Disney Cruise Line: A Cast Member in Training

By Kim Button, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the March 6, 2007 Issue #389 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

The thought of setting sail on the open seas onboard the Disney Cruise Line is usually a stress-free image, complete with long days basking in the sun, spa treatments, gourmet dinners and intriguing ports of call. For some setting sail on the Disney Cruise Line, though, the days are filled with staff meetings, long hours on your feet and plenty of costume changes. These are the days of the crew members onboard the Disney Cruise Line. Come sail with me, a former Disney Cruise Line crew member, as we take a voyage behind the scenes of the Disney Cruise Line and discover whether life on the open seas is really as exciting as it seems.

Working onboard a cruise ship had always been a dream of mine, much like many other travelers who take a relaxing, week-long cruise and then imagine how much fun it must be to work onboard a ship. Luckily, my dream coincided with my employment with the Walt Disney Company while they were planning the inaugural cruise season of the Disney Wonder. Through my position with Disney's On-Property Sales and Marketing Division, I was part of a team given the task to introduce the new Disney Wonder crew members, most of whom were from foreign countries and had never been to Walt Disney World, to the wonders of the Walt Disney World Resort Property.

While talking with the crew members for three days, I decided that I just had to get a job onboard the Disney Cruise Line. After a month of leaving voice mails and resumes with the Disney Cruise Line's Human Resources Department, I was finally called in for an interview.

The interview was in a small office, crammed with all of the essentials that it takes to run a cruise line from the shore while all of the action takes place on the ocean. The questions were typical of any position where you're in charge of entertaining guests… hypothetical "what-ifs" on how you would handle a power outage during a dance party, what to do with unruly guests, etc. I was warned of the rigors of working onboard a cruise line — the long hours and no days off during your six months on the ship. I wanted to work onboard so badly by this point, though, that it would have taken a lot to dissuade me.

When I got the call offering me a Cruise Staff position underneath the Cruise Director onboard the Disney Wonder, I was ecstatic. I had only two weeks to prepare, though. I had to quit my job at the Walt Disney World Resort because the Walt Disney Company is not the same as the Disney Cruise Line company. Turning in my Cast Member ID and giving up my Walt Disney Company seniority was hard, but the prospect of a new career with the Disney Cruise Line was exciting.

I then had to move out of my apartment, pack all my belongings and drive to my parents' home in North Carolina (during a hurricane evacuation, no less) where I would be leaving all of my possessions for the next six months. As soon as I got home, I had to start packing once again.

If you have ever tried to pack for a one-week vacation using only two suitcases, imagine packing for six months using only two suitcases. Because of weight and space issues, crew members were restricted on how much luggage they could bring on the ship. Every single item I packed had to face extreme scrutiny. After packing shoes, outerwear, personal clothing, and medicines and toiletries to last at least a month or two in case I couldn't get off of the ship, I was only able to pack a couple of photos and mementos to stave off homesickness for the next half a year. You quickly learn what is important and what is not when you're essentially living out of two suitcases for six months.

I was flown back to Orlando to report for initial training at the Disney Cruise Line offices in Celebration, Florida. In a small room filled with people from all nationalities, we discussed contracts, pay scales, and received a hefty dose of Disney "pixie dust."

Right from the beginning, though, I stood out like a sore thumb. I was the only American in this group to be training for a Disney Cruise Line position. In fact, once I got onboard, I found out I was one of only five Americans among the approximately 900 crew members, and three of the Americans were behind the scenes in Human Resources and never had guest contact. As long-time cruisers probably have realized, Americans aren't common among a ship's crew members, mainly because the pay is so low. Citizens of other nations, though, can usually end up making a decent amount of money with currency exchanges, so foreign nationalities are common among cruise ship staff.

I was also different because I knew Disney. Almost no one in my training group had ever been to ANY Disney theme park, much less the Walt Disney World Resort so close to the cruise terminal, which is part of the cruise-land travel packages. Though everyone seemed to know Mickey Mouse, no one really understood the legacy of Walt Disney or the stellar customer service that Disney is known for. As a former Cast Member who could easily recite the seven principles of Guest Satisfaction, who relied on implementing Guest Satisfaction Surveys to address guest complaints, and who recently interviewed for a position on the Disney Traditions training staff that "pixie dusts" new Cast Members, I was completely unprepared for fellow crew members to know so little about the legendary company they were working for. It was a major blow to me, having been such a Disney nut while working for the company, and it would continue to play a role in my days onboard the Disney Cruise Line.

After training at the Celebration offices, we were transported to Port Canaveral for additional days of training in one of the most important aspects of life at sea… fire safety. Because safety is so vitally important, especially on a cruise ship, crew members receive extensive training in fire prevention and safety, and continue to do so throughout their tenure onboard the ship.

We reported to duty at the fire training offices used by all of the cruise lines at Port Canaveral. After hours of classroom training and instruction in the use of fire extinguishers, we were ready for the hands-on training. One by one, we were paired with a team of firemen and entered a room with a simulated fire. We were shown how to spray the fire extinguisher, aiming the nozzle towards the base of the fire to quickly extinguish it. It was one of the scariest moments of the training, yet it was also one of the highlights. I don't really remember anything from my classroom training, now many years ago, but the image of facing a fire and using the fire extinguisher will always be burned in my mind, so to speak, and that is the whole point of a crew member's fire safety training.

On our last night on dry land, our training team gathered in the hotel bar and raised our glasses to the new adventure that awaited us the next day and for the next six months. We would still be training as a team, learning about the basics of working onboard the Disney Cruise Line, but now we would be onboard the Disney Wonder, which was dry docked in preparation for its inaugural press events. Excitement filled the air as we wondered who our roommates would be, how tiny the crew cabins were and what our positions would be like. Little did we know that the relaxed and carefree atmosphere that we were enjoying would soon change as soon as we stepped onboard the ship.

In my next installment, I'll step onboard the Disney Wonder for the first time and start training for my Entertainment position with the Cruise Staff and the Cruise Director.


Kimberly Button is the author of The Disney Queue Line Survival Guidebook. For more information, to read an excerpt, and to sign up for a monthly newsletter featuring Disney-themed activities, visit www.disneysurvivalguide.com

Purchase Kim's book via: AllEars® Amazon Store