Hillary Van Way
Spotlight: Disney Professional Intern
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Today, I'm putting the Disney Spotlight on Meghan, a stay-at-home Air Force wife and toddler mom with a blog! She and her husband have gotten to live in England, Japan, and are now stationed in Hawaii! She grew up on a farm in Louisiana and has spent her whole life being a little bit of a Disney nut. After graduating with a Horticulture degree, she got a dream opportunity to be a Professional Intern at her favorite Disney Park (Epcot) at the Living with the Land Greenhouses. The department was called Disney Animal Programs and Environmental Initiatives and has FOREVER changed the way she views the world, how to handle waste, and how to grow food for her family. She returned to school for another degree in Landscape Architecture, where she stayed on with the company as a Disney Campus Representative. Upon graduating, she got another opportunity of a lifetime to take a Management role at The Land, before moving to Texas to marry her husband and go wherever the Air Force sends them. It's a dream of Meghan and her husband's to get her back working for the Disney Company in some capacity.
Blog: Transplanting Flora
When did you hold a Professional Internship in Disney World?
I was part of the 2008-2009 Summer-Winter class, which was from June-early January. I applied for the position during my second-to-last semester of undergrad, as it's an internship that must be completed while in school or within 6 months of graduating.
What was a typical work day like for you?
A typical workday as an intern started at 7 am. You had a couple of hours to: clean up your greenhouse from fallen leaves, clean up algae spots on the concrete or growing systems, and check to make sure all of the systems were working properly and hadn't gone kerflooey overnight. Additionally, if there was a particularly messy crop pull and replacement, then you would handle the worst of it before guests began to arrive. One side of the greenhouse is an island, so this was the only time you would have during the morning to pull heavy things over a temporary bridge before the attraction had to start running their ride checks; otherwise, everything had to be carried over the only access point outside, which was a narrow catwalk up about a flight and a half of stairs--not safe or desirable with larger plants or pots! Sometimes, a small group of us would come in an hour early if there was a large job on the island side.
Once a week, each intern had a 4 hour shift at the Tour Desk, which was a desk inside of The Land Pavilion where we answered plant questions, assisted guests with general questions, and signed people up for their Greenhouse Tour if they'd like one. It was one of the best parts of the job, if you weren't afraid of public speaking. You had an intimate experience with a group of 15 or so guests where you could really explain what we did in the greenhouses and where the food we grew was distributed within the parks! This tour is a paid tour of the greenhouses, for anyone interested.
In the afternoons, we typically made any produce deliveries around the park or brought interesting crops to Epcot's experimental kitchen! It was always a fun time getting to see the recipes they were creating.
During the holidays, we would decorate our greenhouses and have potlucks among the interns and staff. This made working and being away from family not only tolerable, but amazing!
What did you like to do when you weren't working?
I got my scuba certification, which has followed me all over the world exploring new waters. I also volunteered at the Give Kids the World Village, a completely free resort for families who have very sick children and might require special care while visiting the Orlando area amusement parks. And of course we played in the parks until they shut down most nights! We were living there in the age of Pleasure Island at Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs), so we would dance all night, work all day, and then get off from work and play! I knew the parks like the back of my hand, but so much has changed since I left the company in 2013!
What was your favorite and least favorite thing about your Professional Internship?
My favorite thing was the friendships. I met people from all over the country, and keeping up with them has been something that I'm so proud of. It is a bonding experience for sure, and for the friends I made who are still working at the Disney Parks, it's so much fun to get to visit them when I return for Disney Vacations.
My least favorite part was disappointing a guest. As an intern, I only had so much power to handle whatever complaint or issue they had. However, I always had someone that I could send them to who could make a little more magic happen for them.
Speaking of "Magic Moments," do you have one that you want to share?
Yes! While I was working at the Tour Desk, there was a mother who was traveling alone with her two children (both close in age). They all seemed a bit overwhelmed, and in some way, they had messed up their FastPasses for Soarin'. The kids were fine, but it was clearly upsetting the mother because she felt that she had failed them. The small magic at my disposal was to give them a handful of some extra FastPasses that are printed every day for such upsets. She hugged me over the desk and thanked me so very much. That alone would have been a great memory, but what happened next made me so emotional. My manager actually had to stand at the desk for me so I could go backstage and compose myself before returning! Upon exiting the ride, this mother and her two children were pulled aside by the Dream Team and told they had won a night at the Cinderella Castle Dream Suite! We all posed for a picture, and they were whisked away to make memories of a lifetime!
What is your favorite memory of Disney World?
My favorite memory is my husband proposing at Epcot during Illuminations: Reflections of Earth fireworks! The next day, we were chosen with our best friends to be Grand Marshals of the Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom! I love to look back at the pictures from our last kid-free trip together, then being able to take all of our children back a few years later! My new favorite memories are watching the wonder and excitement in my daughter's eyes!
What is your favorite resort to stay at on property?
While I haven't stayed at them all, our favorite has been Port Orleans Resort: Riverside, with Disney's Boardwalk Resort in close second! Riverside is so fun with the water taxi and all the shaded trails along the waterway. Plus, being from Louisiana, it's a taste of home away from home. However, Disney's Boardwalk Resort has gorgeous rooms and views! Plus, it's a short walk to both Epcot and Hollywood Studios!
What is your Must-Do Disney attraction on every trip?
Obviously Living with the Land! It was the first ride I wanted to take my daughter on, though "it's a small world" in Tokyo Disney was her actual first ride. Top Must-Do's are: Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Tower of Terror, Kilimanjaro Safaris, and Peter Pan's Flight. Don't make me pick just one!
What attraction do you usually skip?
I often skip whatever the new attraction is and let it die down! I try to always make my group slow down and do something like one of the beautiful stage shows or The Enchanted Tiki Room for a little time off of our feet.
What is your favorite Disney snack?
The Vegetarian Spring Rolls in Adventureland and the Premium Mickey Bar!
If you could take a picture with only one character on a Disney vacation, who would that character be?
It would have to be the Mouse! Mickey is the OG and keeps the magic that is Disney!
If you had one restaurant recommendation in Disney World, what would it be, and what would you recommend ordering?
Again, I can't say just one! Something our family has always enjoyed is the Dining Plan, and we always love to go to the Coral Reef at The Seas to watch all of the fish as we eat. I usually can't resist Lobster Bisque and Seared Mahi-Mahi.
However, my personal insider recommendation are any of the resort restaurants. They typically have lower traffic, so they can spend a little more time on food prep. My husband and I LOVE the Naan Platter at Sanaa in Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge--Kidani Village. For a bigger group, we love the family-style dining at Ohana in Disney's Polynesian Resort!
What's the most overrated attraction in Disney World?
Hmm, I think this answer will be different for anyone you ask, but I will go with MINE, which is Test Track. I'm never happy with how much time I spend in line, unless I am able to just walk right on, which is almost never!
Which Disney Parks have you visited, and which one is your absolute favorite?
I have been coast to coast, Disneyland Paris, Tokyo Disneyland, and Tokyo DisneySea! I have to say that I love them all for very different reasons, but I love myself some original Disneyland. I am a sentimental fool, and the California Disney properties are so much more manageable and nostalgic.
Who do you love traveling to Disney with most?
Any of my family members! I love being at the Disney Parks with people who love being at the Disney Parks. I don't like feeling let down if a ride plan or restaurant doesn't work out. Thankfully, my family is very go-with-the-flow, and we know any experience will be a good one!