A whole new world: what it’s like to be a real-life princess

By Alexandra Blazevich

Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess. Cassidy Tompkins
Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess.

Three hundred people. One room. I was out of breath, but I just kept smiling. Five hours later, the group was narrowed down to seven. I’d made it to the end. A casting director asked for my contact information.

Six months later, I still hadn’t received a phone call. My dream of getting a job in Walt Disney World was crushed, once again. I told myself I would try again the next chance I got. It was the same never-ending cycle of excitement and disappointment with every Disney audition I went to – seven, to be exact.

One girl sat in the corner crying after she was cut. Black tears running down her face onto her bright red lips as she changed into her street shoes and packed her bag to leave. She drove four hours to an audition in which she didn’t last more than five minutes. At that audition, I learned not to wear makeup – the casting directors don’t like it.

A few other girls were asked to leave because they were just above or below the height requirement for the part the casting director was looking for. “Please check the audition requirements next time,” she said as they walked out.

Cassidy Tompkins, a former Disney princess, auditioned for Disney 12 times before she was hired.

Abby Peters auditioned eight times and was never hired.

Alyssa Stroner auditioned just one time before getting her part.

“I was part of the very lucky, extremely humbled few,” Stroner said.

Peter O’Neal auditioned for Disney entertainment for a period of six years – after his interactions with cast members during a trip to Disney World inspired him to do so.

“I would do whatever it took to perform at Disney, so I could spread the magic that had been given to me,” he said.

The Audition Process

Being a Disney princess is not all about tiaras and corsets – at least not as first. During the audition process, a casting director could cut you based on how far apart your eyes are, or how big your nose is. If you’re an inch too short or tall of the range set for each princess, you’re out. But, if the casting directors like you, they can measure you down or up to your “Disney height,” as they call it. I’m 5’8,” but my Disney height was 5’7” because they thought I looked the part.

Disney’s casting directors are looking to fit a specific look for each princess and each character. The audition listings on the website say exactly what they’re looking for. For example, the listing to be Anna from Frozen says,“5’3″ – 5’7″, type cast. Elsa’s younger sister, and Princess of Arendelle; quirky and a bit awkward at times, fun spirited with great comedic timing and outgoing personality. Non-singing role.”

The audition requirements don’t stop there. Before you have a chance to show your personality through acting and dance steps, the casting directors line everyone up and cut the majority of the group solely based on looks.

“The casting crew stares at every individual for a few seconds to identify if their physique and basic facial structure matches the criteria. It is a very awkward process, but it is painless,” Peters said. “Despite the casting crew’s many attempts to convince you to ‘just enjoy yourself’ and to not worry about your audience, the whole processes is very intimidating.”

At least they play fun Disney music in the background.

Tompkins first auditioned for Disney entertainment in 2010 for “Beauty and the Beast,” a Broadway-type of show where she’d need to be able to sing, dance and act.

“The casting director told me I would never be a Belle because I didn’t have the right look, which was hilarious to me when I did get cast as Belle in 2015 by that same casting director,” she said.

Once the casting crew has looked everyone over and made cuts, the remaining dancers are taught a dance routine. For Walt Disney World princess auditions, this is usually a simple grapevine or three-step-turn dance with a curtsy or two. When I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland, we learned a more complicated number.

“You’re a Cindy”

At the end of the audition, directors choose a few women to have the “Disney Princess experience,” as I like to call it. “Very few females make it to the final round, when they are weighed, measured, and dolled up to look like a selected princess,” Peters said.

At the end of my first audition, the casting director lined up our group of 10 girls. She pointed at me and said, “You’re a Cindy.” Speechless, I stepped out of line and followed her. She led me to a room where a stylist was waiting, and within a few minutes, I had on a blonde wig, blue eye shadow, and light pink gloss on my lips. I looked like Cinderella. It was surreal.

Then, the casting director took my photo and said I could potentially get a phone call from Disney within six months. From there, it was a waiting game.

When asked about their perspective and comments on the audition process, Disney did not respond to my inquiries.

The Training Process

Once hired, Tompkins said she went through a training process where she learned how to do meet-and-greets with guests as both a princess and a “fur character.” The meet-and-greet structure was very specific: greet the guest, have a conversation and send them off – all within about 70 seconds. All princesses – known as “face characters” – must also be trained in fur costumes, where their faces are not seen. For Tompkins, that meant she had to train as Pluto, Eeyore and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

Face characters must verbally respond to whatever guests may say, and because so they earn an extra $2.50 per hour. This can be rough. Tompkins said that one time when she was playing Ariel, a young child told her, “Ariel can you take my brother away because I think he just wiped a booger on your dress.”

Fur characters cannot talk, but still must still have a non-verbal conversation with the guest. One of Tompkins’ fur character roles was as Pluto.

“If someone had a birthday pin on I’d try to tap dance what sounded like happy birthday and move my hands like a conductor to get everyone to sing after pointing to the button,” Tompkins said.

Stroner said her training lasted four days. She learned to walk, talk and act like Princess Jasmine from Walt Disney’s Aladdin.

O’Neal said the meet-and-greet experience was a thrill for him as a fur character. He couldn’t talk, but his actions made up for it.

“There’s no way you can’t smile when a fun friend gives you a big hug,” he said.

Disney also requires all face and fur characters to go by their character name. Even if other cast members or friends know who the person is under the costume, guests do not.

“In Disney lingo, it is common for people to ask entertainment cast members what characters they perform, and instead of putting it that way – possibly ruining the magic for overhearing guests – we refer to the characters we perform as ‘our friends,’” Stroner said. “For example, someone might ask, ‘Who are you friends with?’”

When I visited Disney World in August, Stroner was holding meet-and-greets as Jasmine in Epcot. While I know her as my friend, Alyssa, I had to call her Jasmine in order to not ruin the magic for the other guests around me – especially younger ones. When posting photos of us on social media, I couldn’t mention her real name – I had to call her my friend, Jasmine.

In order to keep the magic alive for all guests, Disney has put  in place rules to keep things consistent. If two Mickey Mouses were to cross paths, children would start to question which one is the “real” Mickey. The magic would be lost. In a similar way, each princess must have a similar look, just like how every Radio City Rockette must be the same height. Because of Disney’s standards, only a select few of all the women and men who audition make it as a cast member.

On my way home from my audition, I called my parents out of sheer excitement. I had to tell someone. Even while stuck in the miserable downtown Orlando traffic, I sang Disney tunes at the top of my lungs. I rolled my windows down and serenaded the cars beside me. I didn’t care – I felt like I was on top of the world. I don’t know if I was missing the right look or if they lost my resume, but I never got my callback.

The audition process gave me an inside look, not only to how Disney entertainment works, but also the entertainment industry as a whole, which I wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.

It has been three years since that day, and my mom still calls me Cindy.

Edited by Paige Connelly