ears, holly


On My Way to My Laughing Place

The story of a shy girl to Walt Disney World College Program Participant

#CPAlumni Homecoming Weekend!
ears, holly
What better way to return to a blog I started 7 (SEVEN) years ago than with a post about one of the most epic weekends of my life?!

This past week (January 12 - January 17) I returned home for the first time in a year (almost to the day, as freaky and unplanned as it was) to attend the College Program Alumni Association's 2016 Homecoming Weekend, and it. was. amazing!

To those that don't keep up with my life on social media, I left the company a year ago. The reasons will remain private, but I didn't leave on the best of terms with the company, so naturally I was really anxious about going back!

And to get caught up, once my program on Discoery Island ended, I headed to Splash Mountain, where I was granted Full Time status and basically a paid behind-the-scenes tour of my absolute favorite attraction. (And I did title my blog the title I Gave it seven years ago, so life worked out in a really freaky way two years ago!) Unfortunately for me, I realized that Attractions wasn't a good fit, as my loves for interracting with Guests and trading pins and flouncing around in a bug skirt didn't exactly fit into the big hiking boots I head to wear for my Costume, so I got Re-Cast (only not really, as it was more of a Safety exemption, but the reasons as to why it was made THAT will be kept between me and my amazing leader Sarah who helped me return back into the world of Merchandise) and headed back home to DAK, where I spent 5 months as a cousin/volunteer in Dinoland, before ultimately moving back home-home to Kentucky.

Now that we're up to speed!

I flew down a day early to see Duck Bunny, aka my best friend Carey (and Lost and Found pro/character expert), who graciously spent an evening at Epcot with me despite having spent the previous evening there with another one of our friends (who I missed seeing at the airport by mere MINUTES, but that's how life works I guess!). The first order of business was getting myself an Orange Bird Magic Band, and then it was off to World Showcase for an early dinner in China! Amongst the new things I did, I FINALLY got to try the Maelstrom Margarita, which had more of a kick than I wanted it to have, but was definitely still tasty nonetheless. And I tried the new color exhibit at Innoventions, which probably changed my life because it was that much fun!

The only sad part about my visit back to Epcot? Soarin' being closed. But alas, it was for THE BEST REASON EVER (it's getting a new movie where you can soar over the WORLD and not just California, which is the greatest announcement they could have made about changes to Future World, honestly). I can't wait to head back later this year to ride it again in all of its glory! (Though I will miss riding Soarin' with a real-live Californian who pointed out all of the places where he spent his formative years. #CastMemberDates)

After an evening spent at Epcot, we headed back to Art of Animation, where I had booked myself a stay in a Little Mermaid room (because when at Disney, right?). The next morning, Mary Poppins and the Mad Hatter headed to breakfast at 1900 Park Fare to see their lookalikes, and then it was off to the Contemporary, where Mary bought herself her very own Little Orange Bird plush. I then got a tour of the Lost and Found, so incase I ever lose that LOB plush, I know where it went. ;)

It was after that when we headed to Cornado Springs for me to link up with the BAB-ulous Brittany, who worked with me Fall 2013 on the Island! After changing into something a little more weather-friendly (it was cold, and my skirt for Mary wasn't going to work for my journey) we went to Disney Springs.

Let me tell you something about Disney Springs. It is probably the only construction project (aside from the Rivers of Light viewing, and not counting Soarin' because it's merely updates) on property that I am 110% in favor of, but I hadn't really seen a whole lot of improvements since I left. I FINALLY got to see some of the progress made, and needless to say, I'm not disappointed in the least!

I LOVE the new Disney Springs! The walkways are much friendlier and wider, allowing for more Guests to move around. The expanded World of Disney (or WOD) was great, too. For the first time EVER, I was able to navigate a store that otherwise was a pain to get through on the slowest of days. It was GREAT! And of course the Co-Op is probably the most genius retail concept in existence, honestly. I wanted to buy everything I saw, but luckily for my wallet I had stuffed my stuff into a small suitcase, prohibiting the purchase of too many items. (But my LOB plush could fit inside my carry-on backpack, so he was a must.) And let's not forget how great the Causeway is! Not only does it provide a short-cut from Marketplace to Fulton's (that seafood dip, though! mmmmm!), but it helped me out on Saturday when I needed to make a last-minute trip to the Ganachery (OH MY GOD IS THAT PLACE INCREDIBLE) in the middle of spending time at Epcot and DAK. And it provides a great view of the lake there!

After Disney Springs, it was a bus trip to the Polynesian, because this Jungle Cruise-loving gal couldn't go to Disney without a trip to Trader Sam's! It was just a quick 20 minute wait (and an excuse to watch the Torch Ceremony, which I had never seen before) before my stomach was hurting from all of the laughing I was doing. I don't want to spoil any effects, but it was one of the best bar experiences I've ever had (and if you love Trader Sam's but want something more musically-inclined, head over to Port Orleans Riverside to see Yeeha Bob, a former University of Cincinnati graduate and an energetic piano player with a brilliant sense of humor).

While at Trader Sam's, I successfully drank a Krakatoa Punch, and ordered The Nautilus for The Little Orange Bird. (Okay, me.) And he drank it all by himself! (Okay, I did.) And then he ran into one of his mentors/favorite managers of all time inebriated. (Okay, I did.) But in his defense, he TOTALLY didn't have to drive thanks to Monorails and Disney bus transportation, and he consumed a fair amount of wings at Ohana to soak up the alcohol after. IN HIS DEFENSE.

On Thursday, it was off to the Magic Kingdom to help Buzz Lightyear fight the Evil Emporor Zurg, amongst other things. I also had a Dole Whip Float while watching the parade in Fro-Land, because anyone who doesn't enjoy a Dole Whip while at Disney is doing it wrong. (Unless you are allergic to/don't like pineaple, in which case you're totally fine!) It was hard to see Splash down for a refurb that day, but I made a special trip back the next day to ride it, and she looked mighty good!

After a morning/afternoon spent at Magic, we went to our first taste of the Alumni Weekend: The Contemporary for check-in! I got Randy, who was super speedy (and super fantastic!) and took a Selfie with him while wearing my Ariel ears, as any Alumni should. We got a fancy draw string backpack, a t-shirt, a really nice lanyard (that had our credentials for the events attached), and information about all of the events. And the special, exclusive, SUPER FANCY AND AMAZING green Alumni Magic Band! Woo-hoo!

I was having boy issues that evening (the guy I have the biggest of crushes on was unable to see me as I had hoped), so I left to head back to the room to cry it out. But I accidentally got on the Animal Kingdom Lodge bus. (I swear it was by accident.) Instead of staying on the bus, though, my feet moved me to the Mara and my mouth forced me to buy Zebra Domes and a Falafel Pita. And my eyes forced me to go out to the savannah at Jambo House and see the baby giraffes.

Okay, so the DAK Lodge journey was intentional. But I was legit having boy issues and needed to escape, so I had to go to my Happy Place DAK Lodge and eat Zebra Domes from the Mara and look at the savannah and just appreciate how stunning the resort is, as I always did whenever I was feeling down. There's something about that resort that just calms me down so much. I could just sit in the lobby for hours if I could. Had it been a little warmer, I easily would have been in the stairwells that overlooked the savannah, rocking in a chair. I love it so much!

Friday I decided to venture out on my own, if only because I had a big itinerary for myself that day and needed to accomplish a lot! One of my friends from Discovery Island was only going to be working until 1:30 that day, so it was my only chance to see her since she was off on Saturday. I needed to get Studios in AND ride Splash, all before the event at the Contemporary at 6. So it was off to the Concierge to schedule my Magic Express trip home (red phone, I love you and hate you all at the same time) and then to Panchito's for a poncho (because I don't already own 7). It was raining pretty hard, but any experienced Disney fan knows to poncho up and soldier on, as the wait times would be minimal.

And I was right! I walked right on Tower of Terror (and had an AMAZING sequence!) and only waited 10 minutes for Coaster! I ate at Starring Rolls so I could enjoy the hilarity of the Citizens of Hollywood (and I saw dream boat Beau Wrangler) and took one last lap around the Backlot before heading to Star Tours, which was also a walk on. After trudging through the swamp, I ended my day at Studios by riding the Great Movie Ride, which I hadn't ridden since the tweaks were made. (I was sad that the Cast Member didn't have more spieling, as I felt their enthusiasm made the ride. And it was hard to hear the narration provided in the vehicles, even in a car that was mostly quiet.)

After Studios, I took a big breath and headed to DAK. At first it felt like I had never left, until I crossed the bridge to Discovery Island and saw...


Gone was Pin Porch (my favorite position at Island because I got to be in the heat of the action of the park, especially in the morning!) and in its place was planters! Jewelery was at Island Mercantile. OUTFITTERS BOB WAS AT ISLAND MERCANTILE. And my beloved Footprint Room, my absolute favorite position out of all of the registers, carts, and rooms I could be at on all of Discovery Island, was slashed in half and turned into a mini Star Wars store. It was HEARTBREAKING. Compass and Constellation rooms were completely closed up and walled off, leaving the right side of Footprint to have a giant hole connecting to Riverside. While the expansion looks really great and creates a happy balance between Island and Outfitters, the openness of the store, combined with the registers all being up against the wall (granted, the two in Constellation did this, but Constellation was narrow) created a new feel to the Island that wasn't at all familar. I was devestated! (And bad show--the window on the door that goes backstage wasn't covered, leaving a perfectly good view of the newly-green Outfitters stock room. Awkward.)

I will say that Creature Comforts as the new Starbucks looks great, and it almost looks like the building was built specifically to be a Starbucks. While it was crushing to see Atta no longer the centerpiece, and the metal columns we used to stick the magnetic characters to when we were bored painted, the interior looked phenomenal. So good job to those who worked on that!

In terms of people I saw, I got to see almost everyone, so I was pretty happy about that! Harry, the first coordinator I interracted with, greeted me with a smile and a big hug as he was rushing around and performing his duties. I got to see Tall Rick, who continued to harass me about being a CP that was there a whopping 18 times and kept coming back. Outfitters Bob looked out of place surrounded by the bright colors of Camel Room, but at least he was selling jewelery and was able to reclaim his hat! So many managers left, leaving the Island with just two familiar leaders to me, but I didn't see either of them. (But one day I will return and see them again! ONE DAY!) Luckily, one of the leaders that transferred I was able to bump into...


It was the best feeling in the world to get a hug from Karen, who I maintain was the single best manager I have ever had. Ever. She was so sincere and so perfect when she saw me, and I almost cried because I forgot how much I loved her. I'm glad Dinoland has her, and I'm glad she seems so happy there!

I expected to run in, see Karen, and run away from Rama. I expected myself to hate that place. But yet I found myself feeling like I had never left. The crazy music, the loud noises, the constant speiling at games, the neon yellow pants... All of it felt so comforting in such a strange way. And then it dawned on me:

No matter how hard you try to convince yourself that moving away from a place like Disney is the best thing for you, you can never really leave it. It's in you as much as going to school is in you. For me, it felt like going back to UC feels. I grew up on that campus. I devoted 5 years of my life to studying there. And yet every single time I go back, even if I hadn't seen it in a while, it's as if I never left. It's like I still sleep in the Tree of Life Cart stock area (I never actually took naps there, by the way!) or try to nap in the plush at Creature. It just feels right. Being back at Disney FEELS RIGHT, you know?

I have my own issues with the way things happen behind the scenes, issues that I don't really feel the need to talk about because everyone's Disney journey is different and you can't judge how they run their company based off the opinions of one person, especially when you know that at any given time, they have up to 60 THOUSAND people employed. But at the end of the day, being back in the parks evokes those feelings of nostalgia. I have memories of every nook and cranny at DAK, memories of every little inch of Studios and of Epcot and of Magic. I remember watching Spectromagic from the balcony of the Train Station when I was little after eating at the Wilderness Lodge. I remember being right underneath Cinderella's Castle at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve when I did my first CP. I remember seeing the baby meerkats for the first time on Pangani, or the rush of adrenaline I got riding Everest for the first time in 2007 with my family. The parks are all about creating those special, magical memories. And though I'm no longer with the company, it doesn't mean they can't continue. And being a former Cast Member just means I can appreciate them that much more, because what seems like a simple memory to me--my sister participating in the Hollywood Glee Club or eating birthday cake ice cream with two of my best friends from my first CP--took tons and tons of creativity and people to make it a reality.

After bumping into Karen, I was encouraged to ride Everest, as it had just reopened after being 101 for weather, so I did and waited just a short 20 minutes. And then it was time to grab some Somosas, check out the new Harambe Market (which looked AMAZING), and head to Splash!

But I got Parade blocked, so so much for riding Splash! But it's all good, because my plans also called for a trip on the World Famous Jungle Cruise, and so I went off on a 2 week journey and successfully made it back in time for a quick 30 minute wait in Georgia before taking a 50 ft plunge into a briar patch. ;)

I decided at the last minute (my plans were to make it back to Coronado by 5 and link up with Brittany so we could head to the Contemporary together) to ride Pirates, because it's such an iconic attraction and that was my last change of my trip to ride it. And so I did! Hurray! And then I realized I HADN'T YET HAD A CITRUS SWIRL. But sadly the machine was broken. :( At least I had gotten my Dole Whip the day before!

Since I was late getting back to the resort, I encouraged Brittany to go ahead without me that way she wasn't waiting on me and could enjoy more of the event. While waiting for the bus to go back to the Magic Kingdom, I met two super awesome new friends, who I ended up spending the rest of that evening with and Saturday night with! So that last minute decision to ride Pirates served me VERY Well, as I'm really missing my new friends from Long Island/Casey's Corner!

The event at the Contemporary was AMAZING! Recent CPs may recognize the name DJ Miles, as he was the DJ for the events I had on my CP, so it felt nostalgic and quite right for him to host the event. And naturally he had his GIGANTIC Mickey hands which he used throughout the night! They had pretty basic "Wedding food" as I like to say, but it was still really good! But unlike other CP events, this one had a cash bar (I opted not to partake as I was quite happy with the Welcome Home non-alcoholic punch they were serving us). There were several photo booths, the Fab 5 in their finest attire, and a slide show of pictures we were invited to send in. I caught a picture of a past DI CP from 1999 in that slide show! Same costume, too! They also had a corkboard map where we could pin our hometown, and I excitedly saw several pins in the Cincinnati area, but I never encountered any of those Cincinnati CPs. (But find me on Facebook, friends! We can go to OTR and have drinks!) We also signed a giant banner, so of course I signed "Viva Gaia!" on mine, because Long Love Mother Nature, okay?

At the culmination of the event was our very own fancy-pants Wishes dessert party on the terrace of the Contemporary convention center. It was a new view of Wishes, and they served some of my favorite desserts: pineapple upsidedown cake and key lime pie! Mmmm!

I have to say, I did feel mighty fancy getting on and off the Monorail at the Contemporary while dressed in heels. I felt quite bougie. ;)

Saturday morning I met Carey again at the entrance to Epcot, and she was super sweet and gave me an extra day in the parks as she accompanied me to the Odyssey for a special meet and greet with rare characters. This event made some people upset, to the point where the Alumni Association was willing to offer refunds, but I was pretty content with how things went. I thought there'd be more characters (only two sets, and I was only allowed to meet one despite a rep from the Alumni Association saying there was a chance we could meet both, but it is what it is), and I thought the second set (the one I did meet) would be more rare, but at the end of the day, I met the characters from Up! (one of my FAVORITE movies), and I got a Mickey rice crispy treat, so I was happy!

After leaving Carey at Epcot with her super awesome former roommate (Carey had quite the week of reunions, which is a testament to how great of a person she is!) I sped-walked to the Beach Club to take a bus back to Disney Springs for an errand for my sisters, and then went to Coronado to drop off the chocolate and transfer buses to DAK, where I ran into Harry and BEST FRIEND BENJI (if you ever see him on Discovery Island, please for the love of Mickey Mouse spend time with him, because Benji is the epitome of perfection when it comes to Cast Members). We got margaritas and rode Dinosaur, and I ran into the BAB-ulous manager of Dinoland, Megan, at Dino Photo. Woo-hoo! (And Katie's friend commented on Megan's shoes, without even knowing how much our lovely leader loves to hear things like that. So good interactions all around!)

The event that night took place in Harambe, and started off with our very own special performance of Festival of the Lion King (and yeah, I totally almost cried because I love the show so much and it reminds me so much of my time on Discovery Island and working Lion King Cart in Camp Minnie-Mickey). Our night in the Harambe Theater was hosted by Jungle Jimmy, who reminded me A LOT of a good friend of mine I have here at home, Luke, so it was kind of a fun connection to my home life! We had a mini dance party with the drummers who play in Harambe, and then experienced one of the most fun performances of FOLK I've ever seen because the entire audience was so into it!

Dinner that night was those finger foods we all ate so much on programs. I don't know if it was intentional or not, but it was a fun, cheeky way to celebrate the time we spent living in Housing, surviving off of chicken nuggets and pizza rolls and pretzel bites! To drink was Strawberry Pomegranate Lemonade, and while pomegranate is one of the very few foods I do not like, I couldn't stop drinking this!

They also had a fortune teller (which kind of creeped my new friends and I out) and a henna tattoo artist, as well as some of our favorite Animal Kingdom characters to meet, all while listening to the musical styles of DJ Miles (who was totally rocking that DAK Mud Print shirt that I loved so much). I don't know how they planned on ending the event, however, as there was quite a bit of rain in the forecast! So it was off to the entrance to Rafiki's Planet Watch as we took a coach bus back to Coronado, and I said good-bye to my new friends. :(

There was an event at Mickey's Retreat on Sunday, but flights home were expensive on Sunday and Monday, so I instead had to settle for Mickey Waffles for breakfast and a 10:15 am trip on Mickey's Magical Express. (Carey had picked me up from the airport, so it was my first time utilizing the service, and it was probably the greatest thing in the world after having a Duck Bunny get me, as they took care of my luggage and printed my boarding pass for me. 10/10, would do business with them again, and the best part was it was FREE. YES GUYS. For DME to take control over my checked bag, check me into my airline [Southwest] and drive me to the airport, I didn't have to pay a single penny. Since I got there early, there was no wait in that line, either, so it was a shorter line than the one at the airport, and MCO was busy that morning so Lord knows how long it would have taken me to check in to my flight there.)

I'm back home now, sobbing, waiting for announcements about the next event. And I Feel like the number of people I'll be going with might have increased, as I found myself getting texts all weekend from people who wished they were there!

I'll be sure to do the event again next year, and I'm sure it'll be even better!

Until the next Alumni Event, you may find me hanging out, selling tickets to people who want to see shark rays! If you're alumni, feel free to talk to me! I LOVED reminscing with alumni of years past! I met people who worked at Intermission 10 years before I did. I met alumni from the 80s. I met people who worked at places that don't even exist anymore (I'll be joining those ranks soon at the rate poor Outfitters is being butchered). I met people that were there at the same time I was. It was so much fun to hear about everyone's Disney journey, to learn about the way our CDS slips told us to get lunch ("Holly, go get grub!"), to laugh about our House of Blues or Ale House stories, to cry about our crazy roommates. The CP really is a special kind of something that has its own feel to it, and there are so many inside jokes and experiences to it that no one else in the world would understand but those that participated in the program. I LOVED hearing everyone's tales about watching Wishes with Guests or saying their own unique Jungle Cruise spiels or dancing along to the Jammin Jungle Parade (*raises hand*). I cannot wait for the next event!

Honoring the Woman Behind My Favorite Lifeline
ears, holly
I'm not someone who likes to reflect on where I've come from very often because so much of my life requires me living in the moment and looking to the future in order to keep me sane, but every once in a while I'll start reminiscing on the days in my life gone by, and today is one of those days. And it's for good reason.

10 years ago tonight was the last time I got to actually "talk" to my grandmother--the most influential person in my life--before she peacefully (or so I'd like to think) passed in her sleep in the hospital, in a room overlooking the street where I grew up (and my parents still live).

Growing up in the shadows of a hospital, you somewhat become immune to the sadness that lurks beyond. As a kid, I would get excited about the sounds of the chopper coming (the street that's connected to our cul-de-sac ends with a gate blocking the hospital's parking lot, where the chopper would land at times). My parents used to prop my sister and I ontop of our kitchen table so we were tall enough to peer through our quarter-circle windows in our living room and see the Christmas tree that would sit atop the hospital's highest peak. You just sort of forget that the giant building blocking your view from Downtown Cincinnati just happens to be a giant place where people take their first and last breaths.

Needless to say, after November 16, 2004, it was hard to look at it as "just a building."

My earliest memories--and my favorite memories--with my grandma are the ones that kickstarted this crazy love of writing that I have, and are likely the very reason why I live in Orlando.

Actually, I know they're the reason. When you take away the complicated intricacies of why I'm here and leave just the bare bones of reasons, my grandma is it. Without her influence, I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be who I am today. No part of my life would be the same.

And quite frankly, I don't even want to imagine what kind of person I'd be had she not provided such a huge influence.

Mary Anne--or Mimi as she was known to so many--was the most gracious, classy, elegant angel to ever exist. And I know that's a thing that a lot of people say about a lot of people, but Mimi was different.

She was raised with the smallest of means, but yet all of her stories of her childhood involved laughter and mischief. She used to tell my three siblings and I how she lived right across the street from her Catholic school, and yet she and her siblings were always late, which resulted in some pretty sore hands from the rulers being smacked on them by the nuns so often. It was my favorite story of hers to tell, and looking at it now, it might be the reason why I get so nervous about approaching Dinoland's CDS 5 minutes before I'm supposed to clock in every day. I guess there's always going to be a part of me that's terrified that one of my coordinators is going to run up to me with a ruler, ready to give my hands a good smacking!

With what little she had money-wise, Mimi knew how to appreciate the simple things in life. She used to give my younger sister and I a bucket of water and a giant paint brush and let us go to town, "painting" the side of her house. A fun Friday night in the summertime was eating an Ice Ball from Sweet Tooth (my cousin--her nephew--to this day remains one of the only two people at the Newport, KY, candy shop that actually makes the super yummy confections), sitting on her front porch, and listening to the Reds fireworks go off. Any given Saturday, she could be found sitting at her kitchen table (she always had the faux leather printed tablecloths, and they always matched the season) doing seek-a-words while drinking a cup of Folgers instant coffee and listening to her oldies on the radio. She loved eating popcorn and drinking Mountain Dew (and to this day, the combination of the two is one of my favorite smells). She delighted in giving my siblings and I Kroger-brand popcicles--the kind that were two popcicles stuck together--when it was hot outside. If we were lucky and it was wintertime, we'd get the Land O' Lakes hot chocolate (I loved mint, my younger sister loved Raspberry).

But best of all was playing Rummy during summer afternoons with her and my younger sister, and then calling my mom--her only child--at work to tell her that Grandma smoked us again. My grandma loved her card games as much as she loved her popcorn!

She also loved cooking, and amongst the many things that made her happy was filling the stomachs of her nephews, who would challenge each other to be "the bigger hoghead." She'd smile so big and laugh her dainty, sweet, precious smile. She loved making them happy. She loved filling their plates. She loved spoiling them.

Her heart was uncomparible to anyone else's. If I could live life being a third as generous, gracious, kind, gentle, and just plain wonderful as she, then I Will have outdone most people.

One of my favorite stories comes from my mom, who loves to reminisce about the first interaction she had with my grandma after my older sister--the oldest of the 4 of us--was born. The first thing Mimi said to my mom as a brand new grandmother was, "Thank you," and to me, that defines her as a human being. Two words, said constantly by everyone all the time. And yet coming from my grandma, it meant everything.

Like I mentioned, my mom was an only child, so she was lucky enough to keep my grandma entirely to herself when she was growing up, and it was through that closeness that my mom developed an almost inhuman bond with my grandma. Seeing the two of them together was unlike anything I've ever experienced before. It was the most beautiful relationship that could ever exist. The two of them were practically the same person, in the best way possible. They knew exactly what the other one was feeling and thinking without even needing to be anywhere near the other. They had the same hobbies. They loved the same shows. They were inseparable. They were the best team that ever existed. Together, they were unstoppable.

My mom being an only child meant that I only had to share my grandma with 3 other people, and luckily for me, I was only 14 months older than one of them, so I was with my grandma nonstop. It's with the greatest joy that I get to say my grandma was my primary babysitter when I was growing up. She spent her weekdays at her daughter's house, doing laundry and drinking tea and watching her soaps (she loved 'One Life to Live' and 'All My Children') on this little black-and-white table-top television that my mom had purchased for her. It would sit on the kitchen counter (where our toaster oven and Keurig now live) in the perfect spot: she could keep one eye on the kids in the family room and one eye on the rest of the kitchen incase one of the two little "hellians" (I am including myself in this) would escape. I used to hate the sound of the soaps, as they were way too dramatic for my liking, but they were what my grandma loved. They were a part of what made her unique.

In babysitting us, she'd indulge is in varying whims so long as we behaved. Sometimes it involved her being a customer at our restaurant (little did she knew she was helping prep my younger sister and I for our first jobs down the road, as my younger sister would grow up to work at Starbucks to help get her through college and I'd work QSF&B at All Star Music). Sometimes it meant doing a puzzle with us (oh, how she loved her puzzles!). And sometimes it meant giving us a bowl of pickles and allowing us to watch the newest Disney movie on VHS that she purchased for us (after having battled my mom for it, of course--my grandma loved being the "hero" when it came to giving her grandkids the presents they lusted after).

It probably comes as a surprise to absolutely no one that my love for Disney stems completely from my grandma entertaining us with such 90s classics as 'The Lion King' and 'Hercules' and 'Aladdin.'

In fact, my earliest Disney parks memories involve my grandma! I remember very vividly sitting at the entrance to the Calypso pool at Music, wearing my water wings, taking everything in. My grandma was undoubtedly nearby. The year of my first visit to Disney--1996--just happened to be the 25th anniversary year, or the year Cinderella Castle turned into a birthday cake. I remember incredibly well sitting at the base of Cinderella's fountain, looking up at the bright pink turrets in complete bewilderment. It absolutely blew my mind that they were able to find an oven big enough for the whole thing, and my innocent, silly self truly believed in Disney magic. I turned to my grandma, and the six year-old version of myself uttered, "Is it okay if I try it?!" as the most patient woman in the world smiled and explained to me that I could not.

Thank you, Grandma, for not telling me that it wasn't actually a real cake.

She also never told me that my favorite stuffed animal, BeeBee Bunny, didn't actually travel to Georgia to be a traveling ballerina. She kept the fact that I had misplaced her in one of my various toy bins a secret until years later when I discovered her on my own. But it was through that failed bit of honesty that I learned--or developed--the art of storytelling, and it was my grandma that served as my first audience member.

When I was a toddler (and for a decent-sized portion of my childhood), my grandma was my mom's chaperone for work (at the time, you don't think to ask questions, but the adult me learned why when I had to pay for parking on campus). With that came me taking many, many car rides to- and from- Clifton, traveling through the (unbeknownst to me) terrifying Over the Rhine regularly. Though Clifton and Fort Thomas are a small 7 miles away (my commute to work is twice that these days), the trips felt like ages to a 3 year-old. And when you have an imagination as big as mine, you learn to get creative.

This otherwise quiet toddler went on tangents about how BeeBee Bunny--a gangly white bunny with a purple tutu--was a traveling, world-famous ballerina who went on all sorts of adventures. Who knows what crazy escapades BeeBee went on, what shenanigans she got herself into, what sorts of things she got to experience, but my grandma was there to listen to all of them. When I started to get older and knew how to form words and sentences and turn them into short stories of my own, my grandma was there to read them. I loved printing them out for her, and she loved reading them. I can't even imagine how bad they were, but yet she was there to encourage my imagination, which allowed it to grow immensely. I know she knows where my imagination has taken me now (all the way to Walt Disney World!), but I wish she could be here in person to truly experience it first hand.

I also wish she could be here to save me from myself sometimes.

When I was little, I was quite the troublemaker, but no one knew how to discipline me like my grandma did. My dad tried so hard to put his fist down, but sometimes his force could be too strong and too overpowering and it would scare me. My grandma, on the other hand, knew just the right amount to inflict fear into my eyes. I knew when to stop because the fear of the wooden spoon or the time out chair in my family's dining room was enough to keep me on track. Sometimes I wish I still had 15 minutes of no television and no talking to punish me when I get out of line. Maybe my room would be a little cleaner, my car better taken care of, my laundry done more often. Maybe I wouldn't stop at Dunkin so often as a means of getting breakfast (or maybe I would--my grandma loved taking us to get doughnuts from Manet Bakery back when it was still open so many years ago).

I can still recite, from memory, my grandma's phone number. When my mom would make my sister and I upset, we'd "call in the big guns." This super-shy girl who would make her first real phone call when she was in high school was never afraid to call that 261 number and ask to make mommy stop being so mean. Can I use that number now when I need to fix my car? When I need help buying groceries? To make plans to see some of my closest--yet busiest--friends?

Can I use that number to bring her back?

10 years ago tonight, I was a freshman in high school. I was wearing jeans and a plum-colored sweatshirt and had my purple tye-dye LL Bean backpack with me, and I was propped up on the windowsill of my grandma's hospital room, trying my hardest to attempt my Algebra I homework. I was in the background of a sea of family members and friends of family members who were visiting to pay their last respects. I had spent the past couple of weeks in and out of school, trying my hardest to spend every second with the most influential woman in my life that I could. I had pulled the curtains back earlier in the evening, thinking that if my grandma tried just hard enough she could make out the image of Mayzie, the tiny Sheltie that my mom adopted to keep my grandma company while us kids were in school, running spastically around the yard like my grandma liked. It was darker out now, and the reality of what was happening was hitting harder as the time passed. How do you say good-bye to someone that important to you? Do you ever really?

I remember holding my dad's hands as we walked back to my house that night. As we walked together on the rocky, dimly lit sidewalk, my dad looked down at me and said, "Holly, you had 15 wonderful, amazing years with her, and that is 15 more years than most people got to experience." It was him comforting me, helping me feel better about the situation. As I grew older and became an adult and started to meet countless people, I started to slowly understand the magnitude of my father's words. My grandmother was truly unlike any other individual that ever existed. How I was lucky enough to be one of only 4 people that got to experience the greatest part of her still blows my mind to this day.

The next morning, I was sitting at a table in my Life Skills class during 2nd period. I was still feeling like the new kid in school, as I had entered into my public high school from one of the town's small Catholic schools. Nobody knew who I was until the second one of the messengers came downstairs to the dungeon of my high school holding a white slip of paper. I'll never forget standing up, tears pummeling from my eyes, and grabbing my things before my teacher could even tell me it was mine.

To those who I've been lucky enough to meet along this crazy journey of me moving to Orlando, you have my grandma to thank for every interaction I've ever had. It is through the things that she taught me--her example--that I can be who I am today. It is through her love and courage and support that I am able to live in Orlando right now.

I'd like to think that every time I ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain that she's riding along right there with me. I'd like to think that every time I make a Guest smile or laugh that she's giving me the courage to be as sweetly silly as she was. I'd like to think that every time I marvel at the beauty that is the magic in the parks that she's right alongside me, marveling in it, too.

I know she's with me every second. I'm not a religious person by any means anymore, but I know she's with me. There are not many things I know as fact anymore, but that is definitely one of them.

Welp, Animal Kingdom's park hours got extended this week. Time to go call that infamous 261 number in hopes I'll get to take advantage of them and get some extra hours!

A Farewell to the DCP
ears, holly
Way back when, in March 2009, I was sitting at TUC on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, and I was in the midst of reading and highlighting my American History textbook, when something dawned on me:

I, at that moment in time, was eligible to apply to the Disney College Program, a lifelong dream.

Okay, so maybe I wasn't reading my American History textbook. And there's a chance that I was sitting at Langsam or inside the bowels of Zimmer Hall. And I've only known about the DCP since 2003, when my older sister did her program. But the point of the story is I was definitely on campus, and it definitely hit me out of the blue.

And it definitely was the spark that started this crazy, 4 year+ journey that has taken me in so many different places (physically, emotionally, socially) that I'd be lying if I said I was the same person today that I was the moment I realized what I could do.

The girl that was sitting on campus that random day in 2009 was exceedingly shy. She was in the midst of finishing up her first year at college, one that had put her on Academic Probation because it was such a new environment. She had the same schedule every single Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and did the same things on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She was tragically unemployed. It was a social triumph for her to go to the library by herself. She had little to no friends. She kept to herself 95% of the day, and the other 5% came from interactions with her mom and sister.

Over time, she learned to become independent, outgoing, hard-working. She made Dean's List nearly every quarter/semester in between what would become TWO programs. She started dating (and later had the sense to stop) her first boyfriend while on her first College Program. She found that there are no limits when it comes to laughing so hard it hurts. She developed solid relationships with leaders from not only her two programs, but also from a job she had in between the two that she may have never gotten had she not worked for Disney to begin with.

Needless to say that when I visit Cincinnati for the first time in 9 months, I will hardly be the same person I was when I left in August, let alone when I started the DCP in June 2010.

Ah, June 2010. I will never forget you for the rest of my life. Admittedly, there are a few thing about my first time on Discovery Island that I can't remember entirely, and yet I will never forget my first day at Intermission.

It was as intense as you could possibly make it. I couldn't find my trainer at first because I didn't know where to go. Once I finally did find her, I was so scared that I wasn't picking things up fast enough. The fast-paced environment that came with working with food overwhelmed and intimidated me. One of the Culinary CPs was yelling at my trainer because I wasn't picking things up fast enough. My trainer ended up going home because of heat exhaustion. It was one of the worst days of my life.

I called my dad the next morning, ready to turn around and come right back home. With my Social Anxiety, my parents were awaiting that phone call anyway. As tragic as it sounds, nobody thought I was even going to make it to Intermission to see what it looked like. And yet something in my dad told me to wait it out and give it a chance. And so we made a promise that I would give it until my birthday (September 22--3 months away). If things didn't improve a month into my best friend since childhood, Nicole, being down there, then my dad would help me get home.

I did go home a few weeks after my birthday, but I am happy to report that it was because I flew home to surprise my mom on her birthday, and the entire time I was at home I was wishing I was back in Disney.

By August, I had become a trainer at my location, a role that I would advertise two years later to my leaders at the Newport Aquarium. Are super shy girls supposed to become trainers at locations that thrive on constant Guest interaction?

I am the crazy, living proof that they can.

And my experience in training is something that, to this day, I remain incredibly proud of. In the bizarre, unexpected career path I'm about to head down, it has become my pride and joy.

(Not to mention the fact that it has become one of my biggest passions in life.)

Speaking of pride and joy (segues are awkward), going to work every day as a Merchandise Cast Member on Discovery Island has been nothing but fun for me. I have changed more over the past 9 months being an Islander than I have ever changed before. I have worked with some of the most colorful, wonderful, interesting (in good ways and bad) people, and I never would have pegged DI as a fabulous place to work unless I worked there myself. It has become a dream come true to call myself an Islander everyday, and I've been able to answer to one of the best teams of leaders on all of property. (I may be completely, unabashedly biased, of course.) I truly have made lifelong friends with so many people I've met while wearing my bug skirt, and not a day goes by where I don't count my blessings.

We've bragged about Basics Walks. We've scared each other in the stock rooms. We've run away from "Happy Birthday" being sung on a regular basis. We've taken doughnuts from strangers. We've traded pins until Mara ran out of good ones. We've danced to the Viva Gaia Street Band better than any set of CPs. We've written fabulous haikus. We've come up with clever nicknames for the collar on the women's register costume (my personal favorite is Erica's "Christmas Tree Skirt"). We've joked about the shells on our costumes. We've danced about the stores after closing, swishing our skirts. We've been badasses at stocking the plush. We've bragged about selling ostrich eggs and making a certain leader proud. We've done IHOP and Ale House and Applebees trips looking stylish.

We managed, in the form of the BABs, to create a family for ourselves that will never ever crumble.

For the present, being an Islander has given me two amazing roommates that I couldn't be happier to live with. It has given me a group of friends that I love more than words could ever admit--friends that will be around long after the Spring Advantage 2014 kids resume their daily lives. It has given me incredible mentors to go to when I need help months after my CP is over. It has given me boosts of confidence when I needed it.

I could go on and on about what being an Islander has meant to me in the past 9 months, and as I prepare to start what could become my last 2 days ever scheduled to work on Discovery Island, I need to remind myself that not a single day was wasted. Every single laugh I laughed, every single tear I shed, every single scream I cried was all worth it for the experience of a lifetime.

I mean to say that all of my frustrations at WORK happened for a reason, of course. In my "old age" of spending a year and a half of my life on the Disney College Program, I've come to develop more realistic opinions of the program. I'd be lying if I said that the entire thing has been a blast and I loved every single aspect of it. But at the end of the day, not everything is going to be perfect.

And that's okay.

Some kids don't mind paying the rent because to them, it's a lot easier than signing a lease on an apartment that they're only going to be in for a few months. Some kids ignore the Housing events all together in favor of working more hours. Some kids are fortunate enough to have flawless roommates. Some kids view Security as a worthy explanation as to why we pay so much to Housing.

And some kids, like myself, were able to make great friends with roommates, only to have less-than-favorable opinions of the others that overtake the Housing experience.

But I'm not necessarily blogging to bash Housing. Opinions aside, it gave me a *relatively* safe place to sleep every night for 16 combined months.

As my last few days of being on the Disney College Program draw to a close, I want to leave some reminders:

1) If you're considering doing the DCP, be prepared to meet a bunch of people, and be prepared to increase your social skills. There's a book that's coming out soon--'Two Girls, One Mouse' or whatever the book is called--about two sisters doing the DCP together. I've met several sets of sisters in my two programs, and most sisters that come down here make their own friends and branch out and do their own thing rather than stay attached at the hip. And honestly, with as many times as I've bugged my younger sister to do the program, I would encourage her to branch out and make more friends. Part of the beauty of doing the DCP is meeting people that you'd never meet otherwise, making connections with people that you won't make anywhere else. Why would you want to limit yourself like that?

(Is it obvious that I personally know the two "writers" of the aforementioned book? It is, isn't it...)

But my point is, if you come down here with a sister--or a best friend, like I did--be prepared to not see them a lot. Be prepared to make NEW friends. Be prepared to open yourselves up to the people that are surrounded by you. If you have to rely on your sister or bestie from home as your key to friendship, then you're not doing the DCP the right way.

2) Housing is going to be rough, and there will be times when you're physically running your head into the wall because Housing looks at your colossal problem as menial, and they'll "help" you by not helping you at all. When this happens, keep your chin up. Don't be afraid to vent to your friends (or leaders, like I did--I found that my leaders were way wiser than my roommates, and they were easier to approach than Housing). Be patient. Sometimes, those horrible situations get improved over time when your bad roommates start to mature and realize they're being ridiculous. Sometimes, they won't change their behavior at all. But as blunt as it sounds, the CP is just that--a program. It's not permanent, and you don't ever have to see those pesky girls again.

3) If the CP is full of anything, it's surprises, and be prepared for that. This program more so than my last was nothing but surprises. A CP I started out my program HATING has turned into someone I'm really going to miss when her extension of her extension ends in August. A friend that I started out being super close to has since removed me from Facebook, and when our last day of working together draws to a close tomorrow, I'll watch her leave for the last time, as I will never have to see her again (and shamelessly, I'm not upset about it). I came here with the expectations that I'd write for Imagineering one day, and now I'm working for a position in leadership instead. My entire career path changed within a few months, and it's completely terrifying and yet completely thrilling at the same time. The same might happen to you if you do the DCP, and that's okay.

4) You're going to learn more about other cultures by making friends with people from other countries. Even just friends coming from other states will teach you a lot about life. In general, the things you learn while on the DCP are things you will never be able to learn by sitting in a college classroom. First-hand experience from such a phenomenal company is the ultimate learning experience, and the things you learn are things you'll be able to take with you to future jobs.

5) Despite what naysayers will tell you, that Quick Service Food and Beverage stamp on your employment history DOES matter, even when it comes to applying to a position in the Admissions department at an Aquarium. All employers see when they glance down at your employment record is "Disney." And that 6 letter name will hold more weight than any job you've had prior. Trust me. The two interviews I had post-CP were won over completely by that name. When I interviewed for Hallmark, my soon-to-be boss and I bonded over the fact that her family had memories of eating at the location where I worked. My manager at the Aquarium visited me in September--that's how much her family loves the Parks--and that bond was made instantly when I interviewed for the position. The things I learned at Disney gave me answers to tough questions they asked at my Aquarium interview. Disney truly is a resume enhancer.

6) Above all else, please remember to have fun. You're going to have super rough nights. You're going to have amazing days. You're going to cry over Guests--good and bad--and you're going to cry over roommates. You're going to miss home so much you'll need a ROS (I've seen it happen). But HAVE FUN. Find your "spot" to go to when you need to clear your mind (the hallways at the Beach Club is my go-to spot). See the fireworks when you're not working. Memorize the words to the parade that goes past every day (Guests will notice, and they'll find it amusing). Use your area's themed greeting to make Guests happy. Prance around your location in your costume like you designed it yourself. Make friends with your leaders. Whatever it takes to make you happy, do it. Disney is no place to be sad. Find a way to make yourself smile everyday. If you have to self-term, then self-term, but do it after consulting everyone around you first. Don't make stupid mistakes that will get you termed. This program is worth so much more than getting away with drinking in an under 21 apartment. Laugh with your coworkers. Hug them backstage when you need a shoulder to lean on. Create a family, like I did, with your coworkers. Post-CP, talk to your friends often. You'll be happy when you see their name pop up on your phone and you get lost in an hour-long conversation. Visit your friends after your program is over. Go to the water parks when you can get in for free. Ride Tower of Terror for the first time. Do something that scares you. Take risks.

Above all else, find your laughing place.

Luckily for me, my laughing place just may be the same as Bre'r Fox's, as I begin my next Disney chapter in Frontierland on June 1, where I'll be working one of the 4 amazing attractions.

The past 5 years of my DCP journey have been amazing, and to everyone who I met along the way: Thank you. Thank you for everything.

BASIC-ally, A Walk to Remember
ears, holly

It has been a while since I've written much of anything story-wise (in fact, I believe my last attempt was at a fountain-based short story I had high hopes of placing in a portfolio for Disney, but we all know how well that went), so I thought I'd blog about what I view as one of the best moments of my CP thus far...

One of the perks of extending my CP means that I get to experience Disney during the Winter/Spring months for the first time, and with that comes me experiencing the holidays that fall within that time period. Woo-hoo!

I've been here many times during the month of July, so I know all too well what the dazzling fireworks look like during July 4th. I have experienced a food coma during Food and Wine multiple times. I've been really-not-so-scared a few times, and I've very merrily strolled down Main Street as one member of the greatest trio that ever will be (my sisters and I, of course) several times now.

But alas, there is one holiday that I just experienced for the first time...


For a single gal like myself who has had some, well, interesting moments at Disney in regards to guys, I decided to approach the day like any other Friday. Like all days, I got up, took a shower, made breakfast, got dressed, and drove off to Animal Kingdom to begin my work day. I clocked-in, received my assignment (good ol' Footprint Room) and began my work day.

It was roughly an hour into my day when Megan, one of my leaders, walked into the room and announced that I was going to be going on a Basics Walk with her to Dinoland.

I should say that I have developed a theory with another leader of mine, who I refer to as "Other Holly." Our theory is simple: For every Holly, there is a Megan. And with my younger sister/partner-in-crime at home in Kentucky, I need a Florida Megan to cause mischief with, and what better place to cause mischief than Dinoland, amirite?

So I practically burst with excitement (there's a chance I may have squealed), and happily pranced around Footprint room while I waited the grueling 30 minutes for someone to bump me.

Needless to say, when I received that gorgeous white CDS ticket that said, "Please go to meeting with Megan," I practically bolted out the door with my wonderful leader. We started off the meeting with every intention of discussing the Basics, which I'm sure we might have done in our heads at one point. Or maybe not.

Oh, screw it. We never did discuss how the Basics applied, so at the end of this blog I'll go above and beyond (a Basic from back in the day) and post how they applied to our destination.

What was our ultimate destination, you may ask?

The brand new Dance-A-Palooza in Dinoland! OH MY.

We were so awesome that we were some of the first people there, so obviously we got the ultimate viewing spot--close enough to be apart of the party, but enough out of the way that we could creep and take video.

And video and photos we did take. (How many Cast Members get to go on a Basics Walk and take pictures with their leaders? Only Megan is awesome enough to allow such a thing to happen!)

The truck they used for the backdrop was pretty neat. But the characters they brought out were way, way better.

How many times do you get to see Br'er Fox out and about? Never. The cutest foot-thumping bunny? DOES HE EVEN COME OUT? When was the last time Flik came out for a meet-and-greet? Slim from 'A Bug's Life'? The costume really DOES exist!

And then, of course, the winner for sexiest behind, Br'er Bear.

And let's be real: Nobody can party like Ra-FREAK-i.

To help out with the dancing, Chester and Hester sent out a few of their friends to help out with the dance mooooov-uhs, and they helped to lead the Guests in playful renditions of The Macarena, The Cupid Shuffle, the Cha-Cha Slide, a conga line, and a soul train,  while also dancing to a few songs that were mixed in for good measure.

While Rafreaki was getting his grove on, Br'er Bear was shaking what his mama gave him, and Flik was showing off his great assets, the highlight was likely the epicness that was Br'er Fox dancing to the new classic, "The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?)."

Despite being somewhat of a villain, Br'er Fox is an incredible dancer, and his being featured in the dance party further proved that Disney really does have a sense of humor. But honestly, how could he not be included? It was the perfect opportunity for Disney to feature him, and what better park to feature him than Animal Kingdom?

Throughout the party, Megan and I were people watching, and we found one little Guest in particular that was plucked straight out of my own childhood, as I can imagine that the two of us would have had epic dance parties had he been around when I was 3. (What? You've never heard of my classic "peg leg" dance I did to Phil Collins' "Sue Sudio" when I was a child? A dance that involved me bringing my knee up to my chest as I hopped around in a circle? No? Well, now you know a fact about the oddity that was a 3 year-old Holly.)

Of course, people-watching wasn't the only thing we were doing. But you know, conversations are private things and such. And blogs get read and such.


As we headed back, we reminisced on the fun we had had, and I giddily shared one of our selfies on Facebook for all the world to see. And I could feel the jealousy emanating from several people I worked with that day!

Of course, I'm not sure my Basics Walk could ever compete with another Basics Walk that will go down in history. You see, Megan's walk with a good friend of mine will forever be the ultimate walk of sorts. Let's be real: What's better than getting paid to ride Dinosaur with your leader?

At least we were able to end it on a high note!

Remember how I said I'd over-achieve and go through how the dance party in Dinoland follows the Four Keys Basics? Let's give this a shot...

Safety: With his tall size, Slim rarely moved around. Perhaps if he had moved, he would have crushed a child on accident? Also, there was a character attendant present incase something were to happen with a character I'm sure. None of the dance moves that were being taught were so complicated that they involved bending over backwards or doing anything that a professional, trained dancer would do. It was on the colder side of things on Friday, so all of the dancers were dressed appropriately for the weather. (So they weren't freezing in tank tops and shorts when it was in the 50s.) Also, the dancers organized the conga line and the soul train so that there were clear pathways to move around.

Courtesy: The dancers were smiling like crazy and tried to engage the little Guests in dancing. Several times, Thumper and Rafiki branched off and formed smaller groups with Guests, giving those Guests special attention. The soul train at the end gave each Guest the chance to show off his or her dance moves for the audience.

Show: The dancers were wearing fun dinosaur hats which matched the theming of the area. The truck that they had as the backdrop was themed to appropriately match the theming of the land. The music that was played was family-friendly, and it helped create an uplifting, happy environment for Guests.

Efficiency:The party didn't last too long, which gave Guests the chance to go explore more of the park. A lot of the songs were shortened so as to maximize the amount of songs that were played while still keeping the length of the party to one that was more appropriate. I, personally, think Guests get a little stir crazy at DAK, as there is a lot of walking with all of the trails, and not too many thrill rides. (I see no problem with this, but Guests like thrill rides...) I think having a dance party in Dinoland helps kids wriggle out a lot of energy that they have building up, and it serves as an extra attraction of sorts to occupy a small amount of Guests and take them away from the rides for a little while.

And there you have it! Me doing homework when I don't really need to do homework. ;)

Well, off I go to nap and enjoy my Tuesday off. I wish I had a better way to end this, but I never was good with ending my stories. :(

A Love Letter to My Islanders
ears, holly
What a crazy year 2013 has been! So much has happened to me, so many wonderful things I got to experience, and I feel so blessed to have lived the year that I got to live.

I made one of my ultimate dreams come true--a dream that, five years ago, I never would have thought could be possible. Graduating from the University of Cincinnati was truly an honor. The campus is one of the most beautiful in the world (this is a proven fact, okay?), and I was able to learn so much more than I ever could have imagined. It was truly a blessing to call myself a Bearcat, and it's a title I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

In between reading my last novels of my collegiate career (how many I read, I could not tell you), I also applied for and was granted another dream come true, a dream that has changed my life forever. And that particular dream is why I'm blogging today.

It is not easy for me to speak so sincerely because I have to form my words and thoughts coherently first, but I do want my friends from the Island to know how much they truly mean to me, and so I write you this, my love letter of sorts, to tell you all how much I adore you and how much you have changed me for the better.

My last program at the All Stars was a blast. I met people from so many different states and cultures, with so many different personalities. I loved all of them, and I still keep in touch with a few of them to this day. While they helped me hop out of my shell, my Islanders really helped me leap out of it.

I entered the Island as Hostile Holly/Holly Is a Plant, the shy girl from Northern Kentucky who was obsessed with Disney and writing but was still trying to learn how to be outgoing. Yes, I worked at an Aquarium for a year, holding a position that forced me to approach Guests (and get verbally beaten up several times, but it's okay as the summer only made me a stronger person), but I never had to really leap outside of who I was in order to make my Guests' day; it was just a matter of smiling, asking little ones if they were going to touch a shark, and moving on to the next Guest.

My Islanders helped me really come out as a goofy, silly person, who was suddenly turning on my sassy side. You all are teaching me that I don't have to be a people pleaser to get far in life, and it's actually easier if I don't try to make everyone happy because it's only going to stress me out since it will never happen.

You guys are teaching me that there is no limit when it comes to laughing your head off, as I have come close to collapsing several times because I was laughing so hard. I love our silly moments together, guys. There are so many quotes, so many wonderful, eccentric, zany moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life that will continually put a smile on my face no matter what the circumstance may be. Being around you all has truly made me feel like I'm part of something special--a special group of friends that somehow belong together, like we all are a piece of a puzzle that fits perfectly, with no rough edges and only smooth lines. Our group is made up of completely different people with varying personalities, ages, and backgrounds, and yet we still manage to crack each other up. The beauty of all of this has been one of the most wonderful things to experience in the past 5 months.

I would like to consider myself a member of JARK, yeah. I spent the past 5 months bouncing from group to group, roommates to the BAH Humbugs to the BAH Humbugs featuring Meaghan to the other random CPs to whatever group may come next. I thought that I could successfully have the same strong bond with everyone on the Island, but ultimately I have realized that no bond I have experienced during this entire program is stronger than the bond of the BABs. I know I can vent to you all about whatever is going on at the Island, and instead of turning it into a court room case, it is turned into one where sassy sides come out, which always results in laughter rather continued frustration. The gift of being able to move on from a rough situation like that means more to me than you all could ever know.

As you all resume your lives back home, or head to a new adventure in a new city, I want you to know that every single one of you deserve nothing but the greatest of things in life. Every single one of you is capable of going places that most people our age aren't capable of going. Our group is filled with people who can really make a difference in this world, and I feel truly honored to have known every single one of you.

I'll miss you all tremendously, and I truly hope we keep in touch throughout the years. I will never be able to truly put into words how much the past 5 months have meant to me, and it's all because of you.

And Rachel. But she'll get her own letter. ;)

I love you guys so much. Have safe journeys home, and I'll see you the next time we get lucky enough to have our paths cross again. Preferably in Chicago sometime in the summer. :)

Catching Up! Is That Even Possible?
ears, holly
Oh jeez. So much has happened in the past month. So many memories made! So much has been done! OH MY GOODNESS.

So I'm not even going to bother going into details about most of it, but since I forgot to update I thought I would!

Things I've Done:
--Food and Wine! (I helped my friend finish off her passport! I saw Hanson perform "MMmbop!" I discovered Grapefruit Beer!)
--Orlando exploration! (I went to SeaWorld! I ate at a restaurant Downtown! I went to the Cheesecake Factory at Mall of Millenia for a friend's birthday! I went to Howl at the Moon on I-Drive!)
--Classes! (They're a BLAST! Especially my Exploring Disney Heritage class!)
--House of Blues! (I went there for the first time on Service Industry Night, and it will take some pregaming before I Go back again, but I DID have fun!)
--Resort hopped! (The Gingerbread House is up at the Grand Floridian! I watched HalloWishes from the beach at the Poly--yet again--and followed it up with a Dole Whip on Halloween! I walked into Intermission for the first time in almost 2 years!)
--Park exploration! (I went to the Magic Kingdom after getting off work at 19--we rode a few rides, met a couple characters, took a ton of pictures, and left!
--Night of Stars! (My roommate did stand-up and she was HILARIOUS even though she didn't win.)
--Imagineers! (I attended an event for DAK Cast Members where Joe Rohde talked about Animal Kingdom and Avatar Land--I'd go into detail about what he said if I felt 200% confident that I could, but it was absolutely phenomenal, and I will NEVER forget it, ever! Tomorrow, I'm going to try to meet Marty Sklar for reals!)
--Inspections! (They just keep on coming!)
--PIs! (We're getting down to the wire, and I've only gotten NLIC on one of the four I've applied to!)
--Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party! (I had a blast!)
--DI Merchandise events! (We're having a scavenger hunt next Tuesday, and my team is TOTALLY going to win! A month ago, we also had an outing where we walked from the Wilderness Lodge to Fort Wilderness to see the Halloween decorations!)

And then there's the biggest one: The Safety Story Writing Competition! I submitted it about a month ago, and I still haven't heard back about it yet, but I'm getting REALLY antsy. If I win, I could get published in some pretty big places, so it's a big deal! Eek!

I have laughed tremendously hard many, many times in the past few weeks, and life is going so well. This program has been tremendously rewarding! Woo-hoo!

(no subject)
ears, holly
Guys, please, please, PLEASE follow Housing's rules while on the CP.

I have had two good friends in one month get termed because they had alcohol in their (wellness) apartments.

It's so silly! What a stupid reason to get termed!

There's a really, really good reason why Housing has this rule in place, and out of all of the rules you're asked to follow, this one makes the most sense. Yes, you pay your own rent, you are adults, your parents might let you do it at home, whatever. At the end of the day, underaged drinking IS against the law, so Housing has every right to enforce something like that.

Don't try to get crafty with hiding your alcohol. Housing technically can check the trunk of your car, under your sink, wherever. Even if you're super careful, there's still that chance that you'll get caught. And it's not worth it.

Let me say that again: It's just plain not worth it.

If you started out in wellness and then turned 21, move to a non-wellness, or make friends with someone who lives in non-wellness and drink there.

One of my friends that got termed was great with Guests, and Disney lost a really good Cast Member just because she did something silly.

And I now finish my PSA. ;)

A Brief Update! And DAK After Dark!
ears, holly
Sorry I haven't updated in a few weeks. Sooo much has been going on! My Exploring Disney Heritage class started a couple of weeks ago, and it's going AMAZINGLY well (I'll blog about it later), my family came to visit and we had a blast, I carved pumpkins with my roommates, ah!

I'll go into more detail about those things in a future post, but for right now I have to leave for work in 45 minutes, but I want to blog about something super, super cool that I got to go to this week: DAK After Dark!

On Thursday, Animal Kingdom held a DAK Cast-only Halloween party in Dinoland and Asia, and it was AMAZING! It was from 6:30 until 9:30 (the park closed at 6) and there was so much to see and do!

I missed the trick-or-treat trail that they had in the Finding Nemo theater queue because I had to work until 7:30 (I DID get an ER for 7:15, though). But they also had a costume contest inside the theater which I caught the end of. It was pretty neat to see the theater being used for a special event like that (the bubbles on the side of the stage were much spookier colors like red and orange instead of sea-like colors). Josh D...something (too lazy to lookup how to spell his last name), the VP of DAK, was one of the judges, and he was dressed as a vampire. It was pretty neat to see such an important person come out to play like that! (And for the record, we saw Mr. Vice President in Dinoland later on in the night, interacting with various Cast Members--had you not known who he was, you totally would have thought he was one of us just enjoying the night.) Also at the Finding Nemo queue, they had a pumpkin carving contest with some phenomenally creative pumpkins. Our Cast is so talented! I have no idea who won, but I hope it was the Heimlich one! He actually talked and invited people to vote for his pumpkin. TOO cool!

They had a haunted trail leading from the Theater in the Wild to Kali River Rapids, and that's where the fun began. If you've ever ridden Kali, you know that the queue is pretty intense as it winds around a lot, goes up a hill, and features some tight corners. They turned it into another haunted trail, only this time it was even creepier than the one before it! I did jump a few times, but it was still a blast!

In Dinoland, they had all of the games at Chester and Hester's open, as well as the two rides. Three of my leaders manned two of the games (one of my leaders is a leader with a particularly awesome name and personality, just saying), and we had a blast playing their games with them! We even won a few times! ;) Each time you won a game, you got a ticket, and then you would take all of your tickets up and redeem them for various prizes. They also had additional carnival-like games that were set up to play, like a game where you stacked apples (I wonder if they got that from one of our Magical Moments at Outfitters where we stack golf balls?).

In addition to all of that fun, they had a DJ spinning awesome songs, and free food! Hotdogs, pretzels, iced tea or lemonade, and MICKEY'S PREMIUM BARS. Oh yes! You are not a true Disney Cast Member unless you love Mickey's Premium Bars, amiright?

I'm used to seeing Discovery Island and the Oasis dark and spooky at night (they probably could have done something rad with the Oasis, but since Dinoland and the Oasis don't connect and they probably still had Guests lingering in the Oasis, that makes sense that they didn't), but it was super cool to see a deserted Asia and a hopping Dinoland at night! I absolutely LOVED it!

Ah, the joys of working at a park! :-)

Off I go to finish getting ready for work! After I get off, a bunch of girls are taking me shopping (I'm buying, of course!) for a fun outfit to wear to my first ever night out at the House of Blues tomorrow night. I am SO PUMPED that you have no idea! One of the girls is going to curl my hair and everything. It's seriously going to be a blast!

This program has brought on so many surprises, and in many ways I'm thinking it's even better than my last! Even though I knew what to expect coming into it, I have done so many more things this time around, met so many more people, shared just as many laughs, the list goes on. So many great opportunities have come a-knocking!

And Extensions opened up this week, too! My first choice was to stay in the same role in the same location (I LOVE the Island!), then I said to do the same role but a new location, then I said Character Attendant, and finally I said Attractions. I'm still waiting to hear back about my PIs, as I have yet to be NLIC on any of them, and they all get priority, but yeah! I'm pumped!

Later on next week I'll blog about my experience doing two signature restaurants back-to-back (spoiler alert: my stomach has never been happier!), my amazing Exploring Disney Heritage class, my first test for my Creativity and Innovation class, how my night at House of Blues went, and any other fun thing I can think of.

Until next time! Good luck if you're still in the application for the DCP! Keep your head up! :)

Inspections! Part 1 of My Birthday Craziness! Food and Wine Adventures! Parties at Vista!
ears, holly
Ah! Hello, there!

Do you remember this little commercial with the cutest little kids of any Disney commercial ever?

Yeah, well, that was basically me this morning. I haven't slept-in in two weeks I bet because of early morning work schedules or just me waking up early for class or whatever else (which is completely fine by me--no complaints!) so you'd think, when my parents told me they were getting in around 11:30, that I'd take it as the opportunity to sleep until 11, right?

Yeah. Nope! Instead, I woke up at 7:30 and basically had no choice but to watch episodes of New Girl.

Not that I'm complaining. I love me some Schmidt, Winston, Jess, and Nick! But I am ready to move on to bigger, brighter things...

Like blogging!

So let's start chronologically, like always, and that leaves me with my BIRTHDAY! Bum bum bum!

Last Sunday, September 22, I became old. Like, 24 years-old, old. And it was a lot of fun! Definitely not as epic as my 21st birthday adventures "back in the day," but it was still a blast!

My leader from the Aquarium came on vacation with her husband and two little boys, so I got to see them! And show them my "home" of sorts, as it was their Animal Kingdom day! Woo-hoo! I LOVE visiting Animal Kingdom as a Guest now, so it was a ton of fun to get to see it through the eyes of children. I was only a few years older than her boys are when I first saw DAK (but I was also 8 when it opened--I really AM old, okay?) so it was neat to experience it through their eyes. With them being younger, we got to go to the Maharaja Jungle Trek in Asia, which is something I've never done before but will definitely be doing again! People never think to go on the trails at DAK--I'll admit I've always been one of those people--but you need to do it, okay? The theming of the walk was phenomenal. There's beautiful gardens back there, and it blew my mind how talented the Imagineers were that created the area!

My leader insisted on me having a Mickey's Premium, so it is with absolute happiness that I can say I had one on my birthday! Woo-hoo! And it was AMAZING!

We also got to see 'The Festival of the Lion King,' which is not only the highest rated show on WDW property, but it's also my personal favorite show at WDW. We were giraffes, and we had an absolute blast! AND being at DAK was good luck because the Bengals won!

After we parted ways, I came back home with the intention of going to Studios with Michelle, but neither myself nor Michelle were feeling the rainy day, so we opted to stay home. The night before, I had made my birthday cake (IT'S NOT AS TRAGIC AS IT SOUNDS) so we went to Publix and got candles, and Michelle and another one of my roommates sang happy birthday to me. I also was able to talk to my mom on the phone for the first time in a few weeks, which in and of itself was good enough for me! And then I did what any self-respecting birthday girl would do: I took a nap!

Later in the evening, when my friends from work got off, we all went to someone's apartment and celebrated there. Once again, they sang happy birthday, and we had a blast just sitting around, playing games, and talking. I love that on this CP I can go anywhere--home or work--and have people around me that will make me laugh and keep me happy!

On Wednesday, we had my actual birthday dinner since Nicole had to work on my birthday (which is completely okay!). We went to Boma because it's one of my favorite restaurants on property, and it was a blast! I was the only one in the group of five girls that had been to Animal Kingdom Lodge, so I had a lot of fun showing everyone around and watching them get excited about it. AKL is probably in my top 3 of favorite resorts, and being there feels like home for me. Boma itself was a lot of fun, too! They brought me out a chocolate Mickey tart that had raspberry in it, and it was SO GOOD! It was basically like eating a chocolate-covered raspberry candy that was covered in graham cracker crumbs and shaped like Mickey. I LOVED it, and it was so nice of them to bring me out a birthday treat!

The next set of days was fun at work, and when I say fun, I mean it! I worked a morning/day register shift at Island (!!! I never get those!) on Sunday, and since it was slow, we decided to have as much fun as we possibly could. One of my coworkers had given out 3 Magical Moments within an hour, and I got to play along in his silliness, and the Guests LOVED it! Things like that are great reminders of the magic that is Disney, and seeing Guests get really into it--especially Guests that are there without children--is just the best thing in the world. There's nothing like seeing a Guest's face light up when you present them with a Celebration button or whatever else. It was just amazing! We even joked about a new phrase we made up: "No fun, you're done!"

Tuesday was particularly epic! I worked from 10 until 6:30, and I was originally supposed to be a stocker but they moved me to register, which was completely ay-okay with me. One of my leaders showed me a fun way to Merchantain at the Island, hoping it would help me build my confidence in myself, and it worked! She was so pleased by my attitude about the whole thing, and so pleased that no long after she showed me I had a great Guest interaction, that she rewarded me with a Four Keys Fanatic Card, which of course only made me want to work that much harder and have that many more amazing moments with Guests, so it was a good feeling all around!

Later in my shift, around park closing time, I also had an amazing Guest interaction with a little Princess! I got paid to sit on the floor of Constellation Room at Outfitters and play with Mickey, Minnie, Stitch, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy with a little Princess for about 10-15 minutes, and it was absolutely the most fun I have ever had at work. Ever. (And trust me--I've had a lot of fun moments working at Disney!) The leader who was closing the store for the day happened to catch it (even though I promise I wasn't doing it for him) and he, too, rewarded me. It was such a great way to end my day!

Even though it wasn't over yet ;)

Once I got off at 6:30, it was time to change out of my costume and into street clothes and then hop into the People Mover with Caroline. We drove over to the Beach Club directly from Animal Kingdom and met a bunch of friends at World Showcase for Food and Wine!

Let me tell you something about Food and Wine: It is the single best time to be at Disney. Period. It is absolutely perfect. All of these booths set up with so many affordable food items to try and sample and enjoy and love and oh my goodness. It's just perfect, honestly. The best way to do it--and you don't have to do it this way--is to get a specially-designed gift card that they have on these stretchy bracelet things (they come in different colors) and just keep reloading it. It's so convenient! We all had ours, and they were awesome!

I had the Lobster Roll from America (AMAZING), the Spicy Hand Roll from Japan (again, AMAZING), the White Sangria from the Florida stand (SO Good--and totally affordable!), and I capped it off with the Chocolate Creme Brulee from France, which was definitely the highlight of the four that I had. I loved every single bite I had!

We capped off the night with an amazing showing of Illuminations, and then parted ways. Even though it was a long night, it was SO WORTH IT! I can't wait to go again with a few of my friends because I realized that we are long-lost culinary sisters that love the same foods, and that's pretty much the ideal person to go to Food and Wine with! Luckily, I also have extremely similar tastes as my dad, so the two of us get to experience it TOGETHER. TODAY!

Yesterday was also a big day, as we FINALLY had our inspection!

Let me tell you something about the new inspections: They are tricky little buggers! They are now randomized, so instead of knowing that building 18 will be inspected on Tuesday, they're now completely unexpected, which is very stressful! Garbage needs to be taken out every night/morning, the mirrors need to be clean, fines are involved... It's a lot. But luckily, we all passed! I wasn't home, so I'm not sure how it went exactly, but we did get a paper that told us to work on our vanities for next time, so woo-hoo!

Last night was the Galactic Blackout Dance Party at Vista, and it was a TON of fun! Each CP that entered the doors got a glow stick necklace and a glow stick bracelet, and then we got to meet Mickey and Minnie or Goofy and Donald, all in their Star Wars regalia, which was SUPER cool. Of course, the lines were super long because everyone wanted individual pictures. ;) We also got free pizza (SO GOOD) and drinks, and there was a photo booth with super fun Disney hats, and there was a really fun DJ there. Glow sticks were everywhere, there was a TON of dancing, and it was just a really, really fun party! These events are not only a great way to meet new people, but the dance parties help relieve stress and help you relax for sure! I am so happy that this program I've been able to attend a handful of them!

So, that has been my past couple of weeks so far, and it's only about to get better! As I type this, my parents are now over the GORGEOUS state of Tennessee, and it's only a matter of time before their flight touches down, so I better go finish getting packed! (Obviously, I was so excited that I packed last night and my clothes are already in the trunk of the People Mover!)

I don't have work until next Thursday (which, believe it or not, is actually pretty depressing!) so I'll blog sometime next Wednesday evening after my first Disney Heritage class! I am SO EXCITED about it, so the next week is going to be amazing!

Before I leave, go like Rachel Likes to Read on Facebook! Why? Because Rachel is awesome, she likes to read, and I just happen to have a cameo in her second video. ;)

Professional Internships! Disney Classes! Vera Bradley! Oh My!
ears, holly

SO much has happened this past week, and it all happened so fast!

I had my first check-in with a leader last Saturday, and through the check-in, my leader learned what I want to do with Disney and why I did the CP. If you ever do the CP, you'll get these sorts of questions all the time: Did you graduate? What are you studying? Why are you here? So he learned the basics about me. And through that, he hooked me up with another one of my leaders who is a resume pro.

By Sunday, I had her resume in my inbox to use as a guide.

By Tuesday, I had my own draft of my resume. My dad is AMAZING and spent an hour and a half with me, over the phone, correcting my mistakes and such. (He used to be a manager back in the day, so he knows his stuff.)

By Tuesday night, I had applied for a few Alumni-Only PIs!

By Friday, I had scheduled my phone interview.

My phone interview was on Tuesday morning, and it wasn't too complicated. We talked about why I Felt I would be an ideal candidate, what about my previous experiences helped prove that, etc. I hadn't originally applied for the Guest Relations PI, but now I'm in consideration for it, which is pretty exciting! So now I just have to wait. I'll know something by November 25 at the very latest, but that seems SO FAR AWAY, so we'll see how it goes!

My first class was on Wednesday, which was my Creativity and Innovation class. I knew a bit of what to expect from my friends who did it on my last program, and a lot of the assignments they had are assignments I have now. Already, this class is a really useful learning experience for me, and I'm excited about what is to come out of it for sure! I won't have my Disney Heritage class for another couple of weeks, but I've heard excellent things about it, so I can't wait!

Friday morning was my first 5 am shift, and it actually went pretty well! We basically spent 8 hours receiving the new shipments of merchandise (Outfitters, Island, and Creature Comforts all got their own shipments, and there was a team of 5 of us working on them) and unpacking them and putting them into their proper places, be on the floor or in the stock room. It was a lot of work, but the time went by really fast, and I liked getting off around 1:30 because it meant I had the whole day to do stuff! :) I ended up going to Epcot by myself for a solo adventure. I tried the Green Tea Sake Cocktail, and it was DELICIOUS!

On Saturday, I went to the Vera Bradley event with one of my friends/coworkers, Becca, and it was a BLAST! We left Chatham at 5 am, and then went to Dunkin Doughnuts (which was SO GOOD and inexpensive!) and then got to Downtown Disney at around 5:30. Already, there were a ton of people in line, but not as many as I thought there would be. They started passing around pamphlets of what was available at around 6/6:30, with the instructions to mark which ones we wanted (we were only allowed one of each style in each color per person, so you could get a black and a pink Vera bag, but not two pink Vera bags, if that makes sense). Not long after, they started handing out wristbands to Guests in line so that we were guaranteed at least something, even if what we wanted had sold out. We didn't get in line fast enough to meet the co-founder, but it was okay because we still saw her from afar!

At 7:30, they started letting Guests in, and a fabulous lady named Isabella came out to greet Guests as they were walking inside. We weren't sure exactly who she was, but she was A TON of fun!

The line inside moved so quickly! We handed over our pamphlets to Cast Members in the Women's room, and they gave us what we wanted (The Midnight with Mickey Vera and Zip ID case that I wanted were still available! Woo-hoo!) and then another Cast Member escorted us to a register somewhere else in the store, talking excitedly to use about our new treasures. I was able to get my Cast Discount, so it worked out that I basically got the Zip ID for free. :)

I LOVE my bag! I wanted a tote so that I could fit my water bottle, my pin lanyard, my Idea Journal for class, and snacks and stuff inside for work, and it does the trick! I also use it as my bag for class since we were given binders with notes and additional handouts, and we need our Idea Journal and our textbook for every class, and it works out perfectly! I cannot stop looking at my bag, and the details on it in person are way more beautiful than anything online would show you. It was so worth the money!

Right now, they are only available at World of Disney at WDW (and I'd guess the same for Disneyland, though I'm not sure exactly--you can find out online), so keep that in mind if you want to see them. :) They'll be online sometime next month to purchase.

I want to continue on about my birthday, but the celebration is going to last a few days. ;) My family comes next week and one of the dinners we have will be my birthday dinner, and I'm SUPER pumped about it, so I'll blog about that, too!

I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities on this CP, I cannot even tell you. So far, I've seen Marty Sklar and gotten his autograph, was able to do a PI interview, went to a Vera Bradley release event, met Merida, met Alice, met Eeyore, met amazing roommates who keep me laughing every single day I work! Life is really good right now! Really, really good!

One more week until my parents come! So look forward to blogs where I review Jiko and California Grill (my older sister is basically an ADR whiz--it's her special talent), talk about this year's Not So Scary Halloween Party (our costumes are going to be the best ones there, just saying), share my experience of celebrating my birthday in October, and a whole lot more!

I have to go to work now, but until next time!


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