Confessions of a Cast Member: Everything you Need to Know About Working at Disney World

This year, we had the amazing opportunity to work for the Walt Disneyworld Resort in Orlando, Florida. We participated in the 3 month Cultural Exchange Program, and had an incredible time. Of course, this was a very unique experience, so the members of Her Campus at UVic had a lot of questions to ask us!


HC: Where did you work?

E: I was in merchandise, and I worked at Mouse Gear in Epcot!

S: I worked Trail Operations, and I worked at Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.


HC: What did a typical day working at Disneyworld look like for you?

S: A typical shift for me started at either 10 or 2ish in the afternoon and I worked until 8. I would start my shift at one of the positions along the trail where I would talk to guests about the particular animal that hangs out in that area. And throughout the day I would rotate through the positions. On a typical day I’d hang out with the hippos, okapis, meerkats, and of course gorillas. I was lucky enough that my shifts always ended at the latest 8, so most days I would meet up with some of my friends and go hang out in either Animal Kingdom or Magic Kingdom, because they were open the latest. We would usually just get in a few rides, grab a snack, and watch the fireworks.

E: Most days I worked later in the afternoon, so I would usually get up and either work out and hang out at the pool, or go play in the parks. I would start work between 2-5 most days and work till 11. Merchandise shifts are either ‘register’ or ‘stock.’ So on register shifts I would sign in and get a slip telling me what register to go to, and throughout the day I would get bumped from register to register depending on where they needed me. A stock shift was more independent, so I would just be given an area and would spend the day keeping it stoked and clean.


HC: How was the first day there compared to the last day?

E: The first day was very overwhelming, since we had just moved in to this new country and had these completely new jobs we had to figure out. I was surprised by how quickly I caught on to everything, and Disney does a great job at training you so you don’t feel too nervous. By our last day I was really sad to be leaving and definitely felt very comfortable in my position. It was really hard having to leave all of my new friends.

S: My first day, I had very mixed emotions. I was incredibly excited to be working in my favourite park, but also super anxious and nervous about what exactly I would be doing, and how I was going to memorize so many animal facts. But by my last day I knew so much about all of the animals and absolutely loved talking to guests about them. It was a super emotional last day, because I knew I was going to miss all of the amazing people I met and all of the beautiful animals that I got to work with.



HC: What is the pay like?

S: Meh. We got paid $9.50 an hour, which is lower than BC’s minimum wage but quite a lot more than Florida’s, so it was definitely enough to get by. But with all of the amazing and expensive things to do in Disney, you don’t save a lot of money by the end of the summer.

E: I never worried too much about having enough money. I always got over 35 hours a week, and Sammy would get about 45, but it depends on your location. International Collage Programmers are guaranteed 30 hours, so you’ll get that at least. Some people work upwards to 70 hours, and Disney does pay over time after 40 which is really great, so it’s definitely possible to save, but it probably means you’re working a lot.


HC: How did you get the job at Disneyworld?

E: It’s actually pretty simple. You can read about it and apply here. You just attach a cover letter and resume, maybe get an interview, which was in Vancouver for us, and then wait and see if you get the job!

S: We actually wrote a pretty extensive article on how to get the job, which you can check out here.


HC: What kind of jobs are there for Canadian college programmers?

S: As a Canadian there are three different programs that you can apply for. The first is the Academic Exchange, where you actually take courses in Florida as well as work for Disney, but you have to be attending one of the affiliate schools in Canada, which are listed on the website, and that program is 6 months long. There is also the Cultural Representative Program where Canadians work in the Canadian pavilion in Epcot, which is one of the four parks in Disneyworld, and that program is 8 to 16 months. And finally the program that we did, the Cultural Exchange Program. It’s a three month summer internship where you work across Disney property, in a lot of different roles.

E: In the Cultural Exchange Programs the roles are, character performer, character attendant, merchandise, attractions, food and beverage, lifeguard, recreation, costuming, housekeeping, custodial, bell hop service, and seater! You can learn more about the roles at the website we mentioned earlier.



HC: What was the best thing about working at Disneyworld?

E: My favourite part of working was definitely just creating as much magic as possible. It was hard not to be happy when you get to see people’s faces light up all day. I loved playing around with the kids that came into Mouse Gear, and just hanging out with my friends backstage.

S: My favourite part about working for Disney was not only making the magic, but also being able to teach the guests about conservation and the beautiful animals along my trail, which is something I’m super passionate about. It was also really cool to be able to work with people from all over the world and learn about their cultures.


HC: What was the worst thing?

S: Literally, there was no wifi in my breakroom and I didn’t have a phone plan while I was down there. Plus the breakroom is in the middle of the safari.

E: Probably having to turn sweaters around. We were taught to hang all of the clothing with the biggest label facing out, which was often on the back. But guests didn’t know that, so they would put them back on the rack facing forwards, which was wrong. I remember thinking one day that my friends were pranking me because every time I walked by this one rack the same sweater was always facing the wrong way.


HC: Do you feel like you need to be able to get along well with kids to work there?

E: Not necessarily in my position. I liked talking with kids and creating magic moments with them, but they’re pretty easy to avoid if you don’t want to talk with them. I actually don’t get along very well with kids, but I loved them at Disneyworld. For the most part, they’re all really happy to be there and super cute.

S: In my role, most of my job involved interacting with kids. A huge part of my job was to teach the young kids about the animals and conservation, so that they’d be able to use that information to help other animals. So technically it’s not a necessity, but it’s super beneficial if you’re in a role similar to mine. I had no problems because I absolutely love kids and get along with them really well.



HC: Is there anything you would have done differently?

S: I would have liked to have branched out a little more. Most days I had off, I would go to the parks and ride all my favourite rides and meet the same characters. I would’ve liked to have tried every single ride at least once and also stepped out of the Disney bubble a bit more. I didn’t end up going to the beach or Universal Studios, so I wish I had explored central Florida a bit more.

E: I would have flown in the day before my program started. I had an overnight flight and got to our housing after a long night of traveling and I was absolutely exhausted. It made the whole thing seem very rushed and overwhelming, which I think could have been avoided with a good nights sleep.


HC: What did you typically eat for breakfast?

E: I mostly had smoothies. We just bought a cheap magic bullet when we got there, and I was always so rushed to get out the door that it was nice to just whip one up and take it with me in the cup that I mixed it in. Saved a lot of time, and it was nice and cold which was a must because it was boiling outside all the time. I would just drink it on the bus, or throw some granola on top and make a little to-go smoothie bowl.

S: Mornings that I was really rushed I would grab some Poptarts, because they have so many cool flavours in the States that I wanted to try. If it wasn’t Poptarts I would have bread. My room mates and I didn’t end up buying a toaster the entire program, so if we wanted toast we make it in a panini press. Don’t judge.


HC: How often did you eat in the parks?

S: Most park visits I would grab a small snack while I was there, especially when it was only for a couple hours. My personal favourites were Mickey pretzels, and Starbucks if I was going in the morning. If I was going to be in the park all day the quick service options were usually what I would choose. Most of them had chicken nuggets and fries, which are bomb.

E: I got some sort of snack pretty much every time I went. If it were early I would get a Starbucks (there’s on in every park). If we were there the whole day we would usually plan on going home for dinner, or make a reservation at one of the restaurants, where cast members get 20% off. Other wise we just got snacks throughout the day, like treats of a quick meal basically.



HC: What was the best thing you got out of doing the program?

E: I definitely changed and grew a lot during the program. You kind of have to. Ending up in a new country with a new job and a lot of new people was pretty scary, but I adapted pretty quick and think I came back a lot more independent and outgoing then I was before. I’m a lot better at talking to strangers now, and a bit less of a homebody. And of course I made some amazing friends, who I consider my best friends, that I will hopefully see again soon. You meet so many amazing people and really get to know them.

S: I also grew so much as a person. Just like Ellen said, you talk to and meet so many different people from all over the world and it definitely opens you up. Working for Disney really helped with my confidence. Having to talk to thousands of people every day really helped me come out of my shell. Probably one of my favourite things to get out of the program was life-long friends. I met so many incredible people in the short three months that I was down there that I continue to talk to every single day.


HC: Did you hang out with performers? What are they like?

S: I didn’t spend too much time with performers. One girl I met was very nice and super outgoing, but not much different than the other cast members that I worked with.

E: I wasn’t close friends with any performers but I knew quite a few of the Canadians who had that as their role. They’re all very normal, and for most of them you can’t even tell that they are performers when they’re just hanging out.


HC: Did any part of the job really surprise you?

E: I guess the most surprising thing was just how normal it was. I worked in Epcot, which is usually known as the more adult park, so there aren’t as many little princesses running around. My job was pretty similar to any retail job.

S: One of the most surprising things for me was being able to actually see the personalities of the different animals I would talk about. Working with them so often, you really get to see what they do on a daily basis and how they interact with the other animals. It was really cool to see their different personalities.



HC: Is Disney still just as magical now that you have been behind the scenes?

S: Absolutely. If not more magical. Getting to see what it’s like to be the person making the magic makes me appreciate it that much more.

E: Definitely for me too. The whole resort has so much more meaning now that I’ve made so many incredible memories there, and it will never lose it’s magic for me.


HC: Was it ever tiring having to maintain a bright and cheery attitude all the time?

E: Not particularly, but I am generally a pretty bright and cheery person. That hardest time for probably all of us was right after the Pulse shooting, because obviously it was hard to stay positive. But all the cast members tried to put on a brave face, and seeing how our attitudes brightened the guests day definitely made it worth the effort.

S: Yeah, exactly what Ellen said. I also see myself as a very happy and positive person, and being in my favourite place in the world made it very easy to keep a smile on my face.


HC: How annoying was the music blasted throughout the theme park?

S: I loved it. It was hard not to dance along to the music every time I was in the park. My current study playlist includes “The Music of Harambe” (my location soundtrack) and the entire “Fantasmic” show soundtrack and it never gets old.

E: In the parks the music was great and I also listen to it all the time. In Mouse Gear specifically, not so much. But we had a pretty repetitive playlist compared to most locations. Let’s just say I know all the words, but never want to hear those songs again.



HC: What is your favourite underrated ride in the parks?

E: For me, I think it’s probably Mike’s Laugh Floor. It’s so much fun and absolutely hilarious, and I think people forget about it a lot but it’s definitely one of my favourites.

S: My favourite underrated ride in the parks would have to be the Peoplemover in Tomorrowland, Magic Kingdom. It is an awesome ride that takes you all around Tomorrowland, and you get to go through rides like Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress. It’s also a great break from the craziness that is Magic Kingdom. You just get to sit back and learn about the park.


HC: What was your favourite ride?

S: First of all, this is the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked. Second, I’m going to name three. My favourite classic Disney ride is Pirates of the Caribbean. I also absolutely love Tower of Terror. It’s an amazing thrill ride that never fails to scare me. And because I am incredibly competitive, Toy Story Midway Mania is the absolute best ride/game.

E: I definitely had a different one in every park, and they change all the time. But my all time favourite has to be Tower of Terror. It’s just so much fun.


HC: What’s your favourite treat to get?

E: I have so many. My OG is Dole whip. Can’t be beat. I also love chocolate covered pineapple skewers from Zuri’s in Animal Kingdom. Iced coffee from Starbucks. Rice Krispy treats from any of the confectionaries. I was obsessed with these ice cream cappuccinos that they had at the ice cream shop in the France pavilion in Epcot. It was literally a cappuccino that they put a scoop of ice cream in, and I would always get the coconut white chocolate flavor.

S: My OG fav is a Mickey pretzel for sure, and you can’t beat a Starbucks ice coffee for an early start to a park day. Another really good treat that is also really cheap is a kids cone from the ice creamery on Main Street, which comes with little chocolate Mickey ears that made it taste so much better. One treat that I didn’t think I liked until it was shaped like Mickey was a candy apple, which has become one of my new favourites.



HC: What is your favourite restaurant?

S: Sanaa at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s an African and Indian style restaurant, and their food is amazing. My favourite thing to get there is the naan bread service. It comes with five different types of naan bread and nine different dips and spread. It’s absolutely delicious. My favourite part about Sanaa is that it’s actually located on the savannah, so you can eat and watch all the animals at the same time.

E: My favourite is probably Tusker House, in Animal Kingdom. It’s a character meet and great and buffet so you get to eat lots of food and say hi to Mickey and his friends dressed up in their cute safari outfits. The food is also African and Indian style, and there are so many options, a lot of which are vegetarian. It’s really great. We also love Trails End, at the Fort Wilderness Resort. Cast members get a really great discount there for breakfast, and it’s absolutely amazing.


HC: What is one thing every guest has to do at Disneyworld that not everyone knows about?

S: One thing I think every guest should see when they visit Disneyworld are the trails in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’m obviously biased, because I worked there, but it’s a great opportunity to learn new things about animals from all over the world. The trail that I worked at was in the African pavilion so I talked about African animals, but there is also the Maharaja Jungle Trek in the Asian pavilion where you can see Asian animals like tigers, bats, and their new addition, the macaque. Another place you should definitely stop by is Rafiki’s Planet Watch which goes through the backstage area of Animal Kingdom, and you’ll be able to learn about their animals and how they feed them. You’ll also get a chance to look at one of the operating rooms of the animal hospital where they perform daily procedures that you get to watch.

E: Definitely go visit the manatees! There are two rescues in the aquarium that is attached to the Seas with Nemo & Friends in Epcot, and they are so cute and fun to watch. Other than that I would definitely say to try and resort hop. You can spend days just exploring all the different resorts, which is totally free! Some of my favourites are the Polynesian, Animal Kingdom lodge, and Port Orleans.


HC: What are some tips for new park guests that you guys have picked up over time?

E: If you’re super tired you can actually sleep on the Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, and on Ellen’s Energy Adventure in Epcot. That ride is 45 minutes and air conditioned.

S: Head to your favourite characters line up before their time slot. It might say on the times guide that Gaston is visiting from 12 to 12:45, but get there early because people will already be lining up, and if it’s long enough the line sometimes gets cut before the character is even out.

E: If you can help it don’t bring a full backpack. A fanny pack or a draw string bag are perfect. Have something that is easy for security to dig through when you get in, and have every pocket unzipped and open for them. It helps the line go a lot quicker.

S: During peak season, some of your favourite rides will have crazy wait times. If you’ve already seen the night shows, the wait times tend to significantly drop during them, so that’s a great time to squeeze in your favourite ride.

E: On that note- go see Fantasmic! If it’s not at the top of your list, put it to the top. And get there half an hour early because it fills up. The best place to get water is Starbucks. You have to wait in line, but they’ll give you a venti ice water for free.

S: Take advantage of the My Disney Experience app. It let’s you get Fastpasses, make reservations, and check wait times for rides and characters. It has an interactive map that helps you get exactly where you need to go in the parks.

E: It rains almost every day in Florida. Usually for 10 minutes to an hour. It’s still warm, but there’s a lot of rain. Buy a plastic poncho before hand, so you don’t have to spend $10 on them in the parks, and they keep you dry without making you too hot. Bring it with you everyday, even if it doesn’t look like it’s going to rain. Trust me, it will. I also recommend bringing a pair of sandals or flip flops to wear when it rains, cause it sucks getting your sneakers drenched.

S: Plan for an hour or two or down time in the middle of the day. A lot of guests try and go from open to close, but by the afternoon they’re completely drained. It’s a good idea to go chill by the resort pool, hang out in the hub grass in Magic Kingdom, or just sit and grab a snack somewhere.



You can find out more about our adventures by watching our youtube videos at The Wilderness Explorers, or following us on instagram @ellen.harrison and @sammywalton!