One year ago, I was in Orlando, Florida, doing the internship of a lifetime. From August-December 2017, I was experiencing my childhood dream come true of living and working at Walt Disney World. It was slow to come and quick to end, and I honestly cannot believe it’s already been a whole year since I was there. It seems like just yesterday I was spinning around Fantasyland in my purple princess dress, obsessing over EPCOT, screaming Taylor Swift songs with my roommates, living off pizza rolls and graham crackers, and experiencing magic every single day, no matter how bad work or my mental health was.
I will never forget the feeling I had the very first time I saw the Castle during traditions. I came around the corner, going from backstage to onstage, and heard the happy music that always plays on Main Street. I saw guests in Minnie ears, Mickey shaped balloons, smelled candy and popcorn. But then, my eyes caught a glimpse of the Castle that would soon become my home. My traditions leader said through my earpiece, which I had forgotten I had been wearing, “Guys, you work here.” That’s when the tears started and it was hard controlling them the rest of the day, as I got my name tag and blue ID, officially becoming a Walt Disney World Cast Member.
I will never forget my solo adventure to EPCOT, where I went with just my camera and my magic band. I vowed to take as many pictures as possible of my favorite park, so I would have them on days like today when I’m feeling sad and sentimental. I captured the beautiful, shining golf ball, which I hold dear to my heart. I met my favorite characters and walked around the World Showcase, trying foods from around the world and capturing the cultural magic that was around every corner. I watched the sun set on the World Showcase Lagoon, and found my new favorite spot in all of Walt Disney World- where I could see every icon from each country, with Spaceship Earth in the distance. The colors that reflected on the lake looked like cotton candy- soft, bright, and beautiful. It was one of my favorite days I spent in the parks.
I will never forget the night during the first week of my program where my beautiful roommates and I met at the Grand Floridan because one of us heard you could see the fireworks from there. We got ice cream from one of the gift shops, then found a table overlooking the lake where you could just barely see the tip of the castle so many miles away. We sat and waited for the sun to go to sleep and the moon to come out to play. We talked excitedly, having just met each other in person a couple of days before. Laughter rang out from all around us, and there was never a quiet moment. Once it got dark, it was only a matter of minutes before our lives were changed. The powerful opening music to “Happily Ever After” interrupted a story I was telling, which I quickly forgot about as we heard the story and music to the show we would quickly memorize. We saw the fireworks sparkle over the dark water, heard the chords and lyrics from our favorite Disney movies, and watched through tears as the song described finding your happily ever after. We looked at each other and smiled, because we knew we had found it. We were already there.
I will never forget my many trips to Magic Kingdom with Chey, where we would sing along to the Carousel of Progress, the Festival of Fantasy, and Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire. Popcorn, pixie dust, and photoshoots accompanied us every time. We fought villains and became Scorers of the Magic Kingdom. We met princesses and laid in the Hub Grass. We visited the Purple Wall and spun on tea cups until we couldn’t walk straight. Magic flowed through our veins every time we were together in that remarkable place.
I will never forget working during Halloween parties in Fantasyland. I loved seeing the guests filter through our shops dressed as princesses, fairies, pirates, and villains. I danced to songs like “Which Witch is Which” and “The Ugly Bug Ball” and played games like Ghost Ball with kids who believed so hard in magic that they made everything so fun. A couple times I even fell to the ground to catch the invisible ball they threw into our black bucket. My fellow Fantasyland Cast Members and I would end the night sitting on the floor in either Fantasy Faire or the Hundred Acre Goods, eating leftover Skittles and sharing stories about the coolest costumes we had seen that night, like the guy who dressed like a very shiny Tomato, or the families who dressed up as Winnie the Pooh characters and took pictures with the giant Pooh Bear on the wall in our store.
The headache I got from smiling so much was always worth it on nights I got to hand out candy dressed with a bat on my head. I became friends with people who would come through multiple times in one night, like the kids who just wanted to fill up a few bags before they went to watch the fireworks. My hands would get sticky halfway through the shift and sometimes I couldn’t stand to have the bat pressing my glasses even further into my head and would throw it to the floor, hiding under our candy bucket.
I will never forget heading into Magic Kingdom with Lauren, just to watch the fireworks in my favorite spot- under the Corona Lanters by the Tangled Bathrooms. We would sit on the hard ground, right outside the bathrooms, for fifteen minutes as the fireworks shot above our heads, the lanterns lighting up the sky with sparkling beauty and the music vibrating in our bones. We’d sing along and attempt to record videos, but eventually give up because no lenses could capture what it truly felt like to sit directly underneath something so magical.
I will never forget how it felt to pixie dust someone for the first time. I was shaky and nervous when my trainer handed me the sparkling silver wand with a giant pink star on top and said, “Now you try.” I almost couldn’t breathe as I stood in the middle of the small store, looking out the door where Cinderella Castle stood tall and proud. I tried to find someone who didn’t look intimidating, and tried to ask in the most magical way possible if they’d want me to sprinkle pixie dust in their hair. I overthought the whole process and convinced myself I’d never remember the pixie dust spiel, but after a few days of covering hair and my hands in the magical sparkle that never left my shoes or my costume, I could say it in my sleep. Seeing the smile of a child, teenager, or adult as he or she looked in the mirror and saw Tinker Bell’s very own pixie dust in their hair made me feel the magic every single time I held that wand.
I will never forget the day Chey, Cameron and I went to Magic Kingdom just two short days before Hurricane Irma was predicted to hit land. Main Street was empty and every ride had a minimal wait. We spent so much time in Fantasyland, hugging the Fairy Godmother and watching Donald go through a bunch of different movies and songs in Mickey’s Philharmagic. We took a break from the heat and were eating french fries at Casey’s Corner when we heard that the famous rose gold Minnie Ears were being put out at the Emporium right then and there. We quickly ate the rest of our lunch and rushed through the store, finding a full rack of the ears that usually disappeared within hours of being fully stocked. With glee, we each bought a pair, then ran around the park for the rest of the day, happy as we had ever been. That day was magical.
I will never forget coming out of a hard relapse no one really knew about. After struggling to eat for weeks, I climbed out of the hole I had dug myself by God’s strength alone. I emerged covered in mud but was able to wash up and dry off and continue to thrive during the program. Lauren and I went to the Food and Wine Festival at Epcot just days after I started eating normally again, and I tried Greek Nachos, which tasted amazing. I couldn’t shake the happiness I felt at not only overcoming a relapse, but at allowing myself to flourish and eat food that I may not have “needed”, but that I wanted.
I will never forget the feeling of Christmas on Main Street. As soon as October passed, the red and green decorations adorned the streets and lifted everyone’s spirits. Before I had even seen the decorations myself, I was working stock in Fantasyland, and someone had lost their cell phone. I was told to take it to lost and found at the front of Main Street, and instead of going underground through the tunnels, I decided to walk on stage. It was dark, so all the lights were glowing and glistening on every building. Right as my feet hit the sidewalk, it began to snow. Hearing the reactions of the little guests- so happy it was snowing in Florida- mixed with the beauty of the giant Christmas tree I was walking towards, filled my heart with magical Disney Christmas cheer, and tears brimmed my eyes, threatening to spill onto my cheeks. I never got over that feeling.
Working for Disney World wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes I was so mentally exhausted I couldn’t do anything but stay home and watch Netflix. I went through a literal hurricane, had anxiety attacks at work, and felt lonely and left out. But I wouldn’t change a single moment for anything. Time may be passing by, putting more distance between myself and my college program, but there were so many magical memories and moments that were truly a gift from God, and I will never, ever forget them.