One of my best friends from my last program was my Discovery Island coworker, Amy Jo. She was doing the Fall Advantage program while I was doing the Fall program, so our programs overlapped during the fall. She extended with a Professional Internship at Epcot and eventually was hired full time after finishing her degree in marine science.
She works with the sea creatures at The Living Seas in Epcot. She is such a good friend! After I left Disney last year, she would go and buy me special limited edition pins that I needed for my pin board. We keep in touch and I was so excited to see her again during my summer alumni program.
Besides our frequent s’mores drinks at Starbucks and Publix grocery runs this summer, we talked a lot about her giving me a private backstage tour of the Living Seas so I could see what she does for a living.
During my last week at Disney, we were finally able to make it happen. Unfortunately, on the morning of the tour, my body decided it was time to be super sick with a head cold. (Summer colds are the worst!) I didn’t have any medicine for coughing or colds, but she was kind enough to let me borrow some of her Dayquil medicine. She had lost the tiny measuring cap that comes with the bottle, so we couldn’t figure out what the correct liquid dosage. I took about two large swigs of it and we were off.
I’ve never been backstage at Epcot before so I was interested in seeing what it looked like. (I am hoping to pick up one shift at Mouse Gears before I leave!) We drove around the World Showcase and I couldn’t believe how uninteresting everything was! You look at the front of the countries – like Germany for example –and it has beautiful theming, and is bright and colorful with pretty flowers and landscaping. Well, the backside of all the countries look like a bunch of drab, undecorated, windowless warehouses with cast member’s cars parked on the surrounding dying grass.
We kept going around the backstage loop until we reached the Living Seas area. We entered through an unmarked building door. Amy Jo showed me her office. It was basically a narrow hallway with a row of countertops that cast members were using as desks. It felt like being in a windowless, cruise ship corridor.
After she checked me in, she took me through another door and we literally walked right onstage in the middle of the Living Seas! I was so disoriented! It took me a second to realize where I was exactly and I know The Living Seas layout very well.
We walked up to check out the large aquarium tanks on the second floor. The divers were out so Amy Jo spent some time explaining the techniques the divers were using to “train” the large sea animals, like stingrays and sea turtles. I was so impressed when one of the divers brought a 6 foot stingray over to and right along the window! It literally eclipsed the entire window!
I had no idea that almost all the sea animals in the huge aquarium have individual names and they all have distinct personalities! It was awesome listening to Amy Jo talk about how cool her job is!
The next thing Amy Jo did was take me upstairs. In the middle of the aquarium viewing area is a secret portal to get upstairs. Only cast members have access to it. We went in there and it was straight out of a lighthouse with a spiral staircase that takes you up to the very top of the aquarium.
When we got up there, I was completely amazed at how truly big the aquarium is. I knew that you can fit the entire Spaceship Earth globe, aka Epcot’s “golf ball”, inside it, but WOW! I got to see the giant cranes and pulleys that they use to lift up the larger animals when they need to be checked out by veterinarians.
We walked along the catwalk across the aquarium and Amy Jo warned me that we were coming up to the Dolphins area and she said that no matter what, I was not allowed to respond, speak to, or signal the dolphins in any way. I had no idea what she was talking about.
I was looking over the edge of the water and immediately a dolphin came to the surface and waved at me! I kept still, just watching and the dolphin started swimming slowly back and forth on its side, waving and watching me. When I still didn’t do anything, it swam right up next to the edge of the water and turned its head and just stared at me! It was incredible! I’ve never been so close to such a huge, intelligent marine animal. I knew it was waiting for me to give it a command or some praise. Amy Jo told me later that she didn’t want me praising it for basically doing nothing and then having it later misbehave with the actual trainers.
We went back downstairs so I could watch the dolphin performance with the trainers. The two dolphins did a series of flips and then, with some commands taught to a guest, they swam upside down across the tank! It was so cute!
By now, I could tell the Dayquil medicine was wearing off because my cough was coming back. My last item on my to-do list that morning was to visit the Company D store at Epcot. We got to the building and I was so happy that there wasn’t a line! I went up to the cast member and asked to buy a couple of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets for my family’s visit in November. Right as I was about to pay, my cough came back with a vengeance. I have really reactive airways, so my throat felt really tickly and tight and I was coughing so hard that I started gagging. I actually had to step away from the counter to try to calm down. I was fumbling in my backpack for cough drops and when I finally found one, I ended up dropping it on the floor before I could put it in my mouth!
I stepped back to the counter to pay for the tickets. The poor cast member was trying to make small talk with me, but I couldn’t manage my breathing/gagging to do anything but give her a helpless look. I finally got my water bottle out and took a couple small sips, but all I did was spit and cough it all over the counter. I was horrified. Summer colds are the worst!!
When it was all finally done and I had my party tickets in hand, my eyes were completely filled with tears from coughing so much and I knew my face was super red and embarrassed. The cast member looked at me and said, “You are so beautiful! Are you a face character!?” All I could do was slowly shake my head and kind of laugh. “Oh no, I work in stroller rental at DAK!”
As we walked back to Amy Jo’s car, she turned to me and said, “Wow, I had no idea how sick you are!” I didn’t say anything and just took another swig of her Dayquil. She was kind enough to take me to Walgreens where I bought some really expensive cough and cold medicine and three bags of cough drops. I still can’t believe that I got sick on my last week here. I wasn’t sick once during my last program!
Some cool facts: The Living Seas aquarium is so huge (203 feet in diameter) that the nearby Spaceship Earth (165 feet in diameter) could fit completely inside it! The Living Seas is the largest inland saltwater environment ever built, and holds enough water to fill 54 Olympic-sized swimming pools! The meticulously crafted habitat has been designed by marine scientists to enrich the lives of the 4,000-plus sea creatures – with 85 species of tropical fish! – all that call The Living Seas home.
Nearly two tons of food is produced each week for the inhabitants of the Living Seas. The dolphins dine on herring and capelin; the West Indian manatees eat lettuce, carrots, sprouts, and fruit.
The following Living Seas dive photos of my friend, Amy Jo, were taken by her sister: Nicole E. Eason.
Some Photo Credits: Nicole E. Eason Photography
Two Girls and a Mouse Tale
by Elly Collins & Caroline Collins
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We worked at WDW for a year in the Disney College Program (Fall 2013/Spring 2014) and have written a book about what it’s like to be a cast member working for Disney.
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