gobbling up danger like ordinary men eat peanuts.”
A real Mickey Mouse operation
Here’s the story about my unique experience as a “cast member” on the Walt Disney World College Program in the summer of 1995.
How did you get to work for Disney World?
While we were students at Penn State in 1994, my friend Chris joined the College Program and worked in a complex of nightclubs called Pleasure Island. When he returned to school at the start of the following semester in January, he excitedly told me about his experience at Disney and all of the great new friends he had met. He was also convinced that if anyone else would enjoy working there, I certainly would.
I attended an on-campus College Program information session in March 1995, and I wasn’t particularly impressed by the prospect of working under the blazing Florida sun while earning an hourly rate barely above minimum wage. More importantly, I was concerned that a job at an amusement park would appear rather frivolous on my résumé, especially heading into interviews during my upcoming senior year.
Still, I decided to schedule an interview, and I soon received an offer to work at Disney World! After some deliberation, I decided that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and accepted.
After I returned to Penn State for my senior year, I was surprised to find that my experience at Disney was very impressive to the recruiters who interviewed me. At the very least, it’s hard to forget a candidate who drove monorails for a summer!
What was it like to work there?
The day-to-day job was harder and more physical than I expected, but the overall experience was a lot of fun, too. I usually worked 40 hours each week, and like other College Program participants, I was often assigned to unusual shifts that the full-time cast members didn’t want. Many days, I worked from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m., which was a good fit for a nocturnal college student like me.
The corporate culture was hard to ignore, especially a Disney vernacular that stressed the entertainment aspect of our daily work. We were officially considered cast members, not employees; we wore costumes, not uniforms; we were on stage, not merely at work.
Where did you live while you were there?
We lived in a large apartment complex called Vista Way. It’s a Disney-owned property comprised of two- and three-bedroom apartments for College Program participants. The complex was very nice, but a considerable percentage of our paychecks went toward weekly rent payments. I lived in Building 31, where I shared a two-bedroom apartment with three roommates, and I developed many close friendships with my neighbors in that building.
Tell me more about the monorails!
The Mark VI monorails were 203 feet, 6 inches long, traveled at a top speed of 40 mph, and could hold up to 364 passengers. During my summer at Disney, there were 12 monorails in the fleet, identified by color:
* Monorail Purple and Pink are no longer in service. Those colors were retired following a tragic, preventable collision in July 2009 that claimed the life of one monorail pilot. (I was very surprised to hear about the accident, since I remember how many safety protocols were in place during my employment.) Purple and Pink were replaced with Teal in late 2009 and Peach in 2011.
Did you have to pass a driving test?
You bet. In fact, the process to become a Monorail Pilot at Disney World involved six days of intensive training and a seventh day to take the test.
It looks fairly easy, and in some ways, it was — the train’s wheels automatically steer the vehicle along the track. But you have to constantly watch your speed, be aware of the location of the next train ahead, and manage to stop the train so that its doors line up with the gates in the station. A 200-foot-long train can’t stop on a dime like your car — trust me.
One curious passenger asked me, “Do you really drive these trains? I thought you were here just for show.” I replied, “Yes, ma’am, we do drive the trains. Besides, if drivers were here ‘for show,’ they probably wouldn’t have chosen me!”