You know how that usually goes. As parents, we all have dreams for our children. Mine played out with a simple phone call from college from my oldest.
“Dad, I want to do the Disney College Program”.
“The Disney What What?” I said.
I had a vague recollection of noticing on some Disney nametags – below the cast member’s name – the name of a university or college. I remember being interested in why, but never pursued an answer.
“It’s a program Disney offers college students to take a semester and go work for them in the parks,” she said.
My wife and I were unsure about taking a semester off, but one selling point was, “I can take courses that can transfer back to my college.” They didn’t, but that’s on the university, not Disney.
The Disney College Program (DCP) is a roughly four-month program offered to currently-enrolled college students in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that provides on-the-job experiences to prepare students to be successful in future endeavors. They provide housing to rent if needed.
So she left college for a semester in the fall of 2009 and landed a lifeguard job at Stormalong Bay at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club. It was likely the most profound four months of her life so far.
In the Disney-provided housing complex called “Vista Way,” she lived in an apartment she shared with five other young women. Disney has very high standards for how the DCP participants conduct themselves (both while working and out), and by the time her 4-month assignment was over she would lose two of those roommates.
Housing wasn’t free nor was food provided. Disney took rent from her paycheck and she had to provide her own meals. Transportation was free. And since she was no longer a college student, she had fallen out from under my health insurance plan, so we signed her up with her own health insurance. I insisted on this and paid it for her. At least I could sleep at night.
So she spent the next four months immersed in Disney culture.
When it was over, I couldn’t wait to get her into the car and talk about her experience. I had a bunch of questions. My wife and I travelled to Orlando the night before and joined her the next day.
We packed up her things into the back of my trusty Toyota 4-Runner – which rendered my rear-view mirror useless – and after she said her goodbyes, we climbed in, I shifted into Drive, we hit the road and my daughter promptly fell asleep.
Okay. Give her a chance for a little nap. Then, let’s talk.
She slept for most of the 11-hour drive home. Later I would find out that she was so desperate for sleep that she popped two Tylenol PMs for the ride home.
It was a quiet 11 hours.
She went back to college as a “super senior” and got her degree in Psychology.
After her experience I had, in my mind, now planned out her entire Disney career. She was on her way!
- Step 1: Get in the door by working for the parks or resorts.
- Step 2: Advance up into a management position.
- Step 3: Get us into the parks for free…
She even applied for and got a job at Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort in South Carolina which meant all that was necessary was to relocate to another town. Regrettably, there was some communication disconnect that left my daughter with some uncertainty that she actually got the job. To find an apartment, relocate all personal possessions, get settled in just to show up on Day One and discover there was no “Day One” would’ve been devastating, so with a heavy heart (mine, not hers) she chose to decline the offer.
Like all new-hire cast members, Disney College Program cast members were schooled from the beginning on “Disney Service Basics.” These four principles can translate easily into the outside world:
- I project a positive image and energy.
- I am courteous and respectful to all Guests, including Children.
- I stay in character and play the part (This could relate to worker, spouse, parent. We all have a part to play in our world).
- I go above and beyond.
These are all characteristics that encompass the Spirit of Walt.
So was it all a waste of time? Not in the slightest. My daughter has always been sweet and kind, so I wouldn’t say her experience was life changing, but it was life-enhancing. For one, my daughter shines in part because of her immersive experience with Disney. Two, adding it to her resume, DCP has landed her every job for which she applied and was often a topic of discussion with the hiring managers.
So she really didn’t take the Disney career path I had planned, which means my grand Disney plans for her have ended. But hope springs eternal! Our girl is now a stay-at-home mom, raising a future cast member of her own.
And boy do I have great Disney career plans for HER!
Dan Chapman loves everything Mouse - with a tattoo to prove it - and longs to step back into the Disney bubble any chance he gets. He has a particular admiration of Walt Disney the man, and reads every biography written about Walt Disney that he can get his hands on.
Dan is new to navigating the post-retirement landscape and stays busy putting kayak to water, bike to trail and pen to paper.
He and his wife live "beach-adjacent" in North Carolina (close enough to enjoy the beach but far enough to avoid the property taxes).