When I look back at my college years in the late ‘90s, one of my regrets is not applying for the Disney College Program (DCP). Although I’ve read mixed things from some, most have raved about their time at Disney. This is one reason that I’ve always been so engaged by stories from cast members. It’s more than just getting a peak behind the curtain. In fact, titles like Cast Member Confidential that show a different side of Disney bore me. I want the reality of being there but not the sensationalism. It’s rare to find a book that honestly talks about what it’s like to work in the parks. That’s one reason why I found Arielle in the Animal Kingdom so refreshing. Arielle Tuan describes how it felt to work at Disney based on her own life and experiences. Her story is personal yet should interest a wide range of fans.
Arielle applied for the DCP but actually worked in the Professional Internship (PI) program. I knew very little about the more limited PI opportunities at Disney. Arielle does a nice job in explaining the differences and the nerve-wracking interviewing process. The book takes us through each step that Arielle followed on the path to working daily at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It sounds equally thrilling and daunting, especially with Arielle’s introverted personality. I’m a pretty outgoing person, but doing icebreakers with super cheerful Disney fanatics would not be easy. The orientation process sounds exhausting and really sells the idea of “magic” in the parks. It’s cool to learn how those seeds are sown right at the start.
A Different Kind of Theme Park
During our last trip to the Animal Kingdom in 2015, I finally understood its greatness. My daughter really loved the Wilderness Explorers game, and we ventured all over the park to gather badges. This gave me the chance to slow down and spend more time on the walking paths and other hidden areas within the park. My daughter loved the experience, and it was my favorite part of that trip.
Arielle worked as a conservation education presenter at the Kids Clubs, the precursor to the Wilderness Explorers. It’s funny to learn her challenges in presenting an educational message to guests rushing to the headliners. With Core Team supervisors always watching, there’s no margin for error. Disney has trained us to maximize our day, but that approach misses the park’s charms. This book gives another reminder of what’s available to guests that slow down and enjoy the experience.
Finding Our Place
What makes this book truly click is the mix of the personal story with interesting background material on the park. I knew the Disney info would engage me but did not expect to enjoy the rest of it so much. Hearing about Arielle’s growing friendship with her roommates and less positive experiences with some other cast members makes you care about her story. When Arielle discusses the challenges in deciding on a possible job at the Disney Archives near the end, it’s easy to feel the turmoil. How can you balance a dream job with the realities of everyday life? No matter what you do, there’s no way not to lose something.
Arielle in the Animal Kingdom is not a behind-the-scenes look at the Animal Kingdom, but it should please Disney fans. Even when Arielle is describing her daily work in the park, there are small tidbits about its operations. Despite the corporate messaging, magic can still happen at Disney World. Arielle sees it with her small interactions in the park. Disney is still a big company with the usual office politics, and those play a role in her story. Even so, it’s clear her time in the PI program made a huge impact on Arielle. It’s that type of experience that I would have liked to try back in college.
Reading about how an introverted young woman took a chance and thrived has inspired me. I’m glad that Arielle shared the ups and downs of her time at Disney. It’s an honest tale that treats Disney fairly without glossing over challenges. It’s still rare to strike that delicate balance when talking about Disney World.
Learn more about Arielle in the Animal Kingdom at the Theme Park Press site.