people…how the heck did he make it into the “selective” College Program Internship? Maybe the program started out as a selective group of talented college students, but it has become a mostly a money saving trick to pay less to man the parks by paying the CPs basically minimum wage, help give the company leverage against the unions, and have guaranteed “guests” spending money in the parks during the off seasons (since almost all CPs spend all their money in the parks). So, it feels like Disney is really filling the program with warm bodies.

I’m not saying that the College Program is terrible. I was lucky and was cast as a Role Hopper, or “Rescue Ranger” in Epcot. I got the opportunity to be trained in several jobs, including Merchantainment, Quick Service Foods, Illuminations Viewing (crowd control), Conventions, and Park Clear. I never knew where I would be working each day…when someone in the park was short-handed, I would be sent over as a “Rescue Ranger” to fill their place. I know every inch of Epcot, since I worked in just about every area during my four months. I was even one of the lucky Rangers (10 out of 100) who was trained in Conventions, so I got to see all the private rooms around the park where they hold corporate parties and conventions. Those experiences are priceless…there is no other way that I could learn so much about Disney and the parks.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to perform or even see anything special about performing while I was down in Orlando. I am a Vocal Performance Major, and I was hoping some performing opportunities might open up while I was at Disney, or open up for after my internship experience. I didn’t have a manager who “pulled strings” to open up special doors…most CPs don’t. The “networking” opportunities are minimal…it really is about luck. Being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to make a connection. I know several people who worked their butts off to talk to cast members in their field who never got anywhere, (unlike the CP who got to try out his dream of being a puppeteer). Maybe 10% of CPs actually get to experience something special in their desired field, but many many more are disappointed in this area, (although there are many more opportunities for Advanced Interns).

I loved being in Florida and always being able to jump on a bus and be in the Magic Kingdom within 10 minutes. I wasn’t bored…I took full advantage of the free entrance and experienced all I could experience out of the parks. I made some awesome Disney memories with my boyfriend, (now husband), since we went there together, and we often reminisce over the fun times we had together at the parks.

I enjoyed my work experience, and I really enjoyed my free time in the parks. What I did not enjoy was the living experience. I have a lot of experience with communal living. I lived in the Residence Halls at CU Boulder for all 4 years of my college experience. I worked for the Department of Housing as an RA, so believe me, I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff. Residence Halls are not nice places to live, but Vista Way was worse. Now, all I can speak of is MY experience, and while I feel I had an extreme situation, I don’t think it was all that uncommon down there. I was 21 when I went on my program. I rarely drink, and I thought that if I lived with other girls over 21 that we would all be “over” the wild partying craze most freshmen and sophomores go through before they turn 21. I was wrong. In my apartment, there were 3 girls who are the “I’m only here to party” type people, 2 who were the “fun in the sun is better than regular school” type people, and me, the only “Disney-lover”. To be honest, it was the 3 partying girls that made my living experience bad. They were loud girls to begin with, and they got even louder when they drank, which was about 6 nights out of 7. They were all 23 years old, and yet they insisted on bringing over 18-year old guys and supplying the alcohol for loud parties and ending up sleeping around with them. I had to sleep with my headphones playing music to drown out the noise, and then got to work the next morning exhausted. Our apartment was a constant mess (the “after-party” kind with beer cans everywhere and spilled food…etc). I looked forward to “PI night” when they would at least move the party somewhere else. I filed an official complaint to protect myself if we ever got “raided” and caught supplying alcohol to minors, but security never came around our place.

Now I realize that oftentimes, perception is reality. Even though it felt like “everyone” was just there to party, I’m sure it was probably around 40% of the people. But they were a very LOUD minority. The atmosphere at Vista Way was worse than anything I experienced at CU Boulder, which is ranked at the number one party school in the nation. And while some people did get caught and terminated, many more did not. There were many times when I considered quitting the program because my living experience was so miserable. And trying to change apartments was a whole other fiasco. It is definitely not as easy as other CPs have made it seem in their letters. But, I ended up sticking it out, and I think that was the right choice.

And, to address the “$67 a week rent is a bargain” argument, do the math. $67 times 6 people times 4 weeks in a month is over $1600 a month for a shabby apartment where you share a bedroom. While I was in school, the dorms at CU charged around that much a month to share a room with the exact same benefits (furnished room, cable, all other utilities) PLUS a meal plan, and Boulder is one of the most expensive universities for room and board. Honestly, while $1600 a month may not be “insane rent”, for what we got it is definitely not a bargain either. And making minimum wage and still trying to pay rent is not a fun experience, although it was probably a valuable one.

Overall, I’m glad I did the WDW College Program. It has opened many conversations in interviews with employers and played a part in me getting my current job. I made some wonderful memories and experienced parts of Disney I never otherwise would have experienced. Unfortunately, I feel that the same quality issues that have plagued so many parts of the Disney company in recent years have impacted the College Program as well, and it is currently a mere shadow of what it could be. I’m sad that it seems that the College Program has become simply a source of cheap labor and a tax write-off instead of a way to truly recognize and cultivate talent and keep it in the company. And while there are high quality CPs really doing their jobs in the parks, there are also way too many bitter, lazy ones for my taste. And the fact that the program depresses the pay scales of the full-time workers only means that there are more cynical, negative full-time Cast Members interacting with guests. I wish Disney would streamline their College Program and only hire the really qualified, talented students and truly make it the selective internship it was envisioned to be.

Your thoughts, folks? Did this e-mail do a better job of summing up what Disney World’s College Program is REALLY like? Or are we now going to have another chair-throwing melee over in the JHM discussion boards?

If that’s the case, then I’m heading back to the bunker …

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



Listen to the Article

Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Continue Reading


Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



Listen to the Article

Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

Continue Reading


Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



Listen to the Article

Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

Continue Reading