Craig's International Program Adventure!
by, 06-05-2012 at 09:13 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 Craig, who is from Scotland. Craig worked at Walt Disney World for the International Graduate Program, and had some experiences that changed his life forever.
He's got a lot of fantastic stories to share, but the one at the end is especially magical. I really hope you guys like this one, because honestly, this is one of my favorite interviews I have ever done!
JEFF: How did get into Disney to begin with? Any specific memory as a child that made you fall in love with it?
CRAIG: Growing up Disney was very much a part of my childhood memories. I was born in 1985 so I think I was lucky that so many of the Disney classics were being released on video around that time. I became very familiar with the characters and stories and our video collection grew greatly! The first film I saw at the cinema was The Aristocats, which must have been rereleased in the late 1980’s. I can also remember going to see Disney on Ice and being amazed at getting to see the real Mickey Mouse right in front of me!
I was brought up just outside of Glasgow, in Scotland, which had a Disney Store and can remember spending a long time in there at weekends playing in the Plush Mountain. My family was in there so often that we were on first name terms with the Cast Members!
My mum and dad had always promised my sister and I that if they ever won the lottery they would take us to Walt Disney World. In early 1993, our local radio station, Clyde One, had a competition weekend where each hour you had to listen for a certain song and when they played it you had to call in. The first person through won a voucher for money off a holiday with a travel agent and all the winners over the weekend had their names put into a hat and the winner won a trip for a family of 4 to Florida. My mum won the hourly prize on the Saturday morning, the song was Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves.
My parents were a nervous wreck! I don’t think they had slept the night before with excitement and nerves, but on the Monday morning we were all sitting having breakfast before school and the phone rang. My mum answered and it was the DJ from the breakfast show saying she was one of the people they had called back. The rest of us sat in silence listening to the radio until after what felt like forever the DJ came on air and announced the winner was… My mum! We all screamed! We were going to Disney World! It did feel like we had won the lottery. That summer we went to Florida for 3 weeks and had the most amazing holiday. We spent 2 weeks in Orlando and then had a week in Treasure Island. Looking back I don’t know how we did it but we spent a couple of days at all three Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney-MGM Studios), the 2 water parks (River Country, Typhoon Lagoon), Sea World twice and Universal twice. I think that week in Treasure Island we just slept. It was a dream vacation and one I will never forgot.
My sister and I have been very lucky when growing up to have amazing parents who always put the two of us first and made sure we always had fun as a family. Almost yearly after that we were so fortunate to back to Florida and split our vacation between WDW and the beach, usually at Siesta Key in Sarasota. I have so many happy, special memories of family trips to Disney, and Florida, and it almost feels like a second home we visited so often!
JEFF: It’s amazing to me that, despite being across the ocean, you guys still managed to make yearly trips there. That must have been really special! How did you wind up working Disney to begin with?
CRAIG: With Disney vacations a big part of my growing up, I had always had an ambition of becoming a Cast Member and getting my own name badge! While I was a student at university in Glasgow I needed a job, and after working in a few places, I got a job in the Disney Store. I loved working there and enjoyed speaking with the guests, especially the children. I’ve always been a big kid so it wasn’t hard to be enthusiastic about the toys and products, as I genuinely was! The only downside was I got to know all the songs from High School Musical very quickly as they were on what seemed like constantly, so I got a bit of stick for that from my friends! After I graduated from university I started working full time there while deciding what to do next. It was at that time a new Cast Member started who had gone out and worked in Walt Disney World at the stores on Hollywood Boulevard during a summer while she was at university in Scotland.
She told me all about her experiences and how she had applied to go out there. I knew of the international programme that let British people work in the UK pavilion in EPCOT but that had never appealed to me. I didn’t like the idea of working for Disney but spending the whole time in a British bar or shop selling British items. It just didn’t feel very Disney-like to me.
I applied with a British company called Yummy Jobs who deal with the recruitment of folk from the UK for Disney, and just a couple of days later they called to ask if I would be available for a telephone interview with someone from Walt Disney World international recruitment. I don’t think the person doing the telephone interview had a copy of my CV as at one point I answered a question referring to someone as a Guest and mentioned working in the Disney Store. At that she asked a few questions about what I liked about working there and what role I would like to work in most, I answered operations, and she finished the call. The same day I received an email to say I had been accepted on the International Graduate Program starting 20th January 2008.
JEFF: Tell me a little bit how the graduate program differs from the college program, if at all.
CRAIG: The International Graduate Program was run in conjunction with the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management. To quality you had to have recently graduated university with a degree, ideally hospitality related. (My degree was in Accountancy so they weren’t too strict on it!) We were all on 6month J1 Academic Visa’s with UCF, meaning we could work at Disney but had to take classes at UCF. There were a number of different nationalities taking part on my programme, (Brazil, Mexico, France, China to name a few), and there were around 20 from the United Kingdom, with 3 from Scotland (Me and 2 girls). We all worked at Walt Disney World in a variety of roles across the resort, 5 days a week. Each Friday, one of our days off, we attended classes at UCF from 9am – 3pm. The classes were all hospitality related and related to Disney. They weren’t like normal school classes however as they were especially designed for the multinational pupils so were a little more basic than you would expect and didn’t have exams at the end of them. We all stayed at Vista Way, one of the Disney accommodation areas for college program participants and were bussed to UCF for the classes each week. During Easter and July, when the resort was at its busiest, there was a break in classes which meant at that time we all worked 6 days a week instead of the usual 5.
JEFF: What drew you to the international graduate program?
CRAIG: As I said before the program allowed me to obtain a visa to work at Walt Disney World and not be restricted to only working in the UK Pavilion. It also allowed me to gain a certificate from UCF and attend classes there giving me a chance to experience life at an American college and see firsthand if it was anything like it is made out to be in the movies and on TV (From my experience it wasn’t!)! Living at Vista Way however was I guess more similar to what I imagine, perhaps stereotypically, to be similar to college life. There were parties nightly in various apartments and I guess for a lot of people there it was there first time away from home so they were making the most of it! That was a fun experience to be a part of! I shared an apartment with 2 Mexican and 3 Brazilians. There were 3 bedrooms so my actual roommate was from Brazil. He worked in thecustodial at the Magic Kingdom. Getting to live with people from around the world and who I would not otherwise have gotten to spend time with was great and I made some great friends. It was interesting learning about their culture and despite my accent and English not being their first language we all got on very well!
JEFF: So you wound up working in Fantasyland. What did you do there?
CRAIG: I worked in operations. I knew before going out that my role would be that but I didn’t know where. For months running up to it I was thinking where it might be: Tower of Terror, Kilimanjaro Safari, Soarin’. My sister was hoping I’d get Soarin’ because of the silly costume! After a couple of days out there, after going through Traditions at Disney University, we had to go and collect an envelope which contained our roles and information on it. It was like collecting exam results! People were worried to open it and learn where they were going to be and what they had to wear! I was placed in Fantasyland, something I was delighted about as I had hoped for a role that would involve lots of interaction with people, especially children. Fantasyland was perfect. The complex is split into three sections, one with Peter Pan and Small World, one with Philhar, Dumbo and Carousel, and the other with Snow White, Winnie the Pooh and Teacups. Cast are initially trained on all the rides in one section and then are allowed to cross train to another after a period of time.
I was initially trained on the Pooh complex. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh quickly became my favourite, partly because it was the first ride I learned to operate. Closely follow by The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Snow White’s Scary Adventure. After a few months of asking I was also trained on It’s a Small World and Peter Pan’s Flight, meaning I could be scheduled over there, pick up additional shifts, or move over if they were short of Cast.
As with the college program participants we were given the less favorable shifts. I usually started work mid-afternoon/early evening (depending on how late the park was open until) and work until closing. I always enjoyed closing the ride and getting to do a ride through, simply going through the ride as a guest would and checking everything was working correctly, and then completing a walkthrough of ride, walking the track after all the cars and animation has been stopped. I never tired of walking the track at Pooh or Peter Pan and seeing up close all the little details. I especially liked the rain scene in Pooh and walking past Nana at Peter Pan, we would always say “Stay” or “Good Night” to her as we walked past! Getting to walk over London and feel like a giant is not something many people can say they’ve done! I liked getting to see these attractions from a slightly different angle to what the regular guests do. It made my appreciation and admiration for the Imagineers grow, getting to see behind the scenes of the attractions and what makes them work was something the Disney Geek in me loved!
JEFF: What were your basic responsibilities there? Can you give me an overview of what a typical day was like there? I know there is no "Typical" day for ANY position, but what was a day like?
CRAIG: As I mentioned I usually started in the afternoon so typically would be taking over from the Cast Members who had opened the park. My typical usually involved hanging out with my friends at Vista Way in the morning, usually at the pool. Coming from Scotland walking up to sunshine every day was a bit of a novelty so I made the most of it! Being able to go into the parks for free also didn’t wear off, I was worried working there might make things a bit less magical but that certainly wasn’t the case. I enjoyed going into the parks before a shift for a few hours. If I went to the Magic Kingdom I would avoid Fantasyland because I spent so much time there, going to all the other lands made it feel like I wasn’t at work at all! I liked being able to get a Dole Whip before work and just walk around Main Street or the hub. Getting to go into the parks regularly and not rush from ride to ride allows you to take in more and appreciate the little details all the more.
Once I got to work my role involved rotation between positions at each of the three rides in my area, usually the Pooh side of Fantasyland. You would log into the computer system backstage which would print out a task to perform, ie replace Bill at Teacups greater. The print would then tell Bill to go to another location, or on break, or to log out as his shift had ended. As the night went on roles would be dropped, for example at 10pm there is not normally a need for someone to be looking after stroller parking at Winnie the Pooh while at 2pm the role is essential to maintain some organization. (Or organized chaos as it typically was!) I would work between the various positions on each ride. You were usually at one position for around 45mins to an hour so it never got boring. I especially enjoyed the greeter positions at the attractions as you got to spend time with the guests; helping them with directions or giving advice on what to do next or where to eat, or just talking to children about what they had done that day.
Being in Fantasyland I would sometimes be scheduled for Wishes. You would be taken out of your normal rotation for a couple of hours and put up ropes around the castle to close off areas close to where the fireworks went off from the rooftops. Once the ropes were up you would stand there and make sure guests didn’t cross over them until the show was over and were given the ok to take them down. It might sound dull but not only did you get a great view of the fireworks but again got plenty of time to talk to guests.
The end of my shift would always involve closing the ride you were at down, you would get to ride through and then walk through the attraction making sure everything was working ok. Make a note for maintenance of anything that wasn’t and then power down the ride. Once that was done it was home time.
JEFF: Any times you can think of that you went out of your way to make a guest's visit more magical?
CRAIG: On one of my first nights working in the Magic Kingdom I was working on Wishes. I had put up the ropes between the carousel and Snow White and a family approached to ask what was going to be happening. It was a pretty quiet night in late January and just about 5mins before the show so I told them what Wishes was and they seemed excited to see it. I started talking to their son who was about 5 and asked what he done that day and if he had met Mickey. His dad jumped in and said they hadn’t seen any characters and that it was their first visit and had been a bit overwhelmed by it all. They were only there for the weekend but had spent most of the day walking around a bit lost and not getting to do much! After Wishes was over, which they loved, they asked it this was the best place to watch it and I said Main Street close to the hub was my favorite spot. I gave them a map and time guide and spent about 5mins talking to them about different things they could all do and told them about the Judge’s Tent’s in Toon Town and where to meet the characters.
The next night I was outside Winnie the Pooh and a little boy came running up to me, it was the little boy from the previous night. He wanted to show me his autograph book and all the characters he had met. They had also been on loads of rides too and used FastPass which I had told them about too. It was so nice to see them again and find out that I had helped in a little way for them to have a better trip. After chatting for a bit they said they were going to watch Wishes from where I had suggested and then joined they joined the line at Pooh. I really appreciated them saying thanks and getting to see them again so while they were in line I went to get them each a first visit pin and a No Strings Attached form, it is a little form Cast Members can fill out to make up for a bad experience a guest has had. The Cast Member fills it out to allow the family to use it as a fastpass, or to get an ice cream if they dropped theirs etc. I filled it out to get them some popcorn for while they watched Wishes.
When they came off the ride I was there waiting for them and gave them each their pin and said that Mickey had told me to say thanks for coming back and was so glad they had had a great day and wanted them to have a little treat while watching the fireworks. You would have thought I had given them a winning lottery ticket! They were so grateful and appreciative of this small gesture and it made me feel really good for being able to help in a small way to make their trip more special and memorable.
I was also able to work in front of the castle on the 3rdand 4th of July for the special Independence Day fireworks show doing crowd control. The park was so busy and it was hard going trying to keep walk ways clears and keeping guests moving. Once the fireworks were over a lot of guest left the park so we were helping to direct people backstage to exit down behind Main Street as Spectromagic was starting soon after and Main Street was so busy. Things quieted down just as Specto and I noticed a family with a little girl sitting just on the pavement waiting for the parade with a space beside them. I sat down next to the little girl and starting talking to her. She hadn’t seen the parade before so I told her that Goofy was supposed to put all the lights out on Main Street for it but had forgotten. (Silly Goofy!) She had told me she had earlier been on Peter Pans Flight, so I told her I could see she still had some pixie dust on her and asked if she could help me turn out the lights. Having seen Spectro so many times I know when the lights would go out so I got her to brush the pixie dust that was still on her shoulders onto her hands and rub them together on after 3 to throw it up into the air.
I counted to 3 just as lights went out around us. I’ll never forget her face and the amazement on it that she had put all these lights out with the magic of pixie dust. As part of the Year of a Million Dreams Cast Members were given special Tinkerbell pins to give to guests to say ‘thank you’ if we say a guest doing a good deed basically. I gave one to her for helping me out and told her to keep an eye out for Tinkerbell at the end of the parade cos she would make sure the lights came back on again. Again it might not have been the biggest gesture but it was good fun for me to do and made me feel worthwhile and like I was creating a bit of magic or a memory for this family. I always liked being allowed to do little things like that and again spend time with guests.
JEFF: I know you have one very special story about Disney, and I know our readers would love to hear it!
CRAIG: As I mentioned before there were 3 Scottish people on my program, myself and 2 Scottish girls. One of the girls, Emma, was from Perth which is about an hour from Glasgow although she had gone to university in Glasgow and lived there for 4 years. She worked in food and beverage in the Magic Kingdom in Toon Town, Tomorrowland and Fantasyland and the food stands selling hotdogs and popcorn etc. Being on the same program and with her regularly working in Fantasyland we saw quite a bit of each other. Emma and I part of the big British group on our program and we all got our days off worked out so we had a Thursday and Friday off together and all hung out together. We started dating after a few months in Florida and it was amazing getting to go on dates where at the end of it you could watch fireworks either at EPCOT or the Magic Kingdom or the beach at the Polynesian. Most of our dates involved watching Wishes so that show will always be special to the two of us. After we got home we continued to see each other and after about a year we moved into an apartment in Glasgow.
Last year we went back to Disney World on vacation. I had booked a surprise meal at the California Grill, somewhere we had both not been to, and after watching Wishes we stayed out on the roof top until we were the only ones out there and I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. Thankfully she said yes and we are going to be married in July 2013 at Disney’s Wedding Pavilion. Having met and got engaged there, there was really only one place we could get married! I never in a million years thought that when I went to work at Walt Disney World for 6months I would meet a girl from so close to home who would one day become my wife! I am so lucky to have found someone who not only puts up with me and my love of all things Disney, but who loves it just as much! We both cannot wait for next year and getting married back where we met and are so excited that some of our closest friends will be coming too so we’ll be able to show them all the places we’ve got on about all these years!
Thank you, Craig, for sharing with us, and congrats!
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
EPCOT 30 YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION!
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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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- Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)!
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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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