Once upon a time I was a Walt Disney World Cast Member working in food service at – what was then – MGM Studios. The summer between my Freshman and Sophomore year in college I worked and lived at Disney World as part of the Walt Disney World College Program. For those curious I worked at the Honey I
Shrunk the Kids snack bar, a larger fast food restaurant I can’t remember the name for, and finally at the Sci-Fi Dine in Theater where my duties included hosting and rollerskating popcorn to the Guests including several celebrities. I had the dubious honor of spilling a tray full of popcorn on Ed McMahon, he was tremendously cool about it. If you are reading this Ed, thanks for being a nice guy and not getting me fired!
This internship did not make me rich as the rent at Disney’s Vista Way apartments where we all lived was ridiculously high yet it is easily the most fun I have ever had for a summer. I’ve always been a fan of Disney World, having gone there a few times as a kid with my family. So when the opportunity came to work there I jumped at the chance. While the reality was decidedly less glamorous and pretty similar to working in any other fast food or full service restaurant it was the “off hours” that made the whole thing worthwhile. The Vista Way apartments are populated entirely by college age interns on the Program and they come from all over the world. There is a reason the complex is listed as one of the best party zones in the country and we all got good and debauched on a regular basis.
The main draw, for most of us, was the really the unlimited access to the parks. All we had to do was flash our ID at the gate, or even use the employee entrance, and we were immediately on vacation. We made it a point to go on everything in all the parks. A goal I’m fairly certain we accomplished. Park map in hand we would check off one by one the rides and attractions we hadn’t yet seen no matter how lame.
Now that I have a family I’ve been thinking about a vacation back to WDW. I’ve only been there once since that summer. For anyone outside of Orlando that has considered going I’m sure you’ve seen just how cost prohibitive they have made the parks for “normal” people. Day pass Park Hopper tickets are around $100 per person, the resort rates are astronomical, and the food quality is worse yet more expensive in price.
During my research I stumbled upon Leonard Kinsey’s alternative travel guide to Disney World, The Dark Side of Disney. Kinsey is a long time devotee of the Mouse and has put together a useful guide full of good tips for saving money as well as what to do once you are there. I enjoyed reading the book because it’s obvious he knew what he was talking about and the guide goes far beyond a normal travel guide. You’ll find tips for buying time share points on the cheap, how to order food and booze to your resort room, the advantage of staying on property (Pro Tip: Always Stay on Property!), avoiding parking charges, and even the best secluded spots for those interested in public lovemaking. The real meat of the book is about exploring the off-limit areas of the parks and resorts. Kinsey details exactly where you can enter the Utilidors (underground tunnels, yes they exist) in the Magic Kingdom, as well as getting “backstage” (term for any area unseen by the Guests) at Epcot. Little mention is made of Disney Studios, but that could be because the park has changed quite a bit since I was there. I would think there would be a lot of great backstage exploring to be done – and I did plenty myself when I was there – but there is next to nothing said about the Studios.
The book also has several anecdotes and accounts of various shenanigans the author and his cohorts engaged in and these sections are a lot of fun to read. One of the constants at Disney World is that it is always changing. When Kinsey wrote the book, alcohol was not yet available at the Magic Kingdom. As of this year one of the restaurants is now selling. There is also information about some now defunct rides and attractions (EPCOT’s much loved Horizons, Pleasure Island, Discovery Island, etc.,) and to be honest I didn’t even know those were no longer part of the Parks so I found those sections very interesting.
If you are a devotee of Disney or are planning a trip to Disney World and are going with adults only or can get away from the kiddies for a bit I would highly recommend this guide. There are other books that go deeper in to the stories and lore of the place that may be better suited if you are not actively planning a trip. It’s a fun and quick read and if you are unfamiliar with the parks and Disney protocol it will help you understand why most Cast Members refer to Disney as “the Rat” and for them it is decidedly NOT the happiest place on Earth.
Kinsey also has a website (www.darksideofdisney.com) where you can order the book as well as watch several videos shot backstage, Resort bar crawls, blog entries, etc. It’s well worth a visit and since I read the book I’ve spent quite a bit of time on it. WordPress is being a bitch and not formatting the site link correctly so you will have to type the address in to your browser rather than click. Sorry about that!