Sunday, June 10, 2007

Letters from Walt Disney World

Hello, family and friends!

It’s not every day that I get to see people’s faces light up with wonder when they see a Reticulated Giraffe for the first time...oh wait, yes it is! Things are going very well down at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and yours truly is having the time of his life.

I’ve made a conscious effort to not write this email or blog for the past week, because I wanted to focus on living the magic as opposed to writing about it. Now that I’ve got a week under my belt (since the first week on the job was actually training), I can more easily reflect on some of the highlights of my time here so far. Incidentally, the belt that my week is under is actually pretty awesome. Check out my photolog – – to see some examples of my awesome wardrobe!

I’ll be honest: the first week, Safari is TOUGH STUFF. As game drivers, we must memorize literally dozens of animals, interesting facts about those animals, a variety of conservation messages, and a myriad of procedures for opening, maintaining, and closing the 30’, half-million dollar trucks that navigate the Savannah. It’s super intimidating and if I hadn’t stayed focused, I might have given up. The training period is long and hard, but now it’s over and I’ve earned my ears! Cast members on Safari make a big to-do about removing the training badge on our name-tags, and I felt super proud to be completely assessed.

Since assessment, I’ve worked several positions at Kilimanjaro, and all of them are awesome. We do spend most of our day on the truck, guiding guests through a two week safari through the African savannah, but there are other positions that need to be taken care of if guests are to have an enjoyable experience. It might sound uninteresting to be loading guests onto the truck, parking strollers halfway up the queue, or checking Fast-passes, but I can say that those are some of our best opportunities for guest interaction throughout the day. People are excited to go out on safari, and we get to be a part of that! Additionally, once they’ve experienced an exciting two-weeks (time really flies in Africa), we get to be there on the way out, asking the pirates and princesses how their safari was! Kids are amazing, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

The safari itself is wild! There are loads of animals across the 800-square-mile Harambe Reserve, and no two trips across the savannah are the same. Some afternoons, we literally have to stop the entire line of up to 41 trucks if we encounter a particularly stubborn giraffe in the road. There’s no going around; we wait until the animal clears our path. Many days, the elephants are just too cute for words. Have you ever seen baby elephants playing in the water? I’m not usually quick to get all warm and fuzzy over animals, but seeing these wild, majestic creatures just playing really gets me worked up. We truly live on an amazing planet that it can be filled with so many wonderful creatures. Next week, I’ll be posting what I hope will be an interesting Photo Safari on my blog. It’s really hard to explain how beautiful all these animals are (and how sad some of their stories are) without showing you in pictures. There’s simply nothing more valuable than a crisp, clear picture of a Scimitar-Horned Oryx to explain what I’m talking about. Except for, perhaps, visiting me and seeing the safari with your own eyes (sorry grammarphiles, but that was a fragment).

But Bobby, you aren’t spending all your time at the Animal Kingdom, are you? Surely you’re having fun at the other parks, right? Of course I am! In the past two weeks, I’ve seen Illuminations at EPCOT twice, Fantasmic! at The Disney Studios twice, Spectral Magic and Wishes at The Magic Kingdom twice, and I swim almost every day in one of the three pools that are exclusive to College Program participants. In case you missed all of the jargon and show names in the last sentence, fireworks and spectacle performances are a huge part of the entertainment at Disney World. Once you realize how less crowded the parks are at night, it becomes much more enjoyable visiting. Since I have the leisure of time and proximity, I’ve made night trips to several of the parks for only one or two attractions.

There was one sad thing that I experienced this past week, however. The rumors proved true, and The Haunted Mansion has closed for the summer for renovations, repairs, and refurbishment. We visited the Mansion at MK on Monday to say goodbye for the summer. Not to worry though, it’ll reopen in the fall –hopefully with some newer, scarier pathways and ghosts & goblins to jump out and make us scream!

Now that things are in full swing and I’m learning to manage my time, balancing between work at Kilimanjaro, cooking delicious meals, and seeing the sights all over the park, I’m also appreciating the independence that this situation offers. Don’t misunderstand: I love home, and that includes my family, my friends, and my church; it’s just that the difference between living at home and living alone is bigger than I had imagined. Believe it or not, most people around here don’t cook! I’m one of the only folks that makes dinner almost every night, and it’s fun when people are excited that I know how to prepare a meal.

It’s been a great few weeks, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier. I’m super excited to continue on this adventure for the summer and into the fall, and I look forward to letting everyone know how things progress! Remember, here at the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, we don’t say “goodbye” – we say “go well,” and that’s Kwaherini (Kwa-huh-ree-nee) in Swahili. No hurries and no worries here at Kilimanjaro!