Strangely enough, out of all the articles I have written at Theme Park University, the one that gets searched the most is about pay at Walt Disney World. Considering it seems to be a topic many people are curious about when vacationing in Orlando, I figured we would discuss working in theme parks here. Keep in mind, this article is accurate as of August 2015 and while this is subject to change, you can use this as a guideline on if working in an Orlando theme park is right for you.
Before we talk about pay, let’s talk about benefits. All Orlando theme parks give their employees unlimited admission to the parks. The only exception to the rule is some companies don’t allow employee admission on peak days (very rare) or special ticketed events like Halloween, Christmas or high school senior nights.
A Disney pass will allow you admission to all theme parks in Orlando and access to the water parks during non-peak season. Universal and Sea World have a deal where if you are employed by either company, you have access to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Busch Gardens Tampa and Sea World Orlando. If you are currently an annual pass holder to an Orlando theme park, working for one of these companies will save you a couple hundred bucks a month.
In addition, all Orlando theme parks offer complimentary tickets for employees. Every company has different policies on these passes, but there are a few common misconceptions. First, you generally have to work for the company for several weeks or months in order to obtain any tickets. Second, the longer you work for the company (and sometimes if you’re part-time or full-time factors in), the more tickets you get. Finally, there are always block out dates during peak seasons and those dates change from year to year. Don’t promise your family passes to any park they want to visit between Christmas and New Year’s, since it’s not going to happen!
In addition to free passes, all Orlando theme parks offer employee discounts on food, merchandise and even hotel stays. These also come with a handful of stipulations on when you can use them and even what gets discounted. It’s far too complicated to get into here, but just know each company offers discounts on experiences for not only you, but friends and family.
The other thing to keep in mind is many restaurants, retailers and entertainment experiences around Orlando also offer discounts to theme park employees when you show your ID. All companies offer a list of these businesses on their internal company websites that you can access before you make plans.
Disney, Universal and Sea World all offer benefit packages to employees. Dental and health care are usually only offered to full-time employees who work more than 30 hours a week on a regular basis. Plans are only supplemented by the employer and you’ll have your portion of the insurance deducted from your paycheck. The fancier the plan, the more it will cost you weekly and these usually don’t kick in until you’ve completed several weeks (usually 90 days) of employment.
In addition, parks also offer various forms of retirement options as well, including pension, 401K and stock purchase options. There are far too many options to discuss here and not all companies offer all forms of retirement plans. Many are only offered to full-time employees and they require you to make a contribution, which is sometimes matched and sometimes not. Considering how low the pay rates are for theme park employees, you won’t have a lot of money left to make contributions if you’re already paying for health insurance, plus taxes and social security. Just something to keep in mind if you’re just starting out.
The main difference between Disney and Universal and Sea World is all part-time and full-time jobs at Disney are governed by one of several different unions. Florida is a right to work state, meaning you do not have to join a union if you don’t choose to. Joining Disney’s unions is not a discussion for this article, but you need to know going in that by having them, Disney is legally bound to the contracts they sign and are negotiated every few years.
This means everything Disney does must fit within the pre-negotiated rules of the union contract for all of the employees working in a certain division, regardless of if you choose to pay union dues or not. It covers everything from disciplinary action, how overtime is distributed and even your hourly pay rate.
The union contract means everything Disney does as a company is fairly transparent and it means if you have a boss who is treating you unfairly, there are shop stewards who can represent you to make sure you don’t lose your job due to a conflict or interests or personalities. I’m sure you can talk to many Disney Cast Members who will give you dozens of perspectives on how the unions affect their job, both positive and negative.
The union’s website also makes the decision easier if working for Disney is right for you. It lists the pay rates for starting the company in virtually every front line job at Walt Disney World.
It also lists how pay is computed for overtime, holidays and even how much health insurance will cost year by year.
Walt Disney World pay rates currently start at $9 an hour for an entry level position. Certain “roles” are paid a premium based on if they are harder jobs to fill or require a higher skill set like front desk.
It’s also a common misconception that Cast Members at deluxe resorts like the Grand Floridian get higher pay than a value resort like the All Star. According to the contract, this is not true.
Universal has a starting pay of $9.50 an hour as of summer 2015. They also pay premiums on jobs that are harder to fill and require a higher skill set. However, because they are not governed by a union contract, that starting rate MAY be negotiable based on what you bring to the table. If you have experience operating attractions and received a higher pay rate, Universal may compensate you for that experience. Results may vary, but it has happened before.
Also, it’s important to know that Universal hotels and most Citywalk establishments are operated by outside contractors. This means you get some benefits like park admission and discounts, but no extra park tickets. Again, results may vary.
Sea World pay rates start at $9.50 an hour as of summer 2015. They list pay rates directly on their website, so you know exactly what you’re getting before you start the application process.
In conclusion, there are many factors in deciding if working for an Orlando theme park is right for you. At the end of the day, pay is going to be THE deciding factor because you need to pay your bills.
My recommendation? Next time you’re in Orlando, strike up a conversation with any employee who has the time to talk to you. Find people who are brutally honest and will give you the reality of what working there is really like. Keep in mind, you may not get the most honest answers since they are on the clock, but you can find some depending on the employee and how much time they have to chat.
No matter what you think, working in a theme park is not what you picture it to be, for better or worse. Do as much research as you can. Best of luck!
Images Copyright: Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Sea World Orlando, STCU
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