Disney college program provides 19-year-old ‘a dream come true’

Cast member Audrey Hightower shares experience of Hollywood Studios magic

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Audrey Hightower

As she stands outside of the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida, Audrey Hightower plays the part of her role as a ‘Bellhop.’ She started working with Disney through the Disney College Program. Hightower emphasizes that this program has given her opportunities for her career. “The Disney College Program has helped steer me along a clearer path to what I would like to do professionally,” Hightower said. “Having the opportunity to get my foot in the door at such a world-renowned and prestigious company like Disney at such a young age is incredible and I’m so thankful.”

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Magic – her job lets her create it every single day.

Audrey Hightower had aspirations to work at Disney World ever since she was young. So, she applied to the Disney College Program, at just 18 years old, allowing her to travel 1,105 mi from her hometown in Allen, Tx to Orlando, Fl to follow her dreams. Disney will be accepting applications for its fall semester of participants from January through March of 2023. Hightower currently works her spot in the “Epcot International Festival of the Holidays” candlelight processional show, which takes place, Nov. 25-Dec. 30.

“Growing up, my family took several trips to Walt Disney World in Florida and it has always been such a magical place to me,” Hightower said. “It just feels like home! The idea that I could actually combine my love for all things Disney with my love for performing arts at the most magical place on earth as a career was incredibly appealing to me.”

Hightower works at “The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror” (Hollywood Tower of Terror) at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park on Sunset Boulevard.

“I’m fortunate to have been cast in the role of ‘attractions host’ at the park’s premier, iconic thrill ride,” Hightower said. “I am also honored to be a Behind the Scenes Backstage Tour Guide at the Hollywood Tower Hotel.”

Hightower is currently cast as the role of a “BellHop.”

“I am also a singer, dancer and actress,” Hightower said. “(I) feel most at home when I’m on the stage performing.”

Hightower received her acceptance letter in the middle of her first year of college.

“I was accepted into the prestigious Disney College Program after my first semester of college, which was a dream come true,” Hightower said. “I moved to Orlando in January to begin ‘earning my ears’ and have been making magic for park guests ever since.”

Hightower has been a College Program cast member since Jan. 10, 2022.

“My original program was a commitment of only 6 months, but they offered me a program extension and I accepted,” Hightower said, “I will be a part of the DCP for the maximum amount of time allowed (one year) until Jan. 5, 2023.”

Hightower said the opportunity didn’t come without challenges.

“Moving so far away and living on my own at only 18 years old was a huge lesson in independence and responsibility,” Hightower said. “That, combined with holding down a challenging full-time job, working alongside so many different people from all over the world, and learning the ropes of a career in travel, tourism, customer service and entertainment has been invaluable.”

Hightower said the internship has impacted her career choice.

“The Disney College Program has helped steer me along a clearer path to what I would like to do professionally,” Hightower said. “Having the opportunity to get my foot in the door at such a world-renowned and prestigious company like Disney at such a young age is incredible and I’m so thankful.”

According to Hightower the challenges came balanced with opportunities for growth.

“The Disney College Program provides participants with the invaluable and rare opportunity to gain on-the-job experience with a world-renowned company,” Hightower said, “as well as providing uniquely Disney learning experiences, all while preparing for your future, building transferable skills, including networking, problem-solving, teamwork and effective communication in a unique living and working environment with other participants from all over the world.”

Participants in the Disney College program are guaranteed to be scheduled at least 30 hours of work every week, with the opportunity to take on shifts and overtime as desired.

“I typically pick up shifts for extra money and because I enjoy my job, and normally work about 40+ hours per week,” Hightower said. “As a DCP participant, we agree to work all shifts with open flexibility, meaning we don’t have set days off and typically work weekends, holidays, and early as well as late shifts.”

A glimpse of Hightower’s day includes both early mornings and late nights.

“As a Tower of Terror Behind-the-Scenes Tour Guide, I sometimes work as early as 5 a.m., as I host private/VIP tours backstage before the park opens,” Hightower said. “Other times, I work closing shifts and stay after the park is closed and after all the guests have departed.”

Guidelines given to Hightower allowed for her to focus on offering the best experience to the Parks’ Guests.

“At Disney, we are taught and expected to uphold what we call “The Five Keys”— safety, courtesy, show, efficiency and inclusion,” Hightower said. “These five keys should serve as the basis on which all cast members make decisions to provide the greatest hospitality to guests.”

Hightower talks about her favorite thing about working at the park.

“My absolute favorite aspect of working at Disney World is having the opportunity to create magic for park guests every single day,” Hightower said. “I love knowing that I can make magical memories for children and adults alike, and I make it my goal every day to put a smile on someone’s face by immersing them in the themes and escape that only Disney can provide.”

Hightower said she does have a favorite attraction.

“Aside from my own attraction, my favorite ride is “Pirates of the Caribbean” at the Magic Kingdom,” Hightower said. “I’m a huge fan of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.”

Hightower shared the most rewarding experiences she has she has gained from working at Disney.

“When a park guest tells me that I’ve made their day special,” Hightower said, “or added some pixie dust to their child’s vacation, or that I created a magical memory for their family, it is by far the most rewarding aspect of this experience for me.”

Andrew Halula, the attractions coordinator at Sunset Boulevard, is one of Hightower’s supervisors.

“Audrey is kind, courteous and great with our youngest park guests,” Halula said. “She’s very easy to work with and always professional. I don’t have to worry about her handling any guest situations and I can depend on her to do an excellent job regardless of which area of the attraction she’s working.

Halula said one of Hightower’s strengths includes her influential positive spirit.

“Audrey’s energy is contagious,” Halula said. “Seeing her ability to interact with and entertain our guests just inspires myself and others to work harder to ‘make magic’ every day.”

Hightower’s friend, Freddy Cegarra works alongside her as the attractions host at the “Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.”

“Audrey is not only a hard worker,” Cegarra said, “but, she also makes everyone’s day better when she’s here.”

Hightower said she has applied to work at Disney full-time after her college program is over. 

“I have actually decided to apply for employment as a full-time cast member with Disney when my college program ends,” Hightower said. “I have already been offered the opportunity and trained to become a behind-the-scenes tour guide, which has been an amazing experience, and I hope to also become a trainer and coordinator in the near future.”

This job allows Hightower to employ a wide combination of her skills and talents.

“I have the opportunity to use my singing, dancing and acting skills at Disney through auditioning for various performance opportunities,” Hightower said. “I recently auditioned for and was cast in the Epcot International Festival of the holiday candlelight processional show, where I’ll sing with a cast choir, full orchestra and celebrity narrator during the holiday season.”

Hightower said she has appreciated her time at Disney and looks forward to her next opportunities.

“I’m excited to continue pursuing every door that opens. As Walt Disney himself said, ‘If you can dream it, you can do it.”

Updated Dec. 4. 2022