Can I talk like a sailor at the happiest place on Earth
December 11, 2012 6:20 PM   Subscribe

Thirty something professional leaves it all behind to try to work at Disney World. Am I taking crazy pills?!?

I'm a graphic designer now in Michigan, ended up here in a bad twist of events and have been wanting to move on for more than 2 years. I have had a dream to work at Disney since I was a kid. I have read horror stories online and I have talked to "cast members" in the parks... Can I adapt to living at minimum wage again at this age (35)? Can I even get a job at Disney? I have not worked in the hospitality industry - ever.
I have purchased a travel trailer that I can move into and pretty much take anywhere. I am fearful that I will be stuck in another horrible place with no chance of advancement. Which is better in the current economy FL or CA?
Anyone know the real odds of getting into Imagineering without a Bachelors degree or completing the Disney college internship?
People I know say that this is all crazy. I am making a great living here in MI but I am so much more liberal that this area allows. I need to find people IRL.
Plan so far: sell my crap; move into travel trailer with cats - turtle - husband; move to coast; find job; enjoy.
posted by phytage to Work & Money (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You are taking crazy pills. But mostly it sounds like you're just in a rut, feeling down, and needing a breath of fresh air of some kind. I assure you that a) there are some extraordinarily liberal, great people in Michigan, and b) working minimum wage as an hourly amusement park grunt is not the cure for depression.
posted by The World Famous at 6:26 PM on December 11, 2012 [16 favorites]

Disney cast members get paid very, very low wages. Most of them also work at Universal or waitressing or something else local in Orlando. Do you want to do that? The odds of working at Imagineering are zero without a degree and many years in the field.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:30 PM on December 11, 2012

Mouse Planet has some tips:
posted by holyrood at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2012

I wouldn't work at an amusement park even for so much more than minimum wage. The horror stories are true.

In any case, take a look at what you can do to improve your situation that isn't quite so drastic. You mention that you're 'so much liberal' than your area allows - what can you do to meet new people? (OKCupid? I know people who use it to make friends.) Is there any way you could relocate and take your work with you? Or what other job opportunities are there - near your home or otherwise - that would interest or engage you?

The concept of following dreams is great, but I'm concerned that you'd get to Disneyworld, love it for the first month or so, and then realise that it's not all it's cracked up to be. If you do decide that you want to pursue it, look into ways that you can at least give it a try without packing up your whole life first. Is there any way you could go down there for two weeks and work without committing? Do you have an 'in'?
posted by littlegreen at 6:31 PM on December 11, 2012

I know a few people who have worked at Disney World, albeit generally as part of their student internship program thingy (with one exception). The recurring terms they bandied about, when discussing their experiences, were "slave labor," "discrimination," and "humiliation."

This even comes from a friend who still loves everything Disney, would still go back for a vacation, and who did love love love interacting with the children there. She felt hugely taken advantage of.

So - vote for crazy pills, maybe? Sorry to be so cynical.
posted by vivid postcard at 6:32 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know quite a few people that work/have worked at Disney as teens/twenty-somethings--pretty par for the course in Florida, so I don't imagine it's the most horrendously difficult job to get. That said, Florida is not the most fabulous place to be, and working at Disney in its hospitality aspect kinda sucks. Florida's also not some liberal paradise at all--our current governor resembles Lord Voldemort both in face and in spirit--and the economy's a trainwreck. So, just keep that in mind. On the plus side, it never snows here, and...that's about it.
posted by Papagayo at 6:32 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please talk to a therapist or counselor before you make this kind of decision. People are telling you this is a bad idea because it is. If you need to take some time off, take some time off; if you truly want to move, move (and continue to be a graphic designer). If you hate being a graphic designer, choose a different career. Working at Disney is not going to fix your problems, it's going to create more.

And, to answer one of your questions, no you probably cannot adapt to living on minimum wage ($8/hr in California, which has a very high cost of living, and $7.67 in Florida, which has a more reasonable cost of living.) You would be very poor, even if you had a second minimum wage job.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:33 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am making a great living here in MI but I am so much more liberal that this area allows. = do not move to Orlando. Do not, I say! Not exactly a liberal mecca, Orlando.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:42 PM on December 11, 2012 [14 favorites]

Orlando is VERY conservative. And ugly. And expensive. Don't move. Bloom where you're planted .
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

And on the political spectrum note, LA is great for liberals but Orange County is not.

FWIW I do know an Imagineer who does what he does for Disney because he does it better and smarter than anyone else (IE not because he's graduated or has a degree in a particular field or whatever) but I think he's kind of a unicorn.
posted by carsonb at 6:52 PM on December 11, 2012

I'm all for people following their dreams--I moved across states to pursue weightlifting once. But I was in a shitty place making minimum wage and had nothing going for me. If your issue is just the location maybe see if there are liberal enclaves you can find around you. Your profile says you live in Allegan. Is there any way you could move closer to Kalamazoo? It is a really wonderful, artsy city, significantly more liberal than the rest of southwest Michigan and has a lot of quality things to do that you wouldn't expect from a city that size.
posted by schroedinger at 6:54 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Question: *Are* you taking crazy pills? Because this really does seem drastic for your goals in the situation. Not too be mean or over-diagnose-y or anything, but this does not sound like a great plan.
posted by 3491again at 6:57 PM on December 11, 2012

Working for minimum wage at Disney World in Orlando is about as far from Imagineering as a bus boy's job is to owning restaurants. In fact, even farther away than that, because Guy Fieri owns a restaurant now.

I've worked in a theme park, as a teen, as has my spouse and my siblings, for slightly more than minimum wage at the time. It's not easy work--on top of the low salaries, Florida summers get up in the 90s and not all jobs are even indoors--and it's not something anyone chooses to do for a living. Teenagers work there to get through high school or college with gas money and some work experience to put on their resumes and then they move on. You are romanticizing this obsession of yours and you will not find happiness being a theme park ride attendant or gift shop clerk.

If you want to work as an Imagineer for Disney, go back to school, get top grades while earning a degree, and try for an Imagineering scholarship. That's the realistic approach, and if it seems too difficult for you, than maybe your dream is really just an escapist daydream and not something you are prepared to actually do.

Which is okay! Just don't buy a trailer and move down here and THEN find that out.
posted by misha at 7:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree that this sounds really drastic and possibly dire. By all means leave graphic design if it's making you this miserable. Moving to another town isn't a bad idea. Maybe try graphic design in a town you like better?

Imagineering is really, really hard to break into and is much more about deep intellectual and artistic curiousity. Engineering and theatrical design + illustration seem to be the most common combos. That said, here are some links that speak to it.
- Don Harmon interview
- Unofficial imagineering blog
- Classic-era Imagineer Bob Gurr
posted by smirkette at 7:11 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Why not try analyzing what your dream of working at Disney represents to you (not necessarily what the reality of working for Disney would be, but what it represents to you). Is it having A Big Adventure? Is it working in a creative role? Is living in a more liberal environment with people you feel you'd have more in common with? If you can get to the core of what need you think working at Disney would fill for you, you can work at finding that in a more safe and logical way.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 7:52 PM on December 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

What you need is a VACATION at Disney World/Disneyland.

It sounds like you have some fantasy thinking about working for Disney. It's a job and one that's quite regimented. Take a look at the Disney Institute's Business Excellence program. Working at Disney is not happy-playtime; it's about consistent delivery of operational excellence. It means dealing with guest protein spills and other trying situations without breaking your "on stage" persona.

You may well need a change, but mostly it sounds like you need a relaxing vacation.
posted by 26.2 at 8:35 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sorry, other posters, I have to disagree. People always hate on Florida but there's a lot to love here. I think you should do it! The warm weather and access to the beach will do you good. Park yourself in Cocoa Beach on the weekends and cruise into Disney for work. I worked at Universal Orlando a few years ago and had fun. There are a lot of things you can do that are not imagineering but are equally as cool. Memail me if you want more info. I have many many friends who happily work at Disney and love it. Also, Orlando went blue in the last election, it's beautiful circa downtown, there are tons of parks and springs within a short drive AND it's cheap. It has the cheapest cost of living of any city I've lived in.
posted by saltwater at 8:46 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do go become an Imagineer, skip the slave in a funny costume gig, you missed that window 15 years ago. Find out where they advertise openings, get a job as a secretary, anything. Make lots of amazing art, learn more about it than the other few hundred folks, ask them, make even more amazing art and keep at it.
posted by sammyo at 9:18 PM on December 11, 2012

A little crazy pill every now and then is GOOD for you. I think you should go for it.

I have several friends who nomad around the country from one seasonal job to another. One lives in his truck and camps out a lot, the rest find housing or stay with friends. And you know what? They seem happy, meet lots of people, and pick up some great life stories along the way. Those of us who do not have a ton of ties or obligations are delightfully free to simplify our lives, tighten our belts, and try something new. And because we're so adaptable, we almost always land on our feet.

An old friend works full time for Disney marketing. Disney was his dream since he was 14 years old and he made it happen through hard work and his fondness for all things Disney. Pressured by his family to become a doctor, he ended up dropping pre-med to take an internship at Disney and he never looked back. It doesn't hurt that he's crazy smart and has this wonderful, authentically positive personality.

Something else to consider is working on a Disney cruise. You'd have to leave your cats and turtle for a bit, but the money is good and it's all Disney all the time.

So do it! Go for it! If it doesn't work out, at least it'll be something new and it might lead you to the next thing that captivates you.
posted by mochapickle at 9:25 PM on December 11, 2012

Maybe I'm misreading something, but you mention a husband at the end of your post. Does this mean you're married? I can't think of a quicker way to break up a marriage than to tell your spouse that you're going to quit your job so you can move across the country to work for minimum wage at an amusement park.

If you don't like your job, find a new one. If you don't like your town, find a new one. Whatever you do, though, please be realistic about it. The plan you are describing is like someone saying they want to become a world class chef, so they're going to drive the delivery trucks for McDonalds. What you are saying you want and what you are proposing to do are two drastically different things.
posted by markblasco at 10:59 PM on December 11, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you can get a good job, then go for it. By a good job, I mean something decent in the office or at the park. Avoid jobs like janitorial, food service, transportation.

My "friend" used to work at Disneyland at one of the bad jobs listed above. Despite being educated, my "friend" was never given any opportunities for advancement. My friend would work 20 hours in the slow period, but 40 in the busy peiod. Which makes it hard to pay all your bills or get another job. My "friend" was often told how much all the guest paid to be there (so treat them right!) while making less than $10 per hour in an area where an $1000 per month 1 bedroom apartment was the norm.

My "friend" now works for TSA. My "friend" says that is a much better job. Yes, that's right- being a TSA goon is better than working at the happiest place on earth.
posted by "friend" of a TSA Agent at 1:19 AM on December 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have two friends that work at Disney, however, they are both retired and work only part time hours. They absolutely love anything Disney and they basically do it to get out of the house for awhile. They are both very happy working there but they are already set financially and it's more or less a hobby of theirs. I can't see it as a job you can support yourself on.
posted by sybarite09 at 6:01 AM on December 12, 2012

Can you find freelance graphic design work that can be done online? If so, you might be able to move to Florida with your trailer, work in the park part time for the fun of it and do graphic design to pay the bills.
posted by CathyG at 6:57 AM on December 12, 2012

I'm an hourly cast member at the Disneyland Resort. I was hired in with 3000 other people in the spring for the grand opening of the Cars Land/Buena Vista Street expansion of Disney California Adventure in June. I know quite a few people who moved to Anaheim specifically to work at Disneyland. One girl dropped out of college across the country when she got an interview. Most of them are working another job because the vast majority of us are part-time and hours vary from week to week. I have three days off this week. We're going into major crazy holiday season right now, but after New Year's Day, the parks will be pretty dead.

If you're really dead set on working in Florida, or even here, they hire for the peak seasons: spring break/summer/Thanksgiving-New Year's. At least here at Disneyland, you'll be hired as temporary at first, go through a probation period of 90-120 days before "getting your ears" and being converted to cast regular status. That's when you get your main gate pass and people you haven't heard from for years come out of the woodwork to ask if you can get them into the parks for free. Anyway, find somewhere cheap to park your trailer, hire in as temporary, and see if you like it enough to stay for a while.

Feel free to memail me for job specifics and stories about "magical moments" and guests calling me a bitch in equal parts.
posted by book 'em dano at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2012

Thanks everyone! I am basically a nomad already, and the husband just travels along for the adventure. I have never lived anywhere more than 3 years at a time. I definitely do not want to leave graphics behind. I love creating but I want more than sitting at a desk all day. I have worked for motion pictures, I have worked for well known latin tv/radio stations, I have seen my creations on television, etc etc. I need something exciting and crazy now!
Maybe this is my early mid-life crisis? I definitely do not want to stay HERE and bloom - as it stands I feel like I am withering and IQ points slipping away daily. Husband also feels the same and wants a change.
Maybe my Florida fantasy is not the answer. But there is somewhere worth heading off into the sunset towards. I just know it!
posted by phytage at 9:53 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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