|Three big dreams, two Mouse Ears and one J-1 visa. What could possibly go wrong in the happiest place on earth? When Catherine Ryan Howard decides to swap the grey clouds of Ireland for the clear skies of the Sunshine State, she thinks all of her dreams - working in Walt Disney World, living in the United States, seeing a Space Shuttle launch - are about to come true. Ahead of her she sees weekends at the beach, mornings by the pool and an inexplicably skinnier version of herself skipping around Magic Kingdom. But not long into her first day on Disney soil - and not long after a breakfast of Mickey-shaped pancakes - Catherine's Disney bubble bursts and soon it seems that among Orlando's baked highways, monotonous mall clusters and world famous theme-parks, pixie dust is hard to find and hair is downright impossible to straighten. The only memoir about working in Walt Disney World, Space Shuttle launches, the town that Disney built, religious theme parks, Bruce Willis, humidity-challenged hair and the Ebola virus, MOUSETRAPPED: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida is the hilarious story of what happened when one Irish girl went searching for happiness in the happiest place on earth.|
I wondered if this was going to be another hatchet job of Walt Disney World (WDW) by yet another disgruntled former cast member who had her illusions shattered. Working at WDW is after all a job first and foremost, and like any job, eventually becomes routine and "just a job" no matter where you are working. If you get hired to work at WDW you are no longer a guest to be catered to, but a company employee whose job is to cater to those guests.
A few factors conspired to entice me to buy it. It was in Kindle format (as well as physical book format), and would cost me just a couple of dollars, and one phrase in the description; " ... hair is downright impossible to straighten." You see, my daughter is a WDW cast member - has been for 10 years now - and has naturally curly hair ('nuff said?). I bought the book, and proceded to find out how many of Catherine's experiences were similar to my own daughter's.
Catherine's tale starts when she is a 13 year old girl in Ireland and reads a book which makes her decide to be a virologist and battle the Ebola virus. And not just any virologist but one working for the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Maryland. There were many obstacles in her path, but she was 13. But liks so many 13 year olds' plans, the work involved to get to her dream invaded her reality and she didn't become a virologist. She did, however find herself working with a travel company in the Netherlands. Like many of us, another one of Catherine's dreamjobs was to work in WDW, and she started investigating that possibility. She discovered the College program (which was how my daughter got her start in WDW) and the International program. However, neither of those would work since she was not in college nor is there an Irish pavilion in EPCOT. (Okay, there is a UK pavilion.) However, she discovered the American Cultural Resort Program which would place her in a US hotel or resort somewhere in the US. She applied and was offered a position at the Swan and Dolphin Resorts in WDW. (For some reason, legal I assume, she has to refer to it as the Duck and Tuna.) She accepts and the adventure begins. (Again the parralel to my daughter's Disney career is evident, as she spent many years on the front desk and the back office at the Caribbean Beach Resort in WDW.)
What happens next to Catherine is the tale of Mousetrapped. She soon learns that the Swan and Dolphin resort, while on the Disney property and right near two of the four theme parks that make up WDW, is not a Disney hotel. So while she is called a cast member, she does not have free access to the parks. (After 10 years, my daughter still hangs out and plays in the parks when not working. A major perk for a cast member.) Soon, all the realities of working, as opposed to playing, in WDW begins to set in. Housing, transportation, money are all factors in her discontent. We find out about her passion for NASA and her desire to see a Shuttle launch. She takes us with her on a visit to The Holy Land theme park. In other words, we see the reality of what this adventure was.
Yet, happily, this is not a negative look at her experience, just an honest one. Nor has it soured her on WDW, in fact she has stated that given the chance (and another j-1 visa) she would happily return and work there again. So despite the opportunity to have been "sour grapes", this is actually a very open and intimate look at her time working in WDW. I know I enjoyed it much more than I originally thought I would and would love to hear more about her time there. (You might also check out her blog at http://catherineryanhoward.com/) Don't really expect any WDW inside information like some other exposé novels, but rather the personal tale of one cast member and her time in WDW.
I highly reccomend this book (it's one I intend to re-read) to Disney and non-Disney fans alike. (And if you are interested in buying the book or e-book version, please use the link on this page and help support this blog.)