Walt Disney World Parks: Myths and Facts

So in my time here in Disney World, I’ve heard a lot of stories about things that happen in the parks that may or may not be true. Luckily this is where a college education comes in. To the archives we go!

Myth 1: The Little Girl Who Sings “Wishes”

You’ll hear this rumor from just about any cast member who you ask about the Wishes show, the nighttime fireworks that go off in the Magic Kingdom. Supposedly, a little girl in the Make A Wish Foundation wished that she would be able to sing the lead little girl part in the Wishes show. Her wish was granted, and that’s her voice on the soundtrack. According to some cast members, the little girl then died. According to others, she’s alive and kicking.

Neither is true. Maybe the Make A Wish foundation got mixed up in the story because the proceeds of the soundtrack are still donated to the charity? But the child soloist is definitely a little girl named Charity Farris, a child voice-over talent who was never a part of the foundation and is still alive and kicking.

I don’t think Cast Members mean to pass along an untrue and pretty heartbreaking story, but this is rumor that really should be stopped before another million guests hear it.

Myth 2: The Ghost in Pirates of the Carrabean

Or in the Haunted Mansion. Or the Tower of Terror. Or Small World. The fact is that no one has ever died on these rides, but of course you don’t have to haunt the same place you died. This logic is brought to you by Harry Potter.

From what I hear, there is a ghost on the Pirates of the Caribbean. His name is George, and if you don’t say good morning and good night to him, he’ll make the ride break down. This may just be a convenient rumor, as Pirates breaks down roughly twenty-three times a day.

Myth 3: Disney World Never Closes

Okay, so this one comes from guests, who think that Disney World is kind of like the post office. “Neither rain, no sleet” kind of stuff. And that’s true. Rain or shine the parks open. Except for hurricanes. The only time Disney World has ever shut its doors was in anticipation for major hurricanes: Sept. 15, 1999, for Floyd; Sept. 4-5, 2004, for Frances; and Sept. 26 of that same year for Jeanne.a83ec5268078898d8d814b62b9472574

Now, Disneyland is different. It closed on the National Day of Mourning for the death of President John F. Kennedy. It closed for inspections after the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. It was the largest earthquake recorded in North America and no one wanted the guests crushed by falling Matterhorns. And it closed for 9/11. Walt Disney World closed early, but in Disneyland they were just getting ready to open when the news broke.

(Also, after 9/11 the FAA put a 3-mile no-fly-zone over the Magic Kingdom; the Jungle Cruise left out their crash landing jokes around the downed place; and security booths suddenly sprung up in front of both American parks. Disneyland closed early because not a single ticket was sold on September 12, 2001.)

Myth 4: Speaking of 9/11

One of the very touching myths I heard during my college program was that, after 9/11, after closing the park, Disney World employees worked overnight to decorate the park in its Fourth of July, uber-patriotic attire.

I almost didn’t research this one, because I wanted it to be true. But of course, common sense was telling me that Disney would evacuate its employees as well as its guests.

The American flag flew at half-mast the next day. According to one cast member, guests at the American Adventure at EPCOT were moved to tears by the fife and drum corps. According to a guest at Disneyland, a moment of silence was observed after the attacks.

And according to unofficial estimates, September 12-14 2001 was the lowest park attendance in America since the opening of the parks.

Myth 5: Main Gate for Life!

This is a good one, told to me by a fellow cast member, in all seriousness. Apparently, if you give birth inside of a Disney Park, that child gets free admission to the park for life. According to her, this has only happened a handful of times.

Better than any crummy sanitized hospital, right?

Better than any crummy sanitized hospital, right?

This one Disney actually tries to discourage, because it makes women go through unsafe births. But there have been incidents of people giving birth, or starting to, inside of one of the Disney parks. The thing is, there’s a grain of truth to this rumor. In 1979, on July 4th, a woman, Rosa Selcado did go into labor unexpectedly and popped out a little one just off main street. Her name was Teresa, small but healthy, and she got a birth certificate from Disneyland as well as awesome first pictures.

Now, there is such a thing as a lifetime pass. It’s called a Golden Pass and it’s been awarded to quite a few people. Heads of state, animators, and administratives of the Disney company get recognized with a Pass and as Disney Legends, a program that recognizes extraordinary talent. Also among the Legends are Julie Andrews, Elton John, and that guy who played the bratty boy in Mary Poppins.

Myth 6: “If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It!”

It sounds inspirational, so it must be Walt, right? Nope. And yet it’s like the entire world doesn’t care and keeps publishing the quote under his name.

There's a lot of these floating around the internet.

There’s a lot of these floating around the internet.

Just listen to the man who actually wrote the quote, Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald: “‘I am very familiar with that line because I wrote it! It was written specifically for the Horizons attraction at Epcot and used in numerous ways, from dialogue in the ride to graphics. I find it amusing that the Science of Imagineering DVD series attributes it to Walt Disney, but I guess I should be flattered.’”

To Wrap Up

I started researching these after I heard the Wishes myth again. I thought “well, what if a little Make-A-Wish kid can’t really sing? What if her parents come to the Magic Kingdom and lose it because their daughter passed away?” It all sounded too weird.

I have no illusions about this post bringing an end to the perpetuation of any of the myths outlined above, but maybe we can take a little something away from this. Don’t try to have a baby in Disney World, it’s not safe. Be kind to any ghosts that may be lurking around. If you’re getting something tattooed on your body, make very sure that Walt said it first.

Disney College Program: A Wrap Up

Me, mom, dad, and Sweetums.  Does anyone see a bunny?

Me, mom, dad, and Sweetums. Does anyone see a bunny?

Today is my last day of work at Walt Disney World. I was, in case anyone forgot, working at MuppetVision 3-D in Hollywood Studios for the most part. I was (and still am, for a week) a part of the Disney College Program, a sort of internship for college students who want to work for the company, or want a semester off, or just want to go to Disney World for a little while.

I’m going to try to be as honest as possible, in hopes that someone will get something out of this and make an informed decision about perhaps doing their own College Program.

The Pros

There are  a lot of good things about the college program. You’re independent, for one. I went away to college, but a lot of people I know here did not, and it’s an opportunity for them to get out of their home towns or home states and be somewhere else for a while. Don’t underestimate the benefits of being on your own when you’re young.

The sisters take Disney

The sisters take Disney

You also get free reign of Walt Disney World. Free admission to the parks and water parks, free parking, free admission for up to 18 guests (3 people a day, 6 days total.) It’s an awesome way to see the Happiest Place on Earth without spending a lot of money.

You learn a lot about costumer service. For anyone who doesn’t know, there’s Disney guidelines like the Disney Look (neutral nail polish, no earrings for boys, no necklaces or bracelets, no tattoos.) There’s also a Disney Way of Talking. Everyone has their Cast Member voice, the one they use when speaking to guests. You say “please” every fifth word. You constantly say “thank you.” You learn to be patient with crying children and stressed-out moms and annoying teenagers who always run in packs.

Patience is actually the biggest take-away from this experience. My study abroad program taught me independence, my college years taught me social skills and tact, and my college program has given me patience. Patience with guests, with long lines (at Disney, of course, there’s always a line) with long hours and boring shifts. I feel myself being more willing to be calm, to compromise.

There’s also the college part of the program. I participated in a class called Leadership, which, outside of the program, costs a couple thousand dollars to take from Disney. I got it for free. Other people took Heritage (learning about the Disney Company) or Security, or Networking. All offered for free. And if you have online classes scheduled for certain days, you’ll never have work those days. So there’s room to be your student self.

The Muppets (and some fans) at the CP going away party. True love is getting up early after working late just to say goodbye.

The Muppets (and some fans) at the CP going away party. True love is getting up early after working late just to say goodbye.

And, of course, there’s the people. Muppets was the greatest group of laid-back people to work with. Everyone was willing to help each other out. Everyone was ready with sympathy after a long day, or when you really miss your family, or your friends, or your dog. You come to realize that if you have to have an eight hour, twelve hour, fifteen hour shift, it might as well be at Disney World, and it definitely should be with these guys.

You meet people outside of work, too. I made it a point to always drive people home, because I had a car and the bus always seemed to be forty minutes away. I met wonderful friends from all over Studios, always happy to get a ride, always ready with some good conversation, even when your day ends at midnight or 1 in the morning.

And, if you’re lucky, you meet best friends. Roommates or people you just click with. You watch movies together. You play in the parks. You cross the border and go to Universal, because Harry Potter. You laugh and talk. The best friends know about your family. The best friends tell you about their hopes and fears and ambitions.

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The best friends remind you why you love this place, after all.

The Cons

Yes, okay, there are bad things about working in Disney World, too. Especially as a college program participant.

Me, celebrating my 22 in the totally grown-up fashion of getting the Grey Stuff at Be Our Guest.

Me, celebrating my 22 in the totally grown-up fashion of getting the Grey Stuff at Be Our Guest.

I turned 22 in March, during my program. I’ve spent a solid four years away from home. But it’s like housing has not picked up on that. Here, as a college program participant, you stay at special college program housing. It’s about fifteen minutes from work, standard apartments. There’s a pool and a bus stop. I’ve got a washer and dryer and two roommates and two bedrooms. It would be perfect, if we didn’t have inspections.

Don’t get me wrong, I had inspections in college. They’d come in and take your candles, if you had them, or your alcohol if you were underage. But they weren’t looking to make sure your bed was made and your trash was taken out. They weren’t trying to play mom.

Here, being “inspection ready” means not having dishes in the sink, or trash in the trash can, or clothes in the dryer. We failed an inspection because our mirror was fogged up. A girl had just taken a shower. Okay, no big deal, we’re all adults and can take being told to clean up our mess. But then they charge you money for having your trash in the trash can. Essentially, you’re fined for using your apartment. And you’re working, and you’re roommates are working, and you have crazy hours. And we’re paying rent. It got to the point, when we failed and inspection and charged each of us $25, that we started asking what we were paying for. There’s other rules, too. Like: no visitors. If you’re caught with an overnight guest, you get fired. No candles. You get fired for lighting one. There’s this Damocles Sword hanging over your head at any moment, and even though you’re paying to live in the apartments, you have none of the power.

Walking up to the bus stop after a ten hour shift to see the bus pulling away.

Okay, that’s housing out of the way. Almost. The busses are bad. Everyone thinks their line in the worst (there’s about nine different busses, so someone working at Animal Kingdom doesn’t have to stop at Art of Animation first.) The bus is always an hour away. It usually takes an hour and a half to drive the eleven miles to work. When you get off of work at 1 or 2 in the morning, you have to wait at a deserted bus stop and hope someone will be there soon. If you have the option, bring a car.

Grabbing some time in the Wizarding World between long shifts.

Grabbing some time in the Wizarding World between long shifts.

Then there’s work. You may think you’re just signing up for Disney, but it is actually work. Or, rather, there’s a lot of hours of work. College program always closes. At Hollywood Studios, we close between 9 pm and midnight, usually. At Magic Kingdom, it’s between 11 pm and 3 am. At the resorts, you’re going to be there from 6 pm to 2 am. My friend at resorts would regularly be extended to 5 am. So, awesome, you’re closing. It means you have the whole day to play in the parks. And your days off. Except if you have classes, then you have to go home and study, get your homework done, pass out, wake up, go to work. Repeat.

Once you get used to the schedule, it’s not so bad. But come expecting to work. You will get 10 hour days. You will get 15 hour days. You will have a stretch of time where all you do is work and sleep. That too shall pass.

So, housing is ridiculous and your schedule kind of sucks. Then you actually have to deal with the guests.

90% of people who come through Disney are genuinely super excited to be there. They will smile and be polite and wait their turn. It is not this 90% of people that we complain about. It is the other 10%.

Kermit, teaching you how to respond to rude guests. #walkaway

While at Disney, I’ve had a man tell me to “go fuck myself.” I’ve had a man in a wheelchair yell at my friend, and then yell at me about my friend, and then yell at my manager, all because we let the FastPass line in first, which is what we’re supposed to do. I’ve seen a man hit his son so hard he fell to the ground. I’ve seen a woman pinch her daughter until she started crying. A perfectly polite, smiling woman came up to me while I was outside pin trading, looked at the other person outside with me, and said, still smiling, “Isn’t it nice that they let fags work here now?”

So yeah, some guests suck. Take a deep breath. What doesn’t kill you makes you madder.

In conclusion

Are the powers of Mickey's imagination strong enough? And bright enough?

Are the powers of Mickey’s imagination strong enough? And bright enough?

In the end, you’re going to be the one to decide whether the college program is right for you. If you want to work for the company, it’s a great way in. There’s lots of professional internships that are only available to alumni of the college program.

Personally, I don’t plan to be here forever (though Adventures By Disney looks super cool.) But I was ready to graduate when I finished college in December, and I needed a place to waste a couple of months. What better place is there than Disney?

And on those days when everything seems to be going wrong, you can always watch Fantasmic!, or Wishes. You can always sit in on One Man’s Dream, and listen to Walt say the important stuff, remind you why you’re here.

“I hope we never lose sight of one thing: That it all started with a mouse.”

-KA

Reading: A Love Story

It’s even hard for me to write this, sitting in my living room with my book next to me, wanting me to read it. Have you ever been so entranced with a book that nothing else is interesting? Not work, or friends, or Disney World or television or even writing? Have you ever been so absolutely content reading the book that you’re not even happy reading it anymore? Just scared for your favorite characters, pre-emptively anxious about the book ending, and what will you do when it’s over, and the lives have been lived and you’re left with yours, not on hold at all but still spinning chaotically around you, everything and everyone unchanged by the beauty of the book except for you, who lived and died. Except no one noticed.

(I’m not even going to say what book I’m reading. It’s mine, for the moment.)

So this is a short post, because I have work later, and because the book is still there like a siren song. I’m writing my own book (the purple prose above should alert you to that. I read a chapter and I write a chapter and I read and then I go out and see the world and do it again. It’s been a long week.) I’m also trying to make a decision about graduate school.

(More specifically, the decision has already been made but the particulars, like funding and expectations, are not put in place yet.)

I turned twenty-two since my last post, and did a multitude of childish things in Disney World to celebrate. I blew out a birthday candle and wished to stop moving, which made my decision about MFA programs easier. I’m going back home. I haven’t really been there for years.

This is the best part, though, when there’s many doors open and you get to stand on tip-toe, peering down the different paths, wondering where there will lead you. So I haven’t the heart to reject anyone yet. I want the doors open for a little longer. Another hour. Another week.

After deciding not to make a decision, I spent the day in Disney World (leaving my book firmly at home. I’ve missed the sun, and I need to disentangle myself from the lives of imaginary creatures.) It was a wonderful day. We met Pooh Bear in the Hundred Acre Wood. We held a glass slipper. Cried over Walt. And went to see Fantasmic, my favorite of all shows at Disney. At this time, it promptly poured, cancelling the regularly scheduled outdoor event for something smaller and sweeter. “Little April Showers.” Water coming from below as well as above. Lights and lasers and fireworks. It was enchanting, as was the movie we watched afterwards, still damp from the sheets of rain, laughing as if nature could make you giddy.

There was also Spring Break, and all the pictures taken, and family seen, and friends to laze with, and it was perfectly wonderful, but I cannot bring myself to talk about it because of work, and books to be read and written, and that will be a story for another time.

In the meantime, and am here and happy, and my future is becoming less foggy, and my present is filled with long sunny days, filled with fantasy.

It is the first day of Spring.

And it is snowing back home.

The Other Part of My Life

The other part of my life is graduate school. I came to Disney because it was a convenient stopping off point for a semester between undergrad and grad. Also because I love Disney, but I think everyone has gotten that by now.

Here’s the thing: getting into grad school for creative writing is roughly as difficult as getting into Harvard Law. Statistical fact. Between 200 and 300 people apply to the top programs (more for places like Iowa) and ever place accepts between 3 and 10 students per genre. The most popular genre is fiction. Guess what I want to write?

So I basically resigned myself to not getting into grad school this year. Thus, the college program. And Teach for America applications. Back up plans for my back up plans.

My friends: Katie, seriously, stop stressing you’re going to get into grad school.

Me: *looks at stats* *laughs*

I applied to nine MFA programs. (for those who care, they were: University of South Carolina, University of Houston, University of Montana, Virginia Tech, Purdue, Rutgers-Newark, Ohio State, Ole Miss, and McNeese State) They all said they’d be getting back to me by the end of February.

Well, folks, this is the end of February.

I was at Animal Kingdom the other day on the safari, which is the best part of being at Animal Kingdom. I went with my friend Ryann because I had some time to kill before my grandparents got to town. It was a good morning, FastPasses for Dinosaur and Lion King, grabbing some very good lunch, getting on a safari.

As we rounded the corner into the Serengeti, my phone rang. An unknown number out of Boston. I answered it, even though I was on a ride and I usual don’t answer unknown calls.

“Hello, Katie. This is (so and so) from the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark. I’m very happy to be able to tell you that you’ve been accepted…”

Me: *dies*

Ryann caught the whole thing on tape, the jerk, and I just grinned like an idiot for the rest of the day.

Because here’s the thing: I now have a place to go in the fall. My whole life after May 15th, when my program at Disney ends, was this big hazy blur. I’ve graduated from college, and I’m in application limbo, and now there’s solid ground.

And Rutgers is a good choice for me. It’s close to home, for one. I could live with my grandparents, or room with one of my many friends still in NJ, and be back North again. I could be good at this, and this could be a good place for me.

So I was walking on sunshine for a weekend. Even a brusque email from Ohio State rejecting me from their program didn’t phase me (probably too cold there anyway.) And then, today, while at the Magic Kingdom waiting to see Anna and Elsa (the cold never bothered her) I got an email saying I’d been accepted to American University in DC.

Takeaway: you can get into graduate school out of undergrad. (time will tell if this is a good thing.) And now I have a decision to make. Luckily I can put it off a little longer and see what else comes along.

Although it’ll be hard to pass up the proximity to home that Rutgers offers.

And it’ll be hard to leave Disney.

Me

Living in Orlando

Working at Walt Disney World is all well and good, but when you’re here for five months you start to realize that there’s other parts of Orlando outside the Big Cheese, and you have the time to explore them.

Which is a long way of saying that we went to Universal.

I'm pretty sure Harry didn't have to deal with all these Muggles when he went to Hogwarts.

I’m pretty sure Harry didn’t have to deal with all these Muggles when he went to Hogwarts.

The big allure, of course, is Harry Potter land. For those who don’t actually know me or my family, here’s some background: I love Harry Potter. It’s a family thing. My mother read the books out loud to me and my siblings when I was six years old, and even when the seventh book came out we read it together, out loud. It took a month. It was one of the best things my family ever did together, because it was our thing. So Harry is special, okay?

So on Saturday, Valentine’s Day, I just so happened to have off, and my friend Ryann so happened to have off, and we decided to go ahead and storm the castle.

Here’s what you’ve probably already guessed about Universal on Valentine’s Day: it’s crowded.

It’s so crowded you can’t really move.

You also can’t get on any rides.

Yup, I guess it's seventh book Harry Potter. Even though there's Wanted posters for Sirius Black. The time line is a little confusing.

Yup, I guess it’s seventh book Harry Potter. Even though there’s Wanted posters for Sirius Black. The time line is a little confusing.

But you can shop! And when you have Knockturn Alley and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes to shop at, not to mention Honeydukes, the Leaky Cauldron, and Hogwarts itself, shopping is a lot of fun. I bought a Ravenclaw sweater, because I’m getting paid now and I can. Ryann bought a wand and flicked it at things. And–because the world is actually magical–stuff happens when you flick your wand.

But let’s go back to that crowded thing. I kind of forgot that Valentine’s Day fell on President’s Day Weekend, so there were crowds everywhere. I worked Sunday and Monday, and Muppets was up to a half hour wait at times both of those days. Muppets. A word to the wise (or weary): don’t go to Disney on the weekend if you can avoid it. Especially avoid holiday weekends. And don’t go on Muppets if there’s a week. If you come any time after six o’clock there’s no wait. Jussaying.

What else do you learn in Orlando when you live here?

Traffic is a bear. Especially on Sundays. Some genius put a huge Catholic church right next to College Program housing which, okay, is nice for those of us CPs who are Catholic, but it ties up traffic like nothing else on Sundays. So you learn to go around.

This going around gave me another first in my life: the first time I ever called 9-1-1.

Dale kissed me and the photographer was laughing because I turned red.

Dale kissed me and the photographer was laughing because I turned red.

So we were going down the street. Crawling down the street, because traffic was just about at a stand-still. It was Sunday and we were trying to get to Target to grab half price Valentine’s Day candy. “What the hell,” Elisa, my roommate, who was driving, doesn’t do traffic well. Really, who does? So she slapped the steering wheel and we waiting twenty minutes to go a mile up to the left turn light.

Where we figured out the source of the problem. In Florida, sometimes, there’s two left-turn lanes. In the right-hand left turn lane, about ten yards away from the light, someone had abandoned their car. The lights weren’t on, and the car wasn’t running, and no one was in it.

“Well, that’s dangerous,” I said, peering at the car. “We’re going to witness an accident right here. Wait til it gets dark. Someone’s gonna die because some guy just left his car.”

Being the very safety conscious Disney employees we are, Elisa gave me her phone and I called 9-1-1. It was a bit of a let down for my first time, since the woman on the other end of the line got my info and hung up in about a minute. But when we drove back there was a police car directing people around the abandoned vehicle.

Selfies with characters is the new big thing. Apparently.

Selfies with characters is the new big thing. Apparently.

The moral of the story is threefold: don’t try to drive in Orlando on a Sunday. Don’t abandon your car. And if you see something strange, say something.

One more little story about what happens at Disney when it rains.

Hint: we don’t have a giant dome to put up over the parks. (I actually get asked about this mythical dome at least once every time it rains. And the people are dead serious.)

Nope, it’s Disney water, so it’s a really goo illusion of you getting actually wet. What happens is that all the rides get weirdly busy. Except the outdoor ones. Another word to the wise: if it’s raining, stay, because a lot of people think they’re going to melt if they get wet and lines do get shorter. But as an extra pro tip, when it’s already raining is a great time to get on a water ride like Splash Mountain or the Kali River Rapids. You’re wet anyway. Might as well enjoy it.

And don’t linger under the awnings of Muppets. I will nudge you out into the rain.

 

Welcome to the Muppet Show

One of my creative writing teachers said that a good rule of thumb for writing was to take people, “behind the velvet rope.” That learning inside information was what keeps people interested. That’s why everyone likes crime shows, or talent competitions, because it makes something that usually looks complicated transparent.

Want to go behind the velvet rope at Disney?

Everyone knows that the Magic Kingdom has tunnels, but in Hollywood Studios there’s no such luxury, just a ring around the park where trucks, cars, and cast members try not to run into each other. It’s a long loop, and there’s lots of short cuts. Like to get out of Muppets at the end of the day, go through Pizza Planet. Or, in a pinch, Star Tours is a good escape.

(the important thing is not to cross the threshold of another ride while wearing your costume. this is huge in Magic Kingdom, where there’s different Lands, and seeing a Fantasyland person in Adventureland might mess up the space-time continuum. in Studios, it’s just a matter of making sure someone wearing a Muppets costume doesn’t go off the regular path.)

Once you’re actually at Muppets, there’s five positions. Muppets can technically run, I’m pretty sure, with only three people operating the show. That’s because safety is Disney’s number one concern, and it’s pretty easy to keep the Muppet Show safe. It’s ride like Star Tours or the Jungle Cruise that takes a minimum of, like, fifteen people to run.

Sometimes you spend so long at one part that it's hard to remember the others exist.

Sometimes you spend so long at one part that it’s hard to remember the others exist.

Which means, naturally, that there’s just less people around at Muppets. About ten regulars who shuffle ourselves around and could be there at any time. It would be a quiet and easy-going atmosphere if the Frozen Sing-Along wasn’t at a temporary theater next door. Which means more people around! Which I love. Especially at the end of the night–and College Program people always close–it’s nice to see that the entire world hasn’t emptied out.

Most of what varies your day is, naturally, the guests you interact with. That’s honestly the best part of the job. There’s a position called “greeter” where you do just that–greet people. Be friendly. We have stickers that we give away. Stickers fix everything. Stickers fix tears and long lines and probably broken bones.

My shifts are mostly around six hours long, which means that I get the mornings to–well, to be lazy mostly. And write blogs.

The worst thing that happens of Muppets is you get bored. Usually not before 5 pm, when there’s still people around. But after 5, everyone’s grabbing dinner, heading to Fantasmic, and the Muppet courtyard dies. The little carts close up. Pizza Planet closes up. We’re all alone, still running shows for 20ish people.

(if you want a private viewing of just about any show in the park, Muppets or Frozen or Fantasmic, go to the latest one offered. Pro tip right there.)

And that’s my job. Come see me and Muppets sometime.

There’s obviously weird things that happen. I found a lost child on my first day. She was standing in front of me, turning around in a circle, saying, “I can’t find my mommy,” which was a pretty good indication as to her state of lostness. So I gave her a sticker, she stopped crying, and I talked to her for five minutes before a woman found us and snatched her away and glared at me. Now, obviously people are pretty emotional when they find out their little princess is just gone, but thank yous go a long way and this woman just stalked off. The little girl said goodbye though, which was adorable.

When I get out early I watch Fantasmic. Because Mickey.

When I get out early I watch Fantasmic. Because Mickey.

And the bus at the end of the night is always a good place to hear horror stories, because there’s people from all over the park trying to get home and complaining about the rudest people they had. It’s a weird human thing that we don’t remember the legions of perfectly polite people who come through. It’s the awful people who stick in your head and stay there.

Obviously though I’m not spending my whole day at work. When I come home, I usually go right back out again to a park, or to grab dinner. When I get alone time–usually in the mornings, as I seem to be incapable of sleeping past 8 am and every other self-respecting 20-year-old is out until noon–I write, which is incredibly therapeutic. I’m slowly tackling a novel, but it’s so full of fantasy politics that I spend half my work day thinking over made-up problems. And I’m not reading as much as I’d like, which is probably what’s frying my brain.

I did make time to go back up to Tallahassee. That’s right, this girl who abhors driving took the plunge and made it the four hours, or 280 miles, from Orlando to Tallahassee. It wasn’t so bad, actually. Listened to a lot of TED Talks. Yelled at other drivers who couldn’t hear me.

And I got to see my girls. Don’t get me wrong, I like everyone I’ve met at Disney. Just about everyone is up to talk to you for a bus ride, or twenty minutes between shifts, or whatever, but I’ve truly clicked with all of one person, and since she’s working at a resort her schedule is the exact opposite of mine.

paisley-sign-33

                    aka Paramecium Cafe.

So it was great to see everyone. Have a Super Bowl party with pizza and tequila and much shouting at Tom Brady’s lack of tears. Grab lunch with Patricia and proceed to spend the whole afternoon talking about Disney and tv shows and the 2016 Presidential Election. Celebrate a birthday. Go to favorite restaurants. Leave too soon.

I feel like that last part too much defines my post-high school life. Every semester I seem to be moving. I feel like I left London too soon, and every one of my many roommates too soon. I don’t miss school, but I miss my friends, every one of whom have left me too soon.

At least we have Facebook now. And too long blog posts.

Traditions, Tradition, and a Passing of an Era

Okay, if you know me in real life (irl as the kids are saying today–I just learned that one) then you’ll know what I have to say next. If you don’t know me and want to skip to the Disney part of this blog, too bad, real life sometimes happens too.

My grandfather, grandmother, and the whole brood of grandchildren. Christmas 2011.

My grandfather, grandmother, and the whole brood of grandchildren. Christmas 2011.

Four days after I arrived at the Disney College Program, the day before I was supposed to go through Traditions, I got a call from my father around noon that my grandfather had passed away early that morning. It wasn’t unexpected news, but expecting something doesn’t mean you can’t still be surprised by it. My grandfather, my father’s father, is someone who will always be remembered for his generosity, and his large and loving family. And, of course, his many wonderful delicious recipes. He would tell jokes, long story jokes, that my brother learned dutifully and would pass off as his own. When I was six, he taught me to play Yahtzee, and said he should bring me to Vegas to clean out that joint. I was six, enjoyed any attention I could get from adults, and for the next ten years proceeded to play Yahtzee every time I went to my grandparents’ house.

I got to see him last week, while he was in the hospital, while he was still talking.

I can’t talk about this any more. Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 9.26.01 AM

I asked around to see if it was possible to go back home for the funeral on Monday and got the same reaction everywhere: sympathy while saying that my training could be pushed back by two or three weeks by any unexpected absence.

They said that once I got my real schedule (in like a week and a half) I could switch shifts for some time to get home. Which was totally unhelpful.

Meaning all the other grandchildren are there and I’m in the most magical place on earth. This is the weirdest juxtaposition of my life.

I never believed in putting my very personal life on the internet, but some of the rest of the story won’t make much sense if you don’t know what every other member of my family is doing this weekend. And why if there was ever a time I would wish to not be in Disney World, it would be now, just so I could be with them.

Okay. On with the Disney stuff.

Every single Disney cast member, from custodial staff to monorail operators to character performers, go through a job orientation called “Traditions.” This includes a brief overview of the company and the important aspects of the general job you’ll be doing.

Only thing missing from this is my name tag, which is very fancy and I asked them to redo because I am not really a Kathryn.

Only thing missing from this is my name tag, which is very fancy and I asked them to redo because I am not really a Kathryn.

Hint: it has to do with making people happy. In the Happiest Place on Earth, that’s a top priority (not the top priority, which is safety, but safety is not nearly as awesome as creating happiness. Yeah, when you work at Disney, you’re expected to/get to create happiness out of thin air. And they do. And it’s awesome.)

Part of Traditions includes going through the tunnels under the Magic Kingdom. Notice there is no picture of this because cameras are very much forbidden and you can get fired on the spot. So: word picture.

Behind the Magic Kingdom is a bus stop that lets cast members off at Disney University/West Clock (did you know there was a Disney University? This is where we oriented ourselves. It has the best wall decorations I’ve ever seen. Also clean bathrooms.) From this bus stop you take another bus to the tunnels.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the tunnels. They’re not actually underground, they’re on the first level. All of the Magic Kingdom is built on the second level. There are pipes overhead that use suction power to get all the park’s trash over to big dumpsters. Most of where we were in the tunnels–from Fantasyland to Main Street–smelled like baked goods and Disney magic.

One of the best things to see is everyone mingling backstage in different costumes. This effect is even better at the apartment bus stops, where you can watch one person going to work at Expedition: Everest in Animal Kingdom, another on their way to Africa in Epcot, and they’re standing next to a cast member going to Tomorrowland and another heading off to Star Tours. It’s bizarre and makes me smile every time (that picture will come when I catch a cool crowd.)

Anyway, Traditions. We went through the tunnels then went up Main Street to see the castle and watch cast members in action. This was almost the end of our Traditions class. We had already gotten Mickey ears, and little figurines for answering questions, and we were pretty content.

Mickey Mouse was IN MY CLASSROOM

Mickey Mouse was IN MY CLASSROOM!!

Until a very special guest arrived with out name tags.

Have you ever been greeted to your first day on the job by Mickey Mouse himself?

It’s pretty frickin cool guys.

And Traditions meant more than meeting my new boss and getting swag–it meant we finally got entrance to the parks! Which means, of course, Magic Kingdom.

If you ever have three hours in which to do the best of the best, follow our lead: parade, pretzels in Tomorrowland, Haunted Mansion, Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, fireworks, Mine Carts.

It doesn’t have to be in that order but it should be because why ruin a good thing?

Definitely do a night cruise if you’re going to stop by the Jungle Cruise. Everyone is 1000% sassier. We got jokes about measles in Disneyland. Things get real.

(though nothing is more real than Eeyore doing a choreographed dance to “Let It Go,” which is the sight we glimpsed directly afterwards. Nothing in this world is more precious than that morose donkey standing in front of the crystal palace jamming to a musical number.)

Then Wishes. Which made me cry cuz I’m a sap.

My roommates left me this note when I got back from Traditions. MK means "Magic Kingdom."

My roommates left me this note when I got back from Traditions. MK means “Magic Kingdom.”

We grabbed Steak n’ Shake on the way home, talked about grammar, and I passed out in preparation for another 5 am wake up call.

5 am led to a distinctly less exciting school day. No Mickey, but lots more safety instruction from people who really loved Disney. Everyone really loves Disney here, which you think would be a no-brainer but leaves you with lots of ice breakers in case you needed something sharp to break through the January permafrost. “What’s your role?” of course but also “What’s your favorite movie/character/park/ride?” Everyone talks, for now, until we start work and 4 am wake up calls are the norm.

After a class that very closely resembled a high school schedule (5 am wake up? check. lunch tables segregated by ‘who’s hot and who’s not’? check) I headed back to the apartment to change before going out to Hollywood Studios.

And I tossed some laundry in because why not. Then I headed over to Hollywood Studios to check out what my costumes could look like (range from awesome to boring. What am I going to be doing?!?) and of course watch the best of the best shows, Beauty and the Beast and Fantasmic. I may be slightly obsessed with Fantasmic. I tear up every time. I rally am a sap.

Disney things I learned today: Fantasmic is my favorite thing in all of Hollywood Studios. Fantasmic is my favorite thing in the parks. I hope I still love it even if I watch it every night. There’s a hidden Mickey in the ballroom scene of Haunted Mansion. Also in the graveyard. You’ll have to visit me to figure out exactly where.

To my family: wish I could be there with you guys. I hope to see you soon.

To everyone else: Be nice to cast members. Keep on reading. I hope to tell you all the good parts.

The Disney College Program

I began college with an adventure, going to London for eight months and Florence for three, spending my first year traveling Europe and eating too much and making the best friends.

So I decided to end college with an adventure–graduating early and going to Walt Disney World to work for a semester. I applied for the Disney College Program back in September and got offered a role before the end of the month, as an attractions operator.

Okay. That’s enough of a recap. Here’s what’s new:

View from the autotrain. I think this is a sunset in North Carolina

View from the autotrain. I think this is a sunset in North Carolina

On Saturday morning, my father drove with me down to Lorton, Virginia so I could get the autotrain. There were no complications, I got there, gave over my car, got on the train, and proceeded to have the worst sleep of my life. But what else do you expect when you’re on a train traveling a thousand miles down to Orlando, Florida?

So if you need your car in Florida and you don’t have anyone to road trip with you, take the autotrain. It’s more comfortable than a plane and you get to feel very old-school “riding the rails.”

Of course, none of this was the interesting part. The interesting part is what was waiting on the other end of the autotrain ride–Disney World, and a job, and all new people.

I met one of these new people within my first four hours of being in Orlando. Elisa is my roommate, and she also got Attractions. We went to the free parts of Disney–hotels and Downtown Disney, which is in the throes of renovation–before grabbing dinner and going to bed. I was under the covers before 8:30. I haven’t done that since the third grade.

All of the craziness was lead-up for check-in day, yesterday, when Elisa and I woke up at seven to start getting paperwork done by eight. The very first thing that happened was I got handed a book, and on the book was a sticker, and on the sticker was my location.

HOLLYWOOD STUDIOS–ICON ATTRACTIONS.

My first thought was “huh. That’s not the Jungle Cruise.”

Inside the casting building "rotunda" room. Not pictured: Minnie Mouse, Dumbo, Roger Rabbit, and Thumper, among others.

Inside the casting building “rotunda” room. Not pictured: Minnie Mouse, Dumbo, Roger Rabbit, and Thumper, among others.

The reason I’m doing the college program to begin with is because the very first person I met on my very first adventure in college had just finished her semester at Disney. She was a Jungle Cruise skipper and had had a wonderful time. She also became my best friend. I wanted, more than anything, to be a skipper.

Of course, if you know anything about Hollywood Studios, you know that the Jungle Cruise is not there.

You know what is Icon Attractions? Star Tours. Muppet Vision. The Tower of Terror. Beauty and the Beast. And, my favorite, The Great Movie Ride.

Basically, all the best stuff.

I won’t know until this weekend exactly which ride I’m working on, but for now I know I’m in a park, my second-favorite one (there were people in line with me who were being sent to EPCOT, which is huge and hot, or Downtown Disney, which is barely even a park, so I’d say I got a good deal.) The more I think about working at MGM–sorry, Hollywood Studios, I’m going to have to start calling it by its real name–the more excited I get. No terrible Magic Kingdom hours. A slightly older crowd. Fantasmic every night.

Anyway, after I got checked in I got an itinerary that basically lists what I’m doing with the rest of my life. Or at least the rest of my week. I went through casting this morning and got a Traditions time for 6:55 am on Friday (Disney does weird things sometimes, like telling you to be places at 6:55 am when most people round up to 7.) After Traditions I get a pretty new ID card that will get me into the Disney Parks for free for the rest of the semester!

The girls I’m living with have all gone through the program before and are amazingly generous with their knowledge. I’ve discovered that my new favorite question is “what’s your role?” (In a pinch, “where are you from?” and “what school do you go to?” work too.)

The Casting Building across from Downtown Disney is the only building on Disney World property to feature Alice in Wonderland doorknobs.

“You’re much too big. Simply impassable.”

I’ve also discovered that meeting roommates is the same everywhere. Easiest way to do it: volunteer to make dinner within the first three days. Make sure everyone shows up to dinner. Talk.

(I started this blog post at 3:30 this afternoon and am finishing nine hours later because I’ve been talking to my roommates for nine hours.)

Disney things I learned today: The Casting building has Alice in Wonderland doorknobs. Buzz Lightyear’s original name was “Lunar Larry.” There’s a store behind Magic Kingdom filled with broken, damaged, or weirdly made items that cast members can buy for a huge discount. My roommate once stood outside a closed ride and sent people away because George Clooney was shooting inside.

More facts to follow. Keep up with me, readers. It’s going to be a fun semester.

Getting Published, and Other News

So I’m graduating in two weeks.

I’m still trying to focus on getting my finals finished, so there’s no sappy I-can’t-believe-I’m-done post yet. That will come. I really cannot believe how much fun I’ve had these past four years. How much I’ve learned and changed and loved and grown. I cannot believe how lucky I was to meet the amazing young men and women who became my best friends.

But we’re not talking about them yet. We’re talking about me.

I want to be a published author. I want to write books. In order to do this, I’ve found that the only sure-fire way to get any kind of success is to write. A lot. I write in diaries and in my notebooks. Instead of listening in lectures I’ll write stories. Instead of doing math homework in high school I’d write fanfiction. This has paid off into exactly $2,050 payout after, literally, millions of words written. Most of that came in the form of a writing scholarship I won in high school.Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 1.20.23 PM

One of the biggest steps towards becoming a published writer is to actually be published. This is another thing that has a pretty common sense sure-fire method: you submit to a lot of publications.

I began submitting to magazines when I was in high school. Maybe even before then. Nothing.

A smarter person would be deterred by the obvious lack of interest in the ramblings of a teenager. But I had tenacity and time and so I kept submitting. And, you know, even a broken clock get it right twice a day

This past summer, I submitted a story to Fabula Press, previously Quill & Ink, for an anthology of short stories about summer called “Aestas.”

The weird thing was that I’d just finished a story about a band. It takes place in the summer of 1984 and is about coming of age when you don’t even know who you want to become. It’s confusing to be in your early twenties, and I wanted to make sure that confusion came across in the dying shore band atmosphere of the mid-eighties. I hadn’t written the story with a specific goal in mind. It was after school ended, so I wasn’t going to workshop it. I just felt compelled to write about these specific characters.

It worked out. I submitted the 15-page story to the press and promptly forgot about it.

This past summer I worked as an intern at a wonderful literary agency in New York City, which meant I spent about forty minutes a day commuting in and out of the city. I mastered the train and the paperback. On the day I was running late and feeling awful about it, my phone buzzed with an email. Remember that magazine you submitted to and promptly forgot about? You’re shortlisted for publication. Whittled down from many submissions to the final eleven. You’re in.

I felt like I’d swallowed the sun.

Anyway, three months later I’ve gotten more emails from them, keeping all the authors updated, and in the middle of what promises to be one of the coldest winters in history, there’s a magazine being published that’s all about summer. And I’m in it.

If you wanted to check out the magazine, or buy it, or convince other people to buy it, it’s for sale on Amazon here.

Expect more from me soon. I’m not going anywhere.

UPDATE: Gunman Killed, 3 Injured at Shooting in Strozier Library

katie avagliano:

I cannot believe we had to write this article. I’m proud of my magazine’s efforts to report the facts of the case while it is happening. Last night I stayed up until 4 am with one of our writers as he drafted the original post of this terrible event. The atmosphere at Florida State University is indescribable right now. Classes were cancelled. People are angry, or confused, or sad, or frightened. Students and faculty have gathered for vigils and prayer throughout the day.

You do not measure the strength of a university by it’s football record. We are not Unconquered because of the points on a scoreboard. Today, we are Unconquered because we do not allow ourselves to be shaken by events that have rattled the ground beneath our feet.

I am proud to be a Seminole.

Originally posted on The Last Word:

A sad, shocking, senseless act of violence.

Those are just some of the words used by university professors in emails to describe the shooting incident at Florida State’s Strozier library, a symbol of academic pursuit at FSU, where around 350-400 students were gathered as they worked on projects, studied for exams, and were busy catching up with their reading assignments.

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But at around 12:30AM, multiple shots were heard at FSU’s Strozier Library. Eight minutes later, a “dangerous situation” was reported by the Florida State University Police Department.

Cassidy Nicholas, a sophomore who was in the first floor at Strozier near Starbucks as the shooting occurred, described the chaotic scene to The Last Word.

She initially heard 2 gunshots, describing them as “sounding like fireworks.”

“People began to frantically run, I got my stuff and my computer and held the door open for 20 people since I thought it was a…

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