Seeing the 'World' From Behind the Scenes
BY KIRSTEN BALLARD
Patrick Morrison took a break from his schoolbooks to learn how to make magic. He took a shortcut through castles and tunnels.
The entrance sign doesn't say Hogwarts; it says "Walt Disney World - where dreams come true."
A rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, Morrison took a semester off to work with the Disney College -programs. A 40-hour week for Morrison included multiple dealings with a playful Mickey Mouse and hanging out with hungry Princesses.
Morrison, 19, worked in Disney from Jan. 11 till June 1. He lived in an -apartment outside of Disney with other college students and worked long weeks in the sun for a little above minimum wage.
His older sister, Catherine Morrison, admits being hesitant at first.
"I was a little nervous for him, to be honest," she says. "I didn't know much about the program and him being far away and on his own."
"It was a little touch of the real world - which kinda sucks," says Patrick Morrison.
Morrison worked with the Stitch's Great Escape show - "it is not a ride, it's a show, people didn't get that."
He also monitored the Tomorrowland Transit Authority, a leisure ride that tours Tomorrowland.
Throughout his eight-hour shifts, he would transition between different positions. Sometimes he greeted guests, other shifts he would give the welcoming speech to the Stitch show audience. He still has his speech -memorized.
"It was the show over and over and over again," says Morrison. But each time he delivered it with zeal to impress the guests.
All Disney employees have to be "show-ready." It is one of the founding keys of their employee training.
Always in character, Morrison had a space-costume - "they aren't uniforms" - and was delegated to stay in Tomorrowland while dressed in it. "You can't walk through Frontierland in space clothes, obviously,"he says.
He also had to comply with the Disney look.
"See how unshaven I am? I just didn't feel like it today," he says -rubbing his unshaven face. "This wouldn't be allowed."
The Disney look does allow full beards, but they have to be neatly trimmed and well kept. Hair had to be kept above the collar and a natural color. Female employees are allowed only one ear piercing.
The Disney look also requires that sunglasses be a solid color and the eyes of the employee must be fully visible through the lenses. Black shoes were to be worn and maintained.
Appearances were kept at all times. To keep other guests calm and happy, the employees have codes for all situations. A "101" is a broken ride, something no guest wants to hear. A"102" means it is back up and running.
Dealing with guests was both the best and worst part of Morrison's experience.
"One thing with Disney is they always make people happy," he says. He went to work each day armed with an arsenal of stickers - for kids too short for the show - and the power to make magic happen.
Helping one guest out, Morrison approached Princess Tiana from "Princess and The Frog" for an autograph. Wielding the little girl's princess book and giant pen, he was gently ribbed by Tiana and Prince Naveen.
"What a pretty princess book," they teased him.
"It was funny, they were my favorite," he says.
Morrison frequently dealt with lost kids and keeping them entertained and calm. The parents weren't as easy to cajole.
"There were plenty of those," he says with a sigh. "Parents with lost kids are the worst."
He also used his Spanish to communicate with foreign guests.
"I used my Spanish every day," he says with pride. School prepared Morrison for Disney.
However, Disney has not prepared him for school. He did not receive any college credit for the work he did there, so he basically took a semester off.
He doesn't regret it though. "I'm still on track to graduate," he says. "It was a great experience."
He worked aside people from all around the world.
"I met so many people, I know I go to a large university, but I met so many more people at Disney," Morrison says.
He largely fraternized with his roommate and fellow Stitch family. He traveled to Michigan, New York and a few beach trips with his new friends.
"Half off appetizers at Applebees after 10. Every CP (college program student) knows that," he says emphatically.
Other memorable moments were just taking in the Disney magic himself. He visited Mount Everest, his favorite ride, frequently.
In the mouse-ka-teria, Morrison was able to eat with coworkers, sitting next to princesses stuffing their faces with lunch.
"It's just really funny to see," he says of their less-than-ladylike table manners.
Disney food also has encouraged Morrison to begin a healthier life style, which he has implemented with his family at home. He is tired of junk food and is making the transition to healthier eating.
His sister says, "He's more mature now, and a lot more people-friendly. He's learned a lot."
Now Morrison is back to the books, preparing for another semester at school.
"I'm ready to learn again," he says.
Kirsten Ballard may be contacted at email@example.com.
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