Living, Breathing and Networking His Amusement Park Dreams
On-the-Job Trainer at Seaworld Orlando
Undergrad student at the University of Central Florida, Rosen College of Hospitality Management
Xabdiel Nunez may sound like a familiar name to you, and you would be correct. Not only is he an up and coming leader in the hospitality industry, but he is also the recipient of the most recent 2019 CHART/NRAEF scholarship as well as the 2017 CHART/NRAEF scholarship. Both scholarships have helped him grow his knowledge in the industry and continue to help him accomplish his goal of graduating college free of student loan debt.
In May 2019, Xabdiel graduated from Valencia College with his associate’s degree. This fall, he is continuing his education at the University of Central Florida, Rosen College of Hospitality Management in Orlando where he is working towards his bachelor’s degree. He hopes to one day pair his love for food, roller coasters and serving others to create and manage his own amusement park.
“The 2017 and 2019 CHART scholarships I earned have helped me go after my dream of being an amusement park owner and graduate college free of student loan debt.”
What was your first experience with CHART?
My first experience with CHART was when I attended CHART 96 in San Diego in 2017. Back then, I had just graduated high school and I was in the process of moving from my home in Kentucky to Florida where I was going to attend Valencia College in Orlando. Up to this point, I had little experience with the hospitality industry, but I was really excited to combine all my passions, start my studies, and get involved.
CHART 96 was my introduction to the industry. As I attended the different sessions, I didn’t understand everything they were talking about, but I did learn some things about the industry that I was able to apply to my studies later that year. I was also able to meet and network with many in the industry. Many gave me their business cards, and some became valuable resources that I tapped into for school projects later that year. For that, I am very grateful.
How has receiving the CHART scholarships impacted your education and career path?
Since I was able to cover the cost of tuition through scholarships, I didn’t have to worry about working to pay for my tuition. I could focus on my studies full time. However, I decided to take on a part-time job at SeaWorld Orlando to help pay for other expenses and get a start in the industry. Since I started there in February 2018, I have been promoted to be a SeaWorld On-the-Job Trainer. This has allowed me to apply what I have learned in school and through this year’s CHART conference sessions to my job.
“I’m constantly visiting theme parks all around the country and soaking up any information I can about the industry… I pay attention to things normal parkgoers don’t pay attention to. I look at how operations are different from other parks, what the are doing a great job at, and what are some things they could do to improve the guest experience.”
Outside of school and your job at Seaworld, what else are you doing to help achieve your long-term goal of running a theme park?
I’m constantly visiting theme parks all around the country and soaking up any information I can about the industry. To date, I’ve been to 17 different amusement parks in the U.S. (You can follow my adventures on my Instagram account @rollercoasterfreakxn.) When I visit the parks, I pay attention to things normal parkgoers don’t pay attention to. For example, I look at how operations are different from other parks, what the are doing a great job at, and what are some things they could do to improve the guest experience. I usually carry a little notebook where I take notes.
I am also constantly following the news about theme parks around the world and keeping up with their new additions and changes. I watch YouTube videos on the history of parks, different events at parks, and roller coaster videos, and have a computer game called Planet Coaster where you are able to create and manage your own theme park. In the game, you are able to build rides, shops, firework shows, buildings, and just about anything you can think of. It also allows you to hire staff, manage the prices of your restaurants, hotels, rides, park tickets, etc. and you can see how your park is doing financially. The game is not 100% accurate of how running a real-life park would be, but it gives you an idea and gives you creative freedom to build your dream park.
“Everyone at CHART is so welcoming. I have never felt less of a person there just because I am a student. I am inspired by everyone to reach for their level of success and be as passionate for the industry as they are.”
When did your dream of running a theme park start and why?
While growing up, my grandparents took me and my sister to the Orlando theme parks a few times. I was always amazed by how the parks where able to bring the stories you see in movies to life. When I moved to Kentucky, I had a chance to visit Kings Island in Ohio. That’s when I truly fell in love with roller coasters. I saw them as masterpieces, like an art form. Both theme parks and amusement parks are able to create an atmosphere of possibilities. Things that normally might not seem possible or things we are only able to see on fictional TV can come to life in parks. For example, the new Star Wars Galaxy Edge at Disney has brought the world of Star Wars to life. This is a world that millions of fans have dreamt of visiting for years and now they can. Or look at Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure… it is home to the world’s tallest roller coaster and one of the fastest roller coasters in the world. One can safely go up 456 feet in the air at speeds of 128 mph in just 4 seconds. Experiences like these can only be found at theme parks and amusement parks. This is why some day, I wish to be able to offer these experiences to people. Someone has to open the next theme park, so why not me?
What are some tips you can give others that are just starting out in the hospitality industry?
Some tips I can give to about starting in the industry would be to do your research. Find out what part of the hospitality industry you are the most passionate about and pursue it. For me it’s theme parks and restaurants, so I found a job at a theme park. This industry has many opportunities – you just have to look for them.
When it comes to looking for scholarships, it also takes a lot of research. I know when I was in high school a lot of my teachers recommended using websites like fastweb.com. While those websites can be helpful, I recommend applying for scholarships in your field of study that ask for short essays or/and letters of recommendation about why you deserve it. That’s where I found most of my success and how I was able to earn the National Restaurant Association’s CHART scholarship.
Another tip is to network. Something I have been told time and time again is that your success will greatly depend on the people who you network with. Make those connections with people who have already been through what you are going through. They will help you grow in the industry and they will serve as a resource for you. The first time I attended CHART I was very nervous. There were so many important, successful people there. What I forgot to realize is that they are still people. They might have high ranks in large companies, but they are people just like me who enjoy the same foods and hobbies. Everyone at CHART is so welcoming. I have never felt less of a person there just because I am a student. I am inspired by everyone to reach for their level of success and be as passionate for the industry as they are.