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Tears Abound as Disney's Unpaid Experts Are Crowned

12th time's the charm for one applicant
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 8, 2020 12:45 PM CST
In this Jan. 9, 2019 file photo, guests watch a show near a statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in front of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.   (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

(Newser) – "My American dream was to go to Walt Disney World," Aena Drone, who came to the US from Pakistan as a child, tells the New York Times. As of this month, it's safe to say she has long surpassed that dream. The 36-year-old is one of 14 people selected from 10,000 applicants to join 28 returning members as the 2020 Disney Parks Moms Panel, a group of experts who assist travelers in planning Disney vacations. None of the panelists are paid—this is meant to encourage honesty, and their workload is about 15 questions a week—though each gets a free five-night stay for four. That's a non-issue for these Disney superfans, who have a combined 714 Disney vacations under their belts, per a release, and are expected to dedicate free time to answering questions like where to find Disney World's private nursing rooms and all those hidden Mickeys.

"When my parents told me that I was moving to America from Pakistan, it was scary, but they also told me Mickey Mouse lived in America because he was my hero," says Drone. The stay-at-home mom of two boys "twice during our interview [became] so overwhelmed she started to cry," notes the Times. Tamela Hansen of Alabama, who's visited Disney World at least 100 times, said she applied to be a panelist 12 times before she was finally selected. Almost all of the new panelists serving in the year-long contractor role said they felt they were "part of the Disney family." Three are men, two are childless, and each has their own area of expertise. Some are already hard at work. (Read more Disney stories.)

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