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!

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 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 Mandy Eats, Out and About in Orlando

Mandy Eats the Waturi Way, at Volcano Bay

View from the Tott Tiki Reef of the Volcano

Volcano Bay is Universal Orlando Resort’s third theme park, and what has said to be its best one yet. Themed after inspiration of tribal explorers (also known as Waturi) from the Pacific Islands and packed with the latest technology known as TapuTapu that holds your spot in the queue lines and unlock special surprises throughout the park, Volcano Bay has something for everyone. With 18 different attractions, including the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and the Kokiri Body Plunge that sends you 125 feet down a volcano via a trapped door, the park boasts it’s fair share of thrills, but what about the food? 

From the park’s inception, the food offered in the park was prided as some of the best quick service theme park food on property. And they weren’t kidding. During the summer, there was a brief moment when the menu was changed to a basic burger and hot dog menu, and everyone flipped out. Thankfully, most of the 60 or so menu items that opened the park to high reviews have come back, making this foodie one happy girl. 

A selfie from paradise

Using a Universal Quick Service dining plan, as mentioned in an earlier post, I was able to sample some of the park’s finest foods. Armed with a meal credit and a snack credit brought some tasty results.

Waturi Blend Ice Cream

Waturi Blend Ice Cream

Because in paradise, rules are meant to be broken, so why not opt for dessert first? The Waturi Blend Ice cream is a rainbow colored soft serve delight, packed with tropical fruity flavor that will get you in the tropical mood. Strawberry, Pineapple, Orange, and Blue Raspberry blend in such a way that reminds me of an everlasting gobstopper, where the flavor and color change each lick. Plus, it’s totally Insta-worthy. Not to mention delicious. You can find the ice cream stand in the front of the park closer to the Wave Village Concierge Hut. 

Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese

Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese

Although it is a bit of a hike to get to, I managed to make the trek to Whakawaiwai Eats to indulge in what I believe has to be the park’s finest culinary masterpiece. 

Amongst the menu of longboard pizzas and grab and go salads lies the Jerk Shrimp Mac and Cheese, a spicy shrimp Mac and Cheese made with real big chunks of shrimp and spicy seasonings. It’s very creamy, the white cheese strikes a balance between the hot and cheesey, I never thought I would rave over Mac and Cheese as much I have here at Volcano Bay. It’s a far cry from the typical burger and hot dog fare many waterparks opt for. A nice spicy surprise, and a fairly big portion to boot. 

Volcano Bay has slowly been reintroducing their menu items that have been taken away during the summer, and more surprises await. From burgers topped with tropical slaw, hot dogs nestled in pretzel buns topped with pineapples and bacon, and a long surfboard shaped BBQ chicken pizza, things are far from boring in the land of the Waturi. So grab yourself a dining plan and explore the bay. You’ll be glad you did. 

Posted in Nerdy and Nifty

The Ugly Cake Tradition

Ever since I moved in with RJ back in my college days, he would always do this cute thing on my birthday where he would make me a cake with what ever he could find.

Usually around the time of my birthday, it would be a tough week when it comes to pay. The rent is due in a few days after all. But somehow, someway he would make it work out so I wouldn’t have to celebrate my birthday alone. Even when I was with Bill, RJ would do a little something for me since Bill never had the means to celebrate. It was RJ’s way of saying thank you for being a friend.

It all started back in 2009 when we decided to have a small birthday party at the Providence roller derby game I am convinced to this day that the party was cursed, given not many people showed up and that I dropped the cake on the way home. After coming home and assessing the damage of the cake, RJ decided to get a little creative with some food we bought at the local Bodega. Thus, the River Rat cake was born, banana chip eyes, cookie ears, and a mini marshmallow tail.

The following year brought a home baked version we dubbed the “PMS River Cake” which was Funfetti cake with a strawberry jam river meant to mimic a river seen in the Strawberry Shortcake cartoons, complete with a bath toy or two to complete the ensemble.

This kick-started a tradition that has lasted many years.

Sometimes, we would make do with Swedish Fish and a Tastykake Chocolate Junior, while other years would bring Ben & Jerry’s smashed into a plate of waffles, but no matter how he did it, and no matter how bad it looked, it always put a smile on my face. Just to know I’m loved and that I can have something to laugh about makes these ugly cakes worthwhile.

Since today is my birthday, I woke up to see half of my Shopkins collection piled on top of an orange Halloween Funfetti cake. Glad to see the tradition lives on. I hope this lasts forever.

Thank you RJ for everything.

Posted in Lights, Camera, Universal!, Mandy Eats, Out and About in Orlando

Mandy Eats at the Monster’s Cafe

Every once in awhile, there’s that one place you always walk past that you pay no attention to. Whether it’s that little cafe in the shopping center in your hometown or at a theme park you visit frequently. That place for me up until recently just so happens to be the Monsters Cafe at Universal Orlando resort.

As to why I always skipped it is beyond me. I love horror movies, but this place was just never on my radar amongst my obsession for all the Harry Potter stuff.

In my last Mandy Eats post, I talked about the food that I purchased here and it was delightful. But unlike my usual Mandy Eats posts where I talk about the food, this time around, I will talk about the atmosphere.

Because wow….

As you’re waiting in the queue line, you are greeted with the massive light bulb straight out of Dr. Frankenstein Laboratory. Although the menu is typical theme park food, the setting just get you into a mood of nostalgia. Everywhere you look, there’s memorabilia and movie posters of sci-fi and horror movies past.

The restaurant is divided into four areas, each has its own special theme. The windows are wrapped in decals that help set the mood for each room. Certain items are taken straight from the movies and hung on the walls for all to see. Yes, that really is the Bride of Frankenstein’s head.

On the back of the menu lies brief descriptions of each room and the themes that surround it. Although I had my dinner in the room considered the mansion, one of my favorite areas had to have been the Sci-Fi room.

With my best friend and Trekkie Amanda in tow, we have stumbled upon an epic nerdy paradise.

The overall attention to detail is stunning and the service is spectacular. And the food, is to die for. Needless to say, I’m kicking myself in the butt I haven’t discovered this gem sooner.

The Monsters Cafe is Quick Service dining plan Friendly restaurant located across from the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon ride in Universal Studios. it is also the home to the Scareacter dining experience during the Park’s Halloween Horror Nights event.

Grab a plate and be prepared to be scared.

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


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.