Sometimes life can be so good that everything feels too good to be true. Since January, I was working at Disneyland Resort and I was literally living my dream. I worked full time, all around the park, and on my days off (and sometimes before or after work) I would go to the parks as a guest.
Disney was in all actuality my life. I went weeks going to Disneyland at one point or another everyday. I was at the park way more than I was ever at home, and I found an amazing amount of fulfillment as a Custodian. I loved my coworkers and felt like I belonged in that role.
Obviously this entire COVID-19 issue had been going on in the background of my life, because even at the Happiest Place On Earth, people talk about the news. For us though, it was mostly jokes about toilet paper and people overreacting.
Then, in early March big things started closing down. It wasn’t enough to get my attention though, because I had fallen so far into my Disney bubble. The day they announced the closure of Disneyland, March 12th, I had a shift on Main Street. I heard the news 5 minutes before I had to leave for work and in all honesty had a panic attack.
Disneyland was the entire reason I had moved 1,000 miles south away from everyone I knew, and it was closing down. What was I supposed to do? Was I going to get paid? Cast Members heard the news at the exact same time the general public did, and we knew nothing more.
Still, I had to go to work, and I did. It was pouring down rain so I spent a lot of my time that shift pushing water with a broom. I actually remember it as one of my most enjoyable shifts. It was eerie to know that everything that Disneyland was was going to come to a close in a few days time. I and fellow Cast Members joked with guests about the closure and the the incredibility of it all.
I remember clearly one guest telling me and a fellow DCP Cast Member that there was nothing for us to worry about because Disney took care of their employees.
The next day, the 13th, and the last day the park was open, I also worked on Main Street. Again, it was another day of rain (it felt fitting) so more water pushing was done, as well as trash can drying. Everyone was a bit emotional with the oncoming closure, and there was still the unknown of what Custodians would be doing during the closure because we were told we would be deep cleaning the park.
I left work at 10:30 that night, and vividly remember turning once to look back at Town Square and thought “soak it in Michaela, this is the last time you’ll see Disneyland with people in it for a few weeks.” Little did I know that that was the last time I would see Disneyland with people in it as a Cast Member.
The next day, March 14th, was the first day Disneyland was closed. I was scheduled to work in Critter Country that morning, and since we (Custodians) were told to still come in, I did. Instead of Critter Country I was sent to Tomorrowland to deep clean railings.
I spent the first two hours of my shift in and around the queue of the Finding Nemo Submarines (my least favorite ride). During my first break I found out about the closure of Walt Disney World’s College Program.
Before this point I never thought for a second that Disney would or could do that to us DCP participants, because… it was too terrible to even think possible. Cue a second panic attack. After a lot of terrified text messaging to family, friends and roommates, my 15 minutes was up and… I went back to work. There were no leads or supervisors nearby, and I didn’t know what else to do.
I spent the next two hours frantically cleaning railings, reminding myself to breathe, and checking my phone for a dreaded email. At one point a lead of mine walked by, and I asked him about the closure. He didn’t seem concerned about it happening to Disneyland’s program so I tried to keep calm and work.
On the way to lunch I got a text message from my roommate.
“Our program is over, it’s official”
I don’t really remember getting from the Nemo queue back to our break area, because I had trouble seeing. After I made it there, a lead came over and asked if I was a DCP participant. I said yes and that I’d already heard, and he asked to see the email we received. I gave him my phone and promptly broke down in tears.
It’s one thing to have a dream and reach it, and an entirely separate monster to work hard, reach your dream, and then have it torn from you in a matter of seconds.
I cried all the way to the manager’s office, where they told us the details of what was happening. Not much more than, ‘it’s over, we’re so sorry, you need to leave your housing by the 18th’. I was more of a mess than the others in the room, so the manager who spoke to us took me aside and asked if there was anything she could do.
I asked her if we could take a moment and walk around the park, and she happily obliged. Thus came the most surreal and painful two hours of my entire life. I, and a few other college program Custodians slowly made our way around an empty Disneyland, a place we worked at only minutes prior.
I didn’t know any of the other DCP Custodians extremely well, but had worked with all of them. Now I feel an incredible bond with all of those that I walked the park with. We all cried, we were all experiencing the same unimaginable pain.
There were some points around the park that hit harder for me, Critter Country and the Matterhorn stand out in my mind. I needed time to stop and process, and they all waited for me. They didn’t need to, but they did. I did the same for them.
I would like to say that we were some of the lucky ones. Custodial worked during the first day of closure, but many other roles did not. None of my roommates (roles being Attractions and Merchandise) worked that day. So they found out about the lay off at home, and never had a chance to go in either of the parks again.
Luckily, the Walt Disney World participants had one day to say goodbye to their work locations and the 4 parks at that resort because WDW closed later than Disneyland did. There are so many videos of them grieving together at the parks, and they are very touching and truly sad.
After the emotional tour, it was time to go. I instinctively bought a Country Bears themed Cast Member T-shirt and then I left Disneyland Resort for the foreseeable future.
After that, we all had four days to get out of housing. The days after were blurs of tears, packing, and fear. Luckily me for me I had parents who could house me, and help me move back to Washington, but other participants weren’t as lucky.
One of the worst parts of being told to leave and having to go so quickly was the fact that there were many coworkers that I never got to say goodbye to. I received some kind messages from some on Facebook, but I was never able to thank them for the impact they had on me in person.
I was working at Disneyland on Saturday, and by Monday I was driving back to Washington. It was the most crazy, life changing event I have ever lived through. At this point, I do not know if Disney will give us the chance to go back, and what it would look like if they did.
I understand why Disney sent us home, what is happening in the world is terrible right now and is unlike anything we have ever seen, but I wish it was done differently.
They canceled Walt Disney World first, leaving us on the west coast to panic and wait. It was also done with an insincere email, and the job was left to the Custodial managers and programs office employees to deal with hundreds of heart broken people. I could tell that these people felt incredibly bad for us and our situation, but there was nothing they could do.
I’m now back in Washington and am getting a normal (booo) job. I left a ton of unfinished business in Anaheim, many blog posts and adventures that I’ll never have the resources to do. I also had won a backstage tour of the Matterhorn that I’ll now never get to experience.
The Disney College Program was the best two months of my entire life, and it was followed by the worst few days I’ve ever had. With that said, I wouldn’t trade away the whole experience because I left with so many amazing memories. I will leave you with something one of my leaders said, who wrote me in the aftermath.
“Fate may have you in whites again or it may remain in your short memories. Whatever the case may be… You have made an impact.”
Categories: Disney College Program