Dolce far niente: The sweetness of doing nothing (Or, “My trip to St. Kitts”)

It’s very rare for me to have a vacation where I can do nothing.

I’m used to the jam-packed Disney trips, with every moment planned. I’m used to running from one thing to the next, making FastPass times and dining reservations. I’m used to waking up and knowing exactly what I’ll be doing.

I’m an obsessive planner (which I discussed here). I’ve currently got a note open on my iPad with an exact list of everything I’ve got planned for my October Disney trip (the last one before my AP expires). Those who have gone on trips with me in the past are used to my “dramatic reading” of the day’s itinerary at breakfast.

So for me to go on a vacation where nearly nothing was planned was so different, and so wonderful.

For those of you who missed it, my sister is living on St. Kitts, going to veterinary school at Ross University (I talked about all that here). My mom, after visiting the island for ten days in the spring to move Kylie in, decided that my brother and I needed to experience it. So we set our trip for August 13 to 22, which coincided with Kylie’s semester break. 

My mom, dad, stepmom, and sister all tried to prepare me for what life on the island is like. They told stories about great food, loud music, very spotty WiFi, dark roads, cars that you can’t believe are still running, and the nicest people you’ll ever meet. After my parents returned from moving Kylie to Ross, we actually started counting how many times my mom and stepmom would mention “St. Kitts” on a daily basis. They were bit by the island bug, and I was ready to see it all for myself.

Flying to St. Kitts is not as easy as, say, Orlando. There are no direct flights from Newark to SKB; this was my first time having a connecting flight (I know, right? Crazy). We took the “early flight,” which required leaving the house at 4 AM, flying on a 6 AM to Miami, and getting into St. Kitts in the early afternoon. But we made our connection with no problems. 

When you fly into St. Kitts, it’s a small enough airport that there’s no jetway — you disembark on a staircase and walk across what I call the “plane parking lot” to the customs office. Once we were through there, we contacted my sister. We were supposed to help her move from her dorm to her new apartment, but she pretty much finished that up on her own. So we went and dropped our stuff at the hotel, which was on a beautiful cove (and where we’d only be staying for two nights before moving ourselves into Kylie’s apartment for the rest of the trip), and got ready for dinner with my sister and a bunch of her friends. And then, after dinner, we went back to the hotel and relaxed. 

That day was the first day of the trip, and the last day of jumping from one thing to the next.

When I asked my mom what our plan was for the second day, she said that we were supposed to help Kylie finish moving, get a tour of her campus, and then “whatever.” 

I had told my mom before the trip that I wanted to do a whole lot of nothing. I wanted to spend my time reading and relaxing. While we had a few quick excursions planned (including zip lining and exploring Fort Brimstone), almost every day was spent either by the pool at the Marriott or on Reggae Beach, doing nothing but relaxing.

When I first read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, I was struck by the part of the book where she talked about “the sweetness of doing nothing” (in Italian, dolce far niente). Aside from on Disney trips, one of my favorite things about vacation is being able to just relax and read. Being a perpetual student, vacation is about the only time I get to read for fun. I knew the island had things to do, and that we would be doing some things, but I loaded up my Kindle and packed four print books anyway. And am I glad I did.

My mom had talked about “island time.” I’m used to the busy buzz of the suburbs of NYC, full of pushy people and fast paces. On the island, everything moves slowly. Meals could take up to two and a half hours just because. You wake up slowly, eat breakfast slowly, move slowly all day, and fall asleep slowly. You spend the day relaxing and doing nothing. And it’s a beautiful change of pace. 

The other thing about the island that got me is the state of the WiFi. While we had fairly steady WiFi in Kylie’s apartment, that was about the only place we had it. Some restaurants kind of had it. The Marriott had it, though it would cut out. Reggae Beach had it, but only sometimes. At the hotel, we ended up losing WiFi for twelve straight hours. Those of you who know me know how addicted I am to my phone, but this trip forced me to disconnect. Instagram posts would have to wait. Snapchats were sent hours after they were taken. I was limited to iMessage, and even those went through (or didn’t) without any sort of regularity. It was so different than the constant hum of technology that I’m used to.

What I’m getting at, here, is that everyone needs to disconnect at some point. Had I been home, I would have been glued to my devices, waiting for every update from the D23 expo, which went on while I was away. But because I was away, I got the highlights from a friend and then read recap posts days later. And I was okay with that. 

Now I’m back to the reality of life and my routine, but I’m still on island time. I woke up slowly, worked out slowly, and ate breakfast slowly. I’m writing this post slowly. I have to do laundry and go grocery shopping, but eh, I’ll get to it later. 

Everyone needs a change of pace, even just for a few days. If you want a really disconnected, slow-moving vacation, St. Kitts is your place; it’s a beautiful island, beautiful beyond words, with some amazing adventures and a whole lot of not much else. 

Plus it looks like this:

  
Taken at Reggae Beach

I encourage everyone reading this to shake up their change of pace sometime soon. We all need to just do nothing for a day or two, right? I get it, responsibilites get in the way of that sometimes. But even if you just take an hour or two to read something for fun, or watch TV and relax, or whatever, we all deserve the sweetness of doing nothing.

Go find your dolce far niente

I found mine on the island of St. Kitts. :-)

Disney’s Four Keys: Courtesy (Or, “The most ridiculous guest situation I ever had”)

[NOTE: I am no longer a Disney cast member. I know this. But I say “we” a lot because, even after your CP is over, you still feel connected to the Disney brand. I still feel connected to the company. Okay.]

It’s fairly common knowledge that, as a Disney cast member, you’ll hear your fair share of ridiculous comments and questions from guests. Guests check their brains at the gate, and that’s usually okay (unless it compromises safety). As cast members, we’re there to help.

The biggest inside joke is “What time is the 3:00 parade?” (There’s even a tshirt with Goofy asking that very question.) Maybe in other places you’d say “Uh, 3:00. Obviously.” But at Disney, things are done a little differently. “What time is the 3:00 parade” may mean “What time does the 3:00 parade get to where we are in the park?” It may mean “Does the 3:00 parade actually start at 3 or will I have time to go to my 3:00 Fastpass+ first?” Context is everything, and being that courtesy is the second of Disney’s four keys, it’s imperative to answer even the dumbest of questions with a kind, courteous response.

When working at Downtown Disney, I had my fair share of ridiculous guest questions. At DisneyQuest, I was often berated for not having the ability to sell Universal tickets. However, a kind reminder that the theme parks are separate often cleared that up very quickly. 

I once had a guest present his Sea World ticket and ask if it would work for DisneyQuest. It turns out he’d pulled out the wrong card and didn’t realize it. Again, a courteous explanation cleared it up, and the whole group got a good laugh out of it.

But the most ridiculous and frustrating guest situation I ever experienced came from an older woman who could not find her car.

I was working a closing shift, and around 4 PM a guest approached my window. In heavily accented English (I believe she was Russian?), she asked me where the nearest parking lot was. I had her turn around and I pointed her toward OPQ, the parking lot behind Cirque. She asked me if there was another lot. I told her about LMN, the parking lot in front of Cirque. She explained that she couldn’t remember where she parked, but that she had taken a bus from the parking lot to the Marketplace, and she had other women with her who did not have the ability to walk around the lot with her looking for her car. 

I pulled out a map of Downtown Disney and pointed out each of the parking lots. She knew where the bus had dropped her off (Marketplace bus loop), but none of the parking areas seemed familiar to her. I asked her if she’d used a GPS to get to Downtown Disney. She showed me the address — a quick search showed that it was the House of Blues address. So logically, she was likely in OPQ, right? But how would she have gotten a bus from OPQ to Marketplace? That wasn’t possible.

At this point, a Guest Relations CM stepped in and asked if there were any landmarks or anything she noticed in the parking lot. The guest explained that there were lots of trees, and a bus stop, and that was it. So no, that’s not LMN or OPQ. The Guest Relations CM asked if maybe she’d accidentially turned into the Typhoon Lagoon parking lot instead. By this point the guest was very upset — she’d even said to me, “If you can’t find my car, how am I supposed to find it?!” Though it was frustrating, especially with a minor language barrier, the GR CM and I remained calm. I continued to speak to the woman while the GR CM called parking to come over and pick up the guests and drive them around LMN and OPQ to see if maybe the car was there. The GR CM went with them, but came back not long after to say that the car wasn’t in either West Side lot, so they were going to try Typhoon Lagoon. 

This is where the situation left my hands. I felt I had done all I could to help the guest, and because I was the only DisneyQuest box office CM on shift at the time, I couldn’t leave to assist with the situation any further.
So where was the car?

I’m not sure how they figured it out, but at some point while they were searching the Typhoon Lagoon parking lot, the guest said something about another water park. Yes, it turns out the car was all the way down at Blizzard Beach. The GR CM drove them there, dropped them off at their car, and returned very frustrated but happy that the situation was resolved. 

Again, context is important. While it seemed ridiculous to me that the guest was insisting she parked at DTD and got a bus to another spot on DTD, it turned out that she was confused. It was a frustrating situation for all involved — especially when the guest yelled at me for not being able to locate her car from my window. However, Disney trained me well, and, with the help of one of the most lovely GR cast members I ever worked with, the situation was resolved. Patience was key. Courtesy was key.

So to those who are or dream of being Disney cast members, know that you’re going to have ridiculous situations. Know that you’re going to get asked the same stupid question hundreds of times. And know that answering with kindness goes a lot further to alleviate confusion than answering sarcastically or rudely. 

And remember, for many guests this may be their first (and only) time visiting Walt Disney World. Do you want them to remember the cast member who went out of their way to help in a confusing situation, or the cast who answered rudely?

[This whole post was inspired by a post I saw of cast members, present and former, complaining about stupid guest questions. I understand how annoying it can be, but courtesy is always very important, and I hope these CMs were nicer to guests’ faces than they are behind their backs.]

Tomorrowland: Strategic Marketing? (Warning: Spoilers)

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW. POSSIBLY MAJOR SPOILERS. DO NOT READ ON IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO SEE TOMORROWLAND SPOILERS. (I hope that’s enough of a warning…)

I was fortunate enough to see Disney’s Tomorrowland early on in it’s theatrical release. I went with my brother and cousin; the three of us are avid Disney fans and had been looking forward to the movie since the early trailers. (Also, my cousin is studying visual effects at SVA, so he was especially blown away.)

After the movie, still impressed, the three of us got to talking about the marketing aspect of the movie. One of the chief complaints I saw on social media is that the trailers didn’t divulge much about what the movie was actually about. I agreed with that — while I was excited for the movie, every trailer left me wondering (which I actually liked; I’m starting to get sick of trailers, especially theatrical trailers, giving away major plot points). 

But what if the vague-ness of the trailers was intentional?

— WARNING: THERE ARE DEFINITELY SPOILERS AHEAD. —

When Casey first touches the pin, she gets quick glimpses into another world. Though she doesn’t know it at the time, what she’s seeing is Tomorrowland. As the movie continues, Casey gets more and more into the world of Tomorrowland. But what she doesn’t realize until later in the movie is that what she’s seeing when she touches the pin is not actually Tomorrowland, but instead, a carefully crafted glimpse at this other world. She’s not getting all of the gritty details about what’s actually going on in Tomorrowland. 

Now, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen the movie. But I recall Frank saying something to Casey about how what she saw through the pin was not quite reality, but instead, a commercial to draw people into this other world. It’s intentionally perfect and crafted (and vague) to draw the people who receive pins in. 

This is just my (and my brother’s) theory. But what if Disney’s marketing team created intentionally vague trailers to mirror what Casey goes through in the movie? What if the trailers were created to draw us into this world without actually giving away much detail? 

It could just be that the trailers were hard to create because of the movie itself. But I like to think that Disney knows what it’s doing in the way of marketing, and knowing what I know about “Disney Details,” I like to think that this was actaully strategic marketing that mirrors the “marketing” (through the pin) of Tomorrowland in the movie.

I’m still seeing complaints and questions of “What is this movie actually about?” Well, from the trailers we can gather that this magical pin transports the main character to another world, this futuristic Tomorrowland. But for those of us who’ve seen the movie, we know it’s more than that. 

I don’t know about you folks, but the vagueness of the trailers actually drew me in more. I would have seen the movie regardless of the marketing, but after seeing the movie, I really do feel like there was some strategy in the lack of plot detail in the trailers.

What do you think?

  

Winging it (Or “Why I’m not actually making plans for my upcoming WDW trip”)

I’m a planner by nature. Whether it’s school, work, or vacations, I have every single detail handwritten in list form in my planner. Generally, things are color-coded. I have to have every detail written down or my anxiety tells me I’ll miss something. My lists have lists.

Usually when I go to Disney World, I have an extensive, organized itinerary. I spend up to a month before-hand planning which park we’ll go to on which day (based on which parks have EMH, because we stay off-property and try to avoid EMH crowds), and which restaurants we’ll eat at, and what our Fastpass+s will be, etc.

MyDisneyExperience, the (relatively) new Disney planning app, has made this a breeze. By pre-planning FP+s and dining reservations, we can create a fully scheduled day easily.

However, when I was on my Disney College Program last year, I got to learn the importance of “winging it,” or going to a park with no set plan in mind. And it was great. I kind of loved waking up on a day off and saying, “I want to go to (insert park name) today!”

Since I left WDW in August of 2014, I’ve been back four times. In October, I went with friends, and while we had somewhat of a schedule (we had to figure out which parks to do when because we were using specific convention tickets that were only good at certain parks), we were fairly spontaneous in our activities. 

In November and January, I went with my family, and, as usual, we planned out every detail of every day. It kept everyone on track, which was especially nice in January when we had a party of 7. MyDisneyExperience was a lifesaver, and every morning before we left the house, I’d read off exactly what we had planned — FP+ times, dining reservations, etc.

In March, I went to WDW with my mom, sister, and a friend from college. I kept saying I was going to wing it, but about a month before the trip I put together an itinerary to make it easier on my mom, who could only come for a few days and still wanted to do everything. Before I knew it, yet again, every detail was planned out. My sister and I even scheduled in a “winging it” day, our last day, and as soon as she arrived in WDW we ended up planning out that day, too.

Planning is important. Especially if you’re an obsessive organizer like me. But again, on my DCP I learned the importance of “winging it,” too.

My next trip is June 4-10. I started making the plans for this trip back in early March, as soon as I found out that my best friend and CP roommate, Nichol, got accepted to do the Summer Alumni DCP. As soon as I found out her program dates and looked up the dates of my summer course, I picked a week and booked my flight. However, I soon realized that I would not be planning every single detail of the trip. In fact, 20 days out, I’ve only booked my flight, my hotel (Pop Century), and one dining reservation — lunch at Be Our Guest on June 5th (because it was available and why not?). 

So what makes this trip different? Why am I not obsessively planning every detail? Plain and simple — Nichol doesn’t have her work schedule yet. And since this trip is for me to visit her (and visit WDW), I don’t want to make set plans until we know what days and hours she’ll have off. 

We have noted a few things that we know we want to do as soon as we have her schedule — spend as much time as possible at Epcot, go see La Nouba (shoutout to a former coworker and good friend of mine for offering us her lightbooth seats), and (if we can) go to Ohana one night. We also want to explore resorts, walk the World Showcase before it fully opens, check out the new Downtown Disney offerings, and watch Wishes/Illuminations/Fantasmic as much as possible. But none of these have a specific date yet, and probably won’t until I actually get there. And even though I love planning, I’m actually enjoying NOT planning this trip. It’s interesting not knowing what I’ll do when I get there (though I’ll likely drop my stuff at the hotel and go straight to Downtown Disney, as usual!).

I’m fortunate enough to be an annual passholder, and to have spent enough time at WDW, especially over the past year and a half, that I don’t feel like I have to do EVERYTHING on each trip. However, I’m already planning my next-next trip for the fall (and then hopefully my next-next-next trip will be for a job interview next spring). I’m excited to (hopefully) make Orlando my forever home next year, and be able to “wing it” in the parks whenever I want. 

Like I said, planning is my thing.

Even though I may not be planning each detail of this trip, I do have my packing list done…

And even though I don’t leave for another 20 days, I’ve already got stuff in my suitcase.

A post for my sister

When I was in preschool, my teacher gave us an activity that included drawing a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up. I, of course, drew Jasmine, my favorite Disney Princess. At four years old, I wanted to be a princess.

My sister, on the other hand, told everyone who would listen (once she got over her shyness) that she wanted to be a “doctor animal.” She had a play vet kit, with plastic veterinary tools, and would subject our cats to “shots” and “surgery.” Though her dream lapsed for a short while after she obtained “Palentologist Barbie,” Kylie has wanted to be a vet ever since she knew what a vet was. She has always been focused on being a vet.

As I watched my sister walk across the stage at her high school graduation, I was nervous for her. Being two years older than her, I went through college first, and I remembered what my freshman year was like. But Kylie got through her first year of vet tech school with flying colors, and during her sophomore year became a peer mentor for the freshman vet tech students. She took a three week trip to Africa to work with wild animals. She worked on farms and at zoos. She flourished at SUNY Delhi, and when she graduated with her associate’s degree in veterinary technology, she knew she wasn’t done learning. So she set to work pursuing her bachelor’s. 

As much as Kylie enjoyed being a vet tech, she knew for certain that she wanted to go further. She was on track for vet school, working her butt off. Last fall, she found out that she could start applying to vet schools, even though she had not quite finished her bachelor’s. Being the ambitious person she is, she sent in her application and all of the necessary documents. Then she got an in-person interview. And then, after a few long weeks of waiting, she got her acceptance to Ross University.

The day she got accepted, I was at work with my mom. I heard my mom answer the phone, and almost immediately she screamed. Kylie got accepted to vet school. Kylie was going to be living her dream of going to vet school. After my mom got off the phone, I told her that I was more excited for this than I was when I got accepted into the Disney College Program. I was (and am) truly proud of my little sister.

Ky is leaving this week to embark on a new journey, one that will take her to St. Kitts in the West Indies. Yep, my sister is leaving the country and will be going to school on a tropical island. I know, right? She’ll be on the island for two and a half years, and when she returns back to the US, she’ll do her residency. She’s got it all figured out, and though the details go over my head, I’m still so happy for her.

At 22 years old, my sister is a heck of a lot more put together than I am at 25. But she’s my inspiration. Though her dream has been around much longer than mine has, she’s inspired me to give it my all and never give up. She’s also inspired me to work harder as I finish my MA. 

Though our work is different, watching her work as hard as she does has motivated me. And she’s my biggest fan, as much as I am hers — we say “when” instead of “if” when we talk about our futures, correcting the other if the words mix up. “When you’re a vet, not if.” “When you work for Disney, not if.”

I’m starting to tear up as I write this. This is the last day until December that my sister and I will be living under the same roof. Though she drives me insane most of the time, it’s going to be weird not having her around, or even just a phone call away. St. Kitts is a heck of a lot further than even the furthest place where she’s gone to school thus far — Boston. And while I’ll probably visit, I’m only going to see my sister a handful of times before I move to Florida next year. It’s a weird feeling, for sure.

But at the same time, I know that this is exactly right for Kylie. As my mom keeps saying, “bikinis and scrubs, what more could she want?” Yes, Kylie is going to be living and learning on a beach, which is totally her forte, but she’ll be doing exactly what she’s always dreamed of — becoming a vet.

Kylie, I am so proud of you. As much as you annoy the crap out of me, it’s a blessing to watch you live your dream. I hope that St. Kitts is everything you want it to be and more. :-)

  

Home.

Throughout my 25 years on this earth, I’ve lived in four places that I can, without a doubt, call “home.”

The first is my actual hometown of Whippany, NJ. I have lived in Whippany since I was three years old. I grew up there, I went through the school system, I have lived in 3 different houses within the town, and it’s the easiest place to call “home” (probably because I’ve lived there for so long).

The second is my “work hometown” of Livingston, NJ. The first three years of my life were actually lived in Livingston, but during the 22 years I have not lived in the town, I have worked ~10 years in the community newspaper, my family’s business. Because of this, I generally know more about what’s going on in Livingston than I do in Whippany. In addition, I have family in Livingston, so many holidays and celebrations are spent there. 

The third, and the one that sparked this blog post is Lock Haven, PA, where I spent four and a half years completing my B.A. in English. (More on Lock Haven after point four.)

The fourth and final place I call home is Walt Disney World. I always felt “home” in the Disney parks, as my family spent many vacations there growing up. But after having the opportunity to live, learn, and earn in Walt Disney World for over six months in 2014, “home” took on a new meaning (on which I could write about a thousand posts). When I go back to visit, now, after my time there, I still feel like I live there. It’s “home” figuratively, and will most likely become “home” literally, next year.

So back to Lock Haven, the reason for this post.

The very first time I ever visited Lock Haven, PA, I was a 17 year old high school student taking a first look at where I would potentially pursue higher education. It was the first school I looked at, and as soon as we crossed the railroad tracks and I got my first glimpse of campus (interestingly, the PUB and backside of Ulmer), I knew Lock Haven University was where I wanted to be. My mom reminded me that this was the first on a list of seven schools to visit over the summer of 2007, but even as I looked at those six other schools, I knew Lock Haven was my place.

Fast forward to August 2008. Move-in day. Even after my room was unpacked and my family left, I felt comfortable. I was ready for the next four years. And really, it wouldn’t actually be four years, right? I’d have summers at home, I’d have breaks at home…

Until Lock Haven became home. I went home for breaks and the occasional weekend, but after my sophomore year, I started spending summers there. I had three jobs over the course of my four and a half years in Lock Haven, all of which I was able to extend through summer sessions while I took a few extra classes. My junior year house and both of my senior year apartments became pieces of my life that I will never forget. And on campus, Starbucks, Bentley, Raub, the library, East Campus, Russell — all of it became an integral part of my life.

During the fall of 2012, my last semester at Lock Haven, I burned out. I got sick of Lock Haven. I went home-home, or up to my (at the time) boyfriend’s family’s home just to get away from it. I was tired of the school, the people, the drama, the workload… all of it. After I graduated, I packed up my apartment and didn’t look back. I think I visited once the following spring, and once the following fall, and both times I felt the stress as soon as I crossed those same railroad tracks that I did on my first visit. I wanted nothing more to do with the place I felt so strongly about just a few short semesters prior. 

I didn’t visit for the bulk of 2014, mostly because I was living in Florida. But I also had no desire, no drive. From what friends were saying, departments that were near and dear to my heart were having borderline crises. Having done my time of stressing over budget cuts and other departmental drama, I wrote a letter to the dean, and then I disassociated. Which, of course, was easy to do from almost 2,000 miles away.

And then I did go to visit in the fall, to support a show being directed by a friend of mine, and to see fellow alumni who I hadn’t seen in over a year. I didn’t expect to sit around for hours reminiscing with my friends, but that’s exactly what we did; after the show, we sat on the floor of the lobby of a building that was so close to our hearts, and just talked. For hours. About the shows we’d done, about things that had changed, about the drama that ran through the theater department over and over again. I left Sloan that night feeling closer to Lock Haven than I’d felt in years, and I couldn’t wait for my next trip.

This past weekend, I went back again. A day or two before I left, it was announced the Russell Hall, a building that I had fond memories of, would be slated for demolition. I went into my weekend sad about the upcoming changes to campus, but an afternoon with my best friend and then a walk around campus made me feel a little better about things. And between reminiscing (again) in Bentley and then later at Al’s (a student-favorite Lock Haven bar), and then the next morning at the Texas, for hours and hours, remember things I hadn’t thought about in years, it was no wonder that as I was driving on 220 to 80, back to NJ, I felt some tugs on my heartstrings.

What I’m getting at, here, is that “home” can have so many definitions. I remembered this past weekend exactly why I called Lock Haven home at one point in my life, and probably will always thing of it that way. While this semester is probably the last one that will bring me to visit (I’m going back in April, but I also realize that I know fewer and fewer current students with each semester that goes by), I think I’ll always consider Lock Haven a place to love, and a place to call home. For four and a half years of my life, it WAS home. I learned more about myself in the time I was there than I probably leared at any other point, and I made memories I’ll never forget. Lock Haven was my first journey on my own, and will always have a place in my heart.

Turning 25

I’m turning 25 in three days.

I guess in the grand scheme of things, being halfway through my 20s is really not that big of a deal. But it feels huge. Significant. It feels like I’m leaving the first half of my 20s behind. It feels like I actually may have to start being a real adult soon.

If I had known how quickly the past five years were going to go, and where life was going to take me, I would have done so many things differently. I probably would have done the Disney College Program during my junior or senior year; maybe I would have done a second one after graduation. I would have accepted the fact that I was not where I wanted to be at 21, 22, 23. 24 was the first birthday where I said to myself, “yes, I’m doing what I want.” And where was I? Doing the Disney College program. Living, learning, and earning in Orlando, FL. 

If you told me five years ago that I would be where I am today, I don’t know if I’d have believed it.

At 20, I was in the process of changing my major from Secondary Education English to English Literature. I was dating a guy who I thought could be the one (we broke up about six months later). I was partying and going out and having fun, not putting nearly enough effort into school. I cared more about a social life and the image I projected to others than I did about anything else.

At 21, I decided I was done partying, and I “settled down” into an adult relationship that, for three and a half years, took me on some of the greatest adventures I’ve ever had. I changed my major again, from English Lit to English Writing, a decision I don’t regret. I juggled school and, that year, three different on-campus jobs. I was taking creative writing classes, hopeful that someday I’d write that “one great thing” that could get published. Thinking back on it, 21 may have been the peak of my undergrad.

At 22, I burned out. I ended up tacking an extra semester onto my college career. My last two semesters of college were, in some ways, about the worst I’d ever had. I wanted nothing to do with anyone or anything. I realized that, by nature, I’m an introvert. I struggled with my weight and my health and my overall image. I took pleasure in brooding and bitching about everything. And, as I watched two good friends head off to the DCP, I was kicking myself for not taking the opportunity earlier in my college career.

At 23, I was a college graduate. I was applying for my first round of Disney Internships (and getting rejected). I applied for grad school, something I never thought I’d actually do, and got accepted for the following Fall. My dream was fully formed: I would work for the Walt Disney Company, somehow, some way. And later that year, my dream came true. I was accepted to the DCP halfway through my 23rd year.

And at 24, I was on my Disney College Program. On my 24th birthday, I ran around to all four parks and Downtown Disney in one day. I was living my dream, and nothing was bringing me down. I was in my happy place, doing great things with great people.

Overall, my 24th year has been full of ups and downs. I got to work my dream job for six months. I made some of the most incredible friends I’ve ever met. I ended a long term relationship. I have taken six months to finally do some self-searching in the world of being single, and it’s been a heck of an adventure. I’m still struggling with my overall health, but I’m taking the necessary steps to get better.

I’ve completed three semesters of grad school to date, with one summer class and two more semesters ahead of me. I’ll be spending the next year working to attain my ultimate dream: to move to Florida and get back to working for Disney.

So where will I be one year from now, at 26? If all goes according to plan, I’ll be just about done with my master’s degree. I’ll be applying for (and maybe will have heard back about) Disney Internships and jobs. And with some faith, trust, and pixie dust, I’ll be one step closer to exactly where I want to be.

If you asked me when I was 20 where I thought I’d be at 25, I’d have probably said “maybe married, with a full-time job, living on my own.” Well, at 25 I am none of those things — I’m ridiculously single, I only work part time (though grad school feels like a full-time job), and I’m still living at home. But at this moment, I wouldn’t change much at all. I like where I’m at. I love my job and I love school. But I think 25 is going to be the year of getting ahead. I’m going to spend this year becoming the best version of myself so that at 26 I can be ready for the big changes that are to come after I graduate. 

I’m still shunning the idea of growing up and being an actual adult, but I think I’ve figured out a way to balance that “never grow up” feeling with the tasks I have ahead.

And what am I doing for my 25th birthday, you ask?

Going to see “Cinderella.” :)

Calling Hogwarts “Home”: My Journey as a Harry Potter Fangirl

The first time I read Harry Potter, I didn’t like it.

Hear me out. I was 11. I was stuck in a “young reader” loop of reading and re-reading the same coming-of-age YA books. I didn’t want to branch out. So the first Harry Potter book, while interesting, didn’t really grab me.

I ended up reading more of the books after the movies came out. I loved the movies. And I started to like the books more as I got a little older. But it wasn’t until I was 19, when I did a full re-read of the books, that I truly fell in love with them. I watched the movies over and over again. I couldn’t get enough of this world that J.K. Rowling created.

When I was 21, I had the opportunity to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando Resort. It was a few months after it opened, so it was still crowded, but not crowded enough to get return time cards. The moment I walked into Hogsmeade, I started to cry. A world that had only existed in books, in movies, and in my head, was now an immersive experience. It was tangible. I was standing inside of Hogsmeade, with Honeydukes and Zonkos on my left and the Hogwarts Express on my right. 

I actually remember saying to my mom, “you know how much I love Magic Kingdom? I love this more.”

I don’t even remember how much time I spent wandering around the shops, pouring over every piece of merchandise and taking pictures of every detail. I took my first ride on “Forbidden Journey,” and was blown away by the castle and the ride itself. Every detail of Hogwarts was so special and so beautiful.

Long story short, I was obsessed. Not long after, I got my fifth tattoo, the three little stars that are featured in the novels.

So how could it get better?

I don’t remember where I was when Diagon Alley was announced. In fact, I don’t remember much at all, except that when I got my DCP acceptance, I figured out that I would be in the Orlando area for the opening. (No, I didn’t go for opening day, or even for a few weeks after — crowd anxiety killed that idea.)

I got my first glimpse of Diagon Alley on a trip to UOR in May. Standing in a certain spot, I was able to see the top of the building fronts and the top of the Knight Bus. It was fantastic. After my mom got home from that trip, I begged her to ship me my copies of the books, and I spent the summer doing another re-read.

But I had no idea just how amazing the world behind the walls was. I wish I remembered more details about my first trip to London and Diagon Alley, but it’s such a blur. All I know is that when I went past the brick walls and Diagon Alley opened up in front of me, I cried. I was in absolute shock. The storefronts, the dragon perched on top of Gringotts… it was all even more perfect than I could have imagined. I thought Hogsmeade was immersive, but Diagon Alley exceeded all expectations that I had for it.

Not only are the areas themselves immersive, the team members truly make the experience complete. While I know it’s unlikely that every single Universal team member in the WWoHP areas is a Harry Potter fan themselves, I have found that so many of them can keep up the theming effortlessly. It makes the experience that much more fun when a team member yells “GO RAVENCLAW!” as I walk by in my blue Ravenclaw tshirt. I love when team members back away from me when I walk by in my Sirius Black tshirt. And it’s always an enjoyable experience when the merch team members compliment whatever piece of merch I’m buying, easily tying it into the books or movies.

While it’s clear that I am Disney at heart, there’s one thing that Universal will always have for me that Disney doesn’t: the Harry Potter stories come to life. My love for the HP stories have a different place in my heart than Disney does, but not much compares to what I feel when I walk up to my Howarts “home.” Or how I feel sitting in the Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron with fish & chips and butterbeer. 

It’s undeniable that Universal has done a great job with WWoHP, at least from this fan’s perspective. And again, while Disney is the greater theme park in my heart, I will always have a soft spot for the Harry Potter aspect of Universal. Being able to visit these worlds is what really rekindled my adoration of the series. And while Disney will always be there to welcome me home, so will Hogwarts and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. :)

Opportunities, etc.

Today, applications opened for a Walt Disney World alumni only summer program. Essentially, it’s the same as a regular CP, except it’s from May 26-August 13. As I had a few friends applying, I tracked the app drop and even jumped on the website to check out the specifications.

I didn’t expect to feel a little pang of sadness when I opened up the familiar Disney Careers page.

I have known about this summer alumni program for a few days, and I knew from the start that I couldn’t apply. Chances are I’ll be taking a summer course at MSU to get one of my electives done so I don’t have to scramble for them in the fall. I’m still on track to graduate in May 2016, and I don’t want to mess that up. Plus, there’s a lot going on in my family right now, and that comes first. No matter what.

I always get a little sad when the Disney recruiting application periods start up. It took me two semesters to get an acceptance, and while in progress, I refreshed the pages at an embarrassing rate. I checked my email every 30 seconds or so, even though I had my emails set to “push” on my iPad. For the better part of a year I got used to the application process being a part of my daily life.

Timehop is bringing a lot of those memories back. It’s so interesting to see that, one year ago today I was starting my CP, but two years ago today I was starting my application process for the first time. And one year from now, I’ll be starting the application process again, hopefully for a future with the Walt Disney Company. I’ll be checking my email every 30 seconds, refreshing the dashboard even more often, and hoping and praying that my dreams will come true.

Today I took the initiative to email Walt Disney World Parks & Resorts casting to double check that the plan that I have set in place for applying to the company is something that’s actually feasible. Better safe than sorry, right? Over the next year I’m going to be working to make myself the best version of me that I can. To make myself as marketable as possible so I can hopefully get offered a job within my dream company.

Although I still have a year to go, that year is going to bring new challenges, new experiences, and new opportunities. This semester alone is shaping exactly what I want to do for a career — I am considering focusing highly on crisis communication in the Public Relations field.

I am excited about where the next year will take me, and I hope that on February 9, 2016, I can look back on this blog post and say, “hey, I’m still on the right track.”

The Blizzard of 2015

It’s 11:15 on a Tuesday morning. Usually I would be sitting at my desk at work, proofreading articles. But instead, I’m sitting at my kitchen counter writing a blog post on (what I like to call) an authorized day off.

Yesterday, as the threat of a major snowstorm rocked the northeast, both my office and my university decided that safety is more important than productivity, a decision that I fully agree with. At work, we moved production up a day and got the bulk of the newspaper done yesterday so we could take today off and still get the paper to press on Wednesday morning. My classes were held virtually through GoToMeeting so that students did not have to risk driving to campus.

Most of the areas under the blizzard watch/warning saw business closures, driving bans, and intense snow preparation in the wake of a prediction of up to two feet. And what did we wake up to? Almost nothing.

The areas that were hit the hardest really did get quite a lot of snow, as well as high winds. My sister is up in Boston and things were, and still are, fairly intense up there. I’ve also heard that Long Island got it bad. But here in north central New Jersey, a mere 30 miles from New York City, the prediction of 18-24″ turned out to be almost nothing (I would say that my town got maybe 5″ total).

I’ve been seeing a lot of backlash in regards to this storm — comments about the competency of the weather forecasters and public officials abound. But here’s the thing, folks: weather is, at its core, unpredictable. Was a major storm coming our way? From what I understand, it absolutely was. But storms of any multitude are subject to change. If I’ve learned anything living in the northeastern United States for 24 winters, it’s that snowfall often falls short of what’s predicted.

But what about when it doesn’t? What about the 7 feet of snow that rocked an unprepared Buffalo, NY just a few short months ago?

I absolutely understand that the affected areas were overprepared for this storm. We even had Geofilters on SnapChat that coincided with the expected blizzard.

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But what if we weren’t overprepared and we ended up with 2-3 feet of snow?

This storm actually came at an interesting time for me. One of my classes this semester is a crisis communications class, which, coincidentally, met last night via GoToMeeting. We began discussing media sensationalism, a trend that has been affecting story coverage of everything from weather to medical crises. While often rooted in fact, media sensationalism is problematic because of the way it uses fear mongering tactics to incite public outrage. In a way, though, I don’t blame the media as a whole. I blame the publics who blow things way out of proportion.

Take this storm, for example. As prediction after prediction came from weather forecasters yesterday, I saw so many people right in line with the media to call this the “storm of the century.” I watched the ShopRite next to my office fill with a constant flow of people throughout the day — presumably the same people who, today, are calling out the weather forecasters and public officials for “bullsh*t” storm predictions. It’s amazing how fast mentalities can switch when things don’t go exactly as planned.

The way I see it, the public officials who make the calls on closures (whether it be for schools, businesses, roads, or whatever) are in a bit of a catch 22. If they don’t do enough — if they don’t call off school fast enough, or don’t prepare enough DPW trucks to handle the impending storm — the publics are outraged. If not enough is done to prepare for a storm, and the storm ends up being really bad, lives are on the line (again, thinking back to all the people stranded on the roads in Buffalo). People can get hurt. But if those same officials overprepare — call for closures a day early, line up DPW trucks, and instate travel bans — and then we get almost no snow, publics are again outraged because of all the inconveniences.

There is no perfect way to prepare for a storm. I’ve read a few articles this morning on why the predictions for this storm ended up being so off base (this one is one of the best explanations I’ve seen today), and to be fair, the officials did everything right. Because what if it had been the storm of the century? What if, instead of waking up to five inches of snow, our area woke up to the 2-3 feet that was predicted? We would have been ready. Our towns would have been easily prepared to handle that amount of snow.

I’m disheartened by all the griping I’ve seen about this storm being a “bust.” Don’t fault the weather forecasters — they did their best with the information they had. Don’t fault the officials who called closures — they were simply doing their best to make the area as safe as possible for everyone. We were ready, and the storm didn’t come. Think of how much worse it could have been if we weren’t ready.

And you know what? The snow is actually really pretty. And for a while, there was a peace and quiet outside that only ever comes with a snowstorm. It was lovely.

Enjoy the day off (if you’ve got one). I know I’m enjoying the head start on my schoolwork.

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