I can remember it like it was yesterday. At the start of three summers ago, I sat in the casting office in front of an interviewer and his trainee, and they asked me a very important question: “How would you like to work seasonally in food and beverage at Blizzard Beach?” My heart simultaneously soared and fell. They offered me a job! I was going to work for the most magical place on earth! I was going to be able to go to Disney for free whenever I wanted! But I would not see little girls in princess dresses walk up to my register. I would be working with food, not working with characters, or anything with a recognizable story. I would be in a place that most guests never saw, part of a half-forgotten and seldom recognized sector of the gigantic playground known as Disney World. I would be working in one of the few places that I had never ever been to, despite being a Florida native. When I told people I would be working in Blizzard Beach, responses varied from, “What’s that? Disney has water parks?” to “Is that the one with the giant wave pool?” (No, that’s Typhoon. Yes, there’s more than one water park.)
What I didn’t know on that day is that the people I met at Blizzard would become my family. I didn’t know that I would learn to love food and beverage, and working a cash register (which I had been desperately afraid of), and that I would love being able to create things like ice cream sundaes and mac ‘n’ cheese hotdogs for our guests. But most importantly, I didn’t know just how much working in the water parks would make me appreciate Disney. Working in Blizzard Beach gave me an appreciation for Disney that I never would have had if I had started in Magic Kingdom like I hoped.
Today I feel like I have come full circle. I put on my name tag, just like I have done at the start of every workday since day one, but today my name tag had an addition: a shiny red tag with the words “Earning My Ears.” Today I began my first day of training in the Magic Kingdom. After three years, I am finally where I have always wanted to be. But I know that three years later, this day means so much more than it would have if it had come any sooner. Working in the water parks, I learned the importance of interacting with each and every guest I met, because there were so few who came through our gates. Most importantly, I understood the magnitude of the Walt Disney company, because I saw firsthand what many cast members never really see. I saw Disney from a daily-workings perspective of one of the “forgotten step-children” of the theme parks. I became and advocate for and defender of Blizzard Beach. I made guests and cast members aware that Disney is so much bigger than just four parks. Disney property has so much more to offer than rides. If I had started working at Magic Kingdom immediately, I would have continued to ignore the other less glamorous sections of Disney property. I probably never would have set foot inside the ESPN complex. I wouldn’t have had a reason to go to the water parks, because I was never a water park person before Blizzard. I wouldn’t have had an excuse to branch out from what was familiar. And I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Disney in the way that I did, because what I love about Disney is its universality. There is truly something for everyone.
And so when I finally took that bus from Westclock to the utilidoors, all dressed up in professional clothes instead of an impeccably themed costume, I felt an incredible sense of triumph. I felt like all of my dreams had in fact come true. I had a moment in which I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of love and magic my Blizzard family had shown to me over the years, and how grateful I was for their guidance and support. But as I stepped off the bus into my new home, I felt as if Mickey were welcoming me home. As if he were saying, “Oh boy, you did it! You earned this.” It seemed as if everything I had done at Blizzard was just the dress rehearsal, and now here I was, arriving at the opening day of the greatest show on earth. It was time to show Disney what I could do.
Maybe that’s a little dramatic, but Disney often makes me emotional. I’m known to tear up during the Festival of Fantasy parade, which is the happiest parade you’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing I’m not supposed to actually watch the parades in my new job, or else I’m sure I would cry every day. Tears of joy, but still tears.
Of course, I was immediately given a rude awakening when the orientation class (entitled “Once Upon a Time . . . is Now!”) began with a four hour walking tour of the Magic Kingdom. Let me repeat that. FOUR. HOURS. Maybe it was a little shorter than that, but seriously you try walking through every single area of the entire park in four hours and tell me how you feel. But it was so worth it. Our tour guides told us all sorts of little bits of trivia in addition to the important things like where all the bathrooms are. I learned that the oldest attraction in the park is even older than the park itself: Prince Charming’s Carousel was built in 1917, and Walt liked it so much he bought it and moved it here. About half of the horses on it are the original horses from 1917. Pretty neat stuff. We also got to ride the Haunted Mansion really close to park opening (oh yeah, did I tell you we arrived at 7 am? That’s way too early to be walking around Disney, or doing anything besides sleeping), so there was almost no one on the ride. It was pretty awesome. And then after the tour and a lunch break, I met my first trainer on Main Street, who gave us another tour. While not as large in scope, we were still walking around for about 3 more hours, getting an intensive lesson in Main Street history and trivia. Next time any of us are in Magic Kingdom together, I’ll tell you about it, but there’s far too much information for me to even remember it at the moment. I wouldn’t know where to begin! Except to say that Walt was a mad genius. Also, anything to do with Walt makes me tear up. We watched part of Walt’s opening day speech, and I almost cried.
I guess after writing all this, I really just wanted to say that I’m incredibly excited to finally be a member of the Magic Kingdom family, but I promise I’ll never forget where I come from. And I think that’s incredibly important. The lessons I learned in food and beverage, in Blizzard Beach, and in all of my EHH shifts that I was forced to pick up due to my seasonal status are all things that have shaped the cast member I am today, and I’m grateful for that. I know I am much more confident in myself than I was when I first went through training, and anyone who has worked PAC will tell you that confidence is the most important thing to success on the parade route.
And so this is my story. I shared my travel stories on this blog when I lived abroad, and I think it’s still appropriate to write about Disney through “wanderlust” because I’m still a traveler. I will be living in a world very different from the outside world, every day I will travel through stories and kingdoms far, far away, and most importantly I will be responsible for bringing these stories and places to life. So if you’d like to listen in and hear my stories, I will try to recount them to the best of my ability, and share my musings on Disney life. After all this time in Disney, I feel like I’ve finally earned my place in the magic. And I couldn’t be more excited to be “earning my ears” in the most magical place on earth. :)