About 20 minutes into watching a barrage of fireworks explode around an enormous, lit-up castle, you begin to forget things. You forget about the thousands of people who ran into you today, the 98-degree heat and the hour-long wait in line for Splash Mountain.
Standing next to about 13 other college students on our last night in Orlando, Florida, we all silently looked at one another and realized that, despite knowing we may never see each other again, we had an amazing six months in “the happiest place on Earth.”
For those of you who have no idea what I’m referring to, it’s a little place that happens to be the most visited entertainment resort in the world and spans over 30,000 acres. It is home to four theme parks, two water parks and over 20 resort hotels. Welcome to Disney World.
I’ll tell you all about how I got to spend six months in Florida in just a second, but first, let’s back track a bit…
A change of scenery
I am now a senior at the University at Buffalo (www.buffalo.edu) and have loved my college experience. However, my first three years at UB flew by, and while I had a great time, it wasn’t always perfect. In fact, when I was almost done with my second year, I was looking to get out of Buffalo, even if for a short time. I wanted to experience some different things.
One day when I was in the student union, I noticed a bunch of signs advertising the Disney College Program. When I got back to the dorm, I decided to find out more. What I quickly discovered was that from August to January I could work, live and take classes - in Florida! (As a kid who grew up in Upstate New York, warm, sunny Florida was extremely enticing to me.) The program offered a fully paid internship as well as a variety of work opportunities, college courses and really nice living complexes. I immediately decided to apply online.
A few weeks later, I was interviewed over the phone and a few weeks after that, I received a folder in the mail telling me I got in! By August of last year, I was on a plane headed to Orlando.
A whole new world
When I arrived, I was surrounded by students just like me. The housing was really nice and everyone seemed excited to be there. But just as soon as we settled into our new living arrangements, we were off to work. I started my job at Animal Kingdom just two days after I arrived, working as a cashier in a gift shop for the park’s biggest ride — Expedition Everest.
As a college program student, you work with other college students and full-time employees; just don’t call them that. In the world of Disney, all employees are referred to as “cast members,” and another important detail to note? You have to wear a “costume.” No, not everyone walks around dressed like Mickey or Minnie Mouse, but these “costumes” (which are really more like uniforms) are often very brightly colored and extremely embarrassing. (Just be prepared.) But, the good news is that there will always be a costume that is brighter and more embarrassing than yours. Trust me.
In addition to working, you can also take a variety of college-level classes. Depending on the policy of your particular college or university, you may be eligible to earn credit for these classes, but be sure to look into this before signing up.
Never a dull moment
You may be wondering, when you’re not working or taking classes, what is there to do? Well, everything. There is a bus system dedicated solely to the college program students, which transports you between all of the parks, water parks, resorts, the mall, the grocery store and to Downtown Disney (a food and shopping outdoor mega-mall).
The biggest perk of all (for me at least) is free admission to the parks. Every night after I finished my shift at work, I would quickly change out of my “costume” and head over to the Magic Kingdom (Disney’s main and original park in Orlando). There we would go on rides and watch fireworks before heading home for the night.
As a cast member, you also receive a certain percentage off merchandise and travel costs. So, if your family wants to come visit, you can save them a ton of money on hotels and park tickets. There are endless things to do in Disney World, but if you are ever in the mood for a change of pace, you can also take a weekend to head down to Miami or visit some of the other theme parks in town (and there are a lot of options)!
This program truly opens up your eyes to a number of new experiences. You will meet people from all around the world who speak every language and who are all there to work, learn and have a great time. And don’t just take my word for it; I asked my friend Chris what he thought about the program (after doing it almost a year ago) and he said, “The Disney College Program allowed me to experience many wonderful things, including meeting some of the people I know I’m going to be friends with for the rest of my life. Some of the best moments of my life happened during my college program experience — moments that will forever define me — and I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.”
So, if you’re a college student looking to expand your horizons, I would absolutely recommend the Disney College Program.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when considering the Disney College Program:
• The program runs year-round; however, you have to apply one semester ahead of time. So if you want to go in the near future, you have to apply early in the semester.
• You can choose from six major job categories, which in turn have many different sub-categories. They range from working on a roller coaster, being a character, working in one of the hotels and just about anything you can think of. Make sure you specify your top three choices.
• If you successfully complete the program, you can then apply for the “Summer Alumni" and work again in the summer.