Dealing with Disney: working at the ‘happiest place on earth’


In the future, Mandel said he would need “a couple years” away from Disney before working there again. Photo courtesy of David Mandel

From Mickey Mouse-themed study rooms to the nightly booms of fireworks in the distance, Disneyland’s connection to Chapman is a major draw for some students. But while some can’t get enough, others have a hard time getting away.

“I often say that Disneyland stole my life in a sense,” said David Mandel, a senior business administration major. Mandel, who works 30 to 40 hours a week at the park, has had to make sacrifices to balance his job at Disney, school and social life.

Mandel balances his shifts between working as a new member training class facilitator, a shift scheduler and a Paradise Pier attractions lead.

In late February, a group of 11 Disneyland unions pushed for an increase in wages for park workers, according to the Orange County Register. A survey of 5,000 Disneyland Resort employees found more than 10 percent had struggled with homelessness in the last two years while working at the park. Though student Disneyland employees might not have to worry about making ends meet, the pressure to work extended hours can get in the way of school and social lives.

“A lot of my fellow cast members have to work two jobs because they can’t support themselves just on minimum wage,” said Lily Mooney, a junior creative writing major and Disneyland employee.

Another concern is getting preferred scheduling requests. Employees who have been with the company longer are more likely to get their requested days off, Mandel said.

“At first, I often had to pick my classes based on days that I knew I could get off,” he said. “Now that I’ve been here for three years, it’s not too much of a problem, but I still have to consider that I might not be able to get all the days I want off.”

As the park is often full during the holiday season, employees must work during those peak periods. Requesting them off is possible, but like to day-to-day scheduling, it also goes in order of seniority, said Mandel. Elise May, a sophomore business administration and data analytics major, had to work on Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and Easter, despite requesting them all off.

May said that on Thanksgiving, the company tried to make up for the holiday work by providing food.

“They gave us a whole Thanksgiving meal to eat later in the night,” May said. “I think they felt bad for making us work, but I understand. It’s such a big company; they can’t cater to everyone’s needs.”

Despite understanding why she had to work on Thanksgiving, May said Disney disregarded her schedule.

“They didn’t listen to me half the time for when I wanted to be scheduled,” May said. “I would request specific days off and then they would schedule me only on that one day.”

Lily Mooney, a junior creative writing major, had to work on Christmas Day. But despite the demanding schedule, Mooney said the job is worthwhile because of the perks, such as free park access and the ability to bring friends and family, but she only plans to work at Disneyland until she graduates.

Holiday shifts aside, May said she had to consistently work evening shifts during the weekdays. Although she was able to balance her hours with her school work, she said that it was her most time-consuming activity. She worked another part-time job, and the intense schedule often prevented her from seeing her friends, she said.

Disney compensates by paying employees an extra 20 minutes at the end of a shift to make up for time spent walking to and from the parking lot, said May.

Though it worked for her because she was often able to find a parking spot near her work location, that did not hold true for the majority of Disneyland workers, May said.

“Most employees had to take a shuttle from their car to the park, so it took more than 20 minutes for them,” May said. “It was definitely not enough time and not worth it for them.”

For Mandel, the job is a constructive work environment, but he plans to move on to other positions outside of Disney after he graduates.

“I think the experience is worth it, but if I were 10 years older in the same position making the same amount of money, I think I’d say differently,” he said. “I think that it would be healthy for me to take a couple years outside the company.”

Employees can benefit in small ways from the daily interactions with park guests. Sometimes, brightening a customer’s day by writing their name on a button or giving them a free food item because they had forgotten to order it, makes the job worth it, May said.

“You can make or break their vacation, so by being able to make magic for them and change the way they view their vacation is super rewarding for me,” Mooney said.

Disney did not respond to multiple requests for comment.