What I have learned about myself over the course of my degree

Following along from my up-beat post about Disney, I figured I would take a minute to write about how I feel I have changed over the past four years. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit mortified about this post but go easy on me.

When I first entered Stranmillis, I was a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 18-year-old, ready to teach the future generation of tomorrow. Now, here I am, writing this post as a tired and fed-up 22-year-old. And I’m not saying that I’m tired and fed-up of teaching, I’m not. I just feel that I need to try and do other things before I get a ‘real’ job.

Four years ago, when deciding what university to choose, I was adamant that I wouldn’t go away. I couldn’t possibly leave my mum and while I’m not a home-bird, I just felt like a fish out of water when I visited universities across the pond. But now, four years later, I’m currently mapping out where I’m going to go next. After living in Orlando in the States and Poznań in Poland, I’ve found that I am capable of living away from home and that I’m much more independent than I thought I was. I also recently had the opportunity to observe and teach in a British school in Dubai which was the most surreal experience.

I know that writing this, it sounds as though my primary teaching degree could be the biggest waste of my time. But I know it isn’t or at least I think it won’t be. I have learned a lot over the course of my degree and it’s presented me with tons of opportunities. I’m a lot more confident as a person and my personal skills have developed ten-fold. And I never would have caught my bug for travelling if I hadn’t gone to Stranmillis. I also know that maybe some-day I will come back and try to get a primary teaching job, maybe after what seems to be a quarter-life crisis.

I guess what this diary-esque post is trying to say is: don’t limit yourself with your choices. There are lots of opportunities that will open and close throughout your life. I think when leaving school, kids are expected to know exactly what you want and are going to do for the rest of your life. But that’s not true. The saying: one door closes as another opens is so painfully accurate and if you don’t open yourself to other possibilities, you’ll never learn things about yourself that you never knew.

Maybe I never will leave Bangor, maybe I will. Who knows? But that’s okay.

Here’s a photo of me in Poznań lol

10 must-dos when you go to Walt Disney World

While it may be a little over a month into 2019 and I am knee-deep into my dissertation and preparing for my final-year teaching placement, I can’t seem to stop thinking about Disney!

It has become something of a running joke in my friend group that I worked for Disney as it is still something that REGULARLY comes up in conversation. And it’s not that I mean to brag, but it’s something that I’m still incredibly proud of, even a year and a half later.

Graduating from Disney University!

So with that in mind, I figured I would write about 10 must-do things when in Walt Disney World.

1. Get a picture in front of Cinderella’s castle

This is often considered a necessity when getting the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World. Did you even go to Disney if you didn’t get a snap of yourself looking class in front of the castle? Push yourself to the front and wedge yourself between the hundreds of others trying to get the perfect picture and get that sweet, sweet insta!

2. Meet your favourite characters

Going to Disney means only one thing! Getting the chance to meet your favourite characters from all of your favourite Disney movies without going to one of those weird shopping centre events with the meth-head Mickeys. Over the course of my Summer working there, I made it my mission to try and meet as many characters as I could as it’s something I knew that I probably wouldn’t do with my brother and parents in tow when returning. I was most excited getting to meet lovely Flynn at the Bon Voyage Adventure Breakfast in Trattoria al Forno, as I am a VERY big Flynn Rider fan. I also got a great photo opportunity with Stitch on the 4th of July in Tomorrowland in Magic Kingdom.

Make sure you check the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date times for character meet and greets to bag yourself a spot in the large queues.

3. Watch a night-time spectacular

Fireworks from Happily Ever After

Across the four parks, there are lots to do at any time of the day but I would fully recommend taking a moment to catch one of the night-time spectaculars. I would particularly suggest Happily Ever After which is the night-time fireworks show in Magic Kingdom. It truly brings a tear to my eye every single time I watch it and never fails to give me goosebumps as the castle changes colours and shows some of my favourite scenes and characters. It’s quite hard to find the perfect spot but most would suggest plonking yourself as close to the partner’s statue (the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey) as you can! Make sure to get there early too, to avoid disappointment of obstructed views.

If you don’t get a chance to see Happily Ever After, there is also Fantasmic or Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular at Hollywood Studios, IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth at EPCOT and Rivers of Light at Animal Kingdom. Truthfully, I would recommend seeing any and all of the shows but if I were to choose to just one, it would be Happily Ever After.

Show times of the shows are subject to change depending on the parks opening hours and if there are any events being held, such as, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, so make sure to check the MDE app for up-to-date information or ask a Cast Member.

4. Try a dining experience

There are lots of different dining experiences to visit over your time at Walt Disney World from delicious hot dogs at Casey’s Corner to dining with the Beast himself at Be Our Guest. While there are so many great restaurants to try, my top three boil down to: Best Friends Breakfast featuring Lilo & Stitch at the Polynesian, lunch or dinner at the Garden Grill in EPCOT or dinner at Be Our Guest. All three of these options require a dining reservation via phone call or the MDE app but are totally worth it!

However, if quick-serve is more your forte, there’s plenty of options to choose from too. When it comes to something quick, my go-to are always nachos from Pecos Bill in MK or La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexican pavilion in EPCOT, a hot-dog from the wonderful Casey’s Corner in MK or chicken fried rice from the Yak & Yeti in Animal Kingdom.

Meal in the Garden Grill

But of course, whatever your preference, there is most definitely an option for you.

5. Celebrate with a celebration button

One of my favourite things about Disney is the opportunity to celebrate even the smallest of occasions. With the celebration buttons available to be picked up at any Merchandise location or at the City Hall, guests have the chance to celebrate anything! Over the course of my Summer, I celebrated: becoming a Cast Member, earning my ears, like 5 different birthdays (none of which were mine), the 4th of July and so, so much more.

By wearing celebration buttons, you’re bringing Cast Members attention to your celebrations too and you can bet that at least one Cast Member will wish you well on whatever it is your celebrating and sometimes they will do what they can to make it that little bit more special!

6. Drink or dine around the World

As mentioned above, there are various opportunities to dine across Walt Disney World and one of these is the infamous dining or drinking ‘around the World’. This is not something that is organised by Disney themselves but where guests take it upon themselves or should I say, challenge themselves to dine or drink (given that they are above 21 years of age) around each of the 11 countries represented in the World Showcase in EPCOT.

Depending on what side you begin with, the countries are as follows: Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, United States, Japan, Morocco, France, United Kingdom and Canada. Or in-reverse if you start at the Canada side.

This activity can become very expensive depending on the drinks or food purchased so one recommendation would be to share your drinks or snacks with a friend or a few so that you still get the experience but you have more chance of staying upright and your pocket isn’t as light.

7. 4 parks, 1 day challenge

Another challenge organised by guests is the 4 parks, 1 day challenge where guests need to attend all four parks within a given day. It should be stated that in order to complete this challenge, it is essential that you have a park-hopper pass as you must be able to hop from park-to-park within the same day.

As this, again, hasn’t be officially organised by Disney themselves, rules differ from group to group depending on what guests want from their challenge.

When my friend, Luke and I completed the challenge, we decided that our rule would be we would ride 1 ride in each park, and if we had time we would do another activity such as, another ride, a parade or a character meet and greet. I think the order we chose worked best, but again, this is entirely up to the guests and what they want out of their day. We chose: Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT then Magic Kingdom.

I would always suggest trying the 4 parks, 1 day challenge to anyone who was going to WDW, as it’s a great way to see all of the parks but I would say that if you only have a short amount of time at the parks, it’s maybe not the best idea as you don’t get to truly experience the atmosphere or the magic of each of the parks due to time constraints. 

8. Pin trade

Pin trading is a massive hobby had by many WDW guests who want to find and trade for unique and special souvenirs of their trips. As a previous Cast Member, I loved pin trading as it was an easy way to speak with and get to know guests. However, as a guest, pin trading was never something I could get into myself. I love the official Disney pins and some of the pins that come in to Cast Members are spectacular, but I just preferred to purchase specific pins that represented important things to me.

This photo was literally on the wall in my work location

That being said, I have a lot of friends who loved pin trading and obsessed over what pins they were going to bring with them to the parks that day in order to trade with them.

If I was to give any advice about pin trading, it would be to approach any and all Cast Members about their pins and any potential pin boards they might have in their Merchandise location. Another piece of advice would be, avoid buying bulk packages of Disney pins from EBay as these are mostly fake pins and die-hard pin traders can get very upset when they spend tons of their money on official pins and they trade for fake, cheap pins.

9. Flight of Passage!

Across the four parks, there are TONS of rides to go on, aimed at children, adults and families alike. Whether you like fast rollercoasters, like Rock ‘n’ Roller starring Aerosmith or iconic slow-moving rides, such as, It’s a Small World, there is something for everyone!

A personal favourite of mine is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror in Hollywood Studios which is a drop ride inside a cart shaped like an elevator that takes the theme of stepping into the 5th Dimension of the Twilight Zone. I was even fortunate enough where I got to visit the ride on a backstage tour as part of a perk of being a Cast Member. Easily hitting one of the best moments of my life.

But this point isn’t about the TOT, it’s about flight of passage! Easily the most immersive and mesmerising ride I have EVER been on. I would wait in any length of queue to get on it, because it just is that good! The sights, the smells, the feelings. Everything about this ride is out-of-this-World INSANE.

In fact, the whole of the Pandora area of Animal Kingdom is perfect! It doesn’t matter if you’ve seen the movies, not seen the movies or Avatar is your favourite movie of all time, upon entering Pandora, everyone will feel like they are suddenly in Pandora! It’s amazing.

A Na’vi in the Flight of Passage ride

10. Take your time and enjoy the magic

Finally, this one goes without saying really, take your time and enjoy yourself.

When visiting WDW, there are always people fanny-ing around, desperate to see and do everything. And I get it. People spend a lot of money to be there, and want to make the most of it. But when they spend their whole time rushing around to each FastPass+ and Advanced Dining Reservation, they never take a moment to stop, look around and take in the magic that is Walt Disney World.

So stop, take a moment, take a few photos, sit on a bench, watch a parade and ENJOY THE MAGIC.