Archives for August 2018

Carla Archer: Making Magic for the Mouse

Walt Disney once said, “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” Since my first visit to Walt Disney World at five years old, I have dreamt of being a Disney cast member. I discovered the Disney College Program on a social media site when I was in high school, and I knew I would have to apply when the time came. To be eligible, you only need to have one semester of college completed, but I waited until the fall of my sophomore year to apply for the first time. I made it all the way to the last round of interviews, when I informed the recruiter that I had recently made my college dance team and would not be able to attend in the spring. I applied a second time that spring for a fall program, and I was never asked for an initial interview. I even went to a character performer audition in Dallas and got cut during the first round. I learned a lot about dealing with rejection and the importance of perseverance. I guess the third time really is the charm because within a week of applying in the fall of my junior year, I was accepted into the program as a merchandise cast member for the spring semester!

I put my scholarships and basically my whole life on hold and packed my bags for a four month stay in Orlando, Florida. The first week there, everyone had to attend Traditions, which is the orientation for working at Disney. They taught us about the four keys by which Walt Disney wanted the company to operate: safety, courtesy, show, and efficiency. No matter your role at the park, those are the priorities, in that order. In my work location, we were constantly encouraged to practice these keys. The Traditions teachers showed us several videos of guests having their vacations greatly impacted by cast members, effectively brainwashing us to strive to be dedicated to creating happiness and making magic (and of course, money). We got to explore the tunnels under Magic Kingdom. This is where cast members take breaks and how they get around without entering a land that does not match the theming of their costumes. It is also the reason Magic Kingdom is not overflowing with trash. The coolest part of Traditions was getting our official cast member nametags from our new boss, Mickey Mouse.

The first couple of days of training for merchandise college program participants were at Disney University. We practiced using the registers, which was helpful for someone like me who had never worked in retail. We learned how to count change back to guests the “Disney way.” We also learned about “merchantainment,” which is essentially playing with the merchandise to entertain the guests and to sell more product. My home park was Hollywood Studios, so my first day of on location training was called “On with the Show.” I got paid to go on a tour of my favorite park and learn fun facts about its history and future. I could hardly believe it.

I worked in the Theater District, which includes Star Wars, Muppets, Indiana Jones, Frozen, and Christmas themed shops. I spent most of my time in Tatooine Traders, which is where hundreds of people dump out every few minutes from riding Star Tours. My favorite assignment was walking guests step-by-step through building custom lightsabers. No other merchandise location on property had anything that interactive, so it was perfect for me as a future elementary teacher. The best day in Tatooine was when I got to give Magical Moment certificates to two young sisters named Lucy and Grace. They came back to visit me during my last shift, and I cried tears of joy.

Even at the most magical place on earth, working an average of forty hours a week is exhausting and not always easy. To break up the monotony, I traded to work in other locations. I ended up working in every park at least once. Some nights I did not get off work until after two o’clock in the morning. Sometimes guests would yell at me for ruining their vacations because I asked to see their annual passes in order to give them a discount. One woman told my manager I needed to take more “earning my ears” classes and that I should just sell balloons on the street to children. My manager told me I was doing the right thing, and we smiled and told the guest to have a magical day, as is custom. The biggest, but most rewarding, challenge was learning to communicate with people despite language barriers. Guests and cast members come from all over the world, and it is so beautiful to see the diversity, especially in Epcot’s World Showcase, featuring food, entertainment, and cast members from eleven countries.

Overall, the Disney College Program was the greatest opportunity of my life thus far. I gained independence and valuable life skills. I had a blast riding rides, watching shows, meeting characters, and eating sweets. I already miss living minutes from Cinderella’s castle and saying, “May the force be with you,” but Mickey said he’ll see me real soon.