Not everything is so magical in the Disney College Program

A student said the Disney College Program is supposed to enrich you in a culture and work experience, but being yelled at and called a racist by guests was not what she expected.

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Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Photo courtesy of Madalynn Ralston.

Kimberly Swan, Staff Writer

In May of 2019, while working at Magic Kingdom on the Peter Pan’s Flight ride, Lindsey Cartwright and other employees walked through the ride and saw a grayish, white powder on the ground. Upon closer inspection, they realized it was a dead person’s ashes.

 

They had to check it when the ride stopped and called the fire department. The ride stopped for three hours, went up for two, then an hour later, it stopped again. 

 

Cartwright, a current FAU senior interdisciplinary studies major, said a rider must have sprinkled the ashes during the ride, and the employees had to sweep it up. 

 

That’s not what Cartwright had envisioned doing when she applied for her internship at the Disney College Program. Her and other FAU students who’ve participated say that even though there are several benefits to joining — like free admission to the parks — they were blindsided by the expenses of living and harsh treatment from guests. 

 

What is the Disney College Program?

 

According to their website, the Disney College Program is a five to seven-month internship program designed to give students on-the-job experience working at the parks and resorts, participate in college coursework, and meet and live with different people from across the world in company-sponsored housing.

 

It also says participants in the program can network with leaders, take personal and career development classes, and build hospitality skills.

 

Cartwright applied in August 2018 and started on Jan. 28 until May 16. She said interns are assigned a role in a park and can extend their time up to a year if they wanted to. Although she extended her time, she quit during her extension for mental health reasons and was ready to head back to home and school.

Although she wanted to be a performer, she was denied and instead got a role in attractions, which are basically all the rides and shows.

 

Madalynn Ralston, a senior psychology major at FAU, said she got accepted into the program on Oct. 9, 2018, and started Jan. 14. Her program lasted four months until May 16. However, Ralston said FAU did not offer any internship credit.

 

She worked in Mickey’s Philharmagic, Prince Charming’s Regal Carousel and Princess Fairytale Hall.

 

Making ends meet

 

Participants get paid $10 to $12 an hour, according to the anonymous job review site glassdoor. Ralston said that was barely enough money for her to live on her own and pay for her housing.

 

“We are very underpaid and overworked,” she said.

 

When Ralston needed money, she decided to pick up shifts on her days off and ended up working 31 days in a row because she couldn’t afford lunch and her car payment.

 

Cartwright said although she lived in the cheapest housing, half the money she made went to rent. What was left was used for food, and it came to a point where she had to dip into savings, even when at some point the pay went up a dollar.

 

“I didn’t see a difference because I was still struggling for cash when I was still up there,” said Cartwright.

 

As for the hours, Cartwright said her schedule would change to the point where one time she worked eight days in a row. The shortest hours she ever worked was six, and the longest was 13.

 

Cartwright said she overworked herself to the point where the job wasn’t fun anymore.

 

Ralston worked five days a week for about 30 hours, but she had low hours because of her work location. She said they’re guaranteed two days off during the week, but sometimes they would give her the weekends off and it felt like the week would never end.

 

According to a DCP spokesperson, all applicants for the DCP, including those who opt to live in their own housing, must be “fully available seven days per week to participate in the program. Full availability includes being able to work mornings, nights, holidays, weekends and overtime, with different days off every week.”

 

The spokesperson added that participants’ weekly housing fees include utilities, transportation to and from work and other local shopping areas while receiving local discounts and privileges — but didn’t answer if the housing costs and exposure to hostile guests were as advertised. 

 

What’s a typical DCP day? There is none

 

Both Cartwright and Ralston had to deal with difficult guests while working at Disney.

 

“Sometimes we would get guests that gave us praise for our jobs, but that was rare,” said Ralston. “We had lots of ungrateful guests and even a couple who would call us names.”

 

One of Ralston’s strangest encounters was when a guest called her “racist” for doing her job.

 

Each park has “Extra Magic Hours,” where guests who are staying at Disney resorts get early access to the park. Ralston’s job one day was to make sure guests entering during Extra Magic Hours were staying at the resorts using a scanner. 

 

One guest refused to tell her which resort he was staying at — and started getting angry. He argued he should get in just with his pass to get into the parks, but she explained to him that it doesn’t mean you’re staying on Disney property. He started yelling, telling her that he makes much more money than her working at Disney.

 

Ralston then searched for her coordinator so she could calm the guest down. While she was still letting guests on the ride she heard, “She won’t let me on the ride because she’s racist,” and that sent her over the edge.

 

She snapped at him, and then her coordinator told her to cool off and then she ran backstage.

 

“Our leaders had to get involved and at the end of the night I found out that this guest had been rude and starting these things with cast members all over property,” said Ralston.  

 

Cartwright said that in March, a guest using a handicap scooter in the Magic Kingdom nearly broke her foot trying to board the Peter Pan’s Flight ride. Since the ride doesn’t allow scooters, guests had to be transferred into a wheelchair, but instead of doing that, the guest took off into the FastPass entrance. The cast chased him and tried to stop him.

 

Cartwright managed to catch up to him and put her foot in the way of his scooter. They argued for 10 minutes as he kept running into her foot to make her move, but she didn’t budge. Security was called but he left before they could show up.

 

“It’s kind of hard to work at a Disney park without getting yelled at least once,” said Cartwright.

 

But not all days were bad. Cartwright also talked about a happy moment where she helped a lost 2-year-old boy be reunited with his family again. The mother was crying and screaming when he was lost, and Cartwright ended up finding him with a cast member and brought him back. 

 

Even though it was rewarding at times, students should keep in mind that there is always the chance of facing challenges when taking any job.

 

Ralston and Cartwright still think the challenges of the program should’ve been discussed more prior to taking the job.