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The Disney College Program: COVID Edition

It was September 10, 2019, when I first received the news. I was sitting in the library at One Pace Plaza trying my absolute hardest to study but completely failing, knowing that a very important email would be arriving at any moment. My best friend had already received word that she had been accepted to the Disney College Program for the extended spring term, and I was the final contender. Breaking the silence of a long, and anxiety-ridden afternoon in the library, my Disney daydreams were interrupted by the ding of an email with the subject line “Congratulations!”. Immediate tears of joy filled my eyes as I realized that my wildest dreams had come true: I would be spending my next semester working at the happiest place on Earth, Disney World!

The Disney College Program is something that I have been interested in for as long as I can remember. This program allows college students to move to either Anaheim or Orlando and become a working cast member in all different areas of the resort, including park operations, hotels, transportation, and more. These opportunities are all paid, and even eligible for college credit. I had been placed in the Be Our Guest Restaurant in Magic Kingdom, which wildly enough was my dream location! Working in this castle was more than I had ever hoped for; not only was it incredibly beautiful and full of enchantment, but was also filled with the most wonderful people I have ever known. Because this is one of the busiest restaurants in all of Disney, it proved itself to be a very fast-paced environment that could occasionally be a bit stressful. Even under the pressure to deliver food quickly and accurately as well as keep the Disney magic alive for all guests, I always had the Be Our Guest family to fall back on in hectic times. The work environment was a fun and positive one, and I was very grateful to know that we all had each other’s backs. I would not trade my work location for the world!

There are some incredible perks when it comes to being a cast member. You can get into all Disney parks around the world for free, as well as receive many discounts on tons of Disney products and services. Despite all of this, the best perk was being able to live with my hometown best friend for the duration of the program. Because she was a character attendant in Animal Kingdom, we did not get to see each other during the day, but it was the best feeling to come home to a familiar face and chat about what was going on in our lives. We also lived with 4 other roommates who were chosen at random, which can be a bit nerve-wracking. Even though we began the program as strangers, we ended it as good friends with an amazing bond. We went through our ups and downs but experienced the best times of our lives together during our short time in Orlando. One perk of Disney housing is that the rent cost comes out of your paycheck, so you never have to worry about making a payment on your own. Some buses pick you up at your housing complex and drop you off at your work location. It was always fun to check out everyone’s costume and guess where their work location was!

As you can tell, things were going very well for me at Disney. After a little over two months, I was beginning to make close friends and get the hang of things at the restaurant. There was talk of something called Coronavirus, but it had not reached Florida and didn’t seem too serious. We were told to regularly wash our hands, even more than usual restaurant procedures, and keep as clean as humanly possible. No one thought it would get to the point of closure, despite things getting worse and worse on the news each day. Little did we know that what was about to hit us was much bigger than a closure. It was a typical workday with your average hustle and bustle about the castle when out of nowhere, the restaurant leaders pulled us into a small office at the back of the kitchen. “Your college program has been canceled, and you must all go home” was something I was not expecting to hear. Maybe a short closure of the parks, but never termination of the program entirely. It was hard to keep the tears on that day, knowing that at the end of the week, we had to pack up our belongings and leave Disney 4 months earlier than expected. 

Even though our time was cut short, I do not regret doing the DCP in the slightest. I can confidently say that this program was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Disney is a place that feels like home, and being able to work for them was a dream come true. Looking back on my time there, tears fill my eyes as I remember the quiet morning bus rides, late-night firework shows, park excursions with my best friends, and even the dishes that I would accidentally, and regularly, break at work. Although this closure and termination were necessary for the health and wellbeing of the country, I pray that we can one day work alongside each other again and get back to doing what we do best – making magic. I know that this isn’t a goodbye, but a see ya real soon! I will forever be grateful for the time spent at Disney and cherish the memories I made during my program. To my Disney family – you’ll be in my heart, always. 

Hi! My name is Sydney and I am studying Arts and Entertainment Management at Pace University. I have a passion for music and hope to one day work in the live entertainment business!
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