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An Inside Look at the Disney College Program Arrival Day: My Magical Beginnings

Vista Way. Photo provided by: Matthew Whisante. Hello all! If you have been following along with this particular blog, then you know about my journey through deciding to partake in the incredible opportunity of the Disney College Program (DCP), the application process, and packing tips. Today, I will tell you a little bit about my arrival process and the first day of the DCP, which can be a major whirlwind of events.

I decided to drive the 18 hour journey to Florida, so I could keep my car there. My mom and sister came with me and planned to fly back after they had stayed a couple of days. I really recommend, if it at all possible, to have a family member (or two!) come down with you for at least the first day or two. It was so helpful to have someone help me find my way around, buy groceries with (Oh, how I miss Publix!), and take me to get a little Disney food, before I was totally submersed in the Disney culture and they had to go back to real life in snowy, unmagical Pennsylvania.

The day the festivities began for me and thousands of other DCPers was January 13, 2013.  Arrival day is the day that you will have to be at Vista Way apartment complex, when you find out where your housing is, meet your roommates, and learn where you will be working, a.k.a all of the things that have excited/worried you during your preparation for the DCP. You will receive an email with instructions. Check in starts at 8:00 a.m.; however, you may receive an arrival time anywhere between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. You are told not to arrive any earlier that 7 a.m. to wait in line for your housing. However, I know some people pulled all-nighters outside of Vista Way so that they could get a coveted room in the newest and nicest apartment complex, Patterson Court. The night before, I was staying at Disney’s Pop Century Resort, meaning you could not peel me away from the bowling pin shaped pool and unlimited Diet Coke in my resort mug, to pull an all-nighter outside of the complex!

There are four apartment complexes that Disney uses for the DCP. The oldest is Vista Way, then Chatham Square, and Patterson Court. The fourth is known as The Commons. The Commons is reserved for international students, and is rumored to be even nicer than Patterson. It was also a rumor that they would open this apartment complex to U.S. DCPers, although I haven’t heard of any change as of now.

This is one of the many rumors that swirls around the DCP. Yes, I was one of the new cast members that waited outside Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom Park for 2, yes 2, hours, because we were told Johnny Depp was in the ride and would be coming out soon. Do you know how many times I could have watched Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress in that time? Or how many delicious Fresh Fruit & Nutella Waffle Sandwiches from Sleepy Hollow I could have eaten? A lot, that’s how many.  If you are a new cast member, or someone going into the DCP reading this, please don’t fall for those tricks!

Anyway, all of the apartment complexes are gated with 24-hour security. This means you will have to show I.D. anytime you enter, and will have to sign guests in when your family or friends come to visit. This also means you are very safe! We arrived at Vista Way about an hour early and there was already a very long line outside of the housing building. You will need to provide your own transportation to Vista Way. There are no resort buses to take you to these complexes; however, once you are an official cast member, you will learn all of the bus routes to take you to and from Disney parks and resorts. This is very helpful when you and your roommates decide to go resort hopping.

My mom and sister went to the “family and friends” waiting area, since they couldn’t come into the building with me. Standing in line, I met some really wonderful people. The thing about working at Disney is that most people you work with are generally very nice and happy people, and you already have something in common: your love for Disney. So it is easy to strike up a conversation. Of course, this is not always the rule. Unfortunately, I did meet a few people who did not like Disney whatsoever and were only there for other reasons, such as an excuse to move away from home, but that is not too common.

The first thing we did when ushered into a room was fill out some papers. They would open the doors periodically and have only a certain number of people come in before closing the doors, kind of like the Haunted Mansion system when you go into the stretching room. This way they can divide the crowd a little better. Once in the other room, we received tote bags filled with snacks, laundry supplies, and a planner, which told us our Traditions schedule; this is a company orientation and possibly one of the most magical days. This planner also tells where we would be working! I had been waiting for that moment for months now. I crossed my fingers in hopes for the Magic Kindgom.

As I received my planner I slowly turned it around, heart pounding, to find out where I would be working and it was….drum roll please…Disney’s Animal Kindgom?! This was not what I expected at all. However, I realized they placed me there for a reason, so it must be a good fit for me. It actually turned out to be a great fit, and I got to work with some of the best people! Some people in line were very upset with where they were placed, especially those who would not be working in a park. There are ways you can apply to work in a different park, but I think that it is important to just make the most out of your location. No matter if you are the parking attendant, like I mentioned in my last post, a custodial worker, or very best friends with Cinderella (I’ll get into friends of Cinderella and other characters in a later post), you are all helping to make someone’s day magical, and isn’t that the point of being a Cast Member?

Next, I was ushered into the next room for placement into an apartment complex. While in line I met a really sweet girl named Olivia. She said she thought I looked like I knew what I was doing so she would come stand next to me. Truthfully, I had no idea what I was doing! But, it was nice to have someone else to figure it out with. We approached the desk of a man who would be placing us in apartments. We were so behind in line that I doubted I would get into Patterson at this point. He asked us our first choice. We both said “Patterson” in unison. He thought we were long lost friends, so he allowed us to be roommates (something that is not typical; usually people get split up.) He then placed us in none other than Patterson Court!

Patterson Court. Photo provided by: Olivia Gismervik

We then got photo I.D.’s taken and were allowed a break time to go see our room, get lunch, and meet our other roommates before continuing on our day to the Casting building, near Downtown Disney. At this point in the day, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything that was happening and would be happening in the next couple of hours, days, weeks, and months. But, the whirlwind did not stop there.

Once in our room I got to meet my other 4 roommates. After some chit chat and relaxation in the air conditioning of our new apartment, we made the journey to a huge bus which would take us to Casting. This building is so beautiful, I wish I had taken pictures, but it is considered “backstage” Disney, meaning you cannot take pictures as it is a designated Cast Members-only area. Once there, we waited in a line of hundreds of other DCPers. All of us were single file in the maze-like building. Every so often we would get to a room where we had to fill out paperwork after paperwork. We also did a background check which involved being fingerprinted. This process took about 3 hours! I felt as though I were signing my life away, but it was fun to be in the line with my new roommates. It gave all of us a chance to talk and really get to know each other.

Once I was out of Casting, my mom and sister picked me up, and we were off to Trail’s End for some dinner.  We had plans to see the Electric Water Pageant on Bay Lake afterwards, since I had not yet receive my tickets into the park. It didn’t even seem real to me that this was my life now. I could enjoy the atmosphere of Disney for the next couple of months whenever I wanted. It was a dream come true.

A few tips for move in day:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes: just like visiting your favorite park, move in day will involve a lot of walking and a lot of standing in line!
  2. Be presentable: You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover; however, this is the day you meet your roommates and a lot of other people, including other Cast Members, and you will need to follow The Disney Look Guidelines. While this isn’t a day to bring out the heels or a tie, I would suggest maybe nice shorts or jeans and a polo for guys and a nice pair of shorts and a blouse or a casual sundress for girls. You can find Disney Look Guidelines here.
  3. Don’t get overwhelmed: This is a really big and stressful day. You may be disappointed about your work location, nervous about living away from home, or anxious about your roommates. Everything will fit into place, and you will get into your routine. For now, just be excited about the adventures that await!
  4. Stay hydrated: Again, just like visiting the parks, it will most likely be hot in that Florida sun. They gave us small bottles of water, but they were room temperature, and I wished so much that I had brought something to drink.
  5. Paperwork: Make sure you bring the necessary employment documents. These could include: Passport, Drivers License or Photo ID, Social Security Card, Birth Certificate, and a blank check for direct deposit.

(Vista Way photo from the collection of Matt Whisante.  Apartment photo from the personal collection of Olivia Gismervik.)

What park would be your dream to work in if you were a Cast Member, and why? Or, maybe you are or were a cast member; if so, where did/do you work?


Elysabethe is a 23-year old Disney addict and Disney College Program Alum. Her first visit to the parks was when she was just three months old, and her most recent visit was on her honeymoon last June.  When she is not in the parks she can usually be found carrying her resort mug full of diet coke and singing to Disney music on her drive to work, trying to bring some of the “magic” back home.