Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Out and About in Orlando, Overcoming Adversity

So you want to work at a theme park…

With the frigid tempatures, typical 9-5 nonsense, or lack of job getting you down, don’t you just wish you could throw all your stuff in a duffle bag, run away, and start a new life?

You’re not alone.

Each year, hundreds if not thousands of people apply for Florida’s theme parks in hopes of a better life, even if it means living paycheck to paycheck or bunking up with roommates in your late 20’s or 30’s. The perks are awesome and there is plenty of room for growth if you don’t let the pleasures of free park admission swallow you whole. 

Orlando FL is a booming economy where entry level attraction and theme park jobs are king. Universal, Disney, and  Busch (now Seaworld Parks and Entertainment) are just some of the many places one can apply to. A lot of these jobs cater to the out of state prospect in the form of web and phone interviews, and in some cases, the occasional Skype call. But eventually, you need to make the trip down to have a formal interview, in most cases, you’ll get an answer right away as to whether or not you made the cut. 

The whole process is daunting, but here is what I had to do in order to get down here. Keep in mind, the process I did was way different than one if you go for an internship or exchange program, where housing is offered. 

Apply today!

The best way to grab the attention of said job prospects is to apply directly from the source. Websites like Indeed or even the state run career sites are middlemen where your application you spent 3 hours on just sites in cyberspace withot a single click except from some random Kenyan call center. I have listed the sites below where one should apply to. These three companies I have worked in some form or another and I can attest to the often quick feedback I have received from them. 

Walt Disney World Resort

Universal Orlando Resort 

Seaworld and Busch Gardens

Other sites I highly recommend based on my friends’ experiences also include Loews HotelsFun Spot (a chain of small amusement parks,) and Legoland. There are plenty more places to apply for, but these places come to mind for a Floridian newbie in hopes of getting their feet in the door.

Each company has it’s own interviewing processes, some do group interviews, others multiple one-on-one interviews done in the same day, and others spread throughout many weeks. In my case with Disney, mine was going to be a one time interview given I was only going for a role in a retail position, but due to not following the “Disney Look” or grooming guidelines, I had to stretch out the process over the course of a month and a half, making two trips down to square everything away. Lucky for me, I had a good support system from my family and was able to hoard a bunch of paychecks from my then current job as a teaching assistant to make it happen, but at the expense, I lost my apartment and moved in with my dad. Which brings up my next point.

Look the Part

Most of the hospitslity industry runs on wardrobe and grooming standards,  affectionately called by the industry “The Disney Look.”  In plain simple English, the look requires no visible tattoos or piercings beyond one in each ear,  hair color to be of natural tone, finger nails to be clean and if desired, a natural tone nail polish,  and men’s beards to be trimmed and not longer than half an inch or even shorter.  In all the interviews I went to, you must inform them where your tattoos are,  as sometimes, they might interfere with the wardrobe provided to you upon hire.  In my case, regular shirts and long pants cover mine so it wasn’t an issue,  But say if I went with a role that involved a dress,  I would most likely be turned down for it given my ankle tattoo. 

My gages although small, resulted in me being sent home,  But luckily, going home for a month let me heal my ear lobes and prepare to do things the right way.

 If you run into a situation regarding the grooming guidelines and make a small faux paw,  Don’t stress out.  Usually a talk with the recruiter will help buy you time.  My recruiter at Disney was amazing and allowed me to send emails of my ears healing up each week  in order to keep the offer on the table. 

 When it comes to wardrobe, the basic rule of thumb is to not wear jeans and T-shirt to your interviews.  Dress as though you’re going to a business event or a fancy dinner out.  Black slacks or khakis with a collared shirt or button-down blouse will do the trick.  Dresses  and skirts are allowed,  Just don’t wear anything you might wear to a night club.  Keep it modest and professional. 

 But when it comes to the 3 parks I worked for,  Disney is the most strict when it comes to the grooming guidelines,  followed by Universal and SeaWorld.  But  when in doubt, dress to impress. 

Snag that job!

 Many of the interview questions remain the same no matter where you interview at.  Typical ones include how you handled negative feedback from guests or clients, what was a good guest experience you had, what kind of knowledge you have about the job or the park in general, and occasionly, a role play the test out such knowledge.  My advice for anyone trying to snag a job is to just be yourself.   Be polite, courteous, and professional.  Also be honest and truthful. 

 If you receive an offer for a job, usually the sign in process will be right away.  If you have any sort of criminal background or  if your job requires it, Universal and Disney will send you to do a drug test.  SeaWorld and it’s parks are very strict about drug testing, and will require you to do one that day,  including urine and hair samples, no matter who you are.  You will also need to complete your fingerprints and background checks for all 3 parks,  which unlike the drug test, are done on site.  Sometimes you’ll have a lot of paperwork to do, like in Disney’s case where it takes about 45 minutes to complete.  Case in point,  prepare for at least 3 hours at the career center of your choice on the day of your interview. 

Keep in mind upom completing the paper work, you will be offered work with in a 2 week time frame as well as your training.  If needed more time to complete a move, just ask the recruiter.  Just keep in mind, the location they give you in the beginning might not be the location you end up in.  I was originally supposed to be at the candy shop at Disney Springs but I wound up at the premium outlets offsite instead.  Just be flexible and patient.  You could always try for that dream location 6 months after you begin.  Transfers are always an option. 

Finding your home base

Florida over the last few years has gone through a housing boom, which although it sounds great on paper, it’s not as magical as it seems. A basic studio can set you back $900 A month in a decent neighborhood and a one bedroom about $1200. This does not include utilities typically. The closer you get to the parks, the higher the price for an apartment gets. Most apartments are run by big housing companies like McKinley or Camden, which require you to have excellent credit, a co-signer (usually a parent or guardian with a higher salary) or you go in with friends or roommates. Section 8 and assisted housing are hard to come by unless you are a domestic abuse survivor or homeless, and even that won’t guarantee you a place right away. Remember, these jobs require a Florida address, so try to get this squared away as soon as possible.

I was able to secure a co-signer in the form of my father and pay all of my social security money into the rent. At the time of me getting this apartment, this left me with some cash left over and my job had to pay the rest. But now, I have relied on moving my boyfriend in to help lessen the load. 

But what do you do if you don’t have a safety net?

Do what one of my friends refered to it as and “treat the theme park work experience like college and snag yourself a roommate.” Although not ideal, splitting the cost with people who will most likely be working in the same park as you will help you save money. There are many rooms for rent available via Facebook group pages like the “Disney World Cast Member Apartment/Roommate Finder” (a simple search will pull up many pages like this one) that will connect you with rooms for rent and some housing reviews. A good chunk of these rooms are located in the complexes closer to property. 

There are other not so perfect options availabnle for housing, some include motels that house long term and short term, many are in the Kissimmee area, and there is cheaper rent in places like Pine Hills and Washington Shores, which tend to have a higher crime rate. The good thing about those options is you will have the opportunity to live alone and if your credit isn’t so great, they can be a good place to start if roomating isn’t your thing. But always keep your safety top priority in these options. 

Getting around town

It is recommended highly that you own a car in order to make life easier. Orlando is HUGE, and the commute can be long and annoying. Having a car eliminates having to use the bus system, which although cheap in comparison to using your car, can lead you into travel nightmares.

The bus system for Orange County is called Lynx and there is a separate line run by a different company of streetcars called the I-RIDE that runs the length of International Drive. Both cost about $2 to ride one way and each offer multi day passes to suit your needs. Although the streetcars run more frequent than buses, they won’t get you everywhere in the city, but can be a good shorter option to travel International Drive if need be, as the Lynx bus 8 tends to be crowded and often runs late.

If you must rely on Lynx as your form of transportation, keep in mind they run three different schedules, Weekday, Saturday, and Sunday/Holiday (Holidays include New Years Day, Martin Luther king Jr Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas). Most of these jobs require full holiday availability so plan on taking an Uber or Lyft those days if need be.

The bus routes that go to Universal are the 21, 37, and the 40, with a twice a day stop from  the Disney Direct bus 303. The 21 and 37 run about every half hour with the 40 running every hour instead. 

The Disney Direct or the 300 buses drop off at the hotels and backstage areas of Disney World and are typically offered in a schedule similar to the housekeepers in the Pine Hills/Washington Shores area so people who need help getting to work can. They only rub about twice a day but offer the express option to get to work, ideal if you are on a housekeeping schedule.

Other buses that run to Disney include the 50 from downtown Orlando and the 56 from Kissimmee, each run aboout every half hour or so.

The bus 8 runs to SeaWorld as well as Downtown Orlando, although if you can swing it, snag yourself a streetcar ride on the I-RIDE instead. If you have a photo ID from any of the parks or hotels you work at, the one way ride is only 25 cents. Sweet!

 If you are planning on using the bus system, plan accordingly for delays.  Leave your house at least a couple hours before you’re supposed to be at work to guarantee a clean record card.  And don’t forget to pack your patience.  Not to mention in extra battery charger for your phone. 

The perks 

Although the struggle can be real at times, it is worth it being able to say you work for some of the best companies in the world with the best benefits.  Many of these companies offer free park admission for you and your friends,  deep discounts on merchandise and meals,  health benefits for full timers with the option for part timers who work a certain length of time, special backstage events and parties, access to credit unions, barber shops, pharmacies, doctors offices, gyms, and discount shopping no other guest can partake in, and so much more. These companies want you to stay and be happy and will do whatever it takes to brighten up your day and put your mind at ease. 

So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and give it a go. 

Happy job hunting. Hope to see you in the parks!


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Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Media Reviews, Out and About in Orlando

Raven About The Holidays

It’s that time of the year again, where Disney goes all out for the holidays. From Mickey’ s Very Merry Christmas Party, to Epcot’s Holidays Around The World, and the newest events at Hollywood Studios, there is no stopping the fun. 

One tradition the Disney Parks have each year is their yearly holiday special. Christmas Day on ABC was where they always showed the parade and the occasional concert, with some Make A Wish style moments thrown in to celebrate families who run non profits, reunite from deployment in the military, and have defeated the odds despite whatever life has thrown at them. It’s a well loved tradition that keeps families glued to the TV, and I got to experience it first hand. 

Spot the Amandas

Thanks to my bestie Amanda, who works for the company, I was able to score a chance to be at a taping for one of the many specials Disney has set out to present this year. She was given a time to show up and a comp ticket for me, with no other info on what we would see or do. Contrary to popular belief, Disney doesn’t film the special live, but a few weeks ahead of time. Usually, they only open the filmings to cast members,  which are people who work for the company, before they allow guests to join in too. 

The stage in front of the castle, all glitzed out and ready to go

Once we got to the stage, our M.C. Cam explaimed more about what we will see and do for the couple hours we would be there for. He went on about the directors cues, when we should applause, and just kept the crowd entertained in between takes. We were also told that we were there to see the Descendents perform holiday medleys of their hit songs from the movies, with Raven Symone and Isaac Brown from “Raven’s Home” stopping in to film transition segments for the special. It was also explained to us that our special will air on Disney Channel December 2, with multiple reruns throughout the month. 

Although I am not a fan of the Descendents, I did fall in love with Sofia Carson, her voice is incredible and her attitude brilliant, always smiling and having fun with what she does.  She sang two songs, multiple times. Her first song was “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and her second song featuring her fellow villian friends “Chillin’ Like A Snowman” a play on the song made famous from their movie “Chilln’ Like A Villain”

Even Olaf makes an appearance, because why the heck not?

Sofia Carson
Did somebody say snowman?
The Descendants perform “Chillin Like A Snowman”

But what got me hyped was Raven making an appearance. From her Cosby Show days to That’s So Raven, I feel as though I grew up with her, and with the success of Raven’s Home, it’s exciting to see her continue on entertaining a whole new generation. Along with her co-star Isaac, they kept the audience pumped, even for us 90’s/2000’s babies who could…and did… recite her That’s So Raven theme by heart. 

“You all are old. I love it!” She said as the crowd laughed.

Raven and Isaac scoping the sights as they make it to the stage
Practicing their lines for the next segment
Having fun with the audience

Be sure to look for me and Amanda amongst the crowd during the Disney Parks Holiday Celebration, starting December 2nd on the Disney Channel

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity

One More Week…

The hardest part of my journey over the last few months has been to learn to cope with the fact that we all need a little help sometimes, and that often when we get in a comfortable position, we tend to take the stuff we love and need for granted.

Losing my job at Disney had to have been one of the worst things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my life would I have imagined the hell that would become of my life for almost a good year now. Living off super tiny paychecks and unemployment, as well as taking in RJ partially on nights he works in exchange for survival cash, was definitely not the life I wanted to live. I’m an independent woman, but I felt like I got tossed back into the darkness. 

Life played out like a nightmare I constantly have. In the nightmare, I am a successful business person or graduating college, only to be pulled aside at random and told that there was an error in my records, forcing me back into highschool and having to do the whole thing over again. Just as I was in my prime, everything I worked for was taken away.

I sit here today glancing over my pay stub for the week, yet another check that doesn’t exceed $100, mostly because I’ve been in training one day a week or so for the past month. 

Normally, I find myself in a deep depression over the fact that I can barely buy food let alone pay my bills. I pray every single day that I never have to deal with this again. I wish with all my might that this will be the last really bad paycheck for a while, and yet my wish never comes true. Although I’ve had some decent paychecks since making the move to the new park and picking up seasonal work, the results are often short lived. 

I look at this last paycheck and smile. 

Because after 8 months of suffering, trying to prove my worth to others, dealing with collection calls, and living off Dollar Store food, it’s all come to an end.

Next week, my park will officially be open. I will finally have regular work again for the first time in almost a year. I can finally gain the independence back that I craved for so long. I found a place where my career can grow, where for once, I truly feel accepted. 

Six months ago when I walked out of Disney for good, I thought my life was over.

Turns out my life is just beginning.

In this rather tough journey, I found out who my true friends are, to appreciate the small things in life, and most importantly, not to take life for granted. I’ve learned to take the struggles head on, knowing as bad as things can get, with a little help from the people you love, and sometimes the ones you least  expect, anything and everything is possible. 

Although I still have one really tough week ahead of me, I know, like everything I lived through, it’s only temporary.

In the meantime, I’ll have one more helping of ramen please.

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Nerdy and Nifty

Let Me Introduce Myshelf- Part 7, Of (Little) Mice and Men

When I first moved down here, I didn’t have any furniture and the walls were pretty bland. The only thing I had was a small ledge above my sliding glass door.

So one day, when I was working the Disney gift shop on International Drive, it dawned on me. These little Vinylmation guys would look cute up there.

And well, a collection was born.

The Collection got so big, it actually stretches among three different shelves in 3 different places of the apartment. I have some on the top shelf of what I called the Tower of Power, I have some hanging out in the coffee bar near the Keurig, and I have others on the TV stand.

Vinylmations were an easy little collection to start up with. For about $3 to $5 each at the shop I worked at, I would be able to bring home a little Mickey Mouse figure painted in different ways to fancy up the bare ledger of my apartment. When I first started this collection, Walt Disney World Resort used to allow trading these figures the same way they trade the pins. That was another way for my collection to expand. Sadly, they put an end to the trading, but upon doing that, I was able for a short time to purchase some of Disney’s supply of trading vinyls at The Cast Connection store, a special shop for cast members only. A dollar a vinyl? Can’t beat that.

Wait a minute,what the heck are those little things in the bottom right corner?

For a short time, Universal Orlando resort tried the jump on the vinyl trading bandwagon with their creation the U-Mini or Uni-Mini. These figures were shaped more like a monkey or like the item they were representing, like the squarepants pineapple man. Although they still sell them today, it just never caught on as the next big thing. 

To be honest, I would have loved to see them expand on it more, like a mini Jimmy Fallon or a little baby Terminator.

As of now, Since I no longer work on Disney property, the days of collecting Vinylmations have pretty much come to an end and  the focus has been replaced by my quest for Funko Pops. You’ll see them in the next post.

“Let Me Introduce Myshelf” is  an ongoing series about the meaning behind my collectibles. You can read it from the beginning here

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles, Lights, Camera, Universal!, Overcoming Adversity, The Billy Blogs

Why I Didn’t Give In To The System…or Him

My biggest critic turned out to be the person I devoted my whole life to. And because of a tough choice I made in finding a stable career, I lost him.

After about a decade of trying to make things work between us, me and Bill decided to part ways. There was more involved than what I want to share, but the gist is that I decided to fight the odds against me and work hard to make my life one where I don’t have to settle for less.

Back in August, I lost my job with Disney, and with my fate being undetermined with Universal for the longest time with me not finding anything beyond seasonal or temp work, all signs pointed to me moving in to Bill’s supportive living community in a last ditch effort to not resort to moving back in with my parents, a fate many of my friends with disabilities, and some without, have faced.

To Bill, this meant we could live out our lives where he would be taken care of and have me at the same time. And as magical as it would of been to be with the person I loved, it would of torn me apart inside.

Although being born with the challenges I have faced, my family made every single attempt to raise me as if I were a normal child. My dad, being the conservative kind of guy he is, always told me to work for my goals and not ask for a handout. Even my mother worked every single job she could find so we could move out of living in poverty and be happy, ever since I could remember. I wanted to be like my parents and fight for what I wanted even if the odds are stacked against me. I saw them grow from minimum wage retail workers to being a corrections officer and a teaching assistant. If they could do it, so can I.

Bill, on the other hand, had different plans for me, and although they seemed wonderful, they weren’t for me. His idea of a perfect life involved having me and him move in together, live off the system and food stamps, and essentially have no control over my money while his staff take care of our bills, our meals, everything.

As cushy as that sounds, I didn’t buy into it.

Now I’m not trashing that lifestyle by any means, but what he was used to given his disability and what I was used to as a person who got denied for most government benefits just never added up to me. Where would I have fit in in all of this? What purpose would I have aside from being a live-in girlfriend? So many questions, not enough answers.

A few weeks ago I got the news that I was able to transfer into Universal’s newest theme park, going back to my roots as a vacation planner and finally having stable employment. Bill judged me for making the choice of career over him, and who can’t blame him?

I worked hard for last eight months to prove myself worthy of getting back in the workforce, and sadly, it came at a price of losing the person I love the most.

Whether I lost him for good or not remains uncertain, but my love for him will never die even though things didn’t work out the way he planned. I can only hope one day he will forgive me for making the hardest choice I’ve ever had to make.

Nevertheless, I persisted. Having the disabilities I have will never stop me from living my dreams. 

If only he could see that this decision is worthwhile.

Here goes nothing.

Me in one of my many uniforms, this is my resting Market Research face for the NBC Media Center
Posted in Cast Member Chronicles

Ohana Means Family

When I left Disney, I assumed a good chunk of my Disney family wanted nothing to do with me. I was worried what would they think of me after all the escapades that unfolded the last few months. Gossip is as contiguous as the common cold over there. 

Yesterday, I was able to meet up with a bunch of them at my friend Jenny’s house for a Christmas party, and all those fears I had? Turned out I was worried over nothing.

It was almost like I never left. A lot of them were excited about what lies ahead for me and a few are going to stop by and watch me perform. So glad that those friendships I thought I lost never really died. 

Once an Epcot family, always an Epcot family. Thank you all for being a part of my life. 

Posted in Cast Member Chronicles

How Do You Say Goodbye? 

So recasting has been denied and I was told I would have to report back to work, exposing myself to chemicals that can do some damage to my body. With my doctor insurance locked in the company clinic and me still without coverage, my one way ticket to casting has me deadlocked. 

So this is where I have to draw the line.

After three and a half years, three different roles, thousands of guests I met and made magic for, and countless memories made, it has come time to bid adu to this amazing company that has given me life. 

But how does one say goodbye to a dream? 

How does one say goodbye to the amazing people who made the job worthwhile?

How does one say goodbye to the amazing events witnessed in those three years? From the gospel choir backstage every marathon at Epcot, Pokemon Go hunting with the parking guys behind the Ellen ride, the Magic Kingdom After Dark experience, riding Rock and Roller Coaster with the lights on, and the special cast parties and events that made coming to work everyday fun?

How do you say goodbye to the guests who came back to you every year because they knew you were always there to reach out if a problem arises? Or to the guests who overcame disability and disease and an act as simple as giving them a button or comping a MagicBand (with supervisor approval) can make their day truly unforgettable?

I guess goodbye never comes easy, no matter the circumstance. I have a feeling that this goodbye won’t last forever. But then again one can’t be too sure, although they say I can start anew in six months with none of this nonsense above my head. 

The last three and a half months have been pure hell for me, trying to prove my worth to the world and trying to make my life better. So in a way, this goodbye could be a positive thing. This goodbye could mean relief from the hurt that has been brought upon me. Maybe this goodbye could very well be hello for something better. Maybe fate is telling me something that I don’t know. Maybe there’s more to this dream that I thought. Maybe Disney isn’t the answer, or it very well could be, but not now. Maybe it’s just not my time. Or maybe Universal will be the key to my success instead. 

Friday morning will bring a lot of emotions, as I travel to the Polynesian Village Resort one last time and hand over my badges. This time willingly. 

There’s a saying that rings true to me, from all people The Angry Video Game Nerd.

“Only through fear can we gain courage and evolve.”

And although I remain fearful of my future, I know that this is a sign of better things to come.

For now it is a time to heal, to nurture myself, and to try to find that happiness  I lost several months ago.  

Despite all I’ve been through, I will never lose my ultimate love of Disney. For without Disney, I would never be the person I am today. As bad as things have gotten lately, I never let that ruin all the good that this company has done for me. Disney will forever be my home.

And now it’s off to new adventures.