Cast Member Chronicles: Melissa’s Disney College Program Experience

Photo - DisneyMelissa is a friend of mine who completed the Disney College Program in January 2013. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about it, so I decided to pick her brain and ask her to share the experience with all of you. For more information about this program, check out my girl Trista’s post here.

Okay ready? Let’s get started!

Walt Disney World has always held a special place in Melissa’s heart. Growing up, her family made several visits and each time was as spectacular as the last. She first heard about the Disney College Program (or DCP as I will refer to it) from her older sister, who had spent a semester there years previously. With her love of Disney blazing like a hunka hunk of burning love, she made the easy decision to apply.

In the Fall of 2012, she began the application process. Step one involved filling out a general application, mostly requesting education and work experience. There was also a section where she was asked to rate different job roles on a 1 to 5 interest scale. Melissa had experience in the restaurant business, so she felt Food and Beverage would be the best fit. From there, things moved very quickly. Step two was a mere two days later, when a representative from Disney requested an online interview. A few days after that, Melissa had a phone interview. One week later, she was a future employee and student of the Disney College Program!

She flew from frigid Wisconsin to sunny Florida in the Spring of 2013, two days before the start of the program. She stayed at a Disney resort (Pop Century, her favorite) and took a taxi to the check-in point at Vista Way. Check-in included completing necessary paperwork, finding out work and room assignments and receiving important information for the days ahead. As for her job role, Melissa had gotten her wish: she would, indeed, be working in Food and Beverage. She would be a part of the Outdoor Vending crew at Epcot, rotating between the African Outpost, Pineapple Promenade, Refreshment Port and different ice cream carts in Future World and the World Showcase.

The day after check-in, she attended Disney University. First was Traditions. This was essentially a four-hour class providing new Cast Members with history, culture and other information regarding the Walt Disney Company. Following this was classroom work where she not only learned specific information regarding her role, but was also taught Disney’s four key basics: Safety, Courtesy, Show and Efficiency. These are guidelines Disney expects all Cast Members to take to heart to ensure a positive guest experience and is something she still hasn’t forgotten.

Although Disney University was fascinating, Melissa couldn’t wait to leave behind the classroom and computer labs to start her job. A full eight days after her arrival to Orlando, it was finally her first day of work. Dressed in her costume with a shiny new name tag on her shirt, she was ready.

photo - Melissa Fuchs
All suited up and ready to go!

Melissa arrived at the African Outpost in the World Showcase with a smile on her face and butterflies fluttering about in her stomach. She was so excited and couldn’t wait to jump right in! Her trainer showed her around, pointed out equipment she would be using and tasks she would be performing. At first chance, Melissa offered to run the register, having practiced at Disney University. She stood in front of the machine, greeted the guest with a smile and asked how she could help them.

“Hi, I’ll have a Yuengling.”

“…….?”

For those of you who don’t know (and I sure didn’t), a Yuengling is a beer brewed in Pennsylvania that is very popular at the African Outpost. Melissa had NO idea what the guest was talking about and, needless to say, felt very silly on her first day of work.

Fortunately, Melissa was a fast learner. She excelled at her job and was soon promoted to cart stocker and general teller, the latter being similar to a shift supervisor. She absolutely loved her job! When I asked her about any magical moments she witnessed, she explained that it wasn’t one big moment, but dozens of little things every single day. Seeing small children eat their very first Mickey bar was quite a treat for her. She would watch chocolate and ice cream melt down their chin with that first bite, soon to be followed by a sticky grin and eyes lit up like a Christmas tree.

She also realized that it really is a small world after all. Since her name tag said she was from Wisconsin, she would frequently meet guests who lived only an hour away from her hometown. Not only did she see her dental hygienist at Epcot, but while talking with a different guest one day, they discovered Melissa had graduated high school with this girls brother!

I asked her if she ever people-watched when she had downtime. “All the time!,” she told me. She said besides witnessing the frequent looks of confusions from guests reading the Epcot map, she constantly saw looks of amazement. Many of the guests had never been to the World Showcase and couldn’t believe how big it was. The amazement only continued with the first bursts of Illuminations. As guests watched in awe at the amazing fireworks display, Melissa sang along and watched with equal enthrallment. It’s a performance that to this day, she still can’t get enough of.

Days turned into months and soon her semester was over. Thankfully, this was not the end for Melissa. Disney often offers an extension to students of the DCP, asking if they would like to stay longer. Students are given about two weeks to think it over and respond. When Melissa started the program, she had no intention of extending. However, she soon realized how much she loved working at Walt Disney World and how badly she wanted to stay. When Melissa originally applied, she planned to spend her very last semester in college doing the Disney College Program. Because she was now a college graduate and done with school, she decided to accept the extension.

Melissa not only extended another semester, but stayed with the DCP for an entire year! When I asked if she considered changing job roles, she said that because of her great coworkers and wonderful job, she opted to stay at Epcot. I asked her to tell me her favorite parts of the program. She said it was spending all day at Epcot. When she was younger, it was never a park she was interested in. After working there and learning so much about it, she fell in love. Although she appreciated the discounts and unlimited park access, her very favorite part was meeting new friends. Since the program, she has visited her former roommates and kept in contact with several coworkers. Oh, and her least favorite part you may ask? The day she had to leave! (well, that and working in wet clothes when it rained.)

It’s been almost a year since she completed the Disney College Program and not a day goes by where she doesn’t think about her incredible year with the Walt Disney Company. Her time at Disney made such an impact that it set Melissa down an unexpected career path. This past fall, she made the decision to return to college and obtain a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management. She hopes to return for a professional internship at Walt Disney World in the Fall of 2015 and stay on as a manager in Food and Beverage. I wish her the very best of luck and wait for the day I hear the words come out of her mouth, “Dreams do come true!”

Do you know someone who has done the Disney College Program? How was their experience? Let me know in the comments!

Angela Dahlgren

As the host of TouringPlansTV, Angela produces weekly videos on our TouringPlans YouTube channel. When she's not talking about the happiest place on earth, she spends her time entertaining her own little Minnie and Mickey Mouse. You can find her on twitter @AngelaDahlgren

9 thoughts on “Cast Member Chronicles: Melissa’s Disney College Program Experience

  • December 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm
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    I’m 33. Been going to WDW almost annually since I was 8. Was in the College Program at 18. And personally, with no exaggeration, it was one of the single worse experiences of my life. It was so bad and scarring that I really thought at the time I would never visit WDW again.

    • December 21, 2014 at 6:57 pm
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      It would be great if you actually provided details about why you hated it, and what made the experience so bad.

    • December 27, 2014 at 10:38 pm
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      Richard,

      I’m sorry your experience wasn’t a positive one and was wondering if you could tell us what made it so negative? Hopefully Disney has worked out the kinks since your experience.

      Thanks for reading!

      Angela

    • December 31, 2014 at 2:19 am
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      Ive definitely heard that too. Especially those that do janitor all day. Its basically like but worse than working retail.

      The better assignments are fun, and its those people that like it.

      • January 2, 2015 at 10:49 pm
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        Ron,

        I wonder how they decide who does what? I know some of it is based on your interests and some on your experience. Who knows? Maybe it’s simply based on what they need covered.

        Does anyone know for sure?

        Thanks for the comment!

        Angela

  • December 22, 2014 at 9:55 am
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    Like any experience anywhere, there will be positives and negatives. Just go into it eyes wide open and remember these maxims:
    1. The huge corporation with a phalanx of lawyers will always have the rules, guidelines, bylaws, costs and fine print written completely in their favor. This includes pay, hours, assignments, roommates, transportation and even much of your free time. If you don’t like this, a hundred college students are more-than-happy to take your place. (Zero incentive for Disney to care if you are unhappy.)
    2. One of the reasons we all love to vacation at WDW is because the CMs work so very hard to make our vacation perfect. Never confuse “work” with “vacation.” When you are at work you are not on vacation, even at WDW. Especially at WDW.

    • December 27, 2014 at 10:43 pm
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      All great points DisneyDad.

      I can imagine how hard it would be to separate work from play when you work at a popular vacation destination sight.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

      Angela

  • December 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm
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    I am with Richard, to an extent on this one! I am also a Disney fanatic and DVC member but my college program experience has serious ups and downs. I was a life guard on a floating dock and after almost 2 hours in the hot summer sun I passed out cold and when I finally came to my supervisor asked if I was ready to get back out there. Like this girl, I too met some amazing people and had the most magical moment with a young guest that I will never forget- but working for them was brutal! I go back now and appreciate the cast members on the front lines SO much more knowing with what they could potentially be dealing with behind the scenes!

    • December 27, 2014 at 10:46 pm
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      Nicole,

      I’ve heard similar things. I was told that Disney expects all their CM’s to stay hydrated and if they pass out or need to leave due to heat exhaustion, they get pretty upset. Still, spending that much time in the hot sun would make me pass out too!

      Glad you were okay!

      Angela

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