Amber Earns Her Ears

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Amber Sewell is 'earning her ears' at Disney World from the ground-up: her first experience as a Cast Member was her participation last year in Disney's CareerStart Program. Maybe you saw her at EPCOT's Electric Umbrella? If not, you'll be 'seeing' a lot of her on Disney Dispatch as she shares her stories about what it's like to be young and working for the Mouse. Amber's stories are fun, fascinating, and plain ol' fantastic. And maybe, just maybe, they'll put you on the road to earning your ears, too.

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FROM: Amber Earns Her Ears Published Mondays

Behind the Scenes with Disney Merch

When you buy a trinket or a treasure at one of the multitude of Disney carts or shops, you probably don't give much thought to how things work behind the counter. Amber's role in the College Program is merchandise, and this is how she does her job.

The Disney College Program is a competitive, paid internship open to college students who want to spend a semester at either Disneyland or Disney World working, learning, and possibly laying the foundation for a Disney career.

After a successful stint in Disney's CareerStart Program, Amber Sewell began work in May 2011 at Disney World as part of the College Program. We'll follow her adventures every week right here...

Although I have detailed in this column the weekly personal events of my current stint in Disney's College Program, I just realized that I haven't yet explained what really happens at the workplace.

I perform the merchandise role in EPCOT's Future World West (sometimes North, though I've yet to receive any shifts up there). This includes three primary locations (not counting nearby carts): Green Thumb, the Soarin' gift shop; and Sea Base Alpha, the Nemo shop at the Seas; and Image, the gift shop right after Journey into Imagination with Figment.

Working at the Green Thumb

One would assume that Soarin', as perhaps the busiest attraction in EPCOT, and Seas, a favorite among children, are the areas where I would spend most of my time. But I very rarely spends time in the Green Thumb: it is a one-register shop, where the top seller is cotton candy that must constantly be changed as children squash it into a solid, unappealing mound. And while the Seas is my favorite place to work, shifts there are rare.

I can't accurately describe what a day at the Green Thumb is like. I have only served there as a relief worker for whomever is taking a break. But I've heard that it's a tricky place. Most of the time, it will be boring to the point of insanity, more a post to people-watch than to bring in any real money, and then BAM! - you're swamped with guests.

Apparently, when the Brazilian tour groups were in last month, Green Thumb got very hectic. It's a tiny store the size of the Sea's storage room, and it was flooded with people who didn't speak English very well and who wanted to know the price of everything.

The thirty-minute stints that I've put in at the Green Thumb have gone by fairly quickly; you are mostly asked where the restrooms are (just around the corner), and for change to use in the coin press. Donations for Disney's Worldwide Conservation Fund are taken here, as well, and while the daily target is forty dollars in donations, the Green Thumb receives so little business it's hardly ever reached.

Working at the Seas

The Seas is my favorite place to work. Despite the fact that I'm usually freezing over there, it's the most laid back of the three gift shops, and the most likely to be busy. Even if there is no one currently in the store, there is a mountain of plush to be straightened, pucker powder to be cleaned, and jewelry to be sorted back into its original place. We keep a bubble gun in the closet to "Merchentain" with occasionally, and the music is much, much better than the rubbish they play at Image.

There are only three positions in this shop: two people on register, and one tasking - this means that they are either stocking or entertaining the Guests or straightening the shelves. I've very rarely met an unhappy guest at the Seas; sometimes people are disappointed by our lack of Crush t-shirts or Marlin plush, but typically that is the extent of their irritation.

Each day the scuba leaders bring by a DVD for those who went diving that day to purchase. And at least one person comes in seeking the brochure about saving the sea turtles that Crush told them about next door. We have to explain again and again how to get to the Coral Reef restaurant ("out the doors, to the left, all the way around past the sea gulls and the ride entrance"), and the Worldwide Conservation Fund makes much more when you can implore guests to help save the sea turtles they've just talked with.

Working at Image

A shift at Image can range from dreadfully dull, with absolutely no guests, to chaotically hectic as guests complain about pictures and threaten to fight over their spots in line. It has the most positions and the most people.

Registers 1, 2 and 4: These are the regular registers. You ring up guests as they bring you over-priced bouncy balls and their photo vouchers, do price checks on Legos, and then wander around the store and attempt to straighten things when it's slow. If the register is slow and editing needs to be done, usually someone on register one or two will step back and help out.

Register 3: Register three is considered the most dreaded of the registers (although I know people who are afraid of register one, and who have to deal with showing guests their completed pictures). The person on this register is on rotation with the EO Cart and theatre sales, and very few people actually look forward to going outside to the EO cart. Registers three and four are also the hardest hit when it rains, as they're the registers right next to the doors.

EO Cart: After you serve your stint at register three, you get bumped to the EO Cart, located outside the Imagination Pavilion, and hope someone will stop and chat with you, because it rarely gets much attention. Occasionally, you'll be met by a hardcore Captain EO fan, but usually people stop by to laugh at the sequined rockstar glove or inquire about the price of a squeeze breeze fan (they rarely buy one, though, at seventeen dollars). Most often you're asked for directions to Soarin' and the World Showcase, and that's about as exciting as it gets.

Theatre Sales: From the EO Cart, you're bumped back to theatre sales, where you stand in front of the wall of photos and sign people up for their own photos. While it can be a fun role, interacting with guests as they walk by, you often end up serving as decoration: guests will look at the wall of photos, maybe nod at you politely, and then - despite the fact that they've watched someone else sign up with you, and completely ignoring the clipboard in hand - walk up to the people in the theatres and pester them with questions.

Theatre: There are two theatres, and neither of them really have any advantage over another, other than one being more accessible for guests, which means they hover behind the desk, frustratingly oblivious to the line on the other side of the theatre. It can easily be one of the most frustrating roles: trying to coax children to look in your direction and smile at the same time, dealing with demanding guests who want their photo to look just right ("no, no, up a bit. That's too far. I want it to be right there" - and typically poke the puzzle touch-screen and screw everything up), and software that is far too unreliable for comfort. But it can also be one of the most rewarding, as the high level of guest interaction ensures that you'll meet some interesting people.

Tasking: Tasking means greeting guests, creating a magical moment, or cleaning glass and straightening shelves. We Cast Members usually take this to mean wander around; depending on the Cast Member, some actually straighten and clean, and others wander over to where their friends are to chat for fifteen minutes.

Water Cart/Squeeze Breeze/Glow Cart: Our cart has been broken for a while, so we haven't had anyone go out to these positions, but from previous articles, I'm guessing you have a pretty good idea of what we do there.

Editing: By far the most popular position in Image, those on editing sit in the closed area behind registers one and two in really cool chairs and edit guests' photos. The detail Cast Members go into while editing varies: I'm a tad OCD, so I like everything to be edited as best as possible, although I'll speed up if we get behind. Depending on the size of the photo, editing can be a tricky process (fingers together is all I have to say. It is ridiculous, trying to get our editing tools in between people's open fingers!).

Amber Goes Stockin'

I have also worked several stocking shifts. While at first the idea of being by myself for the day, opening boxes and hanging t-shirts, sounded dreadfully mundane, I really do enjoy my stocking shifts. On days you are scheduled for the heart of house, you show up in your universal costume (the same blue and purple shirts and khaki pants we wore for training; you can wear them to perform any role in Future World) and clock in. From there, you are pretty much left to your own devices.

I've come in at seven in the morning and left at three-thirty, unpacking boxes that had been received by the six o'clock stocker. I have closed, coming in at two in the afternoon and wandering around our three locations to make sure they have everything they need throughout the evening. You take your breaks when you want them; sometimes you are required to go to the Land and give someone there a thirty minute break; sometimes you have to bring in the squeeze breeze cart and clean it for the next day's use.

Usually, though, the majority of the time is spent making lists - 3 medium purple Figment shirts, 2 x-small sweatshirts, 4 small unicorn pops, etc. - and running back to the stock room to replenish whatever guests have bought.

My fear that I would be bored out of my mind was quickly allayed as I bustled back and forth. The shifts pass quickly, and it's quite refreshing to spend the day by yourself. If there are people working that I don't like (there aren't many of them, but goodness knows they exist), I can avoid them while stocking the store, then make my way to a location where people I do like are working. There's a level of independence to the role that suits me well.

And that's about all for my locations. All rather easy positions, all rather self-explanatory; but all capable of being under-estimated.


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