Hailey Frenette, a third-year St. Thomas University student, spent last summer working at the All-Star Movies Resort at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Every day she watched kids run around the World Premiere Food Court in princess dresses and dance to songs like “Cotton Eyed Joe.”
“Anywhere you’re working where there’s little girls dressed in princess costumes every day, it’s going to be a good time,” said Frenette.
As part of the Cultural Exchange Program, Frenette moved from her home in Bathurst to one of Disney’s apartments in Orlando, Florida. From May 7 to August 9, she worked as a quick-service employee, which she said was like working at a fun version of McDonald’s. She had a different assignment every time she clocked in. Over the work term, she spent time at the pizza station, scooping ice cream, making nuggets and fries, stocking coolers and taking out the trash.
“There was a lot going on at my location and we would usually get switched between a few different jobs each shift, so you never really knew what to expect,” she said.
With the same families coming in night after night, Frenette connected with the children. She said they were excited to tell her about their day, which made the job fun.
Frenette applied to work at Disney World in October 2017 and found out in December she got an interview in Montreal. A few weeks later, she found out she got the job, a dream come true for her.
“I applied in the first place because working at Disney was a dream for me. It’s like if when you were a kid you’d always want to be a ballerina or an astronaut and then you found out you could actually do that for a summer. You would probably do it,” Frenette said. “Disney was that and still is that for me,” she said.
Frenette is excited to get back to work this summer.
She said she was raised to love Disney and her mom has a Mickey Mouse tattoo on her foot. She said her love for Disney goes beyond watching movies and going to Disney World.
“I think Walt [Disney] was such a cool person. His imagination was incredible and I’m so grateful that I got to be a part of realizing his dream. There’s really nothing else like Disney,” she said.
Frenette usually worked from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m., getting 30 hours a week for $10 US per hour. She spent her afternoons at the parks because she had free admission and she also received 40 per cent off at all Disney restaurants and 20 per cent off all park merchandise.
One of her favourite places to go was Cast Connection – a store exclusively for Disney employees. Any merchandise that wasn’t selling in the main shops went to the store, along with any damaged goods. Frenette bought most of her back to school clothing at Disney World because of her discount.
“I was actually able to take everything on the plane with me,” she said. “Some people had to ship things home.”
Frenette rented an apartment for $120 US per week. She lived with five other Canadian women in Patterson Court, one of the apartments Disney owns.
Some nights, Frenette returned to the apartment at 2:30 a.m. after working a six-hour shift. But instead of going to bed, she and some of her roommates would stay up until 5 a.m. eating pizza, playing cards and talking about their day.
Frenette said working at Disney World gave her a new appreciation for the park because she understands the dedication of each employee and the effort it takes to create a magical moment for each guest.
“The second you become responsible for someone’s magical experience, everything is so much better.”