What Mickey taught me.

For some reason, I’ve chosen to start writing this post on a day when I’ve already cried 6 times; once because of my very temperamental dishwasher, twice because of my sore eyes from last nights fake eyelashes, once when I couldn’t decide what to watch on Netflix and twice because Max forgot to get biscuits when he went to Aldi. It’s been a tough day, but I’m hoping writing this snaps me out of it.

This is a post I’ve been thinking about writing for a really long time, but always felt quite overwhelmed about how much there is to say. I’ve been wanting to write a bit of a recap and review of my 2 summers working at Disney World. While I was there, I kept a blog, which was the first blog I ever wrote and actually became quite popular as people followed me on the Disney journey. This came as a massive surprise to me as I only started it to keep my family in the loop and save me sending a lot of texts. (I’ll link it later in this post for anyone who’s interested in the full story!)

Four years on, my time working at Disney World is still one of my favourite subjects to talk about. That, and Making a Murderer, desserts and that my uncle is friends with Martin Freeman.

Working at Disney World will always be one of the biggest things that ever happened to me. There are times now, when life is good (but not quite as magical), when I’m cleaning the oven, waiting for the 7am bus to work or sometimes when I’m quite tipsy out in town, that I get a little wave of ‘Whoaaa! I literally worked at Disney World! How flipping cool am I?’

But, as you’ll know if you read my blog back then, it wasn’t all Disney magic and sunshine- it was really flipping hard at times,-but when I look back now, I see how much it changed me and shaped my work ethic and outlook on life.

It came at a time I really needed it. In the time between getting the job to actually leaving for Florida for the summer, I had a bit of a rough time: a bad break-up, uni struggles (the shock of actually having to do work in second year) and I  had been giving myself really unattainable weight loss goals which I was obviously failing because we lived next to a 24 hour McDonald’s. But in June 2013 I went from binge-watching TV shows in my university bedroom when I was meant to be revising, to standing in front of Cinderella’s castle as a cast member in the space of 3 days. It makes me emotional now to think about it, but at the time I was in a haze of jet lag, sun stroke, and thinking about how sticky I was in the formal dress I had to wear for our inductions.

Ways in which Disney changed how I work:
  • Feeling lucky. That sounds cheesy, but it’s true. No matter how hard it got I always felt lucky to be there and to have been chosen and have the chance to make some magic. This is something I try to keep with me at work now; to feel lucky to have the chance to make a difference and use that as motivation. (People I work with, please remind me of this at 7.30 on a Monday morning).
  • Everybody working on the same page. At Disney, I got the most support and best training I’ve ever had. It all begins with Traditions training which really drills in the importance of cast members and what you’re there to do. It’s is a bit much I guess, but there’s no doubting every person working in Disney World is working to help contribute to the Disney magic and everyone feels so supported and hyped to make it happen.
  • The Disney recruitment process has prepared me well for every other recruitment process I’ll ever go through. I’ll probably never again go through something as competitive and I don’t think my adrenaline levels have ever returned back to normal. I really didn’t think I could do it; I went to the first stage interview just for the experience. The fact I got in twice will always amaze me and has given me confidence and faith in myself going forward. 

In my first year, I had the role of a housekeeper at Old Key West resort, but I wasn’t really great at it so I began to do more running (taking things to guests like more shampoo or coffee filters) and checking VIP rooms would be ready  for them arriving. You know, housekeeping is really really exhausting- and the bed throws they use are really flipping heavy! It didn’t  come at all  naturally to me and there was no way I could compete with the super speedy Haitians; I was much more of a natural at driving round the resort in my buggy, waving at guests and posing in my costume and sunglasses.

I went back in Summer 2014 to work in Operations at Hollywood Studios which was so different. I worked on the Little Mermaid show, the Disney Junior show, the temporary Frozen attraction and did plenty of Frozen fireworks shifts. I got so much guest interaction and was really part of the magic. I got to spiel, which I hated with a vengeance as there’s not an actress within me at all. But at the end, I was pretty confident with my ‘Ahoy there sailors!’ safety speech and didn’t mess it up EVERY time.

Living and working in Disney, you get absorbed into this weird little bubble where the outside world doesn’t really exist anymore. A bubble where your life is ruled by crappy Transtar buses, tinder is full of characters and head shots, everyone speaks in Disney lingo and your life is documented by the Disney photopass guys. You can lose your grip on reality a bit because your reality becomes Disney. Everything is done in emphasised and heightened emotion; I had days where I cried with happiness and exhaustion, homesickness and from just being really excited.

Strange stories from the Disney bubble:
  • I got bitten by a poisonous spider. Got a ride in an ambulance. Had to spend a day in Celebration hospital which was nicer than a lot of hotels I’ve stayed in on my travels, but it was all a little tainted by the fact I was so poorly. I’m a bit weird about spiders now.
  • Characters are just a part of life. I found myself having conversations in the break room with a half dressed Mr Incredible or Princess Sofia the First. It’s quite forbidden in Disney to say who somebody actually is when they’re a character. You can’t go round saying ‘oh that’s Britney, she’s Ariel’ that would really ruin the magic if a guest heard. Instead you say ‘she’s friends with Ariel’.
  • Oh WOW – people were so excited by me being English. Whenever I opened my mouth, I got a bit of a ‘woaa’. It’s made me feel quite patriotic now  that I see how others see our country. And when I worked in housekeeping and was officially the only English person to ever work in Old Key West housekeeping, I was like a local celeb. It was a real ego boost.
  • The incident with the fire. There’s not much I can say about this as I signed some confidentiality forms when I started working for Disney and they like to keep these things under wrap. But what I will say is, when I first started doing fireworks shifts they talked us all through the procedure of what to do if a firework fallout caused a fire finishing emphatically with ‘but it’s never happened in Hollywood studios history’. Erm. Ah-hem, that’s changed. I think I might have gone down in HS history. There was a fire! 

There are a lot of perks to being a Disney Cast member including free park entry, cheap merchandise, accommodation pools and just the fact you actually get to live in Disney World. However,  there are also quite a lot of challenges: the really unreliable cast buses don’t really fit with how strict they are about you arriving for work on time;  sharing apartments with international strangers brings up some interesting scenarios; and fitting a food shop in at Walmart is near enough impossible, so you end up living on the Mickey shaped biscuits you can buy in the merchandise shops and using your roommates shampoo whilst hoping they never confront you about it. Oh and the laundry- that was a flipping nightmare! There were never any machines free and when you did get a dryer your clothes came out hotter than the sun which wasn’t ideal when it was 42 degrees. Shifts were so long, feet swell so much in the heat, my body got a bit broken from lack of nutrients and it’s just impossible to achieve the work/life/sleep balance.

Some of my happiest Disney memories:
  • My first traditions. Traditions is the first training you do before you start your own individual placement training. It’s cheesy and very ‘Disney’. You get a tour of the Magic Kingdom and the cast tunnels underneath. As you enter the tunnels from the cast entrance, there’s a sign above that says ‘Here walk the greatest cast members in the world’. That really got to me and left me thinking, ‘how on earth did little old me get here?’
  • On my second summer working there, I was having a really shitty day. I was knackered, feeling ill and in the middle of a week of crazily long shifts and fireworks support. We had cleared our attraction as it was a firework fall out zone and were guarding the entrance arch to make sure no guests sneaked in. It had been raining and we were soggy and muggy and I was itchy from my wet costume because I hadn’t got my waterproofs on fast enough. Guests were surrounding us waiting for the frozen fireworks to start when another cast member started singing along to the Frozen soundtrack that was playing. One by one, we all started to join in and the guests did too. We all stopped as soon as the first firework went up and it was a real goosebumps Disney magic moment on a day when I was really feeling like I was losing it.
  • When my parents and brother came to visit in my first summer. The first morning we were all together, we went to Epcot and straight to character meet and greet. I was just so happy and we took one of my favourite photos of all time of me and my Dad. Another highlight of my parents’ visit was discovering Jelly Rolls…
  • Jelly Rolls! My Disney summers would have been so different without Jelly Rolls. When I think of the happiest moments of my life, I think of Jelly Rolls –  from the first time I was there with my parents, to all the drunken times there with friends. So let me explain Jelly Rolls. It’s a pocket of extra happiness within the happiest place in the world. It’s on the Boardwalk and is a duelling piano bar. There are 2 pianos in the centre and you request songs for the piano players/singers to play by writing them in napkins and leaving them on the piano with a dollar bill. You can pretty much request anything and they’ll do it. The cocktails are strong and by the end of the night you’re tipsy, almost crying with happiness and screaming for more- I think it’s the best place I’ve ever ever been and I’ll miss it forever. It’s the reason Piano Man and Chicken Fried will always be in my all time favourite songs list.
  • Funnel Cakes and Garlic Mashed Potato. Very self-explanatory, definitely a happy highlight.
  • I think I only went to a Disney water park once over the 2 summers, mainly because they’re not free to cast like all the other parks and the weather in the peak of summer is very stormy so it’s difficult to fit a full day in. The one time I did go  was at the start of my second summer there when I went with some friends to Blizzard Beach and it was in between the rides and the loops round the lazy river that I remember having one of those, ‘Yeh! I’ve really made it!’ moments. How happy I was feeling that day is definitely shown in the picture below of me with one of my best Disney friends.
  • Extra Magic Hours Dance Parties! These were always the highlight of my working week! Once a week we opened our Disney Junior arena up as a disco for all the guests entitled to Extra Magic hours. The characters came out and the kids just went wild and it was basically our job to just be there and dance and make sure nobody got on the stage. The one memory from these parties that still makes me howl is when Goofy got a bit too excited spinning a child around and fell over. Honestly one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
  • Cast accommodation pool parties. Such a bizarre, but such a fun experience!
  • In my second summer, a group of us megabussed to Miami to see Beyonce and Jay-Z at the Miami stadium. It’s one of my most favourite and surreal memories.
  • The best things to come out of it all are my friends and the memories. There’s no way you can’t be friends forever with the people you’ve had those experiences with. Life has taken us to really different places since, but those memories in our little Disney bubble will never go away. There’s no way you can’t be friends forever with someone with whom you’ve fallen asleep on on the late bus back from Magic Kingdom; who has seen you cry with happiness when you see a raccoon at the pool when you’re having a drunken midnight swim; who has seen you look like death while pretending you’re fine when you’re recovering from a poisonous spider bite; and who has seen you absolutely lose your shit when the pianists finally play your song request in Jelly Rolls.
  • My final happiest moment to share was when another special visitor came over from the UK- my best friend, Soph! We were both Disney World fans growing up and holidayed there with our families, but at the end of my final summer there she came out to meet me and we had two magical days there together; it was a childhood dream come true! However, at the end of that final day, I still needed her to leave me alone so I could walk out of the Magic Kingdom for the last time as a cast member, on my own. I knew how I’d emotional I’d feel and knew it was something I needed to do alone. 

It’s weird looking back at photos of that time now. I feel like a different person. And not just because I’m about 2 stone heavier and my UK winter skin is currently blueish.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing, a bad thing or just something that was destined to happen.

Things that will forever have a different meaning after being a cast member:
  • The word ‘bump’.  In Disney, when you bump someone, it means you take over their position 15 minutes before the end of the shift and let them begin their 15 minutes mooching and chatting to guests before they finish. It’s a very exciting time. So now when I hear someone’s had a bump, it’s my instinct to be like ‘Ooo yay’, but out of Disney bumps aren’t that great.
  • The song ‘A Star is Born’ from Hercules. For some reason, it’s the song that is played in Hollywood Studios when the last guest has left at the end of the day. When I hear it now, it brings back feelings of exhaustion, panic that I haven’t filled out the closing paperwork properly and anxiety about whether or not I’ll make the last bus back to my accommodation.
  • The smell of popcorn- if you know, you know.
  • Frozen! Don’t.  Just DON’T.  I  officially got over that one when I heard the soundtrack for the 300th time.
  • (There are so many more.  I’ll keep adding to this post over the next few weeks when I think of them! And any other ex cast members, please feel free to get in touch and remind me of some!)

I had my time in that bubble – a bubble  that I’ll probably never get back so it’s time to carry on with my life and find the magic in everyday. But certain smells and certain songs and  certain memories will always make my tummy flip.

When I think of going back to Disney World in the future, I do get a lump in my throat. I can’t imagine what I’d feel if I ever walked back into Magic Kingdom with my own children. I could give the cast members a little understanding look when they’re trying to clear areas for the fireworks or a guest is kicking off because the show is full and their family are already in there. I could get a tear in my eye at the fireworks once more and get that dreamy family photo with Mickey.

But you know what, when it comes to everyone having their share of Disney magic, I’ve probably had enough for 50 people. And when it comes to it. if we decide to take the kids around Scotland in a camper, then that would be pretty magical too.

We’re good me and Mickey.

Katie x

If you’d like to read all my other Disney blogs which I wrote during those summers:

http://www.mickeyminnieandkatie.blogspot.com