As I write this, I’m on lunch break inside the Magic Kingdom Utilidors, also known as “the underground” or “the tunnels.” I still can’t believe I work here. Sometimes while performing at Magic Kingdom, I’ll turn around and remember I’m in front of Cinderella’s castle. I’ll stand there in awe and wonder how I ended up working at Walt Disney World. I only saw this happening in my wildest dreams, but I’m so grateful it became a reality.
Three months ago, before starting my job as a character performer, I wrote a blog post titled, “A Whole New World.” In it, I described the audition and application process. I discovered a few days ago that my scores from that audition are high enough so that I qualify to perform in top parades and shows such as Festival of Fantasy andFantasmic!, as well as special events: weddings, conferences, etc. This was extremely exciting news for me. I was thrilled to know how much there was left to learn, but unfortunately, I will not be here at Disney long enough to be trained for or perform any of the roles.
Within two months, I have learned a lot from fellow performers as well as several trainers, captains, and managers. When I first started, I was lost and confused pretty much all the time, and I couldn’t put together a costume without someone else’s help. Now I can (for the most part) find my way around backstage in the four major Disney parks and have mastered the art of putting on an entire Disney costume in less than two minutes. Since I’ve been at Disney, I’ve realized that this “whole new world” I was once very clueless about is spectacular – just as I imagined it. It is also at times chaotic, fast-paced, and well, smelly. I want to share a bit of what a day is like as a performer at Walt Disney World (without ruining any magic!!) So here it goes:
I perform at all of the Walt Disney World parks, as well as multiple Disney resorts and restaurants. I hang out with many different characters, although 90% of the time I’m with Mickey and Minnie. Every performer here (including princesses, princes, etc.) has to perform mask or “fur” characters. Fortunately for me, the two adorable mice are ALWAYS inside with air-conditioning, away from the intense Florida heat (with the exception of training, parades, and outdoor dance parties). As weird as it sounds, I’m usually freezing. I move around a lot while performing indoors to warm up, and I wear sweatpants and sweatshirts on breaks.
As a member of the Disney Entertainment team, each day is very different from the next. Some days I’m putting together a costume at 5:30am. Other times I’m driving to work at 3pm and leaving the Entertainment base as fireworks are shooting off at 10pm. It just depends on the character I’m hanging out with that day and the work location.
Sometimes (like today for instance) my day begins with a five minute bus ride from Disney University to the Magic Kingdom base. I hop on the company bus wearing no make up and styling an oversized pajama shirt and Nike shorts. I say good morning to the cheerful bus driver and find a seat at the front of the bus. The same Muzack soundtrack and Quincy Jones’s “Soul Bossa Nova” plays over the speakers on the bus, and I softly hum along to it as I people watch. There are usually about 25 Disney employees or “cast members” on the bus, and I try to guess what jobs they are heading to for the day. A security guard with a cool Mickey Mouse badge taps his foot to the music. A sleepy sales clerk in traditional colonial garb yawns as she stares out the window. A frazzled resort chef constantly checks his watch. Each person seems to be in his or her own world this early in the morning, and I think about the exciting and challenging day ahead of me.
The bus makes a terrible screeching sound as it stops at the Magic Kingdom Utilidors, and I’m the first one to hop off the bus. Even though I’m thirty minutes early, I walk quickly inside the massive tunnel. After maneuvering around golf carts and cargos packed with Anna and Elsa baby dolls and Mickey Mouse toys, I scan my Disney ID, change into company clothes, and check-in for the day. While pulling my costume pieces, I hug and visit friends while repeating the usual, “What are you doing today?” and “Good luck- have fun!” Often times, I take a few moments to myself and walk aimlessly around the costume base. The beautiful princess dresses and parade outfits put me in a trance, and I press my hand against the silk fabric and the rough sequins. I’m amazed at every single detail.
After putting my costume together, I attend a mandatory 15-minute warm up with a Disney trainer. I’m surrounded by many different characters, and we do sit ups, push ups, and stretches together in order to perform safely and to our best ability. After warm ups, I pick up my costume and walk to my set location with a buddy. As we walk through the depths of the tunnels, I identify a wide range of smells: freshly baked pastries, sweat, rotting fish, waffle cones, garbage, etc. I pass by inspirational signs with Mickey’s face that keep us all motivated, and I can’t help but laugh as I remember my first days here and how often I got lost in the tunnels, desperately trying to find my way back.
The rest of my day consists of constant camera flashes, Sharpie marks on white gloves from signing autographs, and an overwhelming amount of awkward hugs. Since the job is a lot of fun, shifts go by very quickly. My favorite shift I’ve ever worked was with Minnie Mouse performing in the Magic Kingdom Welcome Show with several princesses, Mary Poppins, Alice, and of course – Mickey Mouse. Normally, I perform indoor 40 minute “sets” and then take a 40 minute break. During my break, I typically draw my favorite Disney characters in my sketchpad or join yet another Harry Potter marathon going on in the break room. For the most part, the families I interact with are considerate, polite, and extremely adorable. There are of course some families that are more difficult. I hope to write a separate post on how to properly meet a Disney character (but that is for another day..)
Once a week or so, I’m assigned a spare shift, which means if another performer in my height range can’t make it to work that day for whatever reason, I am immediately pulled to his or her shift. If a spare is not needed (and therefore not pulled for the day), he or she is paid to sit around, read, and make new friends. When there is an overload of spares, they can be asked to be park greeters or character attendants. In the past (as a spare), I’ve been a character attendant for Aurora and have even driven the big vans around backstage Epcot.
During my days off, I enjoy playing at the Disney parks for free (and sleeping, doing laundry, painting, etc). I do receive great cast member discounts for merchandise and food, as well as several complimentary park passes to bring family and friends to the park. I’ve been very lucky to have close friends and family members stay with me and see me perform.
As much as I love performing, my absolute favorite thing to do at Disney is creating happy moments for guests, attendants, and PhotoPass-ers. Every Disney cast member is taught during training that the overall goal is to CREATE HAPPINESS. Providing magical moments can be very simple, and many times those “magical moments” are just small acts of kindness. When a withdrawn teenager finally smiles because Mickey Mouse immediately notices him and hugs him first–that’s a magical moment. When a character attendant dealing with a rough day finally laughs because Minnie Mouse kisses him on the cheek-that’s a magical moment. Even on days off, it’s important to remember that Disney mission: to create happiness. This could be giving a guest directions inside the park or offering to take a photo for a family. In my mind, “if they aren’t smiling, if they aren’t entertained, I’m not doing my job.”
It’s sort of a cycle, because I’ve experienced countless magical moments cast members, characters, and guests have created for me. When my boyfriend came to visit, we were distraught when we saw the two-hour wait for the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride. As we were walking around Magic Kingdom, a random cast member saw Wes’s “First Visit!” pin and handed us a fast pass to whatever ride we wanted. Naturally, we headed for the Mine Train ride and got on with practically no wait at all. She created a magical moment for us, and to this day, I’m still trying to track her down to send her a thank you note. When my brother came to visit, my friends Mickey and Goofy surprised Minnie and me by photo-bombing our pictures. They created a magical moment for my brother and me.
However, the most magical moments are created by the guests. When a young girl hands Minnie Mouse a drawing of the two of them or when a Make A Wish child brings Mickey Mouse a snack from home so “Mickey wouldn’t ever feel hungry”- I have to fight away tears of joy while performing. These are just two of the many, many moments I’ve experienced that were filled with magic and love.
I have a month left working at “the happiest place on earth,” and I’m trying to make the most of every opportunity. I’ve scheduled auditions and workshops to increase my skills and meet other performers. I’m very thankful for friends and family members who have traveled to see me (especially my parents) and for new friends here at Disney who continue to support me every single day.
One of my very close friends once posted on Facebook:
“Some days, it’s pretty tough to get out of bed before the sun is up (even at Disney World there isn’t enough pixie dust), but when I walk into the Entertainment Base and see performers warming up for parades, pulling costumes, and hugging it out because the struggle is so real… I can’t help but smile at all of the magic we’re going to make. Wherever you are today, I hope you have the time of your life!”
She definitely nailed the feeling. There are parts in every job that aren’t easy, but I’ve learned that when I love what I’m doing, it makes the job worth it and very rewarding. I love being a character performer at Walt Disney World, and I look forward to the day I bring my children and grandchildren to Disney World and say, “Mickey Mouse and I hung out a lot back in the day…”
If you are interested in auditioning, or have any questions, please feel free to message me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Thanks for reading!