In this Disney College Program diary, New England girl Brittany DiCologero must make the best of a less-than-ideal role: running games and selling merchandise in Animal Kingdom's DinoLand. With screaming guests, a trainer from hell, and a shirtless, sweaty Pluto, this might be her extinction level event.
The "Earning Your Ears" series chronicles the experiences of young people from around the country and around the world who leave home, often for the first time, to live and work in Walt Disney World or Disneyland for several months, or even longer.
Each book in the "EARS" series makes you an honorary Cast Member as the author takes you behind Disney's pixie dust curtain to learn things the Mouse would prefer you didn't know, and what no guidebook will tell you, including how the theme parks operate from the inside out and what Disney employees do when they're not wishing you a magical day.
Former Disney World Cast Member Brittany DiCologero shares:
If you've ever wondered what it would be like not just to visit a Disney theme park but to work in one, the "Earning Your Ears" series is your E-ticket!
[To learn about forthcoming books and everything there is to know about the Disney College Program, please visit us on Facebook: Facebook.com/EarningYourEars.]
About Earning Your Ears
Seventeen chapters of Disney College Program goodness!
I love publishing EARS books.
When I started the “Earning Yours Ears” series back in 2013, with Amber Earns Her Ears, I figured it would be a one-and-done. But Amber’s book was not only popular, it was inspirational, too. Others who had taken (or were taking) the Disney College Program wanted to share their experiences.
Not everyone, unfortunately, can write an EARS book. For every twenty pitches I receive, one makes the grade. What amazes me is the diversity: no two stories are alike. And what amazes me even more is the hope and the wonder and the potential that each Disney College Program participant brings. Forget about the cynical accusations that Disney uses college program participants as low-wage labor. There’s more to it.
Brittany DiCologero, the author of this book, was accepted into the DCP in 2011, but for various reasons, as you’ll soon learn, she had to turn down the offer. She applied again in 2014. Once more, she was accepted—and this time she took it, even though she would be a college graduate by the time her program started.
Brittany didn’t get her first choice of role. She didn’t get her second choice, either. She got what many consider to be the absolute worst role in the absolute worst area of any Disney theme park. You’ll soon find out how she handled it. You’ll also learn more about the real, nitty-gritty inner workings of Disney than I’ve published in any EARS book, to date. When you finish Brittany Earns Her Ears, you’ll almost be ready to work at Disney World yourself.
I publish EARS books because it feels good to publish EARS books. I don’t sell a huge number of them. They do well, but the authors aren’t relaxing on yachts. Most have gone on from their Disney experience to the real world of making grades in college and worrying about what kind of job awaits them and whether they’ll be earning enough for a mortgage and what they really want to do with their lives.
For a few months, however, none of that matters. They’re making minimum wage for menial labor in a sea of others doing the same thing. And they love it. It’s their childhood dream come true. Whatever role Disney had played in their lives, they are now part of it. In Brittany’s case, she has graduated from college and should be starting her career or pursuing a master’s degree, but instead she’s running the games in DinoLand. Like Amber and all the rest, she’s on stage, as Disney likes to describe it, and making the same kind of magic that once was made for her.
So why, really, do I love publishing EARS books? If you read enough of them, you’ll find life itself encapsulated: the uncertainty of whether you’re good enough to make the cut, the transition from what you’ve known all your life to something new and quite grand, the settling in to work and friends and routine, the responsibility of being on your own and having others rely upon you, and finally, inevitably the winding down and the departure. All of this, in just a few months.
I could publish 100 EARS books and still not run out of unique tales about the Disney College Program.
Brittany’s story is one of them.
The “Earning Your Ears” series chronicles the experiences of young people from around the country and around the world who leave home, often for the first time, to live and work in Walt Disney World or Disneyland for several months, or even longer.
They are given “roles” to perform, from working in a Disney restaurant or shop to donning a costume and becoming one of the Disney characters who appear in the parks.
Each book in the EARS series makes you an honorary cast member as the author takes you behind Disney’s pixie dust curtain to learn things the Mouse would prefer you didn’t know, and what no guidebook will tell you, including how the theme parks operate from the inside out and what Disney employees do when they’re not wishing you a magical day.
The EARS series currently includes five books, with a new volume published by Theme Park Press every few months:
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like not just to visit a Disney theme park but to work in one, the “Earning Your Ears” series is your E-ticket!
To learn about forthcoming books and everything there is to know about the Disney College Program, please visit us on Facebook:
Brittany Dicologero is a recent graduate of St. Anselm College, in Manchester, NH, where she earned her bachelor of arts degree in history. She completed two Disney College Programs, one in Dinoland U.S.A., in Merchandise, and one at Lights, Motors, Action! Extreme Stunt Show and Fantasmic!, in Attractions.
Brittany Earns Her Ears is her first book, and she also writes for the websites DisneyQuestions.com and DisneyFanatic.com.
Brittany resides in Saugus, MA, and plans to continue writing from the New England area.
As part of Brittany's training in DinoLand, she is asked to talk to random strangers in DinoLand.
Once we reached DinoLand, I was hoping that Bill would teach me its back story. In my own opinion, DinoLand is an eyesore to Walt Disney World. I have always found the carnival atmosphere to be tacky, and not something you’d expect to see, or want to see, in a Disney park. Because of this, I was curious to learn more of the back story. (Maybe there’s a part of the story I’m missing here. Maybe they’ll teach me about it, and this place will all make sense. Maybe I won’t think it’s tacky anymore. Or maybe it really is the tacky mess I always thought it was, and I’ll be spending the next five months as a glorified carny.) Bill did not tell me the details of DinoLand U.S.A. and why Chester and Hester’s mess of a carnival sideshow exists. Instead, we walked right into the biggest gift shop in DinoLand, where I would be spending much of my time working: Chester and Hester’s Dinosaur Treasures. I stood next to Bill as we walked in, expecting him to give me a tour of the space, since I’d be working here for five months. Instead of a tour or even an overview of the shop, we went right through a door labeled “shopkeepers only” that opened up into the stockroom.
Inside the stockroom was a CDS computer (where I would clock in and get my assignments once I was finished training) and the money room. The door exiting the stockroom, toward the back of the building, led to an outdoor stock area with a roof over it. And down a small hill from there was a trailer where I would take my breaks. Bill knocked on the door of the money room, and one of the managers, “Anna”, came over to greet us.
Bill left me with Anna, who brought me into the money room and introduced herself to me and welcomed me to the DinoLand family. After asking a couple of basic questions, such as what school I went to, what I majored in, and so forth, she abruptly stated, “So now we’re going to have you get out into the store and practice talking to strangers.”
“It sounds weird to say it like that, but that’s really what a lot of working here is about. You need to feel comfortable going up to people you don’t know and starting conversations.”
Okay, that makes sense, I guess.
“So we’re going to have you go out into the store, and I’ll stay close by to kind of watch how you’re doing. This way you can practice interacting with guests.”
So that’s it? I’ve been in this store for all of three minutes, and you’re just going to throw me out there to talk to guests?
“It’s not as awkward as it sounds, and talking to guests is one of the best parts of working in Merchandise.”
Says you, who has been in this store for more than three-and-a-half minutes…
So I went out into the store, with Anna close behind, and began talking to guests. This whole situation was odd to me. I didn’t have any idea what to say. And if anyone asked me a question, I most likely would not know the answer, since I had hardly spent time in the store and I knew almost nothing about it.
“Do you sell Minnie ears in here?”
“Umm, I think so.” I quickly scanned the entire store, “Oh, yes! We do! They’re right over here.”
Phew. Thank God there are some things that are inevitably sold at almost any Disney gift shop.
I had no idea what to say to guests in a place that I was completely unfamiliar with, so I simply asked how they were doing. They all either answered with “good” or did not answer at all.
“So you’re doing great so far, but…” Anna began.
There’s already a “but”?
“We really want to make sure that we’re asking our guests more open-ended questions. Asking how their day is going or if they need help finding anything is okay, but it would be better to ask a question that allows us to get to know more about them. Try asking who they’re shopping for, or where they’re from, for instance.”
Was this a test? Why was this happening?
I went back into the shop and asked a couple who they were shopping for, and they told me about their daughter back in England who loved Stitch. They were looking at the Stitch plushes, but mentioned that they would not want to carry it around the park all day. I found out that they were staying at a Disney resort, so I told them that we offered complimentary shipping to their resort; that way they wouldn’t need to carry it around the park all day.
Anna was impressed by this conversation, enough so that I was put out of my misery and brought back to Bill. I don’t mean to make it sound like training was horrible, because it really wasn’t, I just don’t understand why I was thrown into it like that. Later in the week I talked to other CPs, and apparently this didn’t happen to anyone else, so I’m not sure why it happened to me. I think that one way or another it was Bill’s doing, since no other DinoLand CP had been asked to randomly talk to strangers without first having learned anything about their location.
Before leaving the shop, Bill pointed out a photo hanging on the wall.
“There they are,” he said, “Chester and Hester.”
I looked at the photo, perplexed by the couple, er, siblings, er… man and woman’s faces.
“Do they have the same face on different bodies?” I asked.
Bill just laughed and led the way outside.
“What are the Four Keys?”
“Safety, Show, Courtesy, Efficiency.”
“Give me an example of safety.”
“Making sure guests always wear shoes.”
Continued in "Brittany Earns Her Ears"!
Disney did away with paper tickets a long time ago; except in DinoLand, where the quest for tickets can bring out the primitive in a guest.
Unfortunately, like any other job, working for Disney is not 100% magic, 100% of the time. If you’re looking for a major tell-all about the company, you’ve picked up the wrong book, but I will tell you some of the things that were a little less than magical for me, beginning with:
Games. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I didn’t like working the games. I didn’t hate it, because there were some good moments, but on the whole, I disliked almost everything about working the games. Most of the issues I have with games are similar to PAC, or Parade Audience Control. (I should also mention that if you’re reading this, and you’re a future DinoLand or PAC CP, please don’t take everything I have to say to heart. There are some CPs who absolutely love these roles; I just was not one of them.) I really disliked the ways that guests treat you when you’re working the games. Now, you can get crazy or rude guests everywhere, in any line of business, but there was definitely a higher concentration of them in games compared to other places I’ve worked. (I would say that PAC is similar, because you basically tell people that they can’t stand where they’re standing for the parade, and some of those guests don’t want to hear it, and will you so.) At the games, one of my biggest issues was non-playing guests clamoring for attention while I was trying to spiel for playing guests.
“Once we get started those dinos are going to pop out of the holes in front of you. You just want to wha—”
“HOW MUCH ARE TICKETS?!”
“whack them really ha—”
“WHERE DO I BUY TICKETS!?!? HOW MUCH ARE THEY!?!?”
“You can get tickets right at the pin cart behind you *two finger Disney point*. They are 1 for $4, 3 for $10, or 5 for $15, and you need 1 ticket per person per game. So anyway, you need to whack those dinos on the hea—”
“WHERE DO YOU GET THEM? WHAT CART?! I DON’T SEE A CART!”
“The one right over here *two finger Disney point again* with all of the pins on the side and the red roof and the sign that says ‘Shop Til You’re Dizzy’ located directly behind you and in front of Triceratop Spin, just about 4 feet away from where you’re currently standing…” Oh, you’re walking away. Now where was I…
“Alright, sorry about that, just whack them on the head, the first player to 150 is our winner! And go! Oh, and don’t use your hands, those dinosaurs are hungry, only use—”
“HEY! CAN I GET TICKETS HERE?”
Anytime you have a job where you work with the public, you can expect to get interrupted, because so many people have entitlement issues and don’t care that there are others already being helped. On games, however, I found this to be stressful while I was trying to spiel. It’s also different than being interrupted at a cash register. I can finish a transaction while answering someone else’s question, but it’s physically impossible for me to tell a group of guests how to play a game and answer some random question at the same time, especially when I was new to spieling and found it difficult to get back into the swing of it once I’d been interrupted.
Guests at the games also become very demanding in a way that didn’t happen as much at regular merchandise locations. They’d want prizes even though they lost, they’d want to play again for free, they’d want different color prizes, or different sizes that they didn’t win, they’d want to play by themselves so they’d definitely win. If all of these were phrased in the form of questions rather than orders, it wouldn’t have been bad, but often guests would throw orders at me. Maybe it was the carnival atmosphere of Chester and Hester’s that made them forget they were in the magical, happy world of Disney.
Continued in "Brittany Earns Her Ears"!