Inspired by Charlie’s “Greatest Hits” on LOST (because you know I’ve rewatched LOST almost twice now during quarantine) I thought I’d share some of my own “greatest hits” but make it Disney. I was actually going to do a general list, but then I thought it’d be more fun to break it down into some kind of categories, and then maybe I can come back and write about other ones later. For now though here’s my “Greatest Hits” as a much, much wordier version of Charlie’s Post-It from the third season of LOST as they relate to my love of Disney….
Passing my assessments on my Disney College Program
I had kind of a weird assortment of roles on both of my Disney College Program seasons. When I arrived in the fall, I was working Merchandise in DinoLand U.S.A. in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, which to the non-Disney person I’m sure just sounds like retail but it was much more than. Of course retail was part of it, and you could have entire shifts where you’d just be on registers or just be stocking shelves, but DinoLand had a couple of non-traditional retail settings too, and that’s really what I’m talking about here.
The one that I’m proud of myself for actually even doing (and of course passing my assessment, which is basically Disney-speak for completing your training and being able to work- There are sometimes people who don’t pass and are moved to a different location if needed) is working the carnival games in Chester and Hester’s Dino-Rama. If you know me, you probably know that I’m, well…awkward. Public speaking is certainly not my thing, and when I first learned that I had been accepted into the DCP for Merchandise one of my first thoughts was, “Oh my God, what if I get DinoLand and have to work on those carnival games?!”
Working the games means public speaking is a must. You’re on a microphone the entire time, and it’s not just carnival style ballyhoo stuff where you’re trying to get guests to come over and play (though that’s a huge part of it and I know for a fact I was awkward at this) but because it’s Disney and everything comes with some level of storytelling, it was also a lot of spieling. Working a game meant sharing some elaborate story based on the game’s theme with guests while multitasking to the point where you’re monitoring guest safety, keeping an eye out for the winner, giving away prizes, and selling tickets to play all at the same time. Working those games was A LOT, especially coming up here and training in the middle of August (the most humid month in Central Florida) and that kind of work load along with public speaking aspect was definitely scary in the beginning for 22-year-old me who thought I was signing up to sell plush and stock shelves. When I got to remove my “Earning My Ears” ribbon from my nametag in this role, and I learned that I was actually getting comfortable with public speaking, which is something I never in a million years thought would happen, I was really proud of myself and I felt I had already really gotten something worthwhile out of my DCP and that was just the beginning.
For my second program, I extended into the role of Attractions. I think when you hear “Attractions” you instantly think of a ride, and that’s what I thought. When I saw that I was in Disney’s Hollywood Studios I was pumped thinking I must have gotten Tower of Terror, but nope, I got a show. Not only did I get a show, but I got a show I honestly kind of hated as a kid. I had only seen Lights, Motors, Action! twice before I worked there, the first time when I was 13 and I was thoroughly uninterested. (The second time ironically enough was during a backstage tour of the set while I worked in DinoLand.)
Much to my surprise, I quickly gained a huge appreciation for the show when I started working there, and I really learned to respect all of the hard work that goes into pulling off those kinds of stunts. For operations Cast Members like myself, working at Lights, Motors, Action! was largely focused on safety. A number of positions we worked were what Disney considers “Safety Critical,” meaning being alert and observant to everything that’s happening around you is extremely important. The most stressful position for me was Covered Queue, which is the Cast Member responsible for moving the gates to open the access road that the Red Hero Car would speed through during the show’s finale. The entire area needed to be roped off and cleared of guests, and you had to open the gates at just the right time based on cues from the show and other Cast Members over the radio. And after the car had cleared the gates and sped back on stage, you needed to reset the entire scene very quickly (and often by yourself) to ensure that guests leaving the show would have a safe way to exit.
There were other positions that were stressful too, probably due to my fear of public speaking I wasn’t the best at packing the stadium (when you instruct guests to fill in all the available space and fit more people into the stadium) because it required me to yell loudly and really work to get their attention, but eventually I got the hang of it.
It almost seems silly now that I’m so far removed from the DCP and in such a different place career wise, but these really were probably the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. So much attention to detail had to go into each of them with the focus on safety, and I know this sounds like I’m writing a cover letter or something when I say this but to succeed in those roles (and any job in Disney I’m sure) you really do need to be resourceful and capable of making quick yet sensible decisions and judgment calls. You really can never predict what guests in a theme park will do, and even today I just feel so accomplished that my being in roles I was initial not super thrilled with really worked out the way it did.
Tower of Terror 10 Miler
First of all, the Tower of Terror 10 Miler is one of the only runDisney road races that’s been discontinued in recent years (originally due to the construction in Hollywood Studios, but I don’t know, it hasn’t come back still) but I’ve love to see it return because it was so much fun and 10 miles at night really was the perfect distance.
I originally wanted nothing to do with this race- My friend tried to talk me into doing it because she was planning a Disney trip around it while I lived in Orlando. I had never really run….In fact, before I signed up for this race you could actually say I actively avoided running. I never made enough of a habit of it to really see it as enjoyable, and I just always did something else to exercise. But somehow, my friend convinced me and all of a sudden I was signed up to run 10 miles (which I’m sure probably isn’t a lot to some people, but like I said…I did not run).
My training the summer before the race was not great. I don’t know why I didn’t put more thought into it and try a couch to 5K program or something, but I didn’t and I ended up overdoing it from the get-go. I signed up for a 10K as basically my first venture into running, and I finished third to last. I went into it totally ignorant with the thought, “It’s just over six miles, how hard could it be?” Up the hills in Rockport, Massachusetts- very hard.
That whole experience made me feel discouraged, but I didn’t give up. I started running at the gym and blasting music over my headphones and I got into a routine where running helped me get out pent up energy and work through stress in a way that other workouts never had. I still wasn’t good at running by any means, but I was growing to enjoy it and despite actually being told by some family members that I wasn’t capable of doing the 10 miles, I stuck to training for it and became more determined to prove them wrong.
When it came time for the race, the 10 miles flew by. I knew I was meeting the pacing requirement on the treadmill at the gym, but I wasn’t sure I’d have time to stop for character meet and greets and photo ops on the route without being picked up for slowing down. I never had any problems though, and when I was still comfortable by the time I hit Mile 10 I was probably the most simultaneously shocked and impressed with myself I had ever been.
Dancing to “Wishes” behind Cinderella Castle
Another moment from my Disney College Program that stands out to me was this one night that my friend and I took a last minute trip to dinner at Kona Cafe at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort then to the Magic Kingdom. We didn’t have time to do much at the Magic Kingdom by the time we got there, but it was fine- we lived there. When you’re new to the Orlando area, or a new Disney Cast Member, the thought that you could pop over to the Magic Kingdom just to grab some corn dog nuggets or watch the fireworks is the most exciting feeling ever.
We didn’t have time to stake out a spot to watch the fireworks (Wishes at the time) so we headed to Fantasyland behind Cinderella Castle (still a good last-minute spot, by the way, though with Happily Ever After now as opposed to Wishes you’ll miss the projections on the front of the castle. The park was quiet that night and by this point we had seen Wishes so many times we didn’t even really need to watch the fireworks, we were content just being there and taking in the music and hanging out. Halfway through the show, we started dancing with each other- full on ballroom/princess style dancing, behind the castle and everything seemed perfect.
It was just one of those moments where you try to take it all in while it’s happening because even in the moment you know it’s some special kind of feeling that you’ll never be able to replicate later on in life. And it’s true we won’t. I’ve danced behind Cinderella Castle many times since that night, but nothing will ever compare to that carefree feeling of dancing to Wishes after a long day working at the ‘most magical place on Earth.’
Publishing Red, White, and Disney
Red, White, and Disney was an idea that I had brewing for a long time, parts of it or the general idea even when I was a kid. You can read a full post on the inspiration behind Red, White, and Disney here. This book is just really special to me for a number of reasons. I was obviously ecstatic about publishing my first book, but at the end of the day even though it was a memoir, Brittany Earns Her Ears just doesn’t feel like “my book”. It was part of a series, so a lot of how the finished product came out is really influenced by that.
With Red, White, and Disney however, it’s really my passion project, and the whole thing is “me” in a way that the first book wasn’t. I really poured so much of my passion for Disney and American history into the book (and it’s really the first time I felt I had concrete proof of my using my History degree) so although they’re both great experiences, I guess I just view Red, White, and Disney has more of an accomplishment.
I’m also really excited to share that I’m working on a second edition of Red, White, and Disney. Even though the book only came out two years ago, there’s already been enough changes at Walt Disney World to justify a new edition. Plus, there stories left out of the first one that I’d love to see included, so I’m really thrilled to dive back into American history at the parks for the next one.
My first solo Disney trip
This feels like sort of an odd point on here but I’m going with it. Technically my first solo Disney trip for the day, was when I was 19, on vacation there with my grandfather who was in his 80s on a day when he stayed at the resort pool and I went off to explore the Magic Kingdom on my own. I’d also consider my first solo days off during my Disney College Program to be my real ‘first trip’. But for the purposes of this post, I’m counting “first trip” as first solo vacation when I lived back in Boston.
My first trip I’m talking about in this post was a year after my Disney College Program. I quit a full time job that I hated and was trying to juggle working part time with freelancing, and to just be blunt, I was broke. I needed to do some things in the parks while I was working on Red, White, and Disney though, so I worked extra hours and did what I could to make this trip possible–one such way I saved was staying off property, in a hotel room that cost me just $32 with Priceline’s secret deals….and boy was that a mistake.
It seems naive writing about this now (and I think I’m actually quite skilled at getting something worthwhile from Priceline now) but at the time I guess I didn’t realize a $32/night room rate was probably too good to be true. I don’t feel like I need to get into the details here, but basically my hotel room was filthy….like questionable stains and roaches level of filthy. The real learning experience that I remember here though is that this was my first time traveling alone (albeit to a place I was very familiar with) and I had some real adult issues to deal with, or at least so it seemed at the time between figuring out how to bring the state of the room to the hotel’s attention, and getting my money back where I booked through a third party, and even just coordinating switching hotels alone with no car on a trip that was only three days long in the first place.
I mostly remember this trip for the learning experience of dealing with a real grown-up problem like this for the first time, but the time I spent away from the gross hotel situation really was such a memorable trip. I loved being at the parks alone, and having all the time in the world it felt even though the trip was short to do anything I wanted to do. And I took tons of pictures that were helpful for the creation of Red, White, and Disney, and things like that, so even with the stressful accommodations issue it was one of the most memorable trips I’ve taken anywhere.