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I Was A Disney College Program Participant & Let Me Tell You, It's Not All Magic

Photo: toriyikes/ Instagram
Girl, Disney World

The Disney College Program first started in 1980 and has been a dream to many over the years.

The intensive internship program is available for any current college student with at least one semester under their belt or a postgraduate who has left the institution within twelve months.

It has easily become one of the most reputable programs within the tourism and hospitality industry, allowing participants to “live, learn, and earn” at Walt Disney Resorts.

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I was a Disney College Program participant last Spring.

When I first heard about the program, I was in high school.

As a former theater kid, my dream was to do anything within the entertainment industry.

I had always leaned towards film acting but after watching many YouTube “day in my life” videos of current program participants, I was immediately enamored with the idea of becoming a cast member (the term Walt himself bestowed upon his workers because it’s like a show we put on).

Specifically, within the entertainment field, I loved the idea of dancing in the parades or working somewhere at Galaxy’s Edge due in part to help fulfill the inner fangirl in me.

So, I made a promise to myself to apply when I was in college — and I did. 

Come sophomore year, I submitted my application and didn’t think much of it — it was a dream but it stayed at that. 

However, I got accepted, and come January I found myself packing two suitcases with whatever I could carry and landed in Orlando, Florida, which would be my home for the next six months. 

I would be working at the most magical place on Earth, but there was more to the program than I ever could have imagined.

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While I am forever grateful for the opportunity I got, the magic only went so far.

I was placed within the food industry at the parks and worked at Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom.

Working food within the parks felt like a constant rush, dealing with tired and unhappy guests who felt it was okay to be rude to the cast members simply because they could.

Food certainly wasn’t my first choice but the people made it worth it.

I met other program participants and we quickly bonded over the absurdity of the job.

After each shift, we’d take the bus back to our housing complex and unwind after the long shift.

The housing complex was huge, and while it was fun to live in what I consider to be my first apartment, it was extremely expensive.

Cast members within the program are paid a little less than full or part-time members and my rent was automatically taken out of my paycheck, sometimes leaving me with only $300 left.

This was surprising to me because college program participants were typically the ones scheduled the most.

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I would typically work seven or more days in a row with long hours before getting a day off.

But in my time working, I got to meet some of the amazing cast members whose full or part-time job was running the restaurant.

Their resilience has never ceased to amaze me and I know I wouldn’t have had the same experience I had if I hadn’t met them.

Part of being in the program is accepting the “Disney look,” which included natural hair colors, no piercings, and no acrylic nails (more so within the food industry). As somebody who enjoyed and had all three, it was a hard adjustment for me to accept.

But that’s not to say the program was without its perks.

Participants were able to get employee discounts on merchandise, food, and of course park tickets.

I'm someone who wasn't normally in a position to be able to go to the parks whenever I wish, so it was amazing to go to any of the parks on my day off.

Shortly after beginning my program, I went back and forth between Pizzafari and Flame Tree Barbeque, with the latter being one of the busiest restaurants in the park.

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Flame Tree was an entirely different experience than Pizzafari.

It was fast-paced and rigorous compared to Pizzafari and the guests were somehow ruder and more demanding there.

Due to this, my anxiety got so bad that I couldn’t take it anymore.

I left the program earlier than my departure date and have since settled back into the college lifestyle.

I was lucky enough to get internship credit for my time at Disney but I know most colleges don’t accept this as a “credible” internship.

I don’t think I will ever get an experience like the program again and although it was hard work, I’m glad I took the leap.

It taught me more about myself and I gained a better understanding of how to work through hardships.

When people ask me how the program will be, I always say the program is what you make it.

If you look for the magic, it’ll be there.

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Victoria Soliz is a writer with YourTango who covers news and entertainment content. Her work explores pop culture trends, film and TV, and celebrity news