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.
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 Hotels, Fun 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.
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!