by Mike Scopa, AllEars® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the April 15, 2008 Issue #447 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Mike Scibetta never imagined that someday he would be doing what he calls "the best job at Walt Disney World." However, he is doing just that.
You see, Mike is an IllumiNations Cruise Driver, and he absolutely loves his job, a job that sort of just happened. Well... sort of.
It all goes back to the time when Mike was living in New Jersey and found out that his full-time job was being moved to Central Florida. Before moving the family to Florida, Mike made a few trips on his own and found that rather than sitting in his hotel room looking at his four walls and watching television, he preferred spending his free time at Walt Disney World.
When the Scibetta family was relocated, Mike rented a house and moved the family down to the Sunshine State. Soon the whole family purchased Annual Passes and they began spending quite a lot of their weekends at Walt Disney World.
Then one December evening while visiting the Magic Kingdom to see Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, Mike and his wife had a very interesting conversation, during which she turned to him and joked how Mike loved Walt Disney World so much that he should get a part-time job there. Was she serious? He said, "Are you sure?" She said, "Why not?"
It just so happened that earlier that day while Mike was reading the Orlando Sentinel he noticed an ad about Walt Disney World looking to hire what they called "ushers" for a soon to be opening part of Walt Disney World called "The Disney Institute." Mike answered the ad, interviewed with the Entertainment Department, and soon found himself working a few nights a week at the Disney Institute for their evening venues. The Disney Institute, as we all know, did not enjoy the popularity that it needed to exist. This lack of popularity soon had an impact on Mike's status at the Institute. His three nights per week part-time job was whittled down to one night a week.
Then Mike received a call from a friend at Yachtsman Steakhouse. His friend was planning on leaving and asked Mike if he would be interested in working there. Mike took him up on this offer and went over to talk to the manager. He started working there that evening as a greeter and eventually found himself working behind the podium. That worked out well for a while, but then the events of September 11, 2001, affected Mike... and ALL the other part-time cast members at WDW.
Soon after that fateful day, Walt Disney World guest attendance dropped off to the point where the part-time help was no longer needed, and many of the part-timers were dropped. Those hours were filled by the full-time help. Mike was out of his Disney part-time work from later in September to November 2001.
Then on Thanksgiving week Mike's daughter, Danielle, who was a lifeguard and a coordinator at Disney's Wilderness Lodge, called Mike and told him they needed a boat driver for the Magic Kingdom Fireworks Cruise. Back then, prior to "Wishes" every night, the Magic Kingdom was showing "Fantasy in the Sky." Danielle knew her father could drive a pontoon boat and, since he was already onboard as a cast member, she decided to take a chance and ask him if he was interested in doing this last-minute job. He was more than interested.
Mike went to Wilderness Lodge, found himself a costume that fit, and took some guests out to watch the fireworks from in front of the Magic Kingdom. Mike not only saw this as fun, he had a great time. He told his daughter that if she ever needed him to do another fireworks cruise to not hesitate to call him as he would be available. Danielle took her father up on his words and soon Mike found himself working the Fireworks Cruises. Eventually, as the crowds began coming back to WDW, Mike heard the Steakhouse calling as well. Soon he was doing both jobs.
The following summer Mike met someone from the IllumiNations Cruise team and Mike asked to put his name on the list of those interested in working as a cruise driver. The next thing Mike knew he was juggling three part-time jobs -- working at the Steakhouse, and doing both Magic Kingdom Fireworks Cruise and IllumiNations Cruise. But it was the IllumiNations Cruises that captured his heart. He enjoyed taking guests out on IllumiNations Cruises more than anything else. So Mike decided to drop the other two jobs and declare himself available on those evenings to do IllumiNations Cruises. Today Mike works several nights a week as an IllumiNations Cruise Driver.
What drew Mike to the IllumiNations Cruise was that he liked the idea that it was consistent. Epcot shows IllumiNations every night at 9 p.m., except for the Christmas holiday season when it is pushed back to 9:30. The Magic Kingdom's Wishes schedule is not as consistent. Mike's IllumiNations shift is consistent as well. It's basically a three-hour shift and everything is like clockwork. The boats leave the Beach & Yacht Club marina around 8:10 to 8:15 and pull in to the International Gateway Bridge about five minutes before IllumiNations begins.
Mike also likes the idea that he gets to meet and talk with one group of guests each night and that lets him really focus on making sure they have a great experience aboard his boat.
Captain Mike, as he is called, points out that every time a guest goes on an IllumiNations Cruise it may be different from the one before or the one after because you may get one of 60-70 trained cast members who serve as your skipper on the cruise. Since there is no script for the IllumiNations Cruises then it's very likely that each cruise will be different save for the actual showing of IllumiNations. Each driver adds his or her own personality.
If you happen to have Captain Mike as your skipper be prepared for some trivia and some interesting information on all that you see during your cruise. Mike may very well point out a few things you may not know about Boardwalk entertainment and also what's cooking at the restaurants. Many of the drivers, especially Mike, try to tailor the cruise to the party. There are CD players on the boat and Mike has his own special collection of appropriate music. Is your preference Disney music? He has plenty. Or are you in for a nice evening of romantic music? He's got that too. It's the trivia, however, that has return guests asking for Captain Mike.
A student of IllumiNations, Captain Mike has offered some interesting and little-known information about IllumiNations and World Showcase to even the most veteran of guests. And Mike has a message for those of us who are looking toward booking an IllumiNations Cruise for a future trip. He simply says, "Don't give up the ship."
If you don't get a cruise 90 days out, Mike says to keep calling. In fact, he encourages everyone who is really interested in going on a cruise but has not been able to book one before arriving in Orlando to drop by Bayside Marina (at Disney's Yacht Club Resort) during the day. Go up to the cashier and ask if there are any openings for that night or the next few nights. There is a history of last-minute cancellations for the cruises, so you never know if a boat is available unless you ask. Most last-minute cancellations will not be available in the standard CRO system.
Cruise drivers are always up to speed on safety and take mandatory online courses every six months, as well as a "Responsible Vendor" course that trains them to recognize who is allowed to drink and who should be served... and more importantly who should not be served. Of course all boats have walkie-talkies and life preservers are provided for all children 12 and under, as well as any adults who would feel more comfortable with one. Water, soft drinks, and some light snacks are included in the price of the cruise. Blankets are provided during the chilly months.
Regarding IllumiNations tours, Captain Mike suggests that those guests who do not have rental cars and are not staying at the connected Epcot resorts should be dropped off after the cruise at the Studios Dock (if it is still open), as it is closest to the buses.
Cruises do not go out if lightning is present. In fact cruises go out no sooner than at least 30 minutes from the last lightning strike. You can imagine that for a 9 p.m. IllumiNations show this means that a cruise taking off after 8:15 is in trouble.
One thing Captain Mike said with a sparkle in his eye and voice is that he and the rest of the drivers don't see their jobs as, well, jobs. He doesn't say he goes to work... he says he goes to "fun," because he knows that he has the unique opportunity to "bring a little magic" to the guests' vacation experience.
I guess that is why Mike Scibetta, oh, excuse me, Captain Mike says his job is simply "one of the best jobs at Disney."
To book an IllumiNations Cruise or any cruise at Walt Disney World call (407) WDW-PLAY (939-7529).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast.
Specialty Cruises: http://allears.net/btp/illum.htm
Other articles by Mike Scopa: http://allears.net/btp/mikescopa.htm
Mike's AllEars.net Blog -- The View from Scopa Towers: http://land.allears.net/blogs/mikescopa/
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.