Twists and Turns . . . and Parallel Parking

I’ve often defined “wanderlust” as the desire to simply wander around a new place and absorb the atmosphere. I think in that respect, my time in New Orleans will be no different than in the other places I’ve been. I still have that wanderlust and the itch to get out and explore. Yesterday I drove over to Tulane to get my first glimpse of the campus (and to figure out where the heck I’m supposed to park). As many people warned me, New Orleans is certainly a mess of one-way streets, dead ends, crazy intersections, and lots of traffic. And Tulane is in the heart of this city, so trying to get close to campus is like playing darts. I aimlessly drove down countless streets trying to find somewhere close to the campus, and even drove through campus a few times, but just when I thought I was at the right place I hit a road block. Literally. Or a dead end. Or when I wanted to turn around, I hit a one-way street going the opposite way I wanted to go. I found a parking garage, but it looked like it was reserved for those with parking passes, so I didn’t want to risk it and left the garage. When I finally was forced to parallel park (something I will have to work on) I was still a bit of a walk from the campus itself. So I gathered up my courage and started walking in the direction I had last seen campus buildings.

Then I was faced with the truly hard part: finding the buildings I was looking for. I had been emailed a campus map, but I do not own a smartphone so I couldn’t pull it up. I don’t have a printer, so I couldn’t print it ahead of time. I had tried to familiarize myself with the map as best I could, but unfortunately I didn’t even know where I was at that moment, so I had no idea what direction to turn. Naturally I turned in the wrong direction. I found residence halls, the liberal arts building, the Episcopal student center, and then the brand new not-even-open-yet Catholic students center. I learned that the Catholic student center is holding a grand opening night on Friday with free food, so that’s some cool info that I tucked in the back of my mind. I then turned around and headed back the way I came. I found the parking garage that I had attempted to park in, and a recreation center, and more residence halls. I came to that edge of campus, and turned around again, heading back the way I just came. I found the student center, bookstore, and food court (super useful stuff) and browsed through the bookstore just to get out of the oppressive Southern heat. And then as I exited out of the side of the student center, I found the building I was looking for. The building I would return to the next morning for my graduate student orientation.

It was quite a long walk around campus, and I was rather exhausted and frustrated. At one point I just wanted to cry because I was so tired of not knowing where I was going. I don’t handle being lost very well, because it rarely ever happens. I have a pretty good sense of direction, but New Orleans has definitely gotten the better of me. But on the bright side, I now know where almost everything is. The act of being able to wander aimlessly is in some ways very peaceful, and the campus is certainly beautiful. I don’t know if any campus can quite compare to Spring Hill, but it was wonderful all the same. I’m very glad that I was forced to take such a meandering path (even though I didn’t have to do that, since I was actually quite close in the first place). But all-in-all, the outing was worth it. I still haven’t figured out quite where to park, but I suppose I’ll figure that out eventually. Today I arrived an hour and a half early for orientation (thirty minutes of which was spent looking for an appropriate parking space), and I had a beautiful early morning stroll through campus to my destination. I watched the bookstore open and I sat near the food court where they have a beautiful waterfall feature and wrote this blog post.

Hopefully this year goes well. At least I’ve settled some anxiety by figuring out where all the buildings are, and although driving around in circles was frustrating I now know which streets go in which directions and how they intersect with each other. I’m excited for the year to get started!

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Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

Have I mentioned I hate moving? Well, after a very long and boring trip down I-10 today, I’ve finally arrived in Louisiana! Now all that’s left to do is unpack. Which is possibly the worst part of moving, because now I have to find space for everything. I have discovered that I have entirely too much stuff.

The drive was incredibly uneventful, except for a moment when I was hungry and attempted to open a candy bar wrapper and almost veered off the road. But I did get the wrapper open, so I say it was a success. Oh, and Dad almost got the moving truck stuck in a parking garage, but that’s another story. (Don’t worry, no one was hurt and the truck didn’t have so much as a scratch.) After driving more than 500 miles on I-10 I have definitely become reacquainted with the route I knew so well in college. Now I get to spend even MORE time on that terribly boring road. If only you could hear the excitement in my voice . . . it’s almost the same amount of excitement I have about I-4 in Orlando. Ugh.

But I am grateful to finally be here. My new house (yes, a real house!) is beautiful, and my roommates are wonderful, and everything is perfect. I don’t know how I managed to luck out so much. My first apartment was far nicer than I deserved and I don’t know how I succeeded in finding such an awesome roommate through a random post on the internet, but that all worked out perfectly. And now I get to live in a beautiful house with one of my dear friends (and sister!) from college, in a fabulous city. We’ve already gone out to try some local food at a place called Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar (at least I think that’s the name? I may have to look that up again to double check), where I had a stuffed crab po boy. We also got coupons to come back and enjoy a free house wine. I think I could get used to this.

Well, here’s to another chapter of Wanderlust. A new city with new people, new places to explore, new foods to try, and new experiences to be had. I didn’t do a good job with updating you on life in Disney, and I probably won’t do a good job of updating you on New Orleans, but I will at least try. At the very least you’ll get some sappy post when I move again about all the cool things I did this year. But no guarantees. I’m off on another adventure! I guess all that’s left to be said is laissez les bon temps rouler! (For those of you who don’t speak Cajun, that means “let the good times roll!” There will certainly be many good times to be had.)

The Stages of Moving

Maybe it’s just part of being a young adult, but I feel like I’ve moved around way too much. For almost my entire life I lived in the same house, so the act of packing up and moving is pretty foreign to me. Yet in the past year, I’ve completely packed up and moved four times. I packed up and moved out of my college dorm and back home. I then moved from my home to my first real apartment in Orlando. When my lease was up, I moved all of my stuff out and back home again (putting about half of the stuff in storage). I then temporarily moved into my aunt and uncle’s house. And now I’m preparing to move to New Orleans for graduate school. I’ll probably only be there a year before I move again, but only time can tell. For someone who lived in one house their entire life, I’m starting to feel like a nomad . . .

So here are my thoughts on moving. The stages that (probably) everyone goes through when they have to move:

1. Denial
You tell yourself, “I don’t really have that much stuff. It’ll be easy.” You decide to sit down and eat some cake. Watch some Netflix. Call your best friend. Upload some pictures that you forgot about. Just about anything besides packing.

2. Attempt to organize
Maybe you can start putting things in boxes. You have a plan, everything is going to be organized by category. Kitchen stuff in one box. Desk stuff in another. It will be perfect. Planning commences.

3. When the hell did I get so much stuff?!?!
You realize that all of your kitchen stuff will not fit neatly into one box. Or two. Or three. Maybe four will do it. Whoa, where did this stuff come from?! Maybe you can consolidate two small boxes into one big box . . . which doesn’t work at all, so you divide it back up again into two boxes. Except this time the stuff doesn’t fit neatly like it did last time. WHY?!? Ugh. You question your initial decision to procrastinate because you don’t think you have enough time to get everything together before the moving truck arrives.

4. It’s time to throw things away
That’s it, stuff has to go. You grab a garbage bag and decide to throw away anything you don’t need. You take a look around. “I don’t need so many tupperware,” you tell yourself.” But then it takes 20 minutes to figure out which pieces to toss, so you decide to keep them anyway. What about the stuff on your desk? Do you really need all those papers? What if you need to look back at your senior thesis one day and your computer crashed and you have no access to internet because aliens have taken over the planet and you need to know the information contained in that paper in order to save the world? Yeah, better keep that paper. It might be important.

5. Sentimental stuff
Aww look, you found your nametag from your first day of orientation! It’s one of those stickers that says “Hello my name is,” and it brings back memories. It must have been hiding under your desk. You start to throw it away and realize it’s pretty cool that you still have it. Maybe you can stick it in a scrapbook one day. You decide to keep it. How can you throw that away?? THE MEMORIES. You’re going to look back at it one day and be glad you have it. Obviously you can’t throw it away. (If you had thrown it away on day one that would be totally different, but now you have it so . . . )

6. Break time
You feel pretty accomplished because you have a nice stack of boxes. You figure you’re probably halfway done, so you deserve a break. *5 hours later you’re still binge-watching Netflix, or writing a blog post . . .*

7. More stuff appears
You finally realize you need to get back to packing. You manage to throw a handful of things away and feel good about yourself. You put everything else in semi-organized boxes. You look around and realize there’s still so much stuff . . . like, where did it all come from?? You start shoving things randomly in bags, because you have no where else to put it and you’re tired of packing.

8. Cleaning?
Now that your place is devoid of (most) stuff, you realize how dusty it is. And where did those fuzzballs come from? You debate whether you should clean or just leave it. Are you going to get charged if you don’t clean? Probably not. But wouldn’t cleaning be the nice thing to do? Do you even care? You debate while taking another snack break.

9. The moving truck
You realize now that your entire life is boxed up, it has to all make it into a truck and trekked to your new place. Ugh. Why is life so hard?

10. Unpacking
After successfully getting all your worldly possessions into a truck, you have to unload everything at your destination. At this point you just put stuff in random corners because you don’t care. As long as your bed makes it to its designated location. Everything else can wait . . . indefinitely. You decide that unpacking is definitively worse than the initial packing process. It’s time for some wine. And a nap. You deserve it.

See Ya Real Soon!

This past year has been the most amazing year I could have asked for. I was certain that after working for the Mouse for an entire straight year I would be sick of it and I would be ready to go home, but the truth it I’m a mess. In the past week I’ve bought two unnecessary souvenir things (and I never buy the souvenir things. Oh, that drink comes in a souvenir cup? Can I get it cheaper in a regular cup? Thanks) and I sacrificed a lot of sleep to see my favorite shows three nights in a row. I don’t give up sleep for anything.

I’ve had four different jobs in the past year here at Disney. People tend to move around a lot, but certainly not that quickly. In most cases, you can’t move around quite that quickly. But somehow I did. I started my journey seasonally at Blizzard Beach, working in quick service food and beverage. I thought I would hate it, but truthfully it was wonderful. I still remember my first trainer telling me, “Congratulations! You’ve won the cast member lottery. You have one of the best jobs.” And as far as food service goes, he was certainly right. I thought I wanted to work in Magic Kingdom, but if I had been placed in Magic Kingdom food and beverage I probably would have hated it. Wait, that’s a lie. I doubt I could have hated it. But I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it nearly as much as I enjoyed Blizzard Beach.

And after three summers at Blizzard, I decided that I didn’t want to leave Disney and get a real job just yet, so I applied for the college program. A lot of people seemed confused by this change. They asked, “Why would you choose to do the college program when you already work here? Isn’t that going backwards?” Truthfully, in some ways it was. But at the same time, going from being seasonal to full time is nearly impossible. At least right away. Disney doesn’t give full time positions easily. But by doing the college program, I was essentially guaranteed acceptance (because I was already a cast member with a good record) and they would work me at full time hours. Mostly. It was a win-win. And so I left behind my beloved water parks and entered the big leagues: Magic Kingdom Parade Audience Control. People thought I was crazy for doing it. “You’ll hate it,” they told me. “It’s a miserable job.” They were all wrong. PAC was some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I loved (almost) every minute. Yes, I got yelled at. Yes, people used their strollers as battering rams against my shins. Yes, I got ignored. Yes, I had to break up a fight, but only once. And you know what else? I was part of a huge, tight-knit team that got paid to talk to people and make magic. The yelling only constituted about 10% of my day. The rest was pure magic.

My College Program was short, only 4 months. I had one of the latest start dates, September 4th, and then it was all over in January. But in January I had another Disney job lined up: a Professional Internship with the Youth Education Series. I got paid to bring field trips of kids through the parks and teach them things like roller coaster physics, behind the scenes secrets, and life lessons about the greater world around them. It was literally the best job in the world. I can’t imagine anything better than YES. And through YES I made some of the most amazing friends I could ask for.

But all good things come to an end, and as my internship was ending I knew I needed somewhere else to go. I hadn’t heard back from graduate school yet, and my life felt like I was in limbo. So I applied for another Disney job, and accepted a part-time position with Children’s Activities in the resorts. Again, I truly lucked out with jobs. I had one of the most coveted front line roles. I got paid to play with children.

For better or worse, I was soon contacted with an offer I couldn’t refuse. I had been accepted to graduate school. It was a dream come true. But with this new dream in hand, I had to abandon my old dream. And with great sadness, I gave Disney my notice.

As I have documented, my last week at Disney was sad but filled with as much Disney magic as I could squeeze into those short days. I chose my last ride in each park (Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios, Spaceship Earth in Epcot, and Peter Pan in Magic Kingdom) and a last “meal” in each park (apple crisp a-la-mode in Hollywood Studios, fish and chips, Victoria sponge cake, and a Pimms in the UK in Epcot, and a kitchen sink in Magic Kingdom). I watched Fantasmic, Illuminations, and Wishes with some of my dearest Disney friends. And I took plenty of time to enjoy what would probably be my last time in the parks by myself doing nothing, because from now on I will probably either be accompanied by cast member friends or family. I will definitely miss going to the parks alone.

There are a lot of things I will miss about Disney. Before Disney I didn’t really know much or care about Walt Disney, but now just hearing a clip of his voice is enough to make me tear up. Disney has changed the way I view business, and honestly the entire world. I have learned so much about people, and about myself. Each location has been unique, with wonderful people and new challenges. I have learned to say “Ski ya real soon,” “Have a magical day,” “Tell me more,” and finally “Welcome home.” I have learned so many different skills, from handling cash to managing groups of people with very different attitudes. And most importantly, I have learned the value of hard work and good customer service.

Thank you Mickey. It’s not goodbye, it’s simply “See ya real soon!”

Some Imagination, huh?

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You know that wonderful moment where you finally feel confident in your ability to do something? I had that moment today. This summer I’ve had the absolute pleasure of taking on my fourth role here at Walt Disney World as a member of the Children’s Activities team at Saratoga Springs and Old Key West resorts. Of course, I didn’t expect that soon after taking the job I would be accepted to graduate school and would soon be moving far away and leaving Disney. I didn’t think I would get accepted to graduate school at all, let alone so soon, but I had applied anyway. Life works out pretty strangely sometimes. So I felt incredibly guilty that I had accepted this new job, gone through all of the training, only to turn around and put in a month’s notice that I would be leaving. I still feel pretty bad about that. I don’t think I would have accepted the job if I had known, but I am so glad that I did. And today for the first time, I really felt like I had finally got the hang of it all. Too bad I only have two more shifts left. I’m definitely going to miss this. I’m going to miss playing Disney trivia by the pool, and seeing the same excited kids a few days in a row, and hosting campfires, and I think I’ll even miss talking about random things on the microphone. It’s been an amazing opportunity, and I am so grateful for the chance to be a part of such a great group of cast members. I didn’t think saying goodbye to everyone would be so hard, because I haven’t been here long enough, but I’m definitely not ready to say goodbye.

I did say my final goodbye to Hollywood Studios tonight, however. And that was pretty emotional. My fantastic roommate from this past year met me in the park after we got off work, and together we rode Tower of Terror (which is my favorite ride) and Star Tours. We watched the Muppet Show for a good laugh, and ate ice cream on Sunset Boulevard. I got a very pleasant surprise at Scoops when I found out that they switched dairy-free ice cream brands, and they now sell So Delicious Coconut Milk Ice Cream!!! It was like my own personal magical moment. I had my favorite dessert: the apple crisp a-la-mode, with that glorious coconut milk ice cream on top. I was perfectly content.

And then it was time to watch Fantasmic one last time. Fantasmic has always been my favorite show. When I was seasonal at Disney, I would start and end each summer by seeing Fantasmic. Because it is also my roommate’s favorite show, it kind of became our thing. We bought glow-with-the-show ears so that we could wear them to Fantasmic, and we went to see it together on many occasions. So it was only appropriate that we were both there tonight. Despite a few technical glitches, the show was as fabulous as always, and per usual I got a bit teary at the end. But surprisingly I didn’t actually cry. I expected that I would. No, the tears didn’t come until later, as I said goodbye to my roommate in the parking lot. I know it’s silly because I’m certainly going to be back to visit, and I know I’ll see her again. It’s not like either of us is moving far away. But I think I just realized how grateful I was to have her as a friend, and how much I will miss the experience of this past year. It has been magical beyond my wildest dreams.

Tomorrow will surely include more goodbyes, and I will pay a visit to my favorite park. I’ll say goodbye to Epcot, and probably spend a lot of time in the UK, and of course watch IllumiNations. But tomorrow is another day.

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Embrace Your Inner Tourist

Continuing with the week of “lasts,” today I wore my YES blues for the last time. This past year I had the absolutely amazing opportunity to be a part of Disney’s Youth Education Series team, and I got paid to lead groups of kids through the parks and teach them stuff. What kind of stuff, you ask? All kinds! I hopefully imparted some educational knowledge through my programs at Magic Kingdom, where I taught about how we use the laws of physics to create special effects and thrill rides. I attempted to give kids a greater sense of cultural awareness and global responsibility at Epcot by leading them around the World Showcase, allowing them to speak with a cultural representative, and talking about how cultures develop (and how they are all similar). I taught some cool Disney history when I taught about Walt’s vision for his parks, how he came up with the idea of audio-animatronics, and how much he wanted for Epcot to be a little patch of peace and harmony as a global community. I spouted off random Disney trivia when applicable, because I really can’t help myself. And I had a darn good time doing it all. It was truly one of the most amazing opportunities to come my way. But as with all things, that time is at an end. Today I was scheduled to facilitate my last Global Citizenship class in Epcot, except the group never showed up. So that was a huge bummer. At least I got to see people and say goodbye.

Then came my daily adventure: saying goodbye to Epcot. I finally went on Ellen’s Energy Adventure (all 45 minutes of 80’s style glory, and of course the fabulous Ellen DeGeneris) and that was awesome. Super retro, but awesome. And I trekked all the way around the World Showcase so that I could watch the American Adventure one last time (and I didn’t cry! That’s an accomplishment, folks) and  managed to catch the Voices of Liberty as well (they did make me cry, but that’s nothing new). After I walk out of that show, I always feel super proud to be an American. It’s great. But it also means so much more to me now because it was the capstone moment of Global Citizenship, after which we talk about what makes up American culture, and how we’re a melting pot of so many different cultures, and all the struggles that has posed for our society, and how we’ve tried to overcome them, but how we still have things to work on . . . it’s beautiful. I also have seen that show enough times to have it entirely memorized.

And then I went to complete my last two bucket list items: show-request a Jungle Cruise skipper, and go to the new Trader Sams Grog Grotto in the Polynesian (which is Jungle Cruise themed, so it made sense to do them on the same day). One of my friends that I worked with during my college program on Main Street recently got a job as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise, and I absolutely love the Jungle Cruise, so I knew I had to ride on his boat at least once before I left. And I had never done a show request before, so that as exciting. It worked out perfectly. I arrived at the Jungle Cruise just after he had gotten his assignment to take over the next boat, and a few minutes after I got off it started to thunder. So the timing couldn’t have been better. And it was so much fun! It was the best last trek around the jungle I could have asked for.

Then just as the storm clouds were rolling in, it was off to the Polynesian Resort! The Poly has undergone quite a number of changed over the past year (or more? It’s been a while). The entire lobby looks different, the pool has gotten a makeover, the cast members at Captain Cooks have different costumes, there’s now a walk-up window just for Dole Whips (which is necessary), and perhaps most importantly: there is a brand new bar/restaurant called Trader Sams. If you have ever ridden the Jungle Cruise, you may remember that Trader Sam is the head salesman in the Jungle, offering you two of his heads for one of yours. So Trader Sams Grog Grotto is a quirky place, set deep in the heart of the jungle, with a few lone skippers as waiters and waitresses.  All of the drinks have punny names (like my Hippopoto-mai-tai), and when you order the drinks strange things begin to happen. For instance, my Hippopoto-mai-tai must have scared some hippos, because the waiters began shouting that there were hippos in the trees! How do you get a hippo down from a tree? With two shots (*cue gunshot noises*) of rum! And the ceiling suddenly lights up as if they have opened fire on the trees. And each drink has its own fun effects that you really have to experience, instead of just read about. The only drawback? It’s incredibly small. It’s probably the same size as a large bedroom, maybe. And it probably only seats like 30 people. There’s plenty of seating outside, but it’s certainly not the same experience. And if you’re going to pay $17 for a drink and a souvenir glass, you also want the experience to go with it. At least, that’s my perspective.

I met up with three of my coworkers from the Youth Education Series at Trader Sams; we were all interns together, and although we’re beginning to forge our own paths in the world we’re still attempting to spend time hanging out every so often. But one of my friends saw me and commented, “Wow, you look so much like a tourist!” And I had to laugh. She was certainly correct. For once I was wearing sneakers instead of sandals, I was wearing a baseball cap, I had my pin lanyard around my neck in addition to my camera, and I had my park backpack casually slung around my shoulders. Normally I try my hardest not to look like a tourist, but today I didn’t care. Why? Because today I was much less concerned about how I looked, and much more concerned with taking in as much of my surroundings as possible. I stopped frequently to pin trade with cast members. I took photos of things I thought I would want to remember. I finally bought the bracelet made of recycled Disney park maps that I have always wanted to by. I said yes to buying the souvenir cup at Trader Sams ( and I never buy the souvenir cup!). And so today I embraced my inner tourist. And I’m okay with that, because today I accomplished my goals as a cast member. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

A week of “lasts”

Today I spent my last morning in the Magic Kingdom. Mornings are my favorite time of day in the parks, because there’s so much to see and so few people! That one hour between the opening show and the mad rush of people who took their time getting ready and eating breakfast, that’s the best time in my opinion. The vehicles are out on Main Street, the trolley is driving to the castle and back, the Trolley Show skips along down Main Street every so often . . . it’s a beautiful scene. I got to say hello (and goodbye) to Mayor Weaver, our wonderful mayor of Main Street. I got one last hug from my favorite princess, Merida (and finally got the courage to ask if I could shoot the bow and arrow that they let the kids play with). I rode Space Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, and Haunted Mansion, three of my favorites. And after nearly a year, I finally beat the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom.

If you’ve never played, the Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is an interactive scavenger hunt throughout the Magic Kingdom in which you have to track down evil villains and cast spells given to you by Merlin in the form of playing cards in order to save the day. It’s incredibly fun, and quite addictive. A few months back I successfully completed my deck of cards (well, with the exception of some cards you have to buy), and I have “finished” the game a few times. But each time you finish the game, you have the option to start over on a harder level. I stayed on the medium level for a few times, but I finally moved up to hard. And well folks, this morning I finally finished the game on the hardest level. Bucket list item complete!

I also had my first churro! That’s right, I’ve never eaten a Disney churro. Why? Because I didn’t want to pay $4 for it. But I finally did, and I even splurged and got the chocolate dipping sauce. Definitely good stuff.

I then dipped over to Hollywood Studios and met Woody and Buzz, along with Sofia the First and Doc McStuffins. That completes the list of characters who I hadn’t met. There’s not a whole lot left on my bucket list now . . .

I’m also collecting maps. I have a set of maps from all 4 parks from when I started this job, and boy have they changed in the past 3 years! So I would love to compare this years’ maps to the ones I get next time I’m here. Whenever that will be.

I realize that I’m rambling a bit now. I think it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I’m doing all of these things for the last time. Of course I say that I will be back. And I certainly hope that I will. But the reality is that with Disney prices continuing to rise, it will be a while before I’ll be able to afford the trip if I have to buy my own tickets. And I don’t want to think about how sad that is.

Oh, what else did I do today? Cried my way through “One Man’s Dream” in Hollywood Studios. You know, when I started working at Disney, I didn’t like Disney this much. I didn’t really care. But now I feel like whenever I so much as see a clip of Walt, or hear his voice, or read some inspirational quote, I tear up. Disney certainly does something to you. And I think I am better for it. 🙂

The Disney Bucket List

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As of today, I officially only have one more week working for the Mouse. I started my Disney journey on May 17th, 2012, and I will end my time on August 8th, 2015. 3 years, two months, 22 days. It seems unreal. How did the time fly by so fast? What is my life going to be like, now that I will no longer be able to afford a trip to Disney? Of course I will always have friends that work there, but I know I can’t rely on those people to just “get me in” whenever I feel like it. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that Disney passes are sacred and reserved for special occasions. Besides, Disney has been pretty liberal with blackout dates this year.

In any case, I’ve been doing lots of reminiscing. When I first started at Disney I created a “bucket list” of things I wanted to do. Originally my plan was to work at Disney for one summer and save up some money to go off to Europe with. Which I did. And then I promptly returned for another summer of magic. My first bucket list looked a bit like this:

1.   Go to both waterparks as a guest.
2.   Buy an autograph book (or two) and get every character in the parks to sign it.
3.   Meet Merida. Preferably before June 22.
4.   See “Brave” on the day it opens.
5.   Meet Rapunzel.
6.   Meet Tiana.
7.   Send Disney postcards.
8.   Go to Downtown Disney.
9.   Ride every ride that I’ve never been on.
10.  See the end of the day show at all theme parks.
11.  Take my mom to the parks and sit through every show she always wanted to see that I refused to go to with her.
12.  Spend an entire day in each park.
13. Eat something from all of the food locations in Blizzard Beach.
14.  Go on every adult slide in Blizzard Beach.
15.  Experience the parks with at least one of my sisters.
16. Take pictures of everything and scrapbook it!
17. Go mini golfing at one of Disney’s mini golf places.
18. Meet Megara.
19. Pick up a shift at all four parks, Typhoon, and ESPN.
20. Go resort hopping.

I was able to do almost all of these over the past few years. I have indeed bought not one but two autograph books, and I’ve met almost every character I can. Still on my bucket list are Buzz and Woody, who I will be meeting next week. I’ve been on almost every ride (and seen almost every show) with the exception of three: Ellen’s Energy Adventure, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, and Disney Jr. Live On Stage (which I will also be doing next week). I have not scrapbooked my adventures yet, but I have been diligently saving materials to do so, and will probably begin my book next week. I have not met Megara, but I did attend the Villains Unleashed event, in which I camped out to get a front row spot in front of the stage, so I was as close to Megara as I probably ever will be. And I have not only picked up a shift in all of the parks, but I have also worked in places like Cirque Du Soleil, Disney Quest, Beaches and Cream, and at least 8 other resorts. So looking back at all of the cool stuff that I’ve done, here are some things that weren’t included on my bucket list, but totally should have been (and have been accomplished):

1. Visit three of the five Disney Parks throughout the world. (Disney World, Disneyland Paris, and Disneyland California).
2. Attend Disneyland Paris’ 20th anniversary, and Disneyland California’s 60th.
3. Be a beta tester for the Seven Dwarves Mine Train
4. Be a member of the opening day crew for Art of Animation Resort
5. Audition to be a Disney Villain
6. Be a member of the opening team for the Move It, Shake It, Dance It, Play It Street Party in Magic Kingdom
7. Lead the Main Street Electrical Parade down Main Street
8. Watch the premiere of Festival of Fantasy
9. Try the grey stuff, and drink wine in the Magic Kingdom
10. Meet Maleficent, the Evil Queen (and the old hag), Lady Tremaine, Cruella DeVille, Dr. Facilier, the Queen of Hearts, and Jafar
11. Meet Oswald the Lucky Rabbit
12. See the Boo to You parade and Hallowishes
13. See the Once Upon A Christmastime Parade and Holiday Wishes
14. Count down to the New Year and experience 360 degree fireworks from the castle hub
15. Ride Space Mountain with the lights on, and get paid to do it.
16. Go underneath the stage of The American Adventure and see the audio animatronics up close
17. Get paid to go on a scavenger hunt in Magic Kingdom and Epcot
18. Watch the sun rise from Main Street
19. Talk to Mickey Mouse, and hear him talk back
20. Create real-life magic for people everyday, and fall in love with doing so. 🙂

When I started this job in 2012 I never dreamed I’d get to do any of this stuff. New Fantasyland hadn’t been built yet, Festival of Fantasy sketches hadn’t yet been revealed, Starbucks didn’t yet exist on Disney property, and PAC still wore navy vests and red bowties. The Plaza Gardens had probably not even reached the drawing board yet. Frozen hadn’t been released. Hollywood Studios still had a giant sorcerer’s hat. Mickey’s voice could only be heard in the castle show. Selfie sticks weren’t a thing. The parks still had paper fastpasses and actual turnstiles. Magic Bands had yet to be invented. Disney World has certainly changed quite a bit in these past three years, and it’s sure to undergo just as many changes in the next three years. It’s sad that I won’t be here to see them all, but exciting to know that when I return there will be so many new things to try.  Because I will return. Maybe not as a cast member, but someday I will be a guest again and come play in my Neverland.

I’m not saying goodbye just yet. There’s still a week for that. But for now, I’m saying thank you. Thank you Disney, for some of those most amazing experiences of my life. I know that someday I will look back on this and know that I didn’t appreciate it enough, but I’m certainly trying my best to do so. 🙂

A Very Dapper Day

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Once upon a time, when Walt first opened the doors to his new Disneyland Park, a day in Disney was a big deal for families that warranted wearing your Sunday best. Women could be seen wearing dresses, heels, and gloves, and men wore their vests and bow ties and polished shoes. Of course today that sounds terribly impractical, and most park guests opt for comfort rather than style. But what if for one day the parks were transformed back to their original dapper glory? That’s the whole idea behind Dapper Day! It’s a day where Disney enthusiasts have an excuse to fill the park with beautiful vintage fashions and celebrate Disney’s history in style. Dapper Day is an unofficial event not sponsored by Disney, but it has developed a huge following over the years, and has spanned the globe from Anaheim, California to Paris, France. It takes place twice a year, once in the Fall and once in the Spring, and as such I’ve never been able to attend because I’m rarely in Florida at those times of the year. So this year I seized the opportunity to take a day off and join thousands of other Disney fans in taking Hollywood Studios by storm in old fashioned glory.

Why Hollywood Studios, you ask? Hollywood studios is a celebration of Hollywood in its prime, when movies were new and exciting and oh so glamorous. The Great Movie Ride celebrates the old classic movies which were the hallmarks of their era, and the Hollywood Tower of Terror has a 1930’s theme to its decor and storyline. Hollywood Studios is also home to the Backlot Tour, which was an opening day attraction that brought guests behind the scenes and demonstrated how special effects are filmed, in addition to displaying a warehouse of old props, a fabulous tour through the “boneyard” of old movie vehicles, and a glimpse into the creative costuming section of the parks. This attraction was set to close the day after Dapper Day, so we had to give it a farewell to remember in dapper style.

But going to the parks all dressed up wasn’t for everyone. There were plenty of guests who had never heard of Dapper Day, nor had they any idea of why so many people were dressed up. Whether it was my outfit, or the fact that I give off a cast member vibe, I certainly got asked lots of questions:

“Why are you all dressed up? Does it get you a discount on tickets?” (Um, what?)

“Did you all just finish filming a movie here or something?” (No ma’am, no one has actually filmed a movie here in decades . . . )

“Are y’all dressed up for the Halloween parties at Magic Kingdom?” (No, there is no Halloween party tonight, that was last night . . . )

But in addition to all the ridiculous questions and strange stares we received, we also saw quite a number of fellow Dapper Day goers, and to me that was the best part. I loved seeing everyone all dressed up, and wishing them a “Happy Dapper Day!” There is a certain thrill in dressing up, especially in a place that celebrates the golden age of glamor and acting. I did truly feel like we were caught up in the filming of a movie, which is exactly what Hollywood Studios was designed to be.

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A Magical Day in the Magic Kingdom

In the nearly three years I’ve worked for Disney, I’ve learned that no amount of training can accurately prepare you to answer guests’ questions, and the most effective way to learn the answers is to spend as much time as possible experiencing the parks from a guest’s perspective. When guests ask questions like, “Where’s the best place to view the parade?” they’re not looking for a general answer like, “Oh, go to Frontierland. It’s less crowded there.” They want specifics. They want a personal story. They want to know where you as a cast member would stand if you were in their shoes right now. That’s really what creates magical experiences, when you allow guests to become like family. Now I’m not saying that all trade secrets should be revealed (because if we all told guests the best place to stand, that place would no longer be the best place), but it certainly helps to a least know the park inside and out. It helps to know multiple answers to one question, if multiple answers exist, because maybe one answer will be more helpful than another. For instance, the first time I walked into Magic Kingdom looking for a Fastpass+ kiosk, the cast member in Town Square Theater started to direct me to the “closest” place in either Fantasyland or Tomorrowland. But noticing the disappointment on my face that I would have to walk all the way there, she added, “If you know how to use the kiosk, there are two kiosks inside Guest Relations across the street. They’re not manned, so there’s no one to help you, but if you know what you’re doing you can use those too.” Details like that aren’t found in a tell-a-cast. That’s the sort of thing that only a knowledgeable cast member can tell you from personal experience, and it’s been one of the best and most useful tips I’ve received yet.

Despite how long I’ve worked in Disney and how much time I’ve spent in Magic Kingdom, I am definitely aware that there is still a lot for me to learn about my new home. There’s plenty of places I haven’t been, plenty of things I haven’t done yet, and this weekend I made it my mission to do and see as much as possible in my new home, starting with the opening ceremony. I’ve never been in any of the parks early enough to witness the rope drop ceremony, with the exception of Typhoon Lagoon because I once had an opening shift and my job was to participate in the rope drop near Leaning Palms. But Magic Kingdom is somehow different. To me, it seemed much more important to witness the opening ceremony here of all places because it’s something that my Main Street family takes part in, despite the fact that I will probably never have anything to do with it because I will most likely only work closing shifts. But still. I woke up before the sun was up, and I watched the sunrise as I drove onto Disney property. I arrived at the Transportation and Ticket Center early enough to receive a front row parking spot (!!!) and I was so early that the monorail wasn’t even running. So I waited patiently for the ferry boat to make its way across the lagoon.

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Boarding the boat and feeling the cool morning breeze gave me a sense of excitement; the same sort of excitement I get when I see the castle after being gone from Disney for several months. I felt like I was embarking on an adventure! Watching all the families waiting eagerly to spend the day in Magic Kingdom, I couldn’t help but smile.

The nice thing about arriving so early is that I was incredibly relaxed. I wasn’t in any sort of rush. There were no crowds to push through yet. There was nothing to rush off and do because nothing was open yet. I was able to just pull out my camera, sit on a ledge, and snap some pictures. I chatted with one of the survey folks, took some pictures for families that were attempting to get a family-photo-minus-dad shot in front of the train station (I’ve noticed it’s always the dads who end up the photographers for the rest of the family), and watched an eager group of new Magic Kingdom cast members going through their Once Upon a Time tour of the park, just as I had done last week.

And then it was finally time to open the park! The mayor of Main Street himself made an appearance on the train station platform, accompanied by the Main Street dancers.

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After their little introduction, the train came chugging along down the tracks bearing some very important passengers, including the boss-man himself!

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And of course, no Magic Kingdom show is complete without some fireworks:

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Then it was time to enter the park! I became a girl on a mission, and my first order of business was to see the Main Street Trolley show, which only takes place in the morning, and to ride in any of the Main Street vehicles that were out and about. As a member of PAC, I learned that we own a number of very old vehicles that are maintained by Disney, and a select few cast members (who are part of the PAC family) are trained to drive them. From what I understand they are very difficult to drive, and they are only out on Main Street for the first hour or two after the park opens because the crowds make it difficult to navigate safely. So since my main objective was to experience everything Main Street has to offer, I knew I had to get a ride. The first vehicle to make an appearance was the horse-drawn trolley, so I hopped on board immediately.

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It surprised me how few people wanted a ride. There were only five of us on the trip up to the castle, and only two people took the ride from the castle back down to Town Square. I guess it just goes to show that people are in such a rush to get where they’re going that they won’t stop to enjoy the journey there. It was a short trip, probably only a minute or two in length, but it was definitely the coolest experience. I highly recommend it to anyone who feels like getting to the parks as soon as they open.

With that successfully checked off my bucket list, I walked back down to Town Square again, where I found an old firetruck waiting just for me. Not wanting to be rude, I didn’t ask for a ride in case the driver was waiting for someone in particular, or if he was trying to make a magical moment or something. So I walked around the truck, taking pictures from all angles. But then sure enough, the cast member approached me and said, “Would you like a ride to the castle?” My face lit up and I nodded enthusiastically. I thought he would also look for more people to enjoy the ride with me, but as soon as I was all settled he started up the car. I had my own private chauffeur!

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It was a fantastic trip. I got to experience all the glory of 1910, with the traditional horse-drawn trolley and the newfangled horseless motorcars. I truly felt like I was living Walt’s dream for Main Street.

After disembarking once more in front of Cinderella’s castle, I walked again towards Town Square, anticipating the start of the first trolley show would be in front of the train station. As I was stopping to take pictures, however, a few citizens of main street walked right past me. I knew something was up.

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Then sure enough, there came the trolley! And I was able to watch the fall version of the trolley show right on the Main Street Bridge. I was insanely jealous of the amazing dancers.

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After a fabulous show, it was time to get some breakfast. And I knew exactly what I wanted. I made my way to Gaston’s Tavern, the “new” home of the famous Main Street Bakery cinnamon rolls. Once upon a time, long ago before Starbucks set foot on Disney property, there used to be a wonderful bakery on Main Street that was filled with all the best pastries and lattes and sandwiches. I had the absolute pleasure of picking up a few extra shifts there, shortly before it was turned into Starbucks, and I discovered that they sold these ginormous cinnamon rolls that had a bit of a cult following, much like the dole whips and turkey legs. People looked all over for them, and they were made and sold only in the bakery. When the bakery closed, I was sad because I had only ever served the cinnamon rolls, I never got a chance to try one. But then when Gaston’s Tavern opened up, lo and behold the cinnamon rolls reappeared! So since I had already been up for several hours and was already hungry again, I decided that I would go have a second breakfast and finally find out what all the fuss was about.

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Let me just say, the fuss was worth it. It was warm and gooey and amazingly delicious! And then as soon as I had finished and stepped outside, I saw the pompous grin of Gaston. But as I stopped to take a picture, Gaston was on a mission.

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He stopped to say hello to the group of new cast members who were receiving their tour of the Magic Kingdom. Gaston had done the same thing to my orientation group just a few days before, stopping his meet and greet to inform all of us “newcomers” that this was his village, and how wonderful it was that we came out to admire him. It was a fabulous interaction, and had made me happy when I was on the tour. It was a nice little welcome, even if the welcome did come from a villain.

The rest of the day proceeded much like any other Disney trip. I booked some FastPasses, mostly for things that I don’t normally do because people don’t want to do them with me, like Peter Pan’s Flight, and a meeting with Rapunzel and Cinderella (because I hadn’t seen Fairytale Hall yet). That’s one of the nice things about going to the parks alone: I can do things that I want to do without worrying that I’m the only one who wants to do them. Anyway, I then took a leisurely ride on the train and got off in Frontierland to have lunch in Pecos Bill (they have this burger with bacon, onion rings, and barbeque sauce on top that I wanted to try. It wasn’t as good as it looked). I stopped to watch the Notorious Banjo Brothers and Bob, because I’d never really gotten a chance to see their show. And then I headed back towards Main Street to take in more of the sights and sounds of my new home. In particular I really wanted to sit and listen to the pianist at Casey’s Corner. Did you know that Disney employs a professional pianist to add to the wonderful sounds of Main Street? He plays a mix of old rag-timey songs, as well as jazzy versions of well-known Disney songs, and it just makes you feel like you’re really living in turn-of-the-century America. To get an idea of how great he is, I recorded just one of the songs in his repertoire. Unfortunately WordPress won’t let me post videos, but you can see it on my Facebook page. It’s definitely worth a minute of your time, and will make you feel like you’re standing in Disney World with me. 🙂

After his wonderful performance, I took a stroll down Main Street and ran into one of the lovely citizens of Main Street! Her name is Hilda, if I remember correctly, and she was thrilled to learn that I had just moved into this part of town. She wanted to hear all about where I came from and how I was liking Main Street, and encouraged me to come out to one of her Women’s Suffragette Association meetings. I assured her I would. Which is why we then struck a women-are-strong-and-can-do-anything pose. As she said, “Flex it, sister!”

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After our lovely chat, I hurried up to castle to the beginning sounds of Dream Along with Mickey! Of course I had seen it before, but I wanted to get some good photographs. Perhaps I take too many pictures, but with the rate at which Disney changes I want to document everything. 10 years down the road, I’ll be able to show these pictures to other young cast members, and say things like, “Back in my day, Disney was a lot different . . . ” Anyway, the show was splendid as always, although the ending fireworks were omitted due to the large crane next to the castle with cast members hanging up Cinderella’s Christmas lights. And then after the show I wandered up the parade route to find a good place to watch the 3 o’clock parade.

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And then as Merida’s float approached, I silently judged the Highland dancers. For the most part they passed my judgement, although there was not nearly enough butt-kicking. 😛

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Such a fabulous parade!

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If there’s one thing I learned from my 15 hour excursion in Magic Kingdom, it’s that guests don’t get enough credit for what they do. By the end of the night, I was so thoroughly exhausted that I couldn’t even enjoy the second step-off of the Main Street Electrical Parade. I sat on a bench next to City Hall and just stared blankly at the floats. I may have waved once or twice, because I can never resist waving to characters, but I couldn’t wait for the American flag to pass by me so I could just get back to my car and go home. If that’s how I felt — me, the ever-optimistic Disney fanatic — then I can’t imagine what it feels like to be a parent who rushed to the opening ceremony so that their little girl could be first in line to meet Anna and Elsa. I understand why so many guests that I talk to in the evening are frustrated and cranky, and I know that I need to be even more patient and courteous with them than anyone else.

The second most important thing I learned is that Fastpasses are most effectively used when you plan them as early in the morning as possible. If you use all three fast passes by noon, then you can book as many as three or four more that afternoon and evening! I think I ended up using 7 or 8 fastpasses that day, but of course it’s much easier to get a Fastpass for 1 instead of 4 for the same time.

And thirdly, I learned the importance of just enjoying the day by taking in all the “little” moments that make Magic Kingdom special, from riding on the trolley to taking a moment to listen to the Dapper Dans. Disney plans so many things that create a magical ambiance, but many people hardly notice them because they are in such a rush to get from one place to another. Every land has something special that might go unnoticed, and that’s the real difference between Disney and other theme parks. It’s not the rides that make Disney stand out, it’s the little moments of magic. It’s the attention to detail, and the efforts of cast members to create happiness.

All in all, it was a fabulous day. I ended the day with an All-American Sundae from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, and I sat in front of the Confectionery to watch the Electrical Parade so I could follow the parade up to the Hub to watch Wishes. I couldn’t have asked for a better day. 🙂