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 Albinism, Blindness, and Me, Overcoming Adversity

“Metal Problems”

Given that a majority of my life I was surrounded by disability and special education, you would think I would of understood at a young age not only other peoples differences but also my own. 

I knew as a kid something was up with me, even as a toddler. Random ladies with toys came into my house and did weird  visual games with me while other kids my age would do daycare or preschool. When it was my turn to go to actual school, I noticed kids saw things I didn’t, and it pissed me off to the point of meltdown. When I “flunked” kindergarten and wound up in pre-first while all my friends went to normal first grade, it finally dawned on me that my differences would hinder my ability to be looked at as normal by my peers. 

But as the years went on, I assumed I would be one of the few kids I knew that was disabled that just so happened to be in normal classes. After pre-first, all the kids I labeled weird moved on to other schools or classes, never to be seen again. No kid who ate boogers, no girl who liked saying “poop” on repeat while flapping her hands, or the boy who ate paste but somehow could name each X-Men and what issue comic they debuted in. Just my lonely disabled self trying to figure out the world around me. I would come to learn in my later years many of those “weird kids” would become segregated to Autism and Title One classes, somehow I was the only one to make it to mainstream.

I put the days of that awkward year behind me and blended in the best I could. I never gave those other kids a second thought until one day in third grade, when I was at some lame puppet show assembly.

Since I wanted to sit up close, I managed to get a spot near a group of first graders, a few rows away sat adults that appeared to be holding what I thought were toddlers at first, given the first one I saw was very small, the plastic from their diaper sticking out of the sweatpants as he wiggled in her arms.

“That’s nice of the teacher to bring their son to class.” I said to myself. 

“That’s not her son.” A voice said behind me. 

It was then I saw a first grader who appeared very wise for her years. She sort of reminded me of Michelle Tanner’s friend Denise from Full House, the way her hair was done and the cute jumper she had on. 

“Those kids are weird. My daddy says they have metal problems.”

“Metal?” I asked “like the music my mom won’t let me listen to?”

“No, there is something wrong with their brain, so they are kind of like babies. Like that one over there.”

She then pointed to a slightly heavyset girl with curly hair sitting off to the side, playing with a Koosh ball in a wooden high chair.

“Is it because of metal in their brain?” I asked. 

We sat next to each other and talked more about what we were seeing as the children’s parapros kept chasing them and trying to keep the peace amongst a packed multipurpose room. It was that day I learned about the R-Word from that little girl and that she knew these kids had a classroom in the hallway near the preschool classes. 

The assembly wrapped up and I never did see that girl again. But whatever knowledge she had of those kind of people was impressive. It made me wonder why the adults around me never talked about them, or why I have never seen them. 

A few weeks later, I had to run an errand for the teacher where she had me go to a classroom in that hallway. My poor ignorant self thinking how smart I was said back “Isn’t that where the retarded class is?”

I was pulled outside of the class before being sent my way, at that point my teacher told me to never use that term again, and yet in an almost contradictory way, never to speak of those kids again. 

Almost as if they never existed.

And at the time, they never did exist to others. Although they were part of the school, they had separate schedules for classes, lunches, and recess. Never once did I ever see them, but my heart felt for them. I noticed their classroom in passing and wanted so much in times of great stress to go there given the fact that they were like toddlers and played all day, but yet I wanted them in our world, with normal kids, or in my case, semi normal. I wanted them to hang out with kids their age, to learn how to speak like us (if they could) and to learn what we knew. 

It would be a few years before I would make it my personal mission to bridge the gap between the two worlds, but the conversation I had one day on the floor with a first grader opened my eyes to the injustices in this world. “Metal Problems”, blindness, or otherwise, everyone should feel equal.

It’s a shame it took so long for the world to see things that way.

And we still have a long way to go. 

Posted in News and Opinions, Out and About in Orlando, Overcoming Adversity

Aftermath

Hurricane Irma had to have been the craziest storm I have ever wittnessed ever since Hurricane Sandy hit almost five years ago. The overall energy and magnitude of the storm was enough to stop a city that revolves around theme parks and attractions for two whole days, often unheard of in recent memory.

So how did I do?

Well after RJ and I ventured into the feeding frenzy that was Walmart and stocked up on mostly dry goods in the event out power would be lost for weeks on end, we braved it out with junk food and scary movies, waiting for the moment when power would go out.

Oddly enough it never did.

Seems like we had it easy, right?

Take a look at this. Yes, that pole/tree/whatever the heck it is has impaled the roof of my building.

Which resulted in some flooding. 

Which resulted in the loss of several blankets, as well as my stove and toaster, which became waterlogged after a kitchen cabinet of all things sprung a leak. 

Compared to most, we made it out easy. But the clean up process has been insane. Workers have been on my roof since about 9pm last night non-stop, drilling and chizzlimg away at the cracks and placing new files. Once the big work ends outside, the inside work begins. From killing off the water damage to replacing my stove, the whole process could take a few weeks.

Despite my constant griping due to lack of sleep or nutritious food, I am thankful to live in an apartment complex that has treated me good thus far.

But I am still longing for a sense of normalcy. 

Hopefully soon.

Posted in Overcoming Adversity

Aiming a Bit Too High

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the goals I always wanted to acomplish. As I enter the realm of public speaking and tell random strangers, or anyone willing to listen, about my life as this nerdy legally blind blogger, it gives me a great feeling to know that I can look back and say I made some sort of impact in the world. 

But often, I wish I can do more. 

Although I’m living the crazy dream of living in Florida and planning vacations for the Florida theme parks, I feel like it’s not enough. I don’t see myself as management material given my anxiety, nor do I see myself being a trainer, because I have come to learn that I am a slow ass learner at my new job. Odd, considering I caught on things easily at Disney. Maybe I have gone brain dead since then?

I miss the days where I had some sort of impact, whether it was from working with the special needs kids in the homeroom classes in junior high, or my adult years as a parapro for at risk youth. I felt a sense of honor knowing that for every bad day with a kid brought at least one “ah ha” moment that proved to me I was doing my job right, even though some teachers disagreed with it. I treated my kids with dignity not a diagnosis. Same as I treated my relationship with Bill. I felt I made an impact just by being myself. Just how big of an impact, well, that’s left to be determined. 

I have a million and one ideas of what I want to acomplish. I want to land a TED Talk gig, build an art program for the disabled, start my own self advocacy group, find a way to bring my talents, whatever they may be, to the world. I want to make a difference, but I also need to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head. Damn adulting.

Only question is, where do I begin? They say to spread my wings, but how do you get these bastards to work? 

Posted in Overcoming Adversity, Pondering about PTSD

The IEP Effect

Imagine if you will that you’re the only kid in your class with a disability, and yet somehow, you manage with the aid of whatever accomadations you have. Things are going well, you are learning everything you need to know. “You got this.” you say to yourself.

And then here comes a random lady with a clipboard, who follows you around everywhere for the entire day.

As a little kid, you don’t question it. Until your IEP comes around and mom and dad chew you a new one about something wrong you did or about an accomadation you decided not to use.

And then it dawns on you. That lady is documenting every move you made and adding it to your IEP. The purpose is supposed to help you grow and function, but once you realize what is going on, anyone with a clipboard becomes your enemy. 

You try to deal with said enemy by remembering all the flaws you had the last time and try to work your way through it, even bullshitting around things to make you look good (as a kid, I did that a lot.)

And then the IEP comes out and even more things get thrown on there, even things you always did right come out wrong. The stress eats you alive and that fear of failure lingers to the point where you feel worthless. It’s almost like if you are a straight A student but fail the SATS. You’re smart and do everything right and yet someone or something above you says different 

You would think dealing with this kind of issue would pass as you leave childhood, but in my case, it doesn’t.

In my work, we get observed on how well we do in our sales pitch. Last week went amazing, and yet for some reason, I failed this time despite what I assumed I did correctly. That fear of failure as I watched the gentleman with a clipboard behind me sent those negative vibes I grew acustomed to as a child. I tried to outshine so much, but somewhere along the line, it all faded to black. 

Ever since childhood and more recently since me leaving Disney, I always get that sick sense of being a failure and losing every ounce of self esteem over a freaking clipboard. Hell, even if they had an iPad or whatever I would be scared out of my mind still. The fact that I am physically being graded throws me off so hard, it’s as though I’m back in elementary school again.

I don’t hold any blame on anyone by any means. The man who graded me is an amazing mentor, but I do blame the fact that a system seeking more flaws than successes, IEP, sales reports, or otherwise, has that physical presence that makes you feel pressured to be perfect to a point where you aren’t. Ultimately, I blame my childhood experiences on this fear that somehow manifested itself into the adult world. I am a great seller, but when I know I’m being graded, I shut down somehow. 

Although there is a big difference between the IEP and a Sales Report, the premises of improvement remains the same, right down to the details that can make or break a person. 

Learning experiences in general should be more positive, although flaws and needs of improvement need to be addressed, there has to be another way to do it so those who need help won’t feel the embarassment of dealing with their differences and needs.

The last thing I would want is for any child who needs an IEP to deal with the constant fear of failure that I’m feeling now as an adult.

Curse you, you evil clipboard.

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 News and Opinions, Overcoming Adversity

Shameful? Please

So recently, a video surfaced from a motivational speaker by the name of Joey Papa, whom you can watch here, explaining his way of connecting with “Special Needs” people. In the video, Joey shares a rather unconventional tip for those who can’t seem to find the right way to connect.

In this video, Joey asks his viewers to imagine the “most shameful and embarassing moment of your life” and have it constantly repeated everywhere you go. To him, that’s the way disabled people live their lives. 

Um…what?

Since when did disability turn into a constant show of embarassment and shame? How can a man who claims himsef to be a devoted motivational speaker downplay the lives of so many people who are trying to live their lives like everyone else? Kind of defeats his purpose, right?

There are many different ways to connect with people who have any kind of differences, disability, race, sexualality, or otherwise. Using shame as a way to promote empathy is like comparing a black person to that time you farted in front of your boss, or a person who identifies as transgender to that one time you were embarassed on a date by your parents who happened to be in the same place at the same time. Sounds silly, right? Not to mention stupid. If we don’t use that frame of mind in learning about other’s differences, why must this be a way to teach others about our own? Where exactly is the logic in all this?

The fact that this video exists along with that frame of mind is a common example of why I blog, to educate others about my life experience for those afraid to ask. People who only know about life as an able-bodied person are scared of the unknown and associate our lives with shame and embarrassment. These are the kind of people who make life hell for us. This frame of mind doesn’t create empathy or a sense of bonding, but rather instills the fear of making that connection by associating your most embarrassing moment with another person’s life.

Embarrassing moments only last for a few minutes. My life has been constantly going for about 31 years now. There’s a big difference between the two and those paths should never cross, not even in theory. 

I know at times I tend to have an internal ableist mindset of my own, often setting the bar too low for myself. Although sometimes I feel shame in myself, never would I wish this shame upon anybody else, even if it’s intentions are for the greater good of society.

What the heck is this guy thinking?

To really connect with people with disabilities, one must be open to differences and break that cycle of fear and resentment. A simple hello, a helping hand with consent, and an open mind are all things that can make any connection worthwhile. A disabled person should never be treated like a shameful moment in your life on replay. We are all part of the same human race with the same wants and desires as anybody else. 

Sorry Joey, but I am not your embarrassing moment. I am not here to be shamed by your viewers, and I demand the same respect you would give to anybody that is not “Special Needs.” I feel that your heart was in the right place in attempting to educate others, but you have really missed the target on this one. You want to make the world a better place, but you’re only teaching others to hate by teaching them to shame others that are different from themselves. 

Back to the drawing board for you. Perhaps you might need a Disabilty Consultant to assist you in your speeches. Just saying 😉