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Walt Disney World Cast Member Stories: The Disney College Program Experience

Epcot World Showcase

Disney's College Program gives many Cast Members their first taste of working at Walt Disney World.

If you’ve ever marvelled at the plethora of fresh-faced college kids in Walt Disney World, there’s a very simple answer. It isn’t that Florida has an endless supply of college students from within the state to staff the parks, it’s that they bring kids in from all over the country to fill these jobs. The Disney College Program is a win-win situation for everyone involved, and many of the Cast Members who begin as “CPs” come back for subsequent programs or decide never to leave at all.

The Disney College Program recruits students from colleges around the country to staff its four theme parks, two water parks, Downtown Disney shopping district, and numerous hotels. Jobs cover nearly every area including housekeeping, attractions, food and beverage, custodial, and vacation planning. Epcot’s World Showcase pavilions are staffed by many students brought to the US from overseas as part of the International College Program, or ICP, experience. This means that the Cast Members in Italy are really from Italy, those in France readily speak French, and so on. ICPs give World Showcase an unmistakably authentic feel that you simply couldn’t get casting right in Orlando.

Disney's Wilderness Lodge

On the Disney College Program, CPs are housed in one of two apartment complexes – Vista Way or Chatham. International Program students are usually housed separately in a third complex. These furnished apartments range in size from one bedroom to four. Each bedroom houses two to three students, so you may have anywhere from one roommate to several during your stay.

Rent is taken directly from the CP’s paycheck each week and includes all utilities, Internet, and cable. Kitchen utensils are provided, but other items such as sheets and towels must be provided by the student. Though the apartments are equipped with cable and Internet, televisions and computers are not provided in individual units. A computer lab is available.

Transportation is provided from the college program apartments to all locations within the Walt Disney World Resort so CPs don’t need a car to get to work. A bus also visits the nearby Walmart regularly so CPs can do their grocery shopping and pick up other necessities. While students are permitted to bring their own vehicles, the program is designed for optimum convenience so many CPs fly in and never need their own vehicle during their stay.

The college program apartments are staffed by security officers 24 hours a day. Visitors are permitted until 1am but they must register at the security booth. Apartments are designated either “wellness” or “non-wellness” apartments depending on whether or not alcohol is permitted inside. Students over the age of 21 can elect to live in either type of apartment, but those under the age of 21 are restricted to the “wellness” apartments. Regular inspections are held to ensure that there is no alcohol present in the wellness apartments.

When college program participants arrive, they’re warned that a large percentage of their fellow CPs will not make it through the program. This inevitably turns out to be true year after year. Though the program is carefully designed to help students succeed, the heady freedom of living in Florida and having unrestricted access to Walt Disney World theme parks often results in too many long nights and the subsequent poor attendance which is grounds for termination. Violating any of the program’s rules is grounds for termination as well. Some students simply find that life away from home and the hectic schedule of a full time job is more than they were prepared for.

For those who stay throughout the program, however, the experience of being a CP is truly unforgettable. Fast friendships are formed and some of the inevitable romances that spring up become lifelong commitments. Working on Disney’s College Program is an unparalleled learning experience. Participants have the option of taking courses for college credits while on the program. These focus on the hospitality industry and offer unique insight through the lens of Disney. Participation in these classes is not required, though.

CPs learn a great deal simply from the experience of working at the resort. Other educational opportunities are available on an elective basis. A monthly calendar lists all the classes and behind the scenes experiences available for cast members. These range from seminars held by the legendary Imagineers to backstage tours of some of the most popular rides and attractions. In some areas, CPs are given additional opportunities for education and may be pulled out of work for an afternoon shadowing someone in a different position or learning more about their role in depth.

Making towel animals is an essential skill for housekeeping Cast Members.

A typical college program lasts for one semester or summer. Longer programs are available that include the summer before or after the semester. CPs who successfully complete their program can also apply to extend their program for another semester. Thus it’s possible to remain on the program for nearly a year.

Applicants must be currently registered in college to participate in the college program. Though some college credits are available for the classes offered on the program, you won’t receive a full semester of credits. The major appeal of the college program is simply the experience that you’ll have. All CPs get free admission to all the Walt Disney World theme parks during the duration of their program. They also get a limited number of free tickets for friends and family. Admission to the water parks and DisneyQuest is discounted as are meals and souvenirs within the parks. Though students work 35 to 40 hours a week, there’s ample time off to enjoy all the amenities that Central Florida has to offer.

The Disney College Program has been responsible for recruiting many lifelong Cast Members and it has created even more former cast members who will be lifelong fans of the destination that helped to create so many unforgettable memories. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work for the mouse and you’re a current college student, you may even be able to sign up for this opportunity yourself. Keep an eye out for recruiters hitting your campus for a chance at this experience. 


There is 1 comment.

Some of this information is incorrect, I am currently an international college program student and all students can live in all four housing complexes and the people who work in Epcot are technically on a different program: cultural representative, exactly the same but they do not have to be in college to participate and there progams are a year long! Whereas everyone else can work anywhere in any job role. We also have cultural representatives who work in Disneys Animal kingdom and Disneys Animal Kingdom Lodge. However must say the icp program has been one of the best years of my life and would recommend it to anyone!

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