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  • 28Feb
    Disney College Program Comments Off

    When I decided to do my culinary internship at Disney World, I was a little worried that the experience might ruin Disney for me. After all, if you’re in the Disney College Program, you’re not going to spend all or even most of your time playing in the parks. You’re there to work, and work hard. You see things that the guests never see, like the underground places and the backstage areas of Disney, which are not always glamorous. You’re forced to deal with the bureaucratic machine behind Disney that sometimes screws up your schedule or adds undeserved points to your report card because a manager told you to clock in early–and then you have to fight to get it fixed. You may find yourself practically starving because you weren’t allowed to take a break until close to the end of your shift. You might have roommates who stir up drama, buses that show up late, etc.

    Yes, to be honest, there were rough times. I’d be lying if I said I was never frustrated, tired, or even angry about my schedule and the work conditions. A prime example was when I worked nearly 14 hours, didn’t get back home until 5:30 AM, and then wasn’t able to get much more than a few hours of sleep before I had to get up and go to work again. Even though I got sick a couple of times, I didn’t take any sick days because I was determined to keep my Disney report card clean and avoid getting a reprimand.

    I’m not exactly painting a nice picture of being in the Disney College Program, am I? Well, I’m highlighting the bad stuff for a couple of reasons: One, anyone who’s thinking about doing the program deserves to know both the positive AND negative aspects of working for the Mouse. Two, anyone who is worried that doing the Disney College Program might “ruin” the magic for them should know that most people, including me, do NOT regret the experience.

    It’s been less than six months since I’ve returned from Disney World, and I already hear it calling me again. I’m starting to miss it. I miss exploring and playing in the parks. I miss shopping on a quiet morning in Downtown Disney. I miss being able to indulge in a Ghiradelli’s ice cream or a giant cupcake. I miss the atmosphere, the *feel* of the place. Frankly, I also miss the sense of novelty and adventure that comes with being in the college program.

    In fact, I could almost convince myself to do another internship. However, I would pick a totally different role, something that would immerse me in the parks a little more and give me more autonomy, such as custodial or photopass photographer.

    So was the magic “ruined” for me? Heck, no! If anything, it added something to my love of Disney World. I’m already planning another trip. It might be a couple of years before I return, but I’m still going back one way or another to soak up all that Disney magic.

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  • 29Jan
    Disney College Program Comments Off

    What is a culinary role, and how does it differ from the other roles available at Disney?
    If you’re accepted for a culinary role at Disney World, you’re basically a cook. You’ll usually be referred to as a “culinary.” You might be a short order cook working at a quick service location, grilling hamburgers and sandwiches. You might end up working in the kitchen of a full service restaurant, cutting vegetables or making desserts. If you’re accepted for the Fall semester, you might even end up working in some of the booths at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival.

    The culinary role differs from the “Quick Service Food & Beverage” (QSFB) role. You get to wear a chef’s coat, which looks more professional and a bit less dorky than the typical QSFB costume. You’re allowed to carry and use knives. You cook things on a grill or a flattop, whereas people in the QSFB roles are usually limited to putting things on a plate or throwing chicken nuggets and fries in the fryer. You’ll also be responsible for staying on top of HACCP procedures, such as taking food temperatures every couple of hours.

    A culinary can have a highly visible role with a lot of guest interaction, depending on where the culinary is deployed. In quick service locations, culinaries work alongside people in QSFB roles (otherwise known as frontline people). Frontline people call out food orders, hand food to guests, and may do a little food preparation. Frontline people interact with the guests the most. From a culinary’s perspective, it’s easy to take the QSFB people for granted, but they are important. Without good frontline people helping out, culinaries fall behind and get their butts kicked trying to handle too many things at once.

    Do you have to pass a web-based interview for a culinary role?
    Yes. Everyone has to pass the same web-based interview, regardless of the roles they’re applying for. It’s a personality test that tries to get a feel for your personality and work ethic.

    What is the phone interview like?
    When you apply for a culinary role, you’ll actually have to pass two phone interviews. The first phone interview will be more general; you’ll be asked questions such as why you want to work for Disney, whether you have any visible tattoos, etc. You’ll also be asked about your work experience, your work style, etc. There will also be some ServSafe-related questions, such as how you would store chicken, fish, beef, and pork in a fridge, to what internal temperature should certain foods be cooked, etc. There may also be more subjective culinary questions, such as how you would make the perfect salad, or what your favorite restaurant is and why.

    The second phone interview will be with a chef. He’ll mostly test your culinary knowledge by asking things such as: How do you make a bechamel sauce? What kind of vegetables would you buy that are in season right now? How do you determine if a fish is fully cooked? What kind of sauce would you serve with the fish? What kind of meal would you make for friends? Those are just a few examples.

    Do you have to bring any special equipment, clothing, etc?
    My acceptance letter instructed me to bring a knife kit and slip-resistant shoes. However, I never used my knives, and Disney provided shoes for me at no cost. I didn’t need to bring a chef’s coat or anything like that; Disney already has coats, pants, and hats that you’ll be required to wear.

    That said, I did see a few culinaries who carried their own knife kits to work. They tended to be the exception rather than the rule. I worked in quick service locations where most food items were already fabricated for us, so there was almost never a need for a knife. However, it might be different in full service restaurants. Bring some knives to be on the safe side, but don’t be surprised if you never have to bring them to work.

    I strongly recommend bringing a digital thermometer or two. Although work location will probably have thermometers, they can get lost, stolen, or broken. Having your own as a backup can be a life saver.

    Although Disney will provide a pair of shoes, it’s a good idea to bring your own black slip-resistant shoes. That way if your Disney shoes fall apart in two months or get soaked in the rain, you’ll have a backup pair.

    Finally, brings plenty of black socks and white shirts. In one of the locations I worked, wearing white socks or a colored shirt under your chef’s coat were fireable offenses.

    What kind of paperwork do you need to bring?
    All the paperwork Disney sends you (most of it should be filled out in advance), along with several forms of identification. I brought a driver’s license, a birth certificate, and a social security card. Things such as your birth certificate and social security card can be mailed back home after you check in.

    I brought my ServSafe certification in case Disney wanted to see proof that I had indeed passed the ServSafe test. However, they never asked to see it.

    If you’re getting credit for your Disney internship, your school will likely have papers and forms you’ll need to fill out as you go. These may be timesheets, evaluation forms, etc. Most of these things will need to be signed by a chef. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to the chefs; they understand that culinary schools have requirements like this, so it shouldn’t be a big deal to get them to sign papers as needed.

    Do you get to choose which apartment to live in? Will your roommates be culinary cast members too?
    Everyone who checks in is asked which apartment complex they’d like to live in (Vista Way, Chatham, or Patterson). You may or may not be asked how many roommates you want. I asked for Patterson, which is the newest and quietest of the complexes. I was randomly assigned to live with five other roommates. None of my roommates had culinary roles.

    Other people have reported different experiences. In one case, a culinary didn’t get a choice and was assigned to live in Vista Way with other culinaries as roommates. This was not at all the case for me or the other culinary interns I met.

    You’ll have at LEAST one roommate. You may have up to seven roommates. Everyone is grouped by gender and drinking age. If you’re a girl, all your roommates will be girls too. If you’re over 21, then your roommates will be over 21 too (unless you specifically request a non-drinking or “Wellness” apartment). This way, no one gets in trouble if one of your roommates has a beer or cooks with a bottle of wine.

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  • 20Nov
    Disney College Program Comments Off

    There are actually three All-Star Resorts on the Disney property: All-Star Sports, All-Star Music, and All-Star Movies. As you might expect, All-Star Sports is decorated with a sports motif: Walk around the property and you’ll see giant footballs, enormous football helmets, monster-sized Coca-Cola cups, etc. And of course if you wander around All-Star Music, you’ll see things like maracas and cowboy boots made for Godzilla. All-Star Movies is the most whimsical and popular of the three: Everyone wants to see giant Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

    Before the Food & Wine Festival started, I was working at the All-Star Sports resort. I worked at the grill, where I studied the art of flipping hamburgers.

    OK, so there was a little more to it than that, but grilling hamburgers was still the highlight of the job. It’s not as easy as it looks. First I had to learn how to cook a hamburger without making it fall apart; then I had to learn to recognize when a hamburger is finished cooking; then I had to learn how to keep up with different orders and cover the grill with burgers whenever we started getting a long line of people.

    I also had to cook other things on the flattop at the same time. Periodically I would need to steam up some hotdogs. Other times I had to cook grilled cheese sandwiches, grilled ham & cheese sandwiches, and vegetable burgers. I quickly learned that you need to clean the flattop periodically, or else you get dirty-looking grilled cheese sandwiches. Nobody likes that.

    I also learned about cleaning deep-fryers. The real problem isn’t cleaning them–that’s the easy part. The real trick is timing it so that you’re able to clean two out of three fryers before things get busy.

    Frankly, the value I got from working at the All-Star Sports grill had less to do with cooking and more to do with speed, timing, guest interaction, and teamwork. I encountered one or two culinaries who looked down their noses at the frontline people, since they don’t cook, but believe me, you NEED people who can concentrate on taking orders and serving food. You don’t realize how important the frontline people are until one day, for some freakish reason, you’re out there all by yourself trying to do everything at once… or until the day you’re assigned to work with a couple of unmotivated frontline people who barely do the minimum.

    Working at the All-Star wasn’t nearly as demanding as the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, but I feel like I still took something valuable from the experience.

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  • 20Nov

    My internship at Walt Disney World lasted from August 22 to November 11, 2011. I was accepted for a culinary role, which was why my internship was shorter than most; internship length for culinary-types varies a lot. I worked at the All-Star Sports resort and at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival, Canada Pavilion.

    It was a lot of hard work, and I came away with my share of burns and scars. But I’m glad I did it, and I’m proud of the experience.

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  • 05Mar
    Disney College Program Comments Off

    If you’re trying to get into the Walt Disney World College Program, it’s worth your while to find like-minded people online. There are many, MANY blogs and online communities where you can read tips from people who have “been there, done that.” Disney alumni can tell you how they passed their interviews, what the internship experience is like, and answer questions you might have about roles, apartments, bus routes, etc.

    Unfortunately, most college program blogs have a short lifespan. They wither up and die by the time the blogger begins their internship. Disney keeps you busy, and most people lose the motivation to write for their blogs. However, the online communities are buzzing with life—especially during the recruiting season! Here are just a few you should check out:

    Disboards.com – The Disboards are THE place to hang out if you’re a Disney fanatic. You can literally spend hours reading about the resorts, looking at pictures of Disney food, studying other people’s strategies for getting around the parks, discussing the best rides, arguing about your favorite Disney movies, on and on and on. Disboards also has a section where you can discuss the Disney College Program to your heart’s content.

    Walt Disney World College Program Fall/Fall Advantage 2011 – This is the officially unofficial Facebook group for the Fall 2011 season of the Disney College Program. Pages and discussion groups like this pop up on Facebook every season, and this one is hot right now. Who knows, maybe you’ll find the perfect roommate, or at least get some of your questions answered.

    WDWMagic.com – The employment and college program section of the WDWMagic forums. Not as active as Disboards, but worth checking out.

    Tip: Before you post a question on a forum, see if it has already been answered. Discussion boards usually have a wealth of old threads full of useful information; it’s worth digging them up. The easiest way to find the answers you’re looking for (and skip the stupid, clunky forum search pages) is to do a specialized Google search.

    Some examples:

    Chatham apartments site:disboards.com

    Custodial role site:disboards.com

    Interview questions site:wdwmagic.com

    The “site:” part of your search tells Google that you only want results from those sites. Sure enough, Google searches only those sites and pulls up the relevant discussions. Happy searching!

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  • 18Feb

    A week ago today, Disney sent me an email. I rubbed my eyes and stared at it. The first paragraph said,

    Congratulations! You have been selected to participate as a Culinary Assistant, Cook II,Cast Member on the Disney College Program in the Culinary Food & Wine 2011 Season.

    It took a moment for the shock to wear off. Wow… I got in… wow. I’m going to be in the culinary program. I’m going to Disney World!

    I received my folder in the mail yesterday. The folder isn’t exactly purple like everyone else’s; it’s green with some purple thrown in. You can even see Mickey wearing a chef’s hat. I guess Disney wanted to do something a little different for us culinary types.

    The only thing putting a damper on my excitement is the fact that I still don’t know exactly when I’ll be there. I know my internship goes from early August through mid December, but I don’t have the exact dates. When I had my first phone interview, I either didn’t write down the dates or lost that particular note. Turned out to be a pretty stupid move on my part.

    I thought the dates would be reiterated on the website or in the folder. Nope. When I logged into the website to accept my invitation, I was only given one date range to choose from: December 31st to December 31st. What? Come on, Mickey! I want more than a day!

    Apparently this isn’t an error, but simply how Disney has things set up: You pick the “fake” date range, then the Culinary Operations Support Coordinator will go in and update your invitation to reflect the real dates discussed in your phone interview.

    It’s been a week, and the website still says I’m scheduled to come and go on December 31st. I’d like confirm the actual dates so I can talk to my advisor as soon as possible.

    I’ve tried calling the recruiting office twice, but it’s been a fruitless endeavor so far. One girl I spoke to didn’t understand when I tried to explain, and said that I just needed to go on the website and pick the date range that works best for me. Le sigh. At least she transferred me to the Culinary Coordinator’s voicemail.

    I’m not blaming her or anyone else I’ve spoken to. I just blame the impenetrable walls of bureaucracy. The rules, procedures, and “proper channels of communication” hum along nicely when everything goes just the way it should, but heaven help you if you’re one of the weird exceptions.

    But at least I’m not waiting on tenterhooks anymore, wondering whether I’ll be accepted or pended or declined. I made it. I just have to wait for one or two more details to get sorted out.

    It still doesn’t feel quite real. I don’t think it’ll fully sink in until somewhere between the time I arrive at Disney World and show up for work in my costume.

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  • 01Feb
    Disney College Program Comments Off

    If you’re a culinary student who’s interested in doing the Walt Disney World College Program, you have three options: 1) You can apply to be considered exclusively for a culinary role; 2) You can apply for culinary as well as other roles (such as custodial or housekeeping); 3) You can skip the whole culinary route and just pick from a list of the standard roles you want to be considered for.

    I believe you can apply either through the website yourself, or start the process through your school. There’s a rumor that applying through your school gives you a better shot at landing a true culinary role in a kitchen as opposed to being shuffled to a standard Quick Service Food & Beverage role. However, the school route could be problematic if the administration isn’t aware of the Disney College Program or hasn’t dealt with it much.

    You’ll need to get through two phone interviews. You get to schedule the first interview, which will generally last anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes. The second interview will be whenever the chef decides to call you. I have not yet had the chef interview, but I can give you an idea of what to expect in the first phone interview.

    First your interviewer will go over the basics with you. She’ll confirm your information, ask whether you’re OK with getting paid $7.25 an hour, verify that you’re willing to comply with the Disney Look–natural hair color, no visible tattoos, etc. Then she’ll ask general questions like, why do you want to do the Disney college program? What do you do are your current job? What do you enjoy most about your job, and what’s the most challenging thing about it?

    There will also be ServSafe-type questions, such as where you would place various foods in the fridge, and to what internal temperature each food item should be cooked. If you’re ServSafe certified (and you have to be in order to qualify for the culinary role), these questions shouldn’t be a big deal.

    Next are the more “foody” questions. You might be asked what you like to order at your favorite restaurant, what sort of dinner you would make for friends, what you enjoy most about cooking, what you hope to gain from the culinary program, etc. You might also be asked something more technical, such as how you would make the perfect salad.

    Theoretically, if you picked the option where you want to be considered for other roles as well, the interviewer should ask a greater variety of questions. That’s not how it worked for me, though. She didn’t have a list of the other roles I selected, and she treated my interview as culinary-only. She said that since I passed the web interview, I should be able to apply again if the chef didn’t call me within four weeks. However, when I tried to verify this information later on, I was told that my role choices were already in the system and that I should be good to go. (Never mind that I wasn’t even interviewed for other roles.) If I don’t get a culinary role, I have a feeling I won’t get to apply again until the next recruiting season.

    Disney doesn’t seem to have all its ducks in a row when it comes to letting you apply for ALL roles. My advice: If you really, I mean really want to get into the program, would be insanely happy to get almost any role, and have only just started your culinary education… you might actually be better off skipping the culinary role the first time around.

    For more tips, check out one of my earlier posts: Culinary Role in the WDWCP

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