|By Sam Vlas|
Hello Disney Avenue pedestrians and welcome to Part 7 of “A Dutchman in Orlando”. To all who have read along thus far, welcome back and I’m so glad I can share my Disney Cast Member stories from Florida with all of you. The Disney International Program has really changed my life and today you’re going to get a little insight into how a Cast Member spends their days off in Walt Disney World. There are a lot of stories to go through, so buckle up, click on and let’s get to it…
**Editor's Note: If you are new to this series, I encourage you to go here and catch up on all of Sam's amazing adventures in the College International Exchange Program.
Disney describes its various Programs as “Living, Learning and Earning Experiences”. The Living part makes up the bulk of the Program and it’s the part where you’ll learn the hardest lessons. To me, it was my first time living on my own and I had never been this far from home for this long, so as you might imagine, I was quite nervous to have full responsibility of everything.
Cast Members work a lot, but it’s the perfect balance of working and playing that keeps you alive. And playing we do! In the third week after your arrival, you get your Main Entrance Pass, which gives you near unlimited access to all the Parks on property (and off property too!). Once I got this little card, I was at the Parks nonstop. Often with fellow CM’s, after work, before work, on days off… I often had to explain to people that we are the kind of people who NEVER get tired of the Parks. And since we have plenty of time on our hands, we have time to slow down, really explore every nook and cranny and don’t have to worry about doing as many rides as possible. For an aspiring designer like me, this is a blessing!
When with friends, don’t shy away from adding a little extra “challenge” to your visits. The Four Parks, One Day Challenge was a popular one for all the CM’s. Exact rules vary wildly, but the basic rules are: visiting all four Parks, do 1-2 E-tickets, meet a character and then move on. It was very hectic, and with the right friends, a wild time!
Water parks are a very popular destination for days off too. Especially if you don’t live in a very warm area of the world (like yours truly) and don’t get an awful lot of sunshiny days, having free access to them is a gift from God. Typhoon Lagoon is my favorite of the two, I can’t really pinpoint why. Maybe it’s the wave pool? Maybe it’s the Beach Boys music? Maybe it’s the lazy river? I don’t know, but what I do know is that spending a day here is a MUST! Same goes for Blizzard Beach. Oh how I remember going on Summit Plummit, scraping my entire elbow and then going on it again… What can I say? Sacrifices have to be made ;)
One thing that I personally always loved and always recommend to people who go to Walt Disney World is Resort Hopping. You don’t need anything to do it, just hop on a Monorail or bus from one of the Resorts or Parks and you’ll be on your way. The Resorts are absolutely lovely in design and each one of them has a stand-out feature, whether it’s a particular theme, restaurant or thing you wanna do. Me and my friend Martijn made it a point to visit a Resort each week and have dinner there; it was always one heck of a good time. One stand-out evening to me is the one where we took the boat from Port Orleans French Quarter to Riverside. I heard about this piano player Yeeha Bob and I wanted to see him, so we settled in at the River Roost bar. Bob stopped by all tables to have a little conversation before the show would start, ours included. I told him that we were from the Netherlands and that I was really looking forward to the show.
During the show, he would always call me out to sing a solo, or participate in a song and it was an absolute blast. Bob is one of the sweetest and most genuine people I have ever met and I hope to see him again real soon. It's moments like these that really make you feel thankful for this experience.
Learning is a big part of the College Program experience and, for most people, the learning part came through courses you take during the Program. Prior to arriving in Orlando, you pick the two courses you want to take. One “big” course of 16 weeks and one “small” course of 8 weeks. I took “Creativity & Innovation” as my big course, taught by the lovely Ellen Tetlow. My small course was “Exploring Guest Services” by the bubbly Jeff Bishop.
“Creativity & Innovation” is all about learning new ways to generate ideas, learn creative processes and how they work and how to give way to innovation in your business, but also in your personal projects. We would learn theories by well known creative individuals and Disney Imagineers. Scattered throughout were exercises to get the creative juices flowing, such as crafts, design contests and a field trip. A very fun and interesting course I must say.
“Exploring Guest Services” was in essence a celebration of Disney's Guest Services, and it taught us how Disney does it. It’s a high standard and it was very interesting to hear from almost all the different parts of the Disney Parks (F&B, Operations, Merchandise, Entertainment, etc.) how they integrate guest service in their daily work. A big plus of this course was all of the awesome guest speakers. My favorite by far was Steven Miller, Merchandise Communications Manager and writer for the Disney Parks Blog. I never really thought about Merchandise as a serious career, but after what Steven showed and told us, I was really inspired!
Disney Housing knows how to throw a party! A huge part of you Disney College Program life is attending one of the many Housing Events. There are Grocery Bingo’s (you WILL need groceries at some point), movie nights, trips to sports games, etc. There are two that I really want to single out, interestingly, they’re both at the end of your time.
First there is the Winter Formal, held at Coronado Springs. Regard it as a prom of sorts, where you celebrate that you’re in the Disney College Program and life is absolutely awesome. Everyone makes a big deal out of it and thousands of people arrive in their neatest clothes at the big Veracruz Hall for the party of a life time, with food, drinks, dancing and characters!
The graduation ceremony is a blessing and a curse all at the same time. You’re happy because you’re getting a diploma, special Mickey Ears, character meet and greets, free food, dancing, games… but you’re also sad because at this point there’s only a couple of weeks left before it’s all over, and the time of leaving is inching closer and closer.
There are things you simply CANNOT miss during your Program. If you save up a part of your money, instead of spending it all on smaller stuff, you can do some pretty neat things, like… I don’t know… a Disney Cruise! This was on my bucket list for a long time and I was so excited to finally do it when I was in Florida.
A 7-Day, 8-Night cruise, aboard the newly renovated Disney Magic, through the Caribbean, passing through Cozumel (Mexico), the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Castaway Cay… for an awesome price (CM perks!!!) … why would you NOT do this! Let me tell you, I never cruised before, but after this I might do it more. The Disney Cruise is really one of the best vacations I EVER had. We went to awesome places, all the food was complementary, there were shows every night and you didn’t have to worry about a thing. (Also, having to wait only 10 minutes to meet Anna and Elsa isn’t to bad either).
I can rave on and on about all the things you can do while being in the Disney College Program, but in the end it all comes down to one thing: cherish… There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about all the things I did. I play the music of Disney World regularly, I look at pictures and videos… it takes me back. You do an awful lot of things: work, play, party… but in the end you make connections that last a lifetime. Connections with other people, but also with the place you’re in: Walt Disney World. We will go further into that in a future article. I sincerely hope you enjoyed our little tour in DCP life and that you’ll tune in again next time, as we venture outside the "bubble" and visit all the other things Orlando has to offer! I can’t wait, I hope you can’t either.
See you real soon!
Sam Vlas comes to us from the Netherlands. In everyday life Sam is a Communication major, studying International Event, Music and Entertainment Studies at the Fontys Academy for Creative Industries in Tilburg. He is following the Theme Park course, since he is an aspiring Imagineer. Sam has been a life-long theme park and Disney fan since he was a kid. He has been going to Efteling, which is a world class theme park in the Netherlands. When he was a teenager, Sam became more interested in the technical side of things. It was around that time that he found out that Walt Disney was an actual person, not just some company name. Since then he has been pursuing a creative career in the theme park industry. Sam will be participating in the Academic Exchange Program in Walt Disney World from July 2014 to January 2015. You’ll be hearing much more of that in the near future! Besides Disney and theme parks, Sam has a broad interest in everything fantasy, sci-fi and horror. He writes short stories and is currently working on his own website “Dreamventurer”, which he hopes will be released very soon! Sam will write about many different aspects of the company, from the very well known places and movies to very obscure corners of the Company. Since he will be working in Orlando, he'll be able to share some Cast Member stories too. Everything Disney grabs Sam's attention, so if he finds something exciting, he will be sure to share it!
You can find Sam's articles here.