By: Megan Votour

A Cast Member is Disney’s word for an employee, but it becomes so much more than that from the second you receive that job offer.  In the summer of 2015, I was fortunate enough to experience just what it is to be a Cast Member as I participated in the Disney International College Program. It still feels like a dream after all of my days off I spent in Disney World Universal Studios.  The fact that I would spend a morning running around the Magic Kingdom before heading off for my night shift at Disney’s Contemporary Resort seems so strange to me now. I look back, and I can honestly say that this was the best job I have had, and Disney World will always be home to me.

I worked as a Quick Service Food and Beverage Cast Member at the Contempo Cafe.  This position meant I was preparing food, waiting tables and cleaning for 6-13 hours straight. I spent most of the summer working closing shifts, which meant I was on the clock until at least 12:30 am and the bus would get me home at around 2 am.  I worked with some amazing people when doing my night shifts, which was a big part of why I loved going to work. It was a customer service job which means underneath all the Disney magic it had its challenges, but there were always moments that reminded me why I want to work for Disney in the first place.  The most challenging weekend of my summer was by far was the July 4th long weekend as it is one of the busiest times of the year at Disney World.

As a participant in the International College Program, I was required to live in Disney housing.  Disney housing is made up of four different complexes all ranging in size and features.  They all have different reputations, and each of them has their benefits as well as their downsides.   All cast members residing in Disney housing could use buses to get around the area for free.  I ended up living in Vista Way, and I loved it for the most part. I had five roommates in a three bedroom apartment.  The thought of 6 people in an apartment may be hard to imagine, but you very quickly realize just how seldom everyone is home at the same time.  Your roommates become family no matter how much you think they won’t.  You go to the parks together, and you go out for family meals.  You will make friends outside your roommates, but your roommates are the ones who are there when you get off from work, and you just want to relax on the couch.

One thing about spending the summer in Florida is that you can’t avoid is the weather.  Summer in Florida is hot and wet.  70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 21 degrees Celsius, is what you start to consider cold.  At the beginning of the summer you think you will never need a sweater outside but that feeling is only temporary.  Summer in Florida is also Hurricane Season, which means lots of rain.  Daily thunderstorms become completely normal, but don’t worry, they usually only last a few hours at most.  The best part of the weather is that lightning in Florida is beautiful and, since you most likely can’t go anywhere until it is over, you get to enjoy watching the storm.

The one thing about being a Disney Cast Member that nothing can prepare you for is the end of your program.  The last few weeks become a blur as you attempt to realize everything that you still want to do.  You dread the moment when you have to say goodbye to your coworkers and roommates.  Your last shift comes, and you are more upset than you ever anticipated you would be.  You have to turn in your costume to Costuming for the last time, and you walk out of work.  The last full day you have after that final day is surreal as you try to make the most of it.  Most of us on the College Program ended our day watching Wishes, the firework show, in the Magic Kingdom for the last time.  I think the hardest moment for me was walking out of the apartment I called home for the last time and calling Uber for a ride to the airport.  The first few weeks home were difficult as I could no longer hop on a bus to one of the parks and I no longer woke up to another person in my room. I still think about Disney World daily, and I still have plenty of stories for those who do want to hear them.

I encourage everyone one who is considering this program to apply because it is worth all the struggles that come with it.  I will warn you though being a Cast Member is a life changing experience.  You can’t go back to your pre-Disney life, but you will never want to.