Such a Clever Grown-Up Miss: Things I Learned from my Disney College Program

Now that my Disney College Program is over (and because I am quite possibly insane) I am considering doing the whole process over again. However! For the second time around, I would definitely make some changes. The first Program was a learning-on-my-feet experience, and now that I know what to do – and perhaps even more importantly, what not to do. Here’s some basic advice that I’d like to offer to anyone who is considering or preparing for their own College Program:

Invest in some easily-reheatable basics to always have on hand for meals – hot dogs, a big bag of frozen veggies, canned soups, and so on. Depending on how long your program is, you’ll get sick of mac & cheese and ramen really fast. I’m a fan of Michelina’s frozen meals, which I can get for less than a dollar each at Wal-Mart’s grocery section.
Always bring your lunch. The staff cafeterias are pricey! I paid $2.50 for an aforementioned frozen meal (which, again, costs around a dollar if you buy it and bring it in) on one day that I forgot to bring in my lunch.

If you can, get a crockpot. Not having to worry about making dinner after an eight-hour (or longer!) shift will take a lot of stress off of you.

One of the major drawing points of the Disney College Program is the lure of “You’ll be able to go to the parks for free on your days off!” What people neglect to mention is black-out dates. Some parks have more black-out dates than others – Magic Kingdom is particularly notorious for being filled to capacity on certain occasions like Spring Break. This year on the 4th of July, MK hit capacity around 10 in the morning! Utter insanity. Others, like Animal Kingdom, have less black-out dates.

Use your common sense and courtesy: If you’re under 21, follow the rules regarding alcohol. Regardless of your age, follow the rules regarding drugs. Don’t be that person who is up banging and stomping around at 3 in the morning when your neighbors or roommates have to get up at five for work. If you have to come home drunk in the small hours of the morning, don’t shout or scream as you’re walking between the apartment buildings because people can hear you and they probably won’t react kindly. Clean up after yourself. Don’t eat food that belongs to your roommates, seriously, that’s just rude. And, for the love of god, don’t call in sick and then go to the parks or sell your main gates. You will get termed. 

Don’t be afraid to pester Maintenance. This is especially applicable if you live in the older apartment complex, Vista Way. My apartment’s garbage disposal and dishwasher were completely busted, and it took several requests, each less patient and kind than the last, for them to come by and fix it.

Due to the mild winters and subtropical climate, Florida is the land of giant bugs. If you start seeing bugs in your apartment, let the front desk of your complex know immediately so they can schedule pest control to stop by ASAP. You do not want to let a bug problem get out of control.

Generally, it’s a good idea to keep your place tidy so you’re not scrambling to clean up the entire apartment the night before inspection. If your roommates are unhelpful, keep your own personal space tidy at the very least. This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat and clean up after everyone – a little negotiation goes a long way.

Stay hydrated. Again, this should fall under ‘common sense’ but I can understand the appeal of knocking back energy drinks before your shift after a long night out. Keep a water bottle with you. Florida is hot and humid and you’ll dehydrate faster than you think.

Be wise where you shop. A certain superstore on the bus route is arranged to cater specifically to both tourists and college program participants, so the ‘savings’ aren’t that great for the quality. If you have a car, or know someone who does, there are several grocery stores in the area which, while also catering to tourists, have rewards card programs that you can sign up for. Even if you don’t end up saving a lot of money at these grocery stores, I find the difference in the quality of food to be worth the price.

Depending on your job, your pay might not be as stellar as you thought it would be. I notice that Cast Members working in more retail-oriented roles (such as Merchandise, Food Service, etc) tend to have more work days or longer shifts, and subsequently, higher paychecks. Working in costuming, I learned this the hard way after several three- and four-day weeks and less-than-awesome paychecks. Talk to your coworkers and see if there is a facebook page for your department so you can set up shift exchanges or pickups.

Generally, it’s very useful to keep a little bit of cash with you (at home) at all times. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just about $15, in fives or tens. You never know when you’ll have to refill your laundry card or tip the pizza delivery guy.

Make a point to visit the Cast Connection store. It’s great for finding deals on gifts, apparel for yourself, and has great prices on basic groceries that you’ll definitely want to take advantage of.

Get an umbrella or a waterproof poncho ASAP, if you didn’t bring one with you. Depending on when your program is, a pair of dependable rainboots is also a great idea. During the summer months there are pretty dependable thunderstorms and torrential downpours if not daily, then at least once every few days. You will get tired of getting wet.

Utilize the Disney Learning Centers at the parks and at Vista Way. The selection of books (for resource, self-development, and recreational reading!) and movies is amazingly vast.

Pick up a PAC shift at least once. Then be grateful that you never have to do it again if you don’t want to.

If you’re ever unsure about something, ask. The staff both at the apartment help/learning centers and your coordinators/managers at work are knowledgable and, more often than not, want to help set you up for success. You will always get some conflicting answers, but it’s better to suss out how things work than remain in the dark. Your College Program success will, overall, depend largely on your ingenuity and determination. Don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand.

And finally, each and every college program is different. Do the best that you can with what you have, work hard, and don’t forget to have fun along the way!

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