Monday, August 15, 2011

Looking Back on My Disney College Program

Growing up, I always told myself “someday I’m going to work at Walt Disney World.” It was always a dream, but entering college I finally found the platform to pursue that dream: the Disney College Program! I attended the on-campus presentation, applied online, and was soon accepted to be a Cast Member on the Disney College Program at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida!

Thinking about the entire process and internship as a whole, I have nothing but positive things to say about the Disney College Program. It was a journey that led to so many new and exciting opportunities to further both my Disney heritage and my career goals in general. With the myriad activities, learning opportunities and special events for Disney Cast Members, my internship was filled with experiences that allowed me to advance as a student and as a professional. Considering all that went into the internship, my growth as an individual is truly based on the resources available.

My internship with the Walt Disney World Resort began at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café, a quick-service restaurant in Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom Park. I worked as part of a multi-functional team that successfully runs North America’s busiest quick-service restaurant. It was in the first few weeks of my internship where I was introduced to the Disney Quality Standards. These business standards, also known as the Four Keys of the Disney Show, are safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. Safety is always put first to promote secure experiences for both Guests and Cast. Courtesy is providing friendly, personalized service to each Guest. Show is delivering flawless and captivating experiences for every Guest. Efficiency is striving for the most effective and efficient processes to provide quality experiences. These “Four Keys” work hand in hand in every part of our daily procedures, in each and every role across property.

Working at Cosmic Ray’s was a wonderful environment for developing transferrable skills I can use for the rest of my career. Clearly, time management always played a key role in delivering quality Guest Service in an efficient manner. Time management also went hand in hand with multitasking skills. There was always work to be done, and it was important to keep busy while performing numerous tasks at once. In all of this, it was important to remember the higher purpose: helping deliver the Walt Disney World vision of positive relationships with our Guests and making those connections last.

The first half of my internship provided me countless opportunities to develop these skills and put them into use on a daily basis. Each day presented new challenges and I thrived on working to find solutions to exceed Guest expectations. After a few months of my role at Cosmic Ray’s, I then transferred from Food and Beverage over to Entertainment, where I would have to learn how to put these skills to use in a new way.

As a Character Performer, the few seconds spent with a child become part of the story of their lifetime. Disney Characters, worldwide, provide joy, reflect the uplifting family values of The Walt Disney Company, and bring quality entertainment to people around the world. The transferrable skills I developed during my time at Cosmic Ray’s were important in successfully transitioning into my role in Entertainment, but were utilized in different ways. Time management now meant keeping track of set times to ensure characters were on time for meet and greet experiences. Partnering skills became a large part of daily operations. The partnership between Character Attendants, Character Performers, and Disney Photo Imaging Photographers helps ensure more impactful Guest interactions, as well as a consistent show flow between each interaction.

The Disney Quality Standard of “Show” became a very important aspect of my daily routine. As a Character Performer, the few seconds I spend with a child in a meet-and-greet interaction become part of their memory for the rest of their life. Every move and gesture I made as a Performer must be “part of the show” and help tell the story with which Guests are familiar.

A large part of my internship experience has been the educational offerings. Disney University and the Disney College Program Education Team offer a number of professional development, career exploratory and accredited collegiate courses. I was lucky enough to be enrolled in four classes: Marketing Exploration Series, Disney Heritage Exploration Series, Guest Relations Exploration Series, and the Entertainment Professional Development Study.

My Marketing Exploration Series course was a look into the marketing tactics of the various business units within Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Guest speakers from multiple lines of business, including Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club, spoke about the marketing strategies and campaigns used to promote growth while maintaining the core equities of the Disney Parks brand. The amount of time and effort put into such small details in these marketing campaigns, in order to maintain the rich content and uniqueness of the Disney brand, is astonishing.

The Entertainment Show Production Professional Development Study offered me an opportunity to explore how Walt Disney Creative Entertainment develops, implements, and maintains their productions. Specific topics included business planning and creative investigation, concept development, show development, production and opening, and operations. In-class activities allowed me to partner with other students to solve detailed issues pertinent to show production.

One of the most influential aspects of my Disney College Program was the opportunity to network with Disney leaders. I was lucky enough to meet the Entertainment Manager for Fantasmic and Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Melissa oversees the daily operations of both productions, among other live events, and serves as the shows’ stage manager during most performances.

Melissa was gracious enough to give me a personal tour of both performance spaces. I was able to get a close-up, behind-the-scenes view of the inner workings of both productions. It was daunting to see how complex, (and at times, how simple,) each production ran. Melissa then invited me to shadow her during a performance of each show. I was able to sit in the control booth and take notes on how each performance is run. That, for me, was the most influential part of my experience in Orlando.

I look back on my experiences and I truly treasure the wealth of knowledge shared with me by passionate leadership teams and Cast Members. Looking forward, I can honestly say that my participation on the Disney College Program has been one of the greatest journeys of my life thus far. With my foot in the door with the Walt Disney Company, I feel very optimistic about a successful future with the Company, or any other path I may take in the future. Knowing myself, and my passion for Disney heritage, I know I will stay with the Company after college. Whether it be Parks and Resorts, or any other number of divisions of the Company, I know my graduation from the Disney College Program will help me secure a position with the Company.


Kaitlyn said...

Hi! It is great to hear that the CP was a good experience for you since I have actually been accepted as an Attractions Cast Member and my arrival date is next week. If you don't mind I would be really grateful if you could answer a few questions.
First, what time did you arrive at check-in? I have heard that you should arrive really early in the morning and was wondering if that's true.
Second, I am actually majoring in Stage Management as well and have also signed up for the Entertainment Show Production class. I signed up the first day possible, back in October but apparently I don't find out if I'm in it until February. Why is that? Does it mean I wasn't accepted?
Third, how and where did you meet Melissa and get the opportunity to shadow on some of those shows? It sounds extremely cool and helpful and I would love to have the chance to do it as well!
I would love to hear from someone who has already going through what I am about to!!

Zach said...

Sorry I didn't get around to answering this sooner!

I actually got advice from a friend the day before check-in about arriving at Vista as early as possible, because it gets really busy. I believe I arrived around 7:00 am. There was already a line!
In terms of class sign-up, it sounds like they're doing it a bit differently than when I was a CP. I actually signed up in person at Vista Way after I moved in to my apartment. They said the classes do fill up quickly, and certain classes were restricted to students with certain majors. So only theater majors could sign up for the Entertainment Show Production class. Luckily I got in, and I would think you should get in as well, since you're a major and signed up early.
In terms of meeting Melissa, I just went right up to her! If there's one thing I wish I did more of, it would be networking. Just go right up to Cast Members and start talking and asking questions... 9 times out of 10, they are exciting to talk to you. Melissa just happened to be one of those extra-friendly CMs who went above and beyond.

I hope you have a wonderful CP... you'll definitely make a lot of wonderful memories! Let me know if you have any other questions, I'd be happy to answer them!

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