Friday, February 28, 2014

Interview a CP: Samantha (Operations: Backlot Tour)

Samantha ready to give her safety spiel to guests!
I was thrilled to hear from Samantha Jean and learn about her experience during the Disney College Program working at the Backlot Tour in Hollywood Studios (MGM Studios back then). Here's what she had to say about her time working for Disney!

What role did you have during the DCP, and where did you work?
      I did the college program during Spring Advantage of 2006. I was in Operations and worked at the Shuttles portion of the then "Disney MGM Studios Backlot Tour." I eventually cross trained and was able to do the Tank portion of the tour as well. Though I stayed on the shuttle 97% of the time. The shuttle has since became an automation and no longer uses a live spieler

What was a typical day like at work?
     If I worked the early shift I came in at six or seven in the morning depending on when the park opened. We'd start every shift by inspecting all the shuttles and making notes of any damage or mechanical issues. We'd then drive one of the shuttle through the tour route making sure none of the props were damaged and then do a test of "Catastrophe Canyon." We'd fill a cast member water cooler and sweep all areas and wait for guests to arrive. During the day we would rotate through positions. I'd drive the shuttle for one tour, then spiel the next tour, then work a dock position -- and then start back over. I'd end up giving spieling at least six to seven 30 minute tours a day. If I didn't work the early shift I came in at 10am and worked till close, which was always sundown. BLT never said open after dark which was AWESOME. I was almost always home by 6pm.

Is this the role you originally wanted? If not, are you happy you got it?
     When I interviewed I knew I wanted to do something with A LOT of guest interaction. I thought Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom would be my perfect fit. I had never even heard of the Backlot Tour -- but once I got there I was thrilled. I loved my work location.

 What are your favorite and least favorite parts about your job?
     Least favorite was training. The process took at the very least a week. We had a 30 page script to memorize. For about an hour a day I'd get taken to a quiet room where I had to study the script alone. Then my trainer would come back and I'd be expected to have memorized another few pages. I loved my trainer -- but it was an intense process. We also had to learn to drive the shuttle. This wasn't your safari jeep by any means. It was a long tram with 7 pieces. If you didn't hit your mark exactly right you could scrap the shuttle or worse rip the door off. (How do I know? Because another CP did just that -- with a shuttle FULL OF GUESTS. Needless to say he was relocated.) The best part was my coworkers and giving the tours. I was so much fun to see people's face light up when they saw a prop from a movie they loved. Or the excitement when they "survived" Catastrophe Canyon. I loved giving the tour and getting better and better at entertaining people. 

Samantha (right) with her roommates for Valentine's Day dinner
Any specific magical moment you want to share?
      Our tour involved special effects and fire ... lots of it. By the time some little kids got through the Tank portion of the tour they were frightened. One time I saw a family with a crying child. The boy didn't want to get on the shuttle tour and his family didn't want to leave. They had waited a long time in line. I went over to the boy and started talking to him in hopes he'd calm down. He explained that he didn't like the fire and wanted to know if there was more. I said yes, but told him there was a magical part of the shuttle and if he made sure to sit right there Mickey would protect him. To the delight of his parent it convinced him to get on. I found out his name and waited for his tour at the unload area with a certificate signed by Mickey for his bravery. I also had a coupon so the entire family could have free ice cream. His parents were ecstatic and thanked me profusely. I was just happy to make the kid's -- and parent's day.

What made you want to do the DCP?
      I've always loved Disney movies and grew up adoring Mickey. It looked like a lot of fun and what better company to put on your resume then Disney? Every employer I've had since Disney wanted to talk about my program during the interview. There's just something about Disney that people like. So when they find out you worked there, you're cool.

 Is there something you wish you would have known before doing your program?
     Not really. I had a great recruiter who gave me realistic expectations of the program. Yes, it was Disney. But he also made sure that I knew it was a job ... I was going to have managers I didn't like, coworkers I couldn't stand and guests that were rude. If I could look past all that and focus on the bigger picture, building my resume, I would get exactly what I put into it. 

Samantha and her friend Rachel on Streets of America
What advice would you give to those who are going to be participating in your role?
     Unfortunately, my ride has changed so much people won't be doing what I did anymore. However, if you work in operations and operate a ride my advice is to breathe. It's easy to just push the buttons and become a robot. Slow down, talk to guests, make friends with your coworkers and enjoy the small stuff because your program will fly by fast.  My best memories are the silly things my coworkers and I did behind the scenes.

What advice would you give to people who are interested in doing the DCP?
     What I said in #7. Beyond that: When I look back at my program 8 years later I know without a shadow of a doubt it was the best thing I could have done in that moment. The job I have today is because of that internship. Some of the friends I still have today are because of Disney. It may seem silly, but every job at Disney, even cleaning the toilets, can give you a skill that translates into a professional career. There were times that my tour didn't go exactly as it was it scripted, so I had to improvise and think fast to come up with a plan. That's something I now do everyday as a TV producer. If you let it, this program could change you life. So make the most of it.

Side Note: Always make friends outside of your apartment. Because sooner or later you will have the classic room mate explosion and you'll need somewhere to hide. I was much happier when I met someone who had an apartment I could escape to when it got bad. Six girls who don't know each other in the same apartment? Believe me, sparks will fly sooner or later.

If you're a current or past college program cast member and would like to share your experience, email your name and role to to participate!

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