What It's Like to Work at Disney World for 50 Years, According to Employee Who Started Opening Day (Exclusive)

Pam Flint started as a can-can dancer at The Diamond Horseshoe in Frontierland. Today she's proprietor of operations costuming at Epcot and several Disney hotels

<p>Olga Thompson; Courtesy Pam Flint</p>

Olga Thompson; Courtesy Pam Flint

For Pam Flint, "retirement" was short-lived.

The 72-year-old Walt Disney World cast member has been employed at Disney Parks for a total of 50 years. A few years back she stepped away for a period of nine months, but the call of the Most Magical Place on Earth was too strong to stay away.

"I got a call ... and they asked me to come back part time, so I did to help cover holidays and things," Flint tells PEOPLE. "And one thing led to another, and they offered me my old job back, and I said 'Okay.' And I've been here ever since." Factoring in her brief flirtation with retirement and short-lived part-time gig, Flint completed her impressive 50th year at Disney World in 2023.

Flint's official role today is proprietor of operations costuming at both Epcot and the surrounding Walt Disney World resort hotels, where she is in charge of audio animatronics.

But the titles she's held during her impressive tenure run the gamut.

On Oct. 1, 1971, the first Walt Disney World theme park, Magic Kingdom, opened its doors. "My actual hire date is Sept. 15, 1971, and we had two weeks of rehearsals before Oct. 1," Flint says.

Those rehearsals were for her very first job as a can-can dancer at The Diamond Horseshoe, an Old West-style restaurant and music hall with live performances that is still open today in Magic Kingdom's Frontierland.

"Everyone was so excited on day one. We only had 15 people show up to our first show, but it didn't matter — it was a great show, and we all had a great time," Flint says.

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<p>Courtesy Pam Flint</p>

Courtesy Pam Flint

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Her favorite guest interaction ever occurred around 1988, when she played the character of Miss Claire in the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue show at Pioneer Hall at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort.

"During one performance, as we were leaving and turned around at the back door to say goodbye, this little girl — she couldn't have been more than 4 years old — came running up to me and jumped up on me, put her legs around my waist, hugged me and said, 'I love you, Miss Claire, and I want to be just like you when I grow up,' " Flint recalls, tearing up.

<p>Olga Thompson</p>

Olga Thompson

"At that moment in time, you realize the magic that you perform," she says.

Through the years, she became more involved behind the scenes.

"I was a buying manager, I was a costumer, I was a project manager." She even worked with the designers and procured costumes for Disney Cruise Line's first two ships. She also did all the costumes for "the re-imagining of Fantasyland [in Magic Kingdom], which was very exciting."

<p>Courtesy Pam Flint</p>

Courtesy Pam Flint

On Monday, Flint was honored along with other longtime Disney cast members in a special Service Celebration, which is held annually inside the Magic Kingdom.

The park closes early to host cast members for a fantasy-laden fête. A red carpet is rolled out for them in front of Cinderella Castle on Main Street U.S.A. and they're treated to drinks, dinner, dessert, live shows, rare character meet-and-greets and more. They also get something ever Disney park lover will envy: access to the park's rides and attractions with little to no wait.

Employees celebrating 10 years or more are invited to attend this exclusive gathering every five years as a perk for their loyalty to the House of Mouse.

This year's Disney Service Celebration, a bicoastal event, took place at Walt Disney World on Monday night, with another scheduled later this year at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.

<p>Olga Thompson</p>

Olga Thompson

"It's a great celebration, and I look forward to seeing all the other cast members who are celebrating their, milestones as well," says Flint, who last attended the event for her 45-year anniversary.

"Not everybody's going to be [celebrating 50 years] — there's going to be probably a lot of 20s and 25s," she adds. "But it's just as important to them as it is to me, and they'll have a great time."

Related: Disney's Most Groundbreaking and History-Making Moments of the Last 100 Years

<p>Olga Thompson</p>

Olga Thompson

For Flint, being at the same company for five decades is something she is proud of in large part due to her employer. She tells PEOPLE, "It's hard to stop talking about what a great company Disney is and how special it makes the cast members feel, with the recognition and award ceremony."

"How many Fortune 500 companies do that kind of thing every year?" she notes of the Service Celebration. "And that's very special, to be part of that."

Asked whether she's thinking about retiring (again) anytime in the near future, Flint admits she doesn't have a set timeline in mind, and only says that she wants to continue "to make a difference."

"As long as I'm doing that — making a difference, moving my division forward — I would love to stay," she says.

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