[This column by Disneyland Resort cast member Michael Estes was originally published in the OC Register on Sunday, April 22, 2018]
Working at Disney Is A Unique Opportunity
by Michael Estes
After reading so much recently about the employment experience of Disneyland Resort cast members, I wanted to share my story. The specifics are unique to me, but the broader point is true for so many of us — working at Disney is a unique opportunity.
I’m currently a production manager in attractions, but this was not part of my plan when I started 12 years ago. This was a summer job, and that’s where my story begins.
Upon graduating college in Northern California, I moved to Orange County ready to put my degree to use, and hired into Disneyland while looking for jobs that would set me on my desired career path. I chose Disneyland because of my fond childhood memories. When I started, I quickly realized I could pad my paycheck by volunteering to work longer shifts, and even extra days if I wanted. That flexibility was helping me pay back my student loan quicker than I had anticipated. Were there long days? Did I skip events with friends that I would have loved to attend? Absolutely. But I genuinely loved my job. I was getting much more than a paycheck at Disneyland. I was putting smiles on people’s faces all day. I was learning invaluable skills and had access to people and resources that were helping me grow as an individual. As summer turned to fall, I didn’t want to leave.
I continued putting in the time, working hard, learning from those around me, and eventually became a working lead, supervising retail stores. I made great friends during that time who are now life-long companions. We all loved what we were doing and were always looking for opportunities to grow and advance in the company. From classes at the Disney University to roles in other areas of the resort, we knew our career options with Disney were vast. I ultimately landed a role with the resort’s internal communications team, while a few of my other friends moved on to positions in guest relations — and one would eventually work for Marvel. To top it all off, it was in this role that I met a beautiful cast member who I’m now lucky enough to call my wife.
As I continued my Disney journey, I took advantage of the company’s college reimbursement program to further my education, earning an MBA from Chapman University that I would never have been able to afford on my own. I also went through Disney’s leader training, where I expanded and strengthened my leadership skills. Now that Disney had helped arm me with my MBA and additional development as a leader, I returned to a role in the park as a manager in attractions, where I was able to help other cast members find their way at the resort just as so many had helped me.
I’ve heard the stories from cast about coming to work here from far away because this is a special place, and making sacrifices in time, distance or living situations because they love their jobs. They want to be a part of the magic just like I did. I take great pride in relating to their stories and sharing my own journey, so they know there’s a path, there are resources and there are people to help get them where they want to be.
I love my job … I am in charge of Peter Pan’s Flight! I have worked very hard over the last 12 years and Disney has given me so much more than I could have ever imagined. Did I mention I have the best wife ever? Thanks, Disneyland.
Michael Estes is attractions north production manager at Disneyland Resort.