What It’s Really Like to Work for Disney Cruise Line

We chatted with Disney Wonder's current cruise director to get the inside scoop on what it's really like to work for Disney Cruise Line, the Happiest Place at Sea!

disney cruise employeeCourtesy Disney Cruise Line

The entertainment business is our #1 business

Many cruise lines dazzle passengers with their theatrical productions, but Disney Cruise Lines take it next level, Ashley Long, the cruise director on Disney Wonder, tells Reader’s Digest. “Unlike other cruise lines that have entertainment, Disney is an entertainment company that has a cruise line,” says Long. “The focus, resources, and importance given to the onboard entertainment are unlike any other in the industry. So while the guests may see me hosting their Sail-Away party or introducing our Broadway-quality live shows at night (Frozen: A Musical Spectacular is currently showing on the Disney Wonder), those moments only encompass about 20 percent of my responsibilities.” Long also oversees all aspects of entertainment onboard including the Port Adventures shore excursion operations, the Youth Activities team, as well as the dedicated youth spaces, like the Disney’s Oceaneer’s Club. A Disney Cruise is one of the ways you can experience Disney without splurging on a park ticket.

Oh captain, my captain

It might surprise you to learn that on Disney ships, the cruise director reports directly to the Captain, but it’s true. What’s more surprising is that as cruise director, Long is responsible not just for the guests’ fun and entertainment during the cruises but also for “leading a talented team of more than 150 individuals from all over the world.” Here are more surprising facts about the Disney Cruise Line.

Nothing less than 100 percent will do

Working on a cruise ship is very fast-paced, Long shares. “From the day you embark to the last day of your contract, you are running at 100 percent so as to provide the guests with the best possible experience.” Just like on dry land, sometimes, plan A for the day or an event on board isn’t going to work out so, “as cruise director, I have to be ready at all times with a plan B to keep the guests entertained. It can be quite the juggling act at times, but an extremely rewarding one when you see everyone’s hard work come together and the excitement in the guests’ eyes.” When you are cruising Disney, here are four extras you should absolutely pay for!

A ship within a ship

While they are working hard during your cruise, the Disney cast and crew members are also passengers on a ship within a ship. “Guests are surprised by just how many areas crew members have exclusive to them onboard,” Long shares. “We have our own dining venues and also our own private deck, pool, gym, lounge, and more. It truly is our own little community onboard.”

Everyone needs an escape

The life of a cruise director on any ship is a demanding one but delivering the wide-smiled, white glove Disney experience to guests is even more so. It is important for Long to be able to sneak away from time to time. What’s her favorite escape? “Believe it or not: my office. There’s a porthole, making it a great spot to take in sunsets, grab a cup of coffee, or just unwind for a few minutes.”

Ten weeks on, ten weeks off

The contract lengths vary by position on board but for a Disney Cruise Director, it’s ten weeks on followed by ten weeks off. That means Long spends ten straight weeks on board her ship and then it’s back to dry land for ten weeks to recharge her batteries before heading back out to sea.

The Disney point

“When working at sea, safety is [priority] number one,” Long shares. So even as cruise director, she received extensive safety training at the beginning of her career with Disney Cruise Line and has regular safety training and classes every single day onboard. And the learning doesn’t stop with safety; Long and the rest of the cast members get regular Disney tradition and history lessons about the heritage of The Walt Disney Company. “Some of the training is very specific such as learning the famous ‘Disney point’ (with two fingers instead of one) while others are more representative of the high level of service and friendliness we strive to provide at all times.” We’re certain these 15 Disney etiquette rules that all cast members must follow are also on the syllabus.

It’s all about the Mouse!

Long has been working for Disney Cruise Line for nine years but she never tires of the Mouse, noting that “it doesn’t matter how young, or young at heart you are, seeing Captain Mickey—and now Captian Minnie—onboard is truly a magical experience. Getting to be a part of bringing these magical experiences alive for our guests, is one of the biggest rewards of my position.”

Making true magic for families

Sometimes, to truly make magic for Disney Cruise families, a coordinated land and sea effort is required. “Several years ago, a mother and her children were sailing with us while the father was deployed overseas,” Long recalls. “The father was coming home early and the family had no idea. He reached out to us about arranging a surprise.” The DCL teams onboard and shoreside worked together to have the father embark the ship early. When the mom and her kids stepped onboard into the lobby atrium, their father was there waiting with the biggest smile on his face, she shares. “The reaction of his family when they saw him after all those months apart can only be described as pure magic. It’s emotional times like these that make working for a company that prioritizes ‘making magic’ truly a joy.” Interested in a career at Disney? Find out the best places to work at Disney Parks.

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Jeff Bogle
Jeff Bogle is an Iris Award-winning photographer, avid traveler, and English football fanatic who regularly covers travel, culture, cars, health, business, the environment, and more for Reader's Digest. Jeff has also written for Parents Magazine, Esquire, PBS, and Good Housekeeping, among other publications. He is the proud dad of teen daughters. You can follow his adventures on Instagram and Twitter @OWTK.