Coast to Coast with Natalie!
by, 05-08-2012 at 04:15 AM
Hello, and welcome to this week's 'From The Mouth Of The Mouse!'
Each week, we spotlight a different Cast Member story to give you more insight into some of your favorite attractions, resorts, and movies from all over the Walt Disney Company.
This week, we talk to Natalie, who had the unique opportunity to work the Disney College Program at both Disneyland AND Walt Disney World. She provides some wonderful insight from working at both Parks, and shares some great stories.
JEFF: So tell me a little bit about how you fell in love with Disney to begin with.
NATALIE: I first went to Disneyland when I was 5 years old. When I was 10, we started going to Disneyland every other year. When it came time to plan a vacation, both my parents always wanted to go to Disneyland! I remember seeing a commercial for Walt Disney World when I was pretty little, and my parents had just gone on a trip there without me and my sister. The commercial featured the dinosaur scenes at the Universe of Energy in Epcot, and I desperately wanted to go. I was promised a trip to Disney World when I graduated high school. We finally went in 2007, and I got to see those dinosaurs I had waited so long to see. But in the years leading up to that trip, Disneyland was (and still is) my favorite place on the planet. I really feel like a piece of it belongs to me (don't we all?), and honestly don't remember a trip where I wasn't crying when we left.
Growing up, I loved almost every Disney movie. Even if there was sadness, there was always hope. As I got older, I became more interested in the story behind the Disney Company and the story of Walt's life. Walt is such an inspiration to me, and I really feel like my life has changed for the better because of him, even though I've never met him. I can't think of any place but Disneyland that can put me (and many others) on the verge of tears just by stepping foot on to Main Street, U.S.A. Walt continues to create magic in world that forgets it can and does exist.
JEFF: How did you go about joining the Disney College Program?
NATALIE: I saw a poster on campus back in the fall of 2009, and went to a presentation to see what it was all about. I honestly couldn't believe that there was an opportunity out there that fit so perfectly for what I needed for graduation; an internship credit and a love of Disney! I didn't apply for that term (as there were certain classes only offered in the spring semester that I needed), but went to the presentation again the following February and applied with Attractions as my top choice. After a web interview and a nerve wracking phone interview with a very nice woman named Wendy, I got a call back a month later letting me know I was being offered a position as an Attractions Hostess for the Fall of 2012!
JEFF: Before this interview, you told me you worked at both Disneyland AND Walt Disney World during your College Program career. But, you worked at Disneyland first. Was there any particular reason for that, or just because it was your ‘home’ Park?
NATALIE: I applied specifically for California during my first program. I liked that it was a bit smaller program (about 300 people compared to 5,000 in Florida), and Anaheim was only a three and a half hour drive from Las Vegas, where I was attending school. It made it much easier to make a few trips back when I needed to meet with my internship coordinator and take care of applying for graduation the following year. I'd also gone to Disneyland so much growing up, and I was very excited to have the chance to work there!
JEFF: While at Disneyland, you worked on the Buzz Lightyear AstroBlasters. What were your basic responsibilities there? What was a day like for you at work?
NATALIE: My position as a Space Ranger consisted of 4 or 5 positions throughout the day. I could be stationed as Greeter (out in front of the attraction, greeting new recruits, checking Fast Pass times), inside assisting guests while they loaded or unloaded from their Space Cruisers, or at the main console making sure things were running smoothly. It was definitely fun to be able to control an entire attraction! As a College Program Cast Member, I typically worked the closing shifts and helped to close down Star Command at the end of each day. I did a lot of walking at AstroBlasters, since it's an omni-mover. I didn't notice how much walking on my "treadmill" every day did for me until I was back at school! Occasionally, I also got shifts where I assisted with setting up ropes for that night's fireworks performance, and some shifts where I set up ropes and helped with traffic flow for the parades and fireworks that day. I actually loved these. I got to wear the Main Street "Coke Corner" costume and once the ropes were set up, we got to interact with guests until show time!
JEFF: What about the College Program made you want to apply again to work at Walt Disney World after your Disneyland program was over?
NATALIE: I loved my time as a Cast Member, and applied for a few of the Professional Internships. I wasn't selected, unfortunately, and once I graduated from UNLV in May 2011, I didn't have any immediate plans. My younger sister had just started her College Program as a Main Entrance Operations Cast Member at Epcot in June, and I definitely missed her. I thought I'd give applying to the Florida program a shot, and see how things were done in Florida! I was accepted as an Attractions Hostess again and moved down to Orlando in August 2011.
JEFF: While at Walt Disney World, you told me you worked at Innoventions. What did you do there?
NATALIE: I was a Presenter. Throughout my program, I was trained on 3 venues: StormStruck, The Safety Smart Lab at Test the Limits, and Where's the Fire? The House of Innoventions closed for refurbishment during my time there, so I wasn't trained on that. Presenters take care of greeting at the venues, the pre-show, and the show itself. On any given day, I could be at all three of the venues or just one. Depending on the day, I could end up doing a lot of presentations or just one or two. At StormStruck, I was a Stormologist who led guests through a 3D recreation of a severe storm, followed by a game to build a stronger house; at the Safety Smart Lab, I assisted Timon and Pumbaa in a presentation on home safety; and at Where's the Fire? (my favorite!) I was a game show host that led a competitive game where guests attempt to find and correct the most fire safety hazards on their side of a house. I was also assigned some nights to assist at IllumiNations after Innoventions closed at 7 pm. I really enjoyed working IllumiNations since the shift mostly involved interacting with guests and chatting with them about their day at Epcot.
JEFF: Since you worked at the Parks on both coasts, do you prefer one over the other? How did the two experiences differ?
NATALIE: I almost feel like comparing Disneyland to Walt Disney World is like comparing apples and oranges. They are such different experiences! I am a "Disneylander" at heart, since that is where I had my first College Program and grew up visiting there, but each resort has things the other doesn't. Walt Disney World (especially Epcot) has much better, and nicer, sit-down restaurants, but Disneyland has the Matterhorn and the Indiana Jones Adventure. Even Magic Kingdom, which can seem like another version of Disneyland, is very different from its California counterpart in terms of the general atmosphere. As a Cast Member, the work experience was very different as well; this comes down to the difference in the average guest at each resort. At Walt Disney World, it is important make sure each guest has the best experience possible, because this is very likely the only time in their lives that they will be there. A lot of people only get to come to Walt Disney World once or twice, and save for a very long time to be able to do so. At Disneyland, it is just as important to make sure each guest has the best experience, but for a different reason. A very large portion of the guests there are Annual Passholders and come more than once a month. I got to know several Aps, who became friends. They know the park like the back of their hand and it is very near and dear to them. They know what Disney quality is and want to make sure the park and magic they love is being maintained.
JEFF: Working at both Parks, I’m sure you had a few times that you went out of your way to make a guest's visit more magical. Care to share an experience with us?
NATALIE: One of the greatest parts of being a Cast Member is that something that might seem like just a part of my day to day job can really brighten a guest's day. I had a lead in California whom, after I mentioned that I'd had kind of an off and slow day, asked me, "Well, what have you done to make someone else's day better today?" That always stuck with me.
I remember one family in particular who came for their young son's birthday (and first trip to DL) around Christmas, and his favorite character was Buzz. He had a full Buzz costume on, and even his stroller was a Buzz Lightyear one. Towards the end of the day, his mom approached me and said that they had been trying to catch Buzz at his meet and greet all day and kept missing him. I called the character line to discover that Buzz had just finished his last greet of the day. Another CM, who was out front with me, quickly went backstage to see if he could catch Buzz, but unfortunately he was gone. The mom told us thank you for trying, and that they were going to get in the AstroBlasters line, since they'd waited all day so they could finish their day with Buzz. They seemed pretty disappointed, and the little boy kept asking his mom why he wasn't going to get to meet Buzz. I was sad we hadn't been able to catch the character for them, and the BLAB line was around 30 minutes at that point. I asked them to wait a moment, and went to our Fast Pass machines and got them two sets of Fast Passes for the ride. I told the boy that Buzz was very sorry he hadn't been able to chat with him today but he'd been so busy battling Zurg. I said that Buzz had given me these special passes because he needed his help right away to help defeat Zurg, and that he'd see Buzz inside for mission briefing. His family was so grateful, and the little boy was so excited and I was so happy that I had something I could do to cheer them up.
JEFF: Any other fun stories that you'd like to share, we'd love to hear them!
NATALIE: There are so many!
One of my fondest memories comes from the mornings I had my Leadership Speaker Series class during my CP in California. The course was held in the TDA building at 8:30 am. The quickest way to get there, rather than drive around back to TDA, was to park at the Cast Member lot, take the bus to Harbor Point at the front of Disneyland, and walk through the park, since it wasn't open to guests yet. I spent several mornings walking through a mostly empty Disneyland and through the Castle/Fantasyland alone. There is such a different kind of magic around when you have Disneyland to yourself.
I got to help several celebrities become Space Rangers, since Buzz was a very easy attraction for them to come in the back door or Fast Pass lane without being seen by too many people. My favorites were Slash, formerly of Guns N' Roses, Wayne Brady, Kevin Jonas, and Britney Spears.
At Walt Disney World, New Year's Eve was a very fun night to work at Innoventions. We were allowed to close just before midnight so we could go out to the plaza near the lagoon to watch the fireworks. Since the park was open until 1 am after that, our job became to say goodnight to guests as they left, hand out stickers and dance with them to the DJ that was playing. This eventually turned into a big dance circle filled with CMs and guests - including a man and his young daughter who didn't speak more than a few words of English but danced and laughed along with the rest of us.
I also had the chance to be a part of several really neat tours at Disneyland. We rode Space Mountain with the lights on, toured the Dream Suite above Pirates of the Caribbean, Walt's Apartment on Main Street, and the Haunted Mansion (with Nightmare Before Christmas overlay) after it closed for the night, including walking down the "endless" hallway. I learned that night that there are certain sound effects that don't shut off for various reasons, even when the park is closed. Standing in New Orleans Square at night, you can hear the ghost horse in front of the Haunted Mansion along with Snow White singing at her well in Fantasyland!
Another favorite memory is the mornings I opened at either coast. At Innoventions, a handful of custodial CMs would usually stand in front of the Innoventions door and blow bubbles as the guests came rushing in…which usually distracted more than a few kids whose parents were desperately trying to get to Soarin'! The parents always eventually stopped and ended up playing in the bubbles with their kids. At Disneyland, I loved standing near the front of Tomorrowland and watching the rope drop - there is just such excitement and joy in those first guests of the morning.
Thank you, Natalie, for sharing with us!
Don't forget come back each week to hear more of the magic directly From the Mouth of the Mouse.
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COMMUNICORE WEEKLY 38TH WEEKAVERSARY
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Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2912 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT's World Showcase for this one of a kind event!
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By Jeff Heimbuch
If you are, or know, a Cast Member who would like to share some of their stories and possibly be featured right here on MiceChat, please email me at [email protected]. I'd love to hear from you!
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