This summer, I started working for Disney and maybe the real attraction was the journey of how I got there…
When I was in kindergarten, I was the coolest kid during the Great American Teach-In (Career day in Florida) because my dad worked at Disney. You had parents who were exterminators or worked in the hotel industry and then came my dad. He told the story of Walt and passed out Mickey stickers and Tigger pens; the kids were putty in our hands.
During his time with the mouse, Dad worked in Disney Destinations Sales, which involved vacation planning, although he will tell you “Disney sells itself.” Some of my earliest memories are of stopping into his office in Celebration, Florida on the way to the parks as a toddler to pay him a visit: Seeing his name on the wall of his cubicle, a picture of me meeting Toy Story characters on his mousepad, and many other Disney embellishments scattered throughout the building.
Around the time he was planning for my arrival, he was also chosen to teach “Traditions,” the orientation class of Walt’s creation, formerly two days, now one, 8 hour day, that anybody and everybody affiliated with the mouse — from attractions to higher management positions — has to go through. The very same class that yours truly had to take. (Fun fact: the ‘99 Traditions team actually bought a brick at Magic Kingdom in my name and it was a must-see every time I visited until they recently tore them up).
Dad got to experience a bunch of cool things while working at Disney: Cast Member-exclusive events, like the grand openings of new attractions, or special character dinners/meet-and-greets that little Emily got to tag along to… the 100 Years of Magic Celebration that ended up lasting a billion years… even my mom briefly worked at the Walt Disney call center AS A SIDE HUSTLE when her nursing gig was getting slow, so you could say this runs in my family.
I really didn’t seriously consider working for the mouse myself until after I graduated from high school. I always had my sights set higher: I wanted to work in animation. To entertain and bring visions to life. Be a small contribution to the bigger picture and stick around during the credits to point out my name. But working at the parks is like putting on a big show everyday, so it isn’t too far off from my goal! I remember exactly where I was the night I planted my seeds and everything started to come together…
It was in May of 2019 at the Barnes & Noble next to the former Villagio Cinemas in Carrollwood, FL, right before one of my final Rocky Horror performances. I was stuck. It had been less than a month since I graduated with my A.S. degree in Digital Media, but I realized that wasn’t gonna be good enough to make a life for myself. I needed to continue my education, but the top 4 choices of universities I had my heart set on were going to be too expensive. Literally THAT NIGHT, like a sign sent to me from up above, Disney announced that they were partnering with UCF to offer free tuition for certain degree programs (including Film and Radio/Television that I was going into!) for Cast Members through their Aspire program. Suddenly UCF was my first choice. So, that night at the Carrollwood Barnes & Noble, I brought my laptop, bought a S’mores Frappuccino from the Starbucks inside, sat down and applied to enroll at UCF. My life changed almost overnight. Made it in. Phase One done.
I applied for various Disney jobs here and there before I transferred to UCF, just for laughs, but once I was over here, it became a mission. I thought because I had previous familial ties to the company, getting my foot in the door would be a breeze, but interviewing for Disney is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I applied for the College Program every semester I could, plus part-time jobs including entertainment tech, Disney store associate, maintenance positions, video production— stuff I wasn’t nearly qualified enough for. I never made it to the face-to-face interviews. As my educational career nears its end, I was ready to give up on Disney after being turned away from the College Program after what I thought was a very successful phone interview.
Boom. COVID hits. Disney furloughs everybody before closing for a few months. When they reopen, after reaching out to those previously furloughed, they’re in need of more Cast Members as they increase capacity. I apply for an Attractions/Quick Service Food & Beverage/Custodial/Merchandise position I see advertised on social media, once again, for laughs, not expecting a different outcome out of it. As I continue the hiring process, I find myself going further and further than I have before. I was waitlisted for a bit after not making it in Custodial, which was hiring immediately, but luckily a spot opens in my first choice area: Attractions (which I have prior experience in from my days as a volunteer at MOSI in Tampa, FL). Phase two initiated.
I was once again the coolest kid in school as I sat through the same class my dad taught 22 years prior in preparation for my turn experiencing the magic of Disney firsthand. I hope I can be an inspiration for others to never give up on their goals and never be afraid to try things on a whim. Mickey literally paved the way toward my future for me 2 years ago, from applying for UCF to moving to Oviedo and finally, after 4 years, busting down the door to become a Walt Disney World Cast Member. My roses are finally in bloom. I also have to recognize my beautiful partner, Tex because I wouldn’t have made it without his neverending support.
I hope this journey with Disney is a long, fulfilling, happy and successful one that continues long after my time in school is over. I am ecstatic to see what awaits me. Until then, I hope we’ll see ya real soon!