What It’s REALLY Like to Be a Disney Cast Member

Ask any Disney Cast Member and they’ll tell you that it can be the most magical job ever… or the most challenging job in the world. It kind of depends on the day. Each day can be vastly different for Cast Members depending on their location and job title.

Disney World Cast Members

A Cast Member will have a completely different experience if they work at Disney World compared to Disneyland, or Epcot compared to a resort, or anywhere else compared to Disney Springs. But we thought we’d take a look at a typical day in the life of an ordinary Disney Cast Member.

Disney is a very interesting place to work at because each day can be so vastly different. You really never know who you’re going to see or interact with, you don’t know what the crowds are going to look like, and you never know who you’ll have the pleasure to make magic for or who will make magic for you.

For me, there was a sense of pride in working for Disney. Disney is such a highly regarded company, so maybe that’s why I felt that way.

But make no mistake — working at Disney isn’t always magical. Like many other jobs, there are a lot of pluses and minuses.

 

Disney World Cast Members at the holidays

Lengthy days and quick turn-around times

When working at Disney full-time, my weeks would be long and filled with extended shifts. I’m not gonna lie, my shifts would sometimes be upwards of 12 hours, especially during the holidays. And it didn’t stop there. Most weeks I would work five or six days with shifts that were eight to 12 hours.

Another thing I often experienced were short turn-around shifts. These are shifts with less than eight hours between them. You know, you’d work evening Extra Magic Hours and finish at 1 a.m., but then have to come back in for a shift that started at 8 a.m. Or, in the worst cases, your shifts would be exactly 8 hours apart so they wouldn’t have to pay double-time. Of course, Disney warns you when you apply for a position with the company that you will be working crazy hours, on the weekends, and on the holidays, so these hours didn’t come as a shock, especially during the busy times. And I often appreciated the hours because it helped me make more money… and magic!

Expensive Florida and California cost of living

It can be expensive to live in both Florida and California. I mean, the entire time I lived in Florida and worked at Disney I lived with roommates, which was fine and fun, but what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t have an option. There was no way that I would have been able to afford a place on my own in the Orlando area on a Disney Parks Cast Member wage.

Many of my single friends who had worked for the company for 20+ years were still having to live with roommates to get by. I do want to applaud Disney, though. In the last year they have taken steps to improve Cast Member wages and they are assisting Cast Members with their schooling! This is HUGE and so beneficial because these people work hard and they are dedicated to this company. Honestly, they deserve it.

Holidays away from family

It is practically IMPOSSIBLE to get a major holiday off while working at Disney World or Disneyland, especially if you are in the Disney College Program. Again this is something Cast Members are aware of when they agree to work at Disney, but it can cause the holidays to be a little gloomy and lonely.

It can be really hard to spend Christmas, for example, away from your family, but the good thing is that Cast Members often create little families of their own with their fellow co-workers. Not every Cast Member is far away from home during this time, but many and most are. What I loved about working at Disney is that you constantly had a support team, a shoulder or five to lean on when times became a bit difficult.

The holidays are an INSANE time at Disney, especially when it comes to the crowd. Cast Members are sure to be tired and stressed after the overwhelming number of hours they are working. So, next time you’re visiting a Disney theme park during the holidays, maybe think about creating a little magic for them, too!

Hollywood Studios Christmas Decor

Experiencing holidays FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME

Talking about holidays, another big part of a Cast Member’s life is experiencing holidays for long periods of time. For example, Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is starting on August 16 this year. That means that Disney Cast Members will be surrounded by spooky delights for more than two months before the actual holiday. And while most of us LOVE this, it can get a little annoying at times because by the time Halloween comes we feel like it has already passed and we are more than ready for Christmas. And if you’re a part of the Disney entertainment family, auditions for Halloween roles start in April or May, so for those Cast Members the holidays are extended even longer.

Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party

Picking up and returning costumes from Costuming

Disney Cast Members  often start their days by searching through clothes racks in the Costuming department to locate their work location’s particular costumes and the appropriate sizes. Cast Members do have the option of returning these every day to have the costumes cleaned, or they can keep the costumes and wash them on their own, so they don’t have to visit costuming every day. There are trade-offs to each scenario. I once returned all of my costumes to be cleaned the day before I had to work only to find the next morning I had a shift scheduled BEFORE costuming had opened! This left me  with nothing to wear for work. Not good!

Disney keeps up with each costume by using a barcode and scanning system and tracks how many costumes each Cast Member has out. They also make sure that all costumes are returned after a Cast Member leaves the company. If they aren’t, the previous Cast Member will be fined and might be listed as “non-rehirable.”

Being “on stage” and staying “in character” based on a role or location

A huge part of a Cast Member’s typical day is staying in character. They must learn certain lingo based on where they are working, whether that’s in Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom or the Disneyland Hotel. Each place has a certain vocabulary as well as a certain feel that Cast Members try to create for the guests. For example, at a French restaurant in Epcot, the Cast Member would likely say something like “Bonjour,” whereas a Cast Member would say “Attention, Space Rangers!” on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin.

There is also a huge difference between being “on stage” and “off stage” at Disney. Cast Members know that they are creating a show while they are visible at Disney — this means that there is a certain look that must be obtained when it comes to appearance. Disney, therefore, has strict policies when it comes to hair, makeup, and tattoos. If a Cast Member is not adhering to Disney’s appearance qualities, they can receive what is known as a point, which will go on their record card. Points can keep Cast Members from promotions and transfers.

Cast Members receive points for lots of things, including clocking in late, forgetting to clock in, forgetting uniform pieces, calling off, and for no-call no-shows.

Kilimanjaro Safari Cast Member

Ending your day with fireworks or show music soundtracks

Though I have talked about a few of the more difficult or boring parts of being a Cast Member, there are also a lot of perks. One is that if the Cast Member works in the parks, the nighttime shifts will likely end with a special show or fireworks. The soundtracks become embedded in a Cast Member’s memories of working at the parks,  especially for College Programmers.

Cast Members witness so many magical moments while watching or interacting with guests’ during these shows. Wishes had a very special place in my heart, because I ended almost every shift with it. No one would be in my shop, so my fellow Cast Members and I would get to stand outside and create magical moments while the show was going on. Seeing the look on guests’ faces as they saw the fireworks for the first time is something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

World of Color

Meeting and working with people from all over the world

Another huge part of working at Disney is getting to meet and interact with people from all over the world — not just guests, but other Cast Members, too. Cast Members can learn about different cultures and types of people, and hear amazing stories.

Dealing with guests

On a daily basis, Cast Members will interact with all sorts of guests — some wonderful, others not so. It’s just part of the job really, so patience in a Cast Member is key. What Cast Members have to remember is that guests have often been planning this trip for months or even years.

It is an expensive experience and each guest wants everything to go smoothly and perfectly. When this isn’t happening, some guests become aggravated, which makes total sense. This happens ALL THE TIME so Cast Members are used to being yelled at for no apparent reason. BUT the good news is that Cast Members are trained and know what to do in these situations, and when they’re off-duty, they know they can just write these encounters off. But with that being said, please try to be nice to Cast Members — they’re just doing their jobs!

 

Front Desk at the Yacht Club

The Disney scoop and pointing with two fingers

There are a few things that all Cast Members are trained to do. They point with two fingers and they use their Disney scoop when picking up trash around the parks. Cast Members will quickly bend down, scoop up a piece of trash and keep walking. Cast Members also have certain code words and phrases they use that guests will not understand to ensure that guests remain calm or unaware of particular circumstances.

Visiting the parks whenever you want

The BIGGEST perk of being a Disney Cast Member is having the opportunity to visit the parks whenever you want. As long as a Cast Member is not working, he or she can go into whatever park they please and enjoy all that Disney has to offer. The parks are Cast Members’ playgrounds. I literally visited the parks on every single one of my days off when I was in the College Program. It literally became my second home. Cast Members also receive passes for their friends and family, so those people can come and experience the magic as well.

Woody at Toy Story Land Entrance
Woody greets guests entering Toy Story Land

Having magic made for them

Some guests go out of their way to make magic for Cast Members, too!  One of the ways to do this is to give a Cast Member a Four Keys card. You can do this by visiting a Guest Relations location. These cards, like the points I discussed above, go on a Cast Member’s record card. Unlike points, though, these can help Cast Members get promotions and other great opportunities!

Character Cast Members making magic for other Cast Members!

Magical Moments

Honestly, there isn’t anything like creating a Magical Moment for someone. I loved getting to walk around with an autograph book, asking little boys and girls dressed as characters for THEIR autographs. Or comping a family’s meal because “it was on the Mouse.” Seeing the smiles on guests’ faces made all of the tough days at the park worthwhile! THIS is why people flock to Disney, for moments like these. AND this is why people want to work for Disney —  because the atmosphere and the Cast Members can create an experience unlike any other.

So after reading what it’s really like to be a Cast Member, what do you think? Are you ready to apply? I don’t think you’ll regret it!

Have you ever thought about becoming a Disney Cast Member? Let us know in the comments below! 

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4 Replies to “What It’s REALLY Like to Be a Disney Cast Member”

  1. Visiting the parks whenever you want

    The BIGGEST perk of being a Disney Cast Member is having the opportunity to visit the parks whenever you want.

    Hmmm Disneyland Cast Members are blocked off for pretty much the whole summer this year.

    1. No way you went to the parks everyday … C’mon man…. Even if you went half the time… It’s way extreme… U aren’t 8 years old…the pay is horrible not only for front line workers but for management as well. Maybe Disney should charge 50 bucks to park and like 400 to get in the park…

      1. Even an 8 year old would get burnt out quickly.

        But, there are far more adult Disney addicts than kids. If this site has taught me one thing it’s that some people would sell their soul rather than give up Disney.

  2. My wife and I say that our top reason for returning to WDW each year is the People. We return to renew acquaintances or to make new ones. With the College and International cast members we have them for that moment because they will be leaving Disney before we return (imagine the joy we feel on those too few occasions when they come up to us and say “I’m back!”) One of our favorite restaurants is Rose & Crown and when we visit at Christmas I love to ask the server what the holidays are like back home, my wife says I am making them sad but my hope is that they will enjoy the memory. Another question I like is ‘how does this food compare to mom’s cooking?’ My all time favorite answer was “my mom’s a terrible cook…”
    The special moments created by cast members can come quickly and then they are gone. I love to try to get photos of or with that cast member (we do have dozens of CM photos!)
    One thing that we have not done nearly enough is stop by Quest Relations and put in a good comment about a CM … there have been too many!
    Whenever a CM looks flustered (especially a server) we like to call them over and say “stop, take a breathe …” and give them a smile … hopefully it helps.
    Like I said – People is the main reason.