Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Working for The Mouse: Hours and Benefits

So, know what's overwhelming? Trying to plan out blog posts about Disney and Orlando! HOLY COW, you guys, this is a huge project. I have so many notes that I've been trying to organize and enrich over the past several weeks that it's gotten a little out of control. I'm actually planning to pick up a few pieces of poster board so I can map out future Orlando/Disney posts better, because all of the pages of notes in notebooks, Google docs, notes on my phone, and tons of e-mails I've received have turned into a big jumbled mess!

In the mean time, I wanted to go ahead and put out this little blog post that is pretty introductory and explains a few key points that will come in handy later when I get into the actual Disney work posts! So let's dive in!

CM- Disney refers to its employees as "Cast Members", since everyone is a part of the show. You'll sometimes see it abbreviated as CM or just "cast". Likewise, jobs are referred to as "roles". I have another post in the works that will be up soon that will explain some of the major categories of roles available, including some you might not have thought about, as well as the pros and cons of working in the parks vs. the resorts.

FT/PT/Seasonal/CP/ICP- Holy cow that's a lot of letters, am I right?
The first three on that list distinguish how often you work.

Full time means 5+ days, or more than 32 hours a week, just like most jobs. What is different here vs. at the average job is that Disney is a 24 hr a day, 365 days a year company, so schedules can get crazy. It's not at all unusual to work a shift opening the park at 6 am one morning, and then be scheduled on a closing shift from like 6 p.m.-2 a.m. the next day. They usually try to schedule at least 8 hours between your shifts, but if you have a half hour drive home and need some time to get ready for bed/get ready in the morning, you can easily imagine how that 8 hours can quickly be reduced to about 4 hours of sleep.

Of course, not every role has that crazy of a schedule. Of the parks, Animal Kingdom has the shortest hours, (usually 8-5, give or take an hour or two) so you get a lot less fluctuation in schedule if you work there. At the resorts, the concierge desk is only open 7 a.m.-10 p.m., so you know that the earliest you'll be scheduled is 6:45. (The opposite isn't true for closing- although I was usually only scheduled until 10:30, I was there until 11 or later a LOT, either because the desk closed late because it was busy, or because I wanted to follow up on something I was working on for a guest, etc.) Similarly, almost all housekeepers work mornings, and lifeguards primarily work daytime hours.

The reason that I mention the crazy schedule hours under full time rather than the other two is that full time means you are giving your full availability. You can't say "Oh, I can't work past 4 p.m. because that's when my kids get home from school." You can request morning hours, but that does not mean you'll get them, so if working a certain time of day is really important to you, it's a good idea to seek out a role that improves your chances of being scheduled at that time. (There are a lot of jobs like third shift custodial for people who prefer to work overnight hours.)

This can make it really tough to make plans. Imagine there's a band that you really want to see playing next Tuesday night. You usually work mornings, so you're pretty sure you can go, but you really don't know until a week ahead of time if you might be scheduled for a double that day, so do you risk buying the ticket anyway? I mention all of this not to freak anyone out, but because I think a lot of people go into it not realizing just how crazy hours can be, especially when you're new and have zero seniority.

Number of hours can vary a lot, too. Full time is described as "32+ hours", but the actual number of hours you work may be totally different from week to week. Mandatory doubles or 6th/7th days are pretty darn common during holidays and busy times of year. When things get slow, you may find yourself only working 32-34 hours for several weeks in a row, which can get pretty tough on the ol' paycheck.

Part time is 3 days a week. This is up a bit from a few years ago, when it was 2 days. Again, you are offering up your full availability during those 3 days, so you could get scheduled to come in at 5 in the morning or 8 at night, or any other hour you can imagine. Part time may be a great option for you if you're a student that knows they need Tues & Weds off for classes, or if you're just not up to working a full time schedule. It's also a great way to "get your foot in the door", since finding a full time role in the category of your choice can be really tough.

Seasonal cast members may only work a few days here and there, primarily during busier times. A few years ago, seasonal cast members were only required to work something like 40 hours per year to maintain their status, but it has since jumped up to 150. (150 hours works out to about 19 8 hour days, if you don't feel like doing the math.) That's made things a bit more complicated for those who were living out of state and just popping down for a few weeks a year to get their hours in, I'm sure. The perk of being seasonal is that you DO get to determine when you're available, as in "I can work any time the weeks of Christmas and New Years, but not at all in the summer." The down side is that if you find yourself in need of some income in slower parts of the year, you may have trouble getting shifts. (Although there was one seasonal CM at my resort who we all knew *loved* any hours she could get, so we'd call her up when we had a shift we needed to give away.)

The latter two abbreviations refer to participants in the College Program and International College Program. You can find alllll kinds of info about that on the official site. I'm just mentioning the term so you'll know what I mean if I say CP or ICP. In short, they're temporary cast members that are usually only with us for a few months, but work full time during that time.

I've had a few questions about the benefits that come with the job. Most people know that we get into the four major parks for free, but what else do you get?

*Full time cast members can get medical/dental/vision insurance. There's actually even an awesome clinic right in the Epcot cast parking lot. (It became my home away from home my last few months there! One of the nurses even said I deserved my own parking spot.) There are several different health plans to choose from, which range from a few dollars a week for a basic plan for just yourself, to quite a bit more if you want to cover your family, too.

*Full time CMs also get a few paid sick and vacation days each year. Pretty rad.

*Full and part time CMs get a "main gate pass", which allows you to admit your friends/family into the park with you a few times a year. (The number of days varies depending on status and seniority. CPs get 6 days, while full time CMs who have been with the company for 15+ years may have an unlimited number.) Your main gate also works at Disneyland, Hong Kong Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, etc.

*Unlike the 4 main parks, we don't get unlimited free admission to the water parks and DisneyQuest, but we do get discounts. Additionally, the water parks usually offer a period in the fall (usually around Oct/Nov) when cast gets in for free.

*Most roles get an annual raise. Depending on jobs you've held in the past, a raise once a year may either sound awesome or like not enough. Since I was coming from a hotel job where I'd gone almost 3 years with no raise in pay, now knowing I could count on a few extra cents each October made me pretty happy.

*All cast members, regardless of their full time/part/etc status get discounts! You get a discount on almost any merchandise in the parks and resorts, rooms at the resorts, and a fair amount of dining. A lot of local businesses also offer discounts for CMs. (My apartment complex gave 5% off rent. Woo!)

*Sneak previews and other cast-only stuff! Usually when there's a special event coming up, like Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party, cast members are allowed to attend the dress rehearsal of the parade (or a soft opening of a new attraction, for example). There are periodically cool (and usually free!) classes or tours you can take, like a backstage tour of the Haunted Mansion. (I always really wanted to do that one, but it was held at 7 a.m., which is an hour you will never see me awake if I can help it!)

*You get to wear unbelievably sexy costumes, like this:

*Events/Parties/Team Building- These will be different depending on where you work, but at my resort we had barbecues several times a year, a summer party with food and prizes, various pot lucks, etc. There was one especially awesome time when I was a concierge where over the course of about 2 months, I got to go parasailing, ride in a race car, and get paid to eat at Restaurant Marrakesh at Epcot. Not a bad gig!

*There are a lot of random other things that I can't even begin to list, because they're so varied. There are softball teams, hula dance clubs, theater groups, lending libraries stocked with all things Disney, and on and on and on.

*Some (I believe most?) full and part time positions offer a retirement plan option.

*The main "benefits", in my opinion, though, are the experiences you get to have and people that you get to meet. You get to see and do so many things that people with "normal" jobs would never imagine. (I remember one night while working at the Tomorrowland Speedway, I was driving one of the cars backstage to be stored for the night while the Wishes fireworks were going off overhead, and it was such an "I get paid for this?" moment.) You meet and work with people of all ages and backgrounds from all over the world. You see things that make you laugh and things that touch your heart, you shed a few tears, you learn an absurd number of things, you get yelled at now and then, you discover you're capable of things you never expected.

...and YIKES. What was supposed to be a quick post to define some terms and give some background info grew long so quickly! I hope it was helpful, though! If you have questions (about this topic of ones you'd like to see me cover in the future), leave a comment or shoot me an email, and I'll do my best to reply or work the answer into a future post!

Handy disclaimer: All I can do here is offer advice and info from my own experiences. I haven't worked every single role, nor led every single lifestyle, so I'm not going to know everything. Getting upset about that is just plain silly. However, I'm more than happy to do my best to answer any questions you may have, or refer you to other resources if they're about an area outside of my expertise. Also, any info or advice I offer is as current as possible, but things are always evolving, so things may change to make something I say no longer accurate. All opinions are my own- if you want the "official" word, check out Disney's official sites or contact them directly.

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