University of Vermont

Cathy Colton Dunlap Puts RM Degree to Use in Long-Time Career at Disney World

Undergraduate alum profile

Cathy Colton Dunlap recently test drove Indy cars at the Disney Speedway.
Cathy Colton Dunlap recently test drove Indy cars at the Disney Speedway.

Cathy Colton Dunlap (RM ’87), a regional recreation manager at Walt Disney World in Florida, couldn’t be in a more different place than where she grew up and thought she’d end up. Cathy grew up in the wilderness of the Adirondack Mountain region of northern New York. She ski raced in the winter and spent summers on a lake surrounded by northern forest.

Her love of sports, recreational activities, and the outdoors brought her to UVM and its then School of Natural Resources’ recreation management program. With the guidance of Lecturer Dave Kaufman, Cathy pursued an internship during her junior year with the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom College Program. 

“I had never been to Florida and as a child loved watching Disney movies and the Wonderful World of Walt Disney with my Dad and grandfather,” recalls Cathy. “It was always a dream to come to this park, as I loved theme parks.”

Cathy’s introduction to Disney World came as a boat driver at the Epcot (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) Theme Park which had opened in 1982. She gave guests a tour of the World Showcase Lagoon and announced information about each country represented along the tour. She met other students and staff (called cast members) from around the world.

After graduation, with plans to use Disney World only as a training ground to supplement winter jobs at ski resorts, Cathy moved her way up through front desk and management jobs at the various Disney resorts. At the time, Disney was growing rapidly and within two years, as a recreation manager, Cathy helped to open the Typhoon Lagoon. Soon after that, she helped open the Wilderness Lodge Resort, met her husband Vic Dunlap, and her plans changed.

After 29 years, Cathy has held numerous positions at Disney in all phases of resort management from housekeeping and guest services to recreation management at many of the different resort areas that make up Disney World. She appreciates and has taken advantage of the myriad of job opportunities a large company provides and has “learned by doing” how all aspects of resort management work and interact. 

She is currently the regional recreation manager at Old Key West Resort and Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. As a manager, Cathy takes pride in caring for her guests and her staff, or cast. She is responsible for continually upgrading the quality of the recreation experience at her resorts, renovating pools and other recreation areas, and hiring and developing her cast. She also has some global responsibilities, such as hiring and staffing all Disney World lifeguards. As a member of executive committees for all Disney World resorts, Cathy is involved in emergency and safety planning and environmental sustainability. And she has had the opportunity to recruit college students from the Northeast!

Using much of what she learned in her courses at UVM, such as cartography, civil engineering, recreation area design, marketing, and business law, Cathy has helped to design resort recreation areas; marketed new children’s activity programming; organized and marketed sporting events, such as the Disney Marathon and Golf Classic; and determined liability issues on a daily basis, making sure her resorts are ready and safe for guests at all times.

“Everyone knows the Disney Company’s name, and when I go home to northern New York and I mention Disney, it always lights up people’s faces,” acknowledges Cathy. “I know we make a difference whether it is creating magic in our parks or having tournaments for kids at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports that my child now attends. I have fun at work! And, that is why I chose the field of recreation and continue to stay in recreation.”

Her dedication to her work and cast earned Cathy the Partners in Excellence Award, the highest Disney award achievable by cast nomination. She and her team also won the Women’s Canoe Races of the World, which started when the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971.

Cathy and Vic, owner of a water filtration company, live in Orlando with their daughter Elle, a high school and travel club volley ball player. The family spends winter and spring traveling and volunteering with the volley ball teams. They enjoy fishing from their 21-foot boat in the Atlantic Ocean or Tampa Bay/Gulf. In the summer, Cathy brings her family back home to the Adirondacks to experience recreation in the northern wilderness.