What It's Really Like To Work At A Disney Theme Park

For many people, getting to spend all day at the happiest place on Earth is a dream come true. After all, there's no other locale where you can be a princess or a pirate and not have people stare at you like you lost your mind. But working at a Disney theme park?

People who work in the theme parks, from costumed characters to the cleanup crew, are all called cast members. Why cast members, if most employees aren't playing characters? According to Thrillist, Disney strives to keep up the illusion of magic as much as possible. This means all park employees must always maintain the facade that no, there aren't 15 Mickeys roaming around; there's just one.

Employees have to keep up the ruse even outside the park. They're not allowed to divulge which characters they've been. If someone asks them which character they've donned the costume for, they're prohibited from saying they "played" the characters, because these are meant to be real. Instead, they're instructed to say they "hung out" with the characters. For the most part, theme park employees go along with all this craziness because they don't want to ruin the experience for children who do believe Cinderella is real.

Vox reported Disney offers an intensive crash course for anyone who wants to work in the entertainment division, aka be a costumed character. All other employees go through a similar training experience.

The pay is not exactly magical

And you'd better really love Disney. In addition to all of the restrictions and rules, the pay isn't at all magical. A former cast member told Thrillist the salary was around $8 an hour during her time, so most people wanted to work longer hours just to make ends meet. There's even intense competition for people who want to work 20 hours a day and get that extra cash. Some employees even have to bunk together to save on costs.

Like most workplaces, Disney theme parks also have a sliding pay scale for employees; it's just different from traditional places. Most cast members who play a character are paid more than those working cash registers at the retail stores. Even then, there's a wide range in pay. Characters in fur, aka those who have to wear a full costume from head to toe, like Lion King characters or The Beast from The Beauty and the Beast, are paid less than face characters — those whose face you see.

Face characters like Pocahontas, Peter Pan, and Ariel require employees to have certain skills. They have to act, learn gestures, and interact with guests in a way a person in a Winnie the Pooh costume can't. Hence, the higher pay. Of course, they're still not raking it in, and still have to compete for overtime hours. Parade characters get paid more than regular face characters. And Disney does appreciate additional skills, like singing and dancing.

There are so many rules

Hours at Disney theme parks vary by season, so some employees' days are longer than others. Some volunteer for overtime, but because the park sometimes opens much earlier, it's not unusual for workers to grind. Business Insider wrote some cast members start their day as early as 4 a.m., hours before the park officially opens.

And the work isn't just walking around pretending to be Goofy, either. It's hard work, whether herding guests, cleaning up someone's ashes from the Haunted Mansion, or dealing with crying children. Not only do employees have to keep a cheerful smile plastered at all times (unless they're supposed to be a villain), but they have to do it without spilling any Disney secrets. And they have to appease guests who get mad at employees that their $100 Disney ticket is being wasted by rain. The cast members make you believe magic is real, but not even Mickey Mouse can control the weather.

They have to follow a lot of rules, too. If assigned to Tomorrowland, they can't just waltz over to Frontierland — that just ruins the whole story. Cast members aren't allowed to show you around. They can't even point.

For many former cast members, however, the hard work and small paychecks were trade-offs for what was a very magical time in their lives. After all, it's the only place where you can be Buzz Lightyear, and no one looks at you funny.