Feb 082010
 

By Teresa Pitman

If you’ve been to Epcot’s World Showcase, you’ll know that the young Cast Members in each pavilion are actually from the countries they represent — their home towns are listed on their nametags. Ever wondered how they got the chance to leave home and work for Disney?

Wonder no more. I have two sons — Dan and Jeremy — currently in the International Program, and I’m here to give you the behind-the-scenes tour.

If you’ve always wanted to get free park admission, discounts on Disney hotels, and special deals on events like Cirque du Soleil and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, you could try this strategy: first, have some kids, then raise them to love Disney, make sure you live in one of the countries represented in the World Showcase (move if necessary), encourage them to apply, sweat through the interview process with them, help them move to Orlando and — there you go! A whole year of discounts! Okay, I will have to admit that this does not work out to an overall cost-savings, but it’s certainly been a lot of fun.

Here’s how it works.

Step one: Last January, my two youngest sons (both university graduates) decided to apply for the International Program. We live in Canada, so they were directed to the yummyjobs.ca website, and emailed their applications. That was easy!

Step two: A Yummy Jobs rep called each of them separately and conducted an interview over the phone. They were asked questions about why they wanted to work at WDW, what they’d hope to share with guests about their home country, and how they’d handle challenging situations with park guests. (Since over the years they’d witnessed more than one challenging situation — our favorite being the father who started arguing angrily with Crush during Turtle Talk — they knew all about Disney’s preferred approaches.)

Step three: Yay! Dan and Jeremy both passed the first interview. Now they were asked to come to Toronto (about an hour and a half from where we live) for a full day. And they had to dress up — no jeans and T-shirts at Disney interviews! They sat through presentations about the program that made it sound pretty terrific and had individual, in-person interviews with Disney managers.

Step four: Wait, patiently, while dreaming about future Disney trips.

Step five: Much cheering and celebration! Both boys were accepted! At first they were scheduled to start at different times, but in the end both started in August. There was plenty of paperwork to complete, but Disney does a great job of helping to keep things on track and organizing the work visas. The contract is for one year, but there is sometimes a possibility of extending it at the end of the year.

The next part might have been the biggest challenge of all: the facial hair had to go. Disney has strict rules about grooming (short hair on boys, no visible tattoos or piercings, no facial hair) and both my boys had beards at the time they applied. Not anymore. And the rules are strictly enforced. Jeremy, whose facial hair grows unbelievably fast, has to keep a razor with him when he’s at work, in case his “five o’clock shadow” grows beyond the Disney limits. Dan seems to have a similar problem with the hair on top of his head. The first week that he was there, his manager told him on Thursday that his hair length was fine, but when he showed up for training on Saturday, the trainer said his hair was too long (really, how much can hair grow in two days?) and he had to leave and get a haircut.

Dan and Jeremy both signed up to be part of the “Food Service” category because they wanted to work in Le Cellier. (Other options are Retail Sales and Attractions.) That’s not, however, where they started. First step in Food Service is at the popcorn cart outside the pavilion — not always an easy place to work in the August heat, but a great chance to meet lots of guests. They’ve also taken their turns at the Le Cellier podium where, they tell me, they get very used to saying “You don’t have ADRs? I’m sorry, Le Cellier is completely booked. Can I suggest another restaurant for you?” (They did, however, pass on this tip — if you want to eat at Le Cellier but don’t have ADRs, your best chance is to head over on a rainy or unusually cold day. That’s when they get the most “no-shows.”)

Jeremy also worked the Food and Wine Festival in the Canadian booth. He LOVES that event so was excited to be part of it, but found that working on the inside of the booth isn’t as much fun as purchasing tasty meals from the outside. The weather was even hotter than usual last fall and the booths are not air-conditioned, so you can imagine that the people working hard to prepare the delicious cheddar cheese soup and other treats quickly became sweaty and uncomfortable.

Now both are working inside the restaurant, currently as “food runners” who bring out the prepared meals to the diner’s tables. To qualify for this role, they had to spend a considerable amount of time learning about the dishes on the menu, potential allergens, sources of various foods and the answers to many questions guests might ask. But the Cast Members also can’t forget that the restaurant represents Canada — servers and food runners also need to know interesting facts and trivia about each of the Canadian provinces. That’s because the restaurant sections are each named after a province. Dan and Jeremy were thoroughly tested on this by their managers.

Their days are busy and often very tiring. When they’re done, they hop on a special shuttle bus that takes them back to the complex where they live.

The International Program Cast Members live in a gated community of apartment buildings, with its own recreational facilities, just a short ride from WDW. Most of the apartments have two bedrooms, with a bathroom connected to each bedroom, and a shared kitchen and living room area. Two people will be assigned to each bedroom. The rent for their apartment is automatically taken out of each paycheck.

Disney likes to mix things up, so my sons have shared their apartments with people from France, Italy, Japan, Germany, and China. They’ve found, though, that their closest friendships tend to be with the other Canadians who work with them every day.

Almost six months into the program, here are some of the things Dan and Jeremy love:

* Having guests take photos of them or including them in their vacation photos
* Being able to tell someone “actually, yes, there is a table available in Le Cellier”
* Taking pride in working for one of the most popular restaurants in WDW
* Answering questions about life in Canada (“no, we don’t all live in igloos”)
* Learning many “backstage secrets” that us ordinary guests wish we knew
* Helping to make someone’s vacation just a little more fun

As Cast Members, they also enjoy some terrific perks. Except during a small number of blackout days, they can enter the parks any time for free. They have definitely made the most of this (there was, for example, the four-park challenge when they had to go to all four parks in one day, ride at least four rides in each one, and use four different types of transportation — boat, monorail, bus and car. Jeremy, who had not done many thrill rides on his previous trips, has conquered all of them now, including the Tower of Terror. He does, however, say he isn’t going on that one again.

During slow times, they may get free tickets for Cirque du Soleil or discounted tickets for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and other events. When Disney is creating a new tour or show, they may “test it out” on the International Program Cast Members — a fun kind of sneak preview. They get discounts on merchandise they buy (our family received some wonderful Disney gifts this year at Christmas!) and on meals in the park and at many local restaurants. They can stay in the hotels — including DVC — at a discount and can book hotels for family and friends at a discount as well.

They also get a special pass that allows them to bring family and friends into the parks with them at no cost — although they are limited to three people each and a total of twelve days per year. Last-minute, discount cruises on the Disney Cruise line are also available to them.

The hardest part, of course, is that we miss them a lot — and when they’re not serving perfectly cooked steaks or enjoying yet another ride on Expedition Everest, they claim to miss us too. Of course, that’s what the discounts are for. We’ll be down again to see them in just a few weeks. And if you happen to be at Le Cellier any time in the next few months, and see a handsome young man whose badge says Dan or Jeremy, please say hello. And tell them their mom will visit soon.

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