In the summer of 2016, I flew to Orlando to visit my boy Andrews for spring break.
My Lyft dropped me off in the moist Florida sunlight at an unmarked apartment complex on the other side of the highway from Walt Disney World. You wouldn’t know there was anything special going on here from the outside — a bland mid-90s stucco job tucked between timeshare condos, a Wendy’s, and an oil change place. The only sign that might have given something away were the beefed-up security gates swarming with overweight uniformed guards scrutinizing every vehicle and ID that goes in and out like the entrance to a military base or prison.
This is Vista Way, one of four housing complexes owned and operated by the Disney Company for their college program interns. I was about to embark on a topsy-turvy, twisted shot in a teacup down the rabbit hole into a drunk, stupid wonderland.
That night I would hook up with a Disney princess.
After having my car’s trunk turned upside down by security and my prostate checked, I finally got the go-ahead to enter Vista Way. Andrews came down and signed me in, and we drove to his place over by the big pool. Andrews explained that the security is so tight because all the international students they sponsor tend to get a little wild.
“Somebody’s gotta keep an eye on all those French girls,” Andrews winked.
“Ha ha yeah,” I laughed.
“No, seriously though, it’s to keep out the rando meth heads that get in here and stab people.”
Fucking Central Florida.
Andrews was right about one thing: I had been inside the magical walls of Vista for about twenty minutes and I could already see that if this was a college program, it was like studying abroad in Neverland. There were hundreds of college-aged people from dozens of different countries around the world all crammed into tiny five and six-person apartments (if you’ve ever been to Epcot, you probably remember they have a bunch of fake countries there that are staffed by people that are actually from those countries).
“Every other week, all the internationals buy out this sketchy night club on I-Drive and play flip cup against each other. It’s called Happy Monday, and it’s fucking glorious,” explained Andrews.
I longingly watched a couple of girls talking to each other with British accents walk past.
“Can we go to Happy Monday?”
“Not this week. But don’t worry; what I’ve got planned is better.”
Andrews is, well… How do I say it? Basically, he gets paid to put on a costume and pretend to be a Disney prince to take pictures with tourists in different areas of the parks. More importantly, Andrews gets to hang around with a whole bunch of girls that one of the largest corporations in the world decided kind of look like cartoon characters they made. Cartoon characters that happen to be idealized symbols of beauty, perfection, and grace.
The girls we were about to meet had the beauty. The grace, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Ugh, my fucking head. God, why am I still hungover? It’s like, nighttime already” moaned Savannah.
Savannah was a perky little brunette from the University of Tennessee who was “Friends with Belle” — a stupidly cutesy Disney way to say a cast member who plays that character. Oh yeah, everybody who works at Disney is called a “cast member,” even the people dishing up burgers. Don’t get me started.
“I don’t know what you expected, drinking that many hurricanes and getting carried out by those Italian guys yesterday,” replied Amy, a tall blonde with a face like a painting. Amy played Sleeping Beauty.
“Hey, what do you call an Eiffel Tower if they’re from Italy? A Leaning Tower of Pisa?” asked Savannah. “Because that’s more or less what I did last night.”
“Jesus!” gasped Ruby, another blonde. Ruby was a dance major from Colorado who was slightly taller than Savannah but shorter than Amy. She had the widest height range of characters and the softest features, meaning she rotated among a few different princesses, including Ariel and Rapunzel.
“You should go get yourself checked out, Sav. Those Italian boys are dirty!”
“Fuck it. You know they don’t give us time off for that.”
We were at Amy’s apartment, where the girls were getting ready.
“Hey, this is my friend Franz,” Andrews introduced me.
Savannah stared at me dryly.
“Where’s he work? Disney Springs?”
“No, he’s not a CM.”
This got their attention. Ruby perked up.
“Really?” she said.
“Good, so he’s not fucking gay then,” Savannah echoed, pausing before she clarified. “I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that; it’s just that all the guys are gay here. Or in long-term relationships.”
The other girls nodded.
Andrews (who had been dating the same girl since 8th grade) agreed. “Yeah, it’s true.”
I smiled. I was liking my chances here.
After everyone was done getting ready, we all piled into the back of Andrews’ car and headed off to Señor Frog’s on International Drive. He had a bright blue convertible Camaro with stupid rainbow-colored LED strips lining the whole inside that he called “The Magic Carpet.” Appropriate, I guess.
I was sandwiched between Ruby and Amy in the back while Savannah took shotgun and played the same Childish Gambino and Chance songs over and over again while howling like a drunken warthog into the whistling void of I-4. We parked and headed into the bar, and between a few stupidly large souvenir margaritas, Ruby asked me a lot about what life was like outside of the Empire of the Mouse. In return, I asked her about her job.
“I can’t even imagine what it must be like to meet kids all day that literally think that you’re a real fucking Disney princess.”
“Well, here’s how I see it,” she answered. “For those little girls, I mean they come and you actually ARE that character for them. When you go on stage, you are Ariel or Rapunzel or whoever. And you’re a part of the magic. You make memories for countless people, and that’s really an honor to get the opportunity to do that. It’s the best job in the world.”
She took a sip from her ridiculously long cup.
“But it’s tiring. It’s easy to get lost in the character, and the hours are really exhausting…”
I looked down at the table, the music and lights blaring behind us.
“I have a ton of respect for anyone that does this kind of experience. Andrews tells me how hard it is. I guess it’s cool how you’ve got this opportunity to make such a difference in these people’s lives…”
Her eyes lit up.
“Oh yeah! No seriously, there are guests who save up their entire lives just to come and meet these characters. And you never know when the person you’re about to interact with is someone with a terminal disease, or if they just went through some horrible tragedy or something and you end up being the thing that represents something beautiful or hopeful to them. Just by playing your part, you make an impact in their lives you can’t possibly understand. And yeah, it’s all really fake obviously, but out of that there sometimes comes these blisteringly real moments that really make this job unlike any other. I’m so lucky to get to do it.”
I found myself staring at Ruby and I saw the same kind of untainted beauty and innocence that you’d imagine a Disney character to have.
Right at that moment, Andrews swung by.
“Hey, have you guys seen Savannah anywhere? She was doing shots with these Persian dudes and I totally lost track of her –”
A loud ruckus near the door at the other end of the bar answered quickly his question.
“You’re outta here!” the bouncer said sternly, his deep voice cutting through the bass music.
“Get out of my way, you damn ogre! Give me my fucking tequila!” Savannah shrieked.
Savannah was a 5-foot-5 brunette and probably 120 pounds. She stumbled and steadied herself against the bouncer, her head barely coming midway up his chest.
“Sav! You’re gonna get us kicked out!” cried Amy, trying to calm her down.
The bouncer turned to me and Andrews.
“Is this your friend? She’s way too drunk. She’s gotta go.”
“Do you know who I am???” howled Savannah “I’m MOTHER FUCKING BELLE!”
Savannah tripped and fell backwards on her ass.
“Get her out of here,” repeated the bouncer.
“Okay,” said Andrews. “Let’s go.”
“Where the fuck is Jafar?” asked Savannah loudly. “He says he has a Bentley. JAFARRRR!!!”
One of the Persian guys she was with earlier sheepishly blended back into the crowd. The chances of that guy having a Bentley were about the same as his name actually being Jafar.
“Savannah! Chill!” Andrews replied harshly. “I’d very much like to not be banned from here, too. I still miss going to the House of Blues. Let’s get her back to the Magic Carpet, come on.”
We escorted Savannah back to Andrews’ car and drove back to Vista Way, where we put her to bed on Amy’s couch. Amy agreed to stay up and watch her while Andrews went out to IHOP to get some takeaway. Ruby and I sat next to a half-conscious Savannah babbling the lyrics to “Colors of the Wind” in a drunken stupor for a couple minutes before Ruby invited me to come back to her place across the hall and show me a “part of her world”.
I gotta say, the pent up sexual frustration that comes from spending 8 hours a day in a Disney park for months on end with no male interaction except that from tourists, gay guys, and taken guys is truly something that has no comparison to anything I’ve ever experienced before. I feel like doing anything more than describing it in the vaguest terms possible is a major disservice. We rocked that rusty twin bed with the sheet set from Walmart so loud and vigorously that Ruby was afraid she might get fired. All the way to the Happily Ever After.
If you ever get the chance to hook up with a real life, active Disney princess, shoot your shot. It was fucking magical.
Just don’t be surprised if you can’t handle it. I think Savannah would have killed me..