Here it is… the final installment of my Wish blog! I’ve been home in Los Angeles for about two months now. I initially meant to share this blog in my first week home, but I think I’ll be able to reflect on my experience in a different way now that I’ve had more time away from the ship. In this last entry about the opening of the Wish, I’ll cover the second week of August through the end of my contract in mid-October.
The beginning of August came with a new guitarist, Ryan. Our first priority was working him into Victrophonics, as it had been running with no guitar. Then, we started working him into a few of our trio sets in the Bayou. Aside from that, Ryan also played solo in the Bayou. While it wasn’t the originally intended framework for the Wish musicians, it was nice to finally have five musicians on board!
It was around this time that I finally started to get comfortable with my job and the expectations on board. My performance anxiety was much lower in Nightingales than it had been at the beginning of July. I was better at reading all-new crowds and engaging audiences of different sizes at different times of the evening. Of course, I was having a blast performing with my friends both in the Bayou and in Pirate’s Rockin’ Parlay Party. I played my first wedding on board, which was so exciting to take part in. Can you imagine getting married on a Disney cruise?
Some trips to the parks in Orlando were essential. My friends Carl and Danica took me to Hollywood Studios, which was the only Walt Disney World park I had yet to visit, and we managed to get to a lot in just a few hours! Galaxy’s Edge was not on my priority list since I’ve seen it plenty of times at Disneyland. We did all of the attractions I was hoping to do, including Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Slinky Dog Dash, and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway. I also got to go to Animal Kingdom with Alonso and two of our other friends from the main stage cast, Sondrine and Jenay. Similar to my DHS trip, we packed a lot into our short morning there, and even managed to stop for our favorite Dole Whip before heading back to the ship.
At the end of August, Michael ended up unexpectedly going home from the contract early. Myself and the rest of the musicians missed him while he was gone as he’s an integral part of our band of friends. In terms of our jobs, we needed to rework a few of our sets in his absence. This also meant that I went in as the pianist for Victrophonics, which was an experience I’m extremely grateful for. Victrophonics is a special show, and it gave me the chance to perform with some incredible people I wouldn't have shared the stage with otherwise.
September brought the arrival of Halloween on the High Seas. Slowly but surely the Halloween decor, including Boo the Pumpkin Tree, was brought on board. The characters had their best spooky outfits, and new shows and programs were put in place to celebrate the holiday. I was excited to see the debut of Minnie, Daisy and Clarabelle’s Sanderson Sisters outfits. September was also the month of visits from my friends. First my friend Mollie came on board for a weekend. It was so nice to spend a few days of quality time with her, especially considering she tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before my wedding back in January and couldn’t participate in anything. We got to dine in Arendelle, visit Castaway Cay, and of course she hung out in the spaces I was performing in. She got to hang out with my friends and play some games, and they hit it off very quickly. After Mollie went home, Carl and Danica came for four days. They’re both former Disney cast members and current Disney nerds, so I had a great time taking them behind the scenes and introducing them to the entertainment cast. We had a great time together, too! Of course I got some character photos with all of my friends.
Outside of work, my husband and I started our search for an apartment in LA. This turned out to be challenging considering our time difference and my lack of consistent WiFi/cell service, but we ended up finding a place that we really liked. It was a little spooky for me to sign off on it without seeing it, but I trusted Steven’s judgement and it has turned out wonderfully for us so far. He did a great job handling all of the in-person searching!
The first 3-day cruise of October ended up being cancelled due to Hurricane Ian. The guests on that week’s 4-day cruise were on board with us for a few extra days as we sailed away from the storm, so we needed to come up with some additional entertainment offerings for them. We got to perform some live music in the Grand Hall with the characters which was SO much fun. It wasn’t often that we had lots of children dancing to our music in the Bayou, so that was a treat. We also put together a feature-length version of Victrophonics to perform in the Walt Disney Theater. That was the musicians’ first and only time getting to play on that stage, and it was wonderful. We had a great time together and the audience loved it!
October was the home stretch of the contract. So much happened in those three short weeks! Michael came back for a cruise and it was so good to see him again. We went to Hollywood Studios the day before he boarded the ship, because we had one more unexpected dark day (a full day on board with no guests) after the elongated hurricane cruise. We also went to the pirate museum and the beach in Nassau.
The day Michael was leaving happened to be the day Steven was arriving, so Steven met us at Animal Kingdom and came back to the ship with us. I was so happy to have my husband with me, especially because he had yet to see me play in Victrophonics! We got to celebrate our new apartment together and share a much more joyful goodbye knowing it was only a week until I’d be going home.
Our last week was when all of the big emotions started to hit. Some of my favorite people who had left the ship for their vacation came back right before we left. We were also in the middle of what’s called “crossover,” which is when the new entertainment cast arrives and rehearses while we are finishing our runs. We got to spend some time with some of the new musicians during the crossover, and they observed some of our sets. I made a point to go and see as many of the other shows as I could on those last two cruises since it was my last opportunity to watch my friends do their thing. When it came time for the sail away party on our very last cruise, I was already losing it. I knew it wouldn’t truly hit me that it was over until I was home, so I tried my best to savor the moments as I was in them. We closed Victrophonics on the first night of our last cruise, although we had already “closed” it a few times as the show has multiple singers and some had performed their last show already. Our final show hit hard all the same - there were plenty of tears to go around. The rest of the weekend continued much the same way. We had our final set in The Bayou, then our final Pirate’s Rockin’ Parlay Party. For me, Parlay was the most emotional closing show. It was the very first thing we rehearsed together when we arrived in Toronto in March, and the biggest production the musicians were involved in. We had looked forward to it for so long. The process of being on the ship during construction to opening the ship to working in full operation felt like forever, and yet it went by in the blink of an eye. The energy on stage and in the audience that night was electric. I started crying as soon as we said our last “yo ho!” The full show from that night is on YouTube, thanks to Alonso. After we finished the show, we had an entertainment team celebration in the theater where we reflected on our experience throughout the past year.
We received a special surprise on our last full day on board. Our Senior Entertainment Manager Sheikha heard that we never received our ears from our Traditions class, since we did it by ourselves online while we were in Toronto. While we were in a team meeting, she called in a surprise guest to present us with our ears. Captain Minnie came in and gave us hugs of congratulations. It was such a joyful morning! I was glad to see my team in that meeting, because I spent the rest of my day performing alone in Nightingale’s. It was an easy night as I played some of my favorite sets for guests. Suddenly it was time to finish packing, squeeze in a visit to my friends in the crew bar, and try to get some sleep before the craziness of the following day.
Debarkation day consisted of a lot of back and forth - finishing packing, loading luggage, discarding dirty linens, retrieving new ones for the next occupant of my cabin, and a cabin inspection. Somehow I managed to remember breakfast amidst all of that! Once I had completed everything on my checklist, I met the rest of the disembarking crew in Luna and waited to be called up for our passports. As we waited we started to say goodbye to each other, most of us saved our closest friends for last because we wanted to stave off the waterworks as long as we could. Once we finally gave in to the inevitable and said our emotional goodbyes, we were off to the airport. I couldn’t believe that this experience that felt like a lifetime was over so quickly. After waiting around at the airport, I was off to LAX. I arrived home to my husband, some much needed In-N-Out, and our new apartment still full of boxes.
I’ve thought a lot about what this experience means to me since returning home. For starters, I’ve become a much stronger performer than I was before. I’m much more comfortable interacting with audiences and trying new things without having perfected them first. My personality has started to really shine through in my performance. I’ve struggled with this in the past, and it was something I knew I would work on during this contract, so I’m proud of the immense progress I made in that department!
I've touched on health anxiety in several of my previous blog posts. Losing your grandmother suddenly right before living alone in a new country is not for the faint of heart, I can tell you that. I grappled with newfound health anxiety throughout my contract, from Toronto to Eemshaven to Port Canaveral. I tend to assume medical professionals always have my best interests at heart, and while many of them do, I usually don’t push further when my questions are left unanswered. This is something I improved on during my contract. I asked follow-up questions when I needed to and felt less anxious about taking up space. This is huge for me! This carried over into my job as well. Opening a brand new ship with all new shows comes with plenty of issues and miscommunication. My friends and I advocated for what we needed well while remaining respectful and working to solve problems as a team. This was one of my favorite things about them - everyone had initiative and integrity.
Speaking of my friends, they were the best part of the whole experience for me. Getting to make music with them daily was an absolute joy. I’m lucky they turned out to be great people in addition to being great musicians. We were there for each other through thick and thin, from dropping off snacks to each others’ Covid-isolation rooms to late night talks to hugs when we needed them most. Oh, and jokes… lots and lots of stupid inside jokes. The best kind.
Opening the Wish was an absolute honor. I am glad to have played a small part in Disney history by being a part of some incredible entertainment. Thank you all for following along with me throughout this journey!
Welcome back to my Disney Wish blog! My last post was all about our transatlantic crossing. Today we’re talking about the first month of sailings: christening ceremony, preview and media cruises, maiden voyage, and more up through the beginning of August.
The first day of the christening was my last full day in COVID isolation, so I watched the ceremony on TV from my room. While I was bummed to be missing out, I was excited to see my peers on screen and watch our work come to fruition. (I even made the shortest of cameos in a clip of the crew from our rally!) After two negative tests, I was released from isolation the following day. I made two debuts during the christening cruise: on the deck stage for Pirate’s Rockin’ Parlay Party, and solo in Nightingale’s. We did a special preview version of Parlay for the christening guests, and we had a blast. I don’t know if I have the proper words to describe the feeling I had playing live with fireworks in our costumes after months of preparation and anticipation. It was thrilling, for sure. Nightingale’s was thrilling in a different way, especially getting to see my own (married!) name on the navigators throughout the ship.
Throughout the following two weeks, we performed for guests on preview and media cruises. These guests were specially invited cast members, travel agents, influencers, and media figures. We even had some actors on board, including John Stamos and one of my personal heroes, Jodi Benson (more on that later on…). In addition to our sets, we continued to have rehearsals, notes sessions, and trainings. There were also a lot of media shoots going on during these cruises, and we got to participate in one in the Bayou! We might show up in promotional materials for the Wish in the future.
In between these early sailings, we had two dark days, which is the term for full days in port without any guests on board. On our first dark day, Alonso, Danny, Michael and I spent the morning and early afternoon at Epcot. It was our first time going to the parks using our cast member main gate passes (aside from Alonso who’s done a contract for Disney before)! Considering we only had until 1pm to spend in the park before we needed to head back to the ship, we got a lot in during our visit, including the new Guardians of the Galaxy ride which I absolutely loved. It was somewhat like Space Mountain with different mechanics, and of course the soundtrack that’s integral to the Guardians franchise. The thing that amazed me the most is how smooth it was. It was somehow both relaxing and thrilling all at once!
Sadly during our last cruise before the maiden voyage, Danny tested positive for COVID, which meant we had to perform without him for five days. Not having him in the pirate show that cruise was the weirdest part because his energy contributes so much to the show. We kept checking in on him throughout the week. Thankfully Danny’s symptoms were mild and he tested negative by day 5 just as I had, so he was back in no time. One positive thing that came out of that week was getting to do some duo piano/vocal and bass sets with Alonso in the Bayou. I’ve always loved the musical intimacy and freedom of playing in a duo setting with bass. There was a lovely couple on board with us who were ballroom dancers, and they danced during several of our sets in the Bayou, including our duo performance.
Finally, after months of preparation and crossing the entire Atlantic ocean, it was time for the official maiden voyage! We set sail from Port Canaveral on July 14th for a special 5 day cruise. Aside from being excited to welcome our first full paying guests on board who had no doubt waited years for their cruise, I was over the moon to finally be seeing my husband for the first time in 3 months. He arrived in Orlando and stayed with friends of ours who drove him to the port the following morning. The four of us got to have brunch together which made the morning even more special. When we got back to the ship, I went through the crew gangway while Steven had to go through the guest terminal. I was so glad I got to be in the Grand Hall that afternoon. As I waited for him, I watched guests’ faces light up as they stepped on the ship for the first time. Between that and watching my husband board my floating home, I was pretty overwhelmed! Once Steven was on board, I showed him around the ship and took him up to the deck to watch Set Sail on a Wish, the sail away party performed every embark right before we set sail to the Bahamas. The emotions kept piling on for me, getting to see the show performed to a full audience of excited guests, knowing what a long way we’d come since being in Toronto together.
The next few days were full of quality time with my husband in the mornings and performances in the evenings. I introduced him to my friends, and he watched my solo sets, group sets in the Bayou, and of course he saw the pirate deck party. I also got to take him to Castaway Cay for the first time, which he loved. We both love Disney, so getting to share this time together was special for us. I don’t think we would have been able to go on a Disney cruise together this early on in our lives if not for me working for the cruise line!
One of my favorite parts of the maiden voyage was seeing a special concert put on by Jodi Benson. For those unfamiliar, she voiced Ariel in The Little Mermaid. That film was the catalyst for the Disney Renaissance of the 90’s. The Little Mermaid has been my favorite Disney movie for as long as I can remember, so I was ECSTATIC that she was on board. I’m a huge fan of Howard Ashman as well, who was the lyricist for the film alongside composer Alan Menken (They also did Beauty and the Beast and part of Aladdin together before Howard’s untimely passing in 1991). I even performed a song by them on my master’s degree recital in 2021, so my love for all things Mermaid runs deep. Jodi is a lovely, kind, and giving human. Towards the end of 2020, I did a short meet and greet with her via a virtual comic con, and she somehow managed to give me wise and thoughtful advice in the 3 minutes we had together. During her concert on board, she was accompanied by Ben Rauhala who you may know from Broadway Princess Party or the Disney Princess concert tour. She performed songs from throughout her career and other Disney favorites: A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes, a Beauty and the Beast medley, songs from Smile and Crazy for You, a fun medley Ben had written of songs from the Little Mermaid animated series, and of course Part of Your World.
Throughout her time on board, I saw photos of guests and cast members alike getting to meet her. I hoped I’d get to run into her, but by the last day of the maiden voyage I had given up. Little did I know, despite my refusing out of embarrassment when he suggested it, my husband sent Jodi a message on Instagram on my behalf explaining that I was a huge fan of hers and that I worked as a performer on board. Around 5:15 that evening as I was sitting in Nightingale’s getting ready for my first set of the night (which happened to be a Disney Requests set), I saw Jodi and Ben walk by and peer into the glass doorway. At first I thought they were just checking out the venue, but they caught my eye, pointed and waved at me! They entered the bar and Jodi said across the room “Your husband sent me a message, bless his heart, so we checked your schedule and wanted to come say hi!” At this point my heart exploded. Jodi asked if I had my camera with me and told me to come outside to take some photos. Both she and Ben were so lovely, and they introduced me to Ben’s mother who was also sailing with them. We took some photos, and Jodi chatted with me a bit. I got to tell her about our virtual meet and greet and thank her for her kind words to me from before. After a while, Jodi explained that they had to leave for dinner soon, but they wanted to know when I’d be performing my Disney set. When my answer was “right now,” they said they’d stay and watch a few songs before dinner. At this point I was unable to conceal my balking, and she told me not to feel pressured! I always open my Disney Requests set with a Cinderella medley, and then open up to requests after. This time when I asked for requests, the whole room was tittering with excitement as they could all clearly see Jodi and Ben sitting near me by the piano. Finally after what seemed to me like an eternity of silence, someone requested I Won’t Say I’m In Love from Hercules and I played it for them. After that, there was more silence, so I finally addressed the elephant in the room and pointed out the special guests. I took a deep breath and launched into Part of Your World. After I played it Jodi and Ben thanked me (thanked ME?!) before heading off to dinner. My sweet husband filmed the whole thing, so I got to watch them both swaying in their seats enjoying my performance, which was just mind boggling to me. When I talked to him afterwards, I learned that he didn’t know Jodi had seen his message, so when he saw her talking to me as he walked up to Nightingale’s he was just as surprised and excited as I was!
After the maiden voyage, Steven got to sail with me for four more cruises. We had the shortest of visits when he came to Toronto, so I was relieved not to have to shove everything into only a few days. We got to dine in all the restaurants and even had an exquisite dinner at Palo one evening. In terms of work, I finally felt like we were settling into a routine with our schedule where we knew what to expect. After performing the same sets for different guests, we started to learn what worked and what didn’t, so we fell into a comfortable rhythm.
In past blog posts I’ve mentioned a bit in regards to my health. I made steady progress in this area as well during this time. I finally got a referral to see a GI doctor about my stomach. I also had my first appointment with a psychiatrist and was prescribed medication. During my first week taking it I felt incredibly fatigued, but as time went on I noticed my anxiety symptoms - and even some of my digestive symptoms - improving. I’m feeling proud of myself for prioritizing my health and learning how to advocate for what I need, as it can be so easy to put off things like this.
At long last, I got to welcome my mom on board for a three day cruise! I hadn’t seen her since I left for Toronto. It was so rewarding getting to show her the ship and what I had been up to in the months we hadn’t seen each other. I went to college across the country from home, so we’re used to keeping up with each other virtually, but this was still something new going from being a student to working on a Disney cruise. She got to watch all of my sets and experience all of the restaurants with Steven (I did get to join them one night I didn’t have work during the dinner window 😊). I loved getting to watch the other shows with her as well and see her reactions. Her visit was much shorter than Steven’s, but fulfilling nonetheless.
And there you have it! ’Til next time…
Well, here we are again… it’s now September, and I haven’t posted since June! Clearly I haven’t been on top of my blog as much as I’d would have liked. I will be backtracking to share about June through August, then there'll be just a few more weeks until this contract is over. It feels so weird that we are starting to near the end of this contract. Having been in three different countries so far since March, I feel like I’ve been away from home for years already.
Last I posted, we were finishing up our time in the Netherlands as the ship got ready to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Today’s post is all about the crossing. On June 9, we departed from Bremerhaven, Germany. Our route took us through the English Channel, stopping at Ponta Delgada (on São Miguel Island, Portugal) and Disney’s private island Castaway Cay before finally docking in Port Canaveral for the first time on June 20.
Our first few days were full of more of the same; lots of rehearsals, trainings and costume fittings. The day we departed, we had a rehearsal in the afternoon before going up to the deck to watch the ship sail away. We heard statements from our assistant cruise director Ashley and DCL vice president Sharon Siske thanking the crew before music celebrating our departure was blasted throughout the deck (My personal favorite was Come Sail Away).
The following Monday was an exciting day. We started off with our first ever soundcheck in the Bayou so we could make sure the mix was to our liking. Then the ship docked in Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores archipelago of Portugal. Despite only having a few hours, we made the most of our time there. First we did some shopping, as most of us had some things we needed (or perhaps didn’t need, but wanted 😂). We stopped to sight-see and take photos en route to the mall. Then we visited a gorgeous garden, Jardim Botânico José do Canto. I was enamored by all of the tall and colorful plants! Finally, we had arguably the most memorable meal of our entire contract at A Tasca. Everything was delightful, from the wine to the appetizers (including a slow-roasted sausage lit on fire at our table!) and especially the main courses like my duck and chorizo risotto.
Our day in Ponta Delgada
At long last, the day arrived… we got to perform live for the first time for the guests on the crossing! Starting Tuesday, we performed every night in the Bayou, premiering the sets we had put together for the guests, our creative team and our peers. The energy we were met with was heartwarming and oh so rewarding after the journey we went through to arrive at that point.
We continued to have drills, rehearsals, costume fittings in the morning and performances at night throughout the rest of the crossing. We also had a crew rally where the crew went up to the pool deck and celebrated with Disney executives. The last day before we arrived in Florida, we stopped for the first time at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay. I was so excited to check out the island! I had a relaxing afternoon with my friends at the crew beach, swimming and soaking up the sun. I couldn’t believe how blue the water was.
I awoke bright and early on the morning of the 20th to my 4:30 AM alarm, quickly washed my face, threw on some comfortable clothes and headed upstairs so I could watch the ship arrive at her home port. My friends and I got to wave to the hundreds of people who lined the water as the ship headed towards the Disney Cruise Line terminal. I was shocked at the sheer amount of people who showed up! When we arrived at the terminal, a crowd of cast members was waving, cheering and holding up signs for us. I’ve never been outside of the United States for this long, so when the crowd yelled “WELCOME HOME!” I started to cry. We got to watch from behind as Captains Minnie and Mickey celebrated with fireworks. Later that day, each crew member had to go through immigration. It was a long process, but we were greeted by welcoming cast members and given some cool opening team merch!
There were no guests on board for our first few days in Florida, so we continued with rehearsals. Sadly, I ended the week with a positive COVID test, so I needed to pack a bag and head to a different cabin to isolate for five days. That meant I missed the first time our pirate deck party cast got to see and rehearse with pyrotechnics. I was bummed and started to go stir-crazy, but thankfully I tested negative on day 5.
Thanks for following along my journey so far! More to come soon…
There are only 5 days from the time I’m writing this until we embark on our journey across the Atlantic to the Wish’s home port in Florida. In just over a month, so much has happened! It has been quite the journey here in the Netherlands.
The entertainment cast flew from Toronto to Amsterdam in several different groups. My group departed from Toronto in the evening, taking a red-eye to London Heathrow before one more short flight to Amsterdam. Due to DCL’s visa agreement with the Netherlands, we knew we wouldn’t be able to return to Amsterdam after boarding the Wish. We wanted to make the most of our night despite our jet lag, so we took an Uber into the city and explored by foot for a few hours admiring the canals, snapping some photos, and grabbing some delicious dessert and drinks. An early wake-up call the following morning kicked my butt, but still didn’t make me regret our outing. We had breakfast at the hotel before boarding a bus to the shipyard. Seeing the Wish for the very first time was an emotional experience. Everyone on the bus was buzzing as we rounded the corner and the ship came into view along with a crowd of cast members cheering for our arrival.
That first day was exhausting. After a long bus ride, there were several steps we had to take to get through security and get our new ID’s before boarding the ship. Once we were on board, we received our safety gear: hard hats, high-visibility jackets, and steel-toed shoes. We were given a tour and then finally were able to retrieve our luggage and go to our cabins. Everyone we met was kind and helpful, but my tired brain was on information overload. I felt much better the next morning after resting, which was necessary for the week ahead. Working on a ship for the first time is confusing enough - imagine it also being a live construction site!
Our first week mostly consisted of meetings with our team leaders and training courses we didn’t already complete in Toronto. It was nice to start putting names to faces, and by the end of the week I felt like I could get around the ship a little easier. At the very least, I got a handle on the directional terminology. The most exciting parts of this week were a safety training/tour on the deck stage and my first costume fitting (!!!)
One of the best things about our time here has been getting to visit Groningen, the closest large city to the shipyard. Groningen is an amazing city full of great food, shopping, and culture. The University of Groningen makes it an international hub for young people, and I’ve heard many different languages being spoken near me as I’ve walked around. As an American, one of the most impressive things to me about Groningen is how bicycle friendly it is. If I were riding a bicycle in LA or Miami, I would never leave it outside for fear of it getting stolen - and I probably wouldn’t be relying on the bicycle for my primary mode of transportation in the first place. Here, it seems nearly everyone owns a bicycle. I see them more often than cars! Parked bicycles line every street. Our awesome crew engagement manager organized regular buses to take crew from the ship into town. This is especially appreciated as spaces for crew on board will be limited until we’re in regular operation. Sometimes I will go to Groningen alone and find a cafe with good wifi to get some work done or download some new TV episodes. Other times I’ll go with friends and we’ll go shopping, go to dinner, or get a few drinks together. A large group of us went and saw Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness when it came out, which was awesome! As you can imagine, the cast is full of Marvel nerds.
A slideshow of sights, food, and friends in Groningen
As for music making, we have been doing that too! It was slow to start at first, but we got into a rhythm with rehearsals. During our second and third weeks here, we were transported to a music studio close to Groningen to rehearse, mostly working on show music but also our cover band sets. When space became available to us and our instruments were brought on board, we began rehearsing on the ship. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with the guitarist who was cast, but between the four of us we’re definitely making things work. I’ve known my fellow musicians here were incredibly versatile since we started working together in Toronto, but the past few weeks have exemplified that.
Last week we set sail for sea trials, which is when the ship’s functionality is tested for all of the conditions it may face while in operation. When I stepped out on the deck on the first day of the sea trial and found myself surrounded by water rather than concrete and cranes, I felt a calm wash over me I hadn’t felt in a while. Many of us stayed out on the deck as the sun went down and celebrated our first sail together (and for some, like myself, our first sail ever on a cruise ship).
There were a few days during that week when my anxiety and overwhelm came to a head, mainly due to the distressing news coming out of the United States. The collective grief of the country enmeshed with my own personal grief and overstimulation from my environment led to some dark places. However, something about the vastness of the water was comforting. That, plus bonding with some truly great people, has helped me reach a place where I feel more grounded and content. The endless “what-if”s that can be triggered by unprecedented events (that seem to become more precedented by the day over the past few years) may be my brain’s way of trying to keep me safe, but in reality it can render me entirely unable to make any sort of positive change in my environment. Re-wiring those thought processes without losing the fire I feel about the trials the US faces is the challenge - and I’m taking it one step at a time.
Of course, being apart from my husband is always difficult, but my love and appreciation for him grows steadily each time we navigate long-distance together. We still have over a month before we see each other again, but we did have a fun full-circle moment when he flew to Jakarta, Indonesia to play at the Java Jazz Festival. His time zone was actually closer to mine while he was in Jakarta than when he was at home, so we were able to communicate more often. We both realized that we were living our teen selves’ dreams - married to each other, traveling the world making music. Ultimately we’d love to be doing the traveling together, but I know we’ll get there.
Since returning from the sea trial we’ve enjoyed some fun nights in Groningen as well as some hangs in my cabin playing Mario Party (in which Michael destroyed us all both times). I’ve also been able to reconnect with some family and friends this week on the phone which has been rejuvenating. I downloaded the newest episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Stranger Things, which I’ve been devouring in my down time. I’ve also been working on adding a few more charts to my solo material for the piano bar and organizing my set lists. Best of all, yesterday we had our first rehearsal with our instruments out on the deck stage. It was INCREDIBLE. The main purpose of the rehearsal was to sound check so the engineers could get a good mix, but we had a blast performing together on the stage where we’ll be performing for guests. The energy was amazing, and everyone who was listening was thoroughly enjoying it. I cannot wait to see the entire production come together with the rest of the cast, costumes, lighting, effects, the whole nine yards.
That brings us to today! We have a few days of crew drills, rehearsals, and a Groningen visit or two until we depart. Next time you hear from me, I’ll be writing from Florida. Until next time!
The day before my husband arrived in Toronto for our weekend together, Danny, Michael and I had Personal Survival Techniques training (Alonso is too cool for us 😎 Just kidding… he’s done a contract with DCL before and already has this certification). We got on a bus at 5:50 am along with others in our entertainment cohort and drove to a college campus where we did the course. The portion of the class we did in the pool ended up being a fun team bonding activity, especially when it came to righting an upside-down life raft. We got video footage of each person successfully flipping the raft while the rest of the class would cheer. Then we did a lifeboat simulation and a written exam. We all passed, and had a great (albeit long) day.
Our PST class with our instructor (far left)
Finally, the day came for my husband to visit. I took the train to the airport so I could meet him there. I was so happy to see his face in front of me and not on a screen! We only had a short time together, but we managed to make the most of it. Of course, I had to take him to Lee so he could try the amazing food for himself. The next day, we went to a Blue Jays game and went up CN tower to see all of Toronto from a bird’s eye view. Being from LA (Go Dodgers), my husband was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get to the stadium on foot. In between being tourists, we watched the first two Spider-Man movies, which I had never seen. The original trilogy has been on our watch list since we saw Spider Man: No Way Home. I loved them, although I was glad Steven had seen them already so he could warn me when a particularly horror movie-esque moment was approaching. One of things I was most looking forward to during his stay was going out for meals with my musician friends. Those of you who have ever had a long-distance partner know that experiencing new things and building new friendships can feel melancholy and incomplete without them. Talking on the phone about it is nothing compared to how wonderful it feels to share it with them in person.
Of course the weekend had to come to an end, so I said goodbye to Steven at the train station and delved into the next week. I was proud of myself this week because I finally addressed the health concerns that had been causing me anxiety since I arrived in Toronto. Dealing with new medical clinics and new insurance in a new place can be difficult, and health anxiety mixed with grief due to the sudden loss of a loved one is no joke. After some scheduling snafus and grumbling about insurance being unnecessarily complicated, I was able to get a prescription at a walk-in clinic that helped me quickly. It was relieving to have some answers, and empowering to know I did it on my own.
Back at the studio, the band continued to chip away at our cover sets, working in some new genres. We also got to watch run-throughs of most of the other shows, which is always exciting! I enjoy watching all of the other incredible performers shine.
Then Friday arrived - my birthday. I woke up feeling a confusing mix of emotions. It was my first time ever waking up on my birthday completely alone. Everything that happened in the year since my last birthday was weighing on my mind, and I wanted to stay curled up inside. That soon changed once I got myself dressed and went to the studio. I brought cookies I had baked and a small chocolate cake from my parents, and then several dozen cupcakes (which I later found out were sent by my aunt) were waiting for me when I arrived. This made for quite the conversation starter when I spread everything out in the green room! My three band mates left birthday cards and Timbits (oh sweet Timbits, I miss you so) on the keyboard for me when I went into our rehearsal space. The mood I was in that morning morphed into happiness and gratitude. Coincidentally, the cast organized a trip to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kurios that evening, so I got to experience my first circus performance. It was an astounding performance. The energy in the room was electric as it was opening weekend for the cast after years of Covid closures!
We took advantage of our last free weekend in Toronto by taking a train and then a bus to Niagara Falls. Bucket list item, check ✅ We admired the falls from the top and had lunch with an incredible view before going down to the base to take in all their majesty. Despite the sea of tourists in yellow ponchos, it was lovely - and quite loud! The most interesting part to me was the dichotomy between this natural wonder of the world and all of the attractions just down the street from it. After seeing the falls, we walked toward Clifton Hill, which is a long, sloping street somewhat reminiscent of Hollywood Boulevard. It is loud, colorful, and a bit dirty, with every cheap attraction you could imagine. The three of us bought fun passes for the day and had a BLAST doing everything that was included: ferris wheel, dinosaur mini golf, arcade games, “rides” (two of them 3D movie screens, one a low-budget cross between Haunted Mansion and Astro Blasters), and a horrendously amazing wax museum. We finished out the day perfectly with beers at Niagara Brewing.
Our final week in Toronto was filled with final runs and departure meetings, but my two favorite highlights had nothing to do with work. First, I got to go out to dinner with my friend Mel, who I met online during the Animal Crossing Obsession of 2020. Despite playing the game much less frequently now that all of us are back to work, we’ve stayed in touch. It was so nice to see her! She took me to a cute little Italian restaurant with delicious pasta, and we had a great time catching up. Then, my musician friends and I got to see the most insane concert I’ve been to in quite some time. Saxophonist Joshua Redman reunited the band he put together for his debut album MoodSwing in 1994 (Brad Mehldau, Christian McBride, and Brian Blade) to do a new album that was released in 2020, and I happened to see online that they would be in Toronto while we were there. I immediately jumped to buy tickets. Brad Mehldau sadly did not end up performing that evening due to illness, but Gerald Clayton subbed in for him. It was an incredible evening of music that sparked my love for this art form in a way I haven’t felt in quite a bit. My favorite aspect of the set was how different each member’s compositions were, and yet how beautifully they complimented one another.
One of my favorite things about Toronto is the juxtaposition of old and new architecture. This was perfectly exemplified inside the Royal Conservatory of Music building where the concert was held.
Me being me, I left all of my packing for the last day, but still managed to get it done. I did some shopping (including a new suitcase because I realized I had the allowance for an extra checked bag), collected all my leftover non-perishable groceries to bring to the studio for the next cast, and got all of my belongings organized. Our bus came to pick us up from my apartment building the following afternoon, and then it was time for our journey to the Netherlands!
As of this week we'll have been in Toronto for a month! I'm feeling much more settled in here as the days go by.
In terms of music making for Week 2, we wrapped up our first show and started work on a second show that I don't play in. I went back and forth between sitting in on rehearsals to get familiar with the material in the event I need to sub, and using a small music room to practice my solo material. It was great to watch my friends play something different alongside some of the vocalists and dancers. Everyone is incredibly skilled and versatile. At the end of the week, we went out to a local bar to hear forró, which is a Brazilian dance and genre of music. It was a ton of fun hearing something new and even learning the dance myself. The next day our music team treated us to dinner at Lee, celebrity chef Susur Lee's restaurant. The food was absolutely incredible, as was the service. Every menu item had so many delicious and unexpected flavors. I've only had a handful of dining experiences like that in my life!
Week 3 was our last week with our music team before they headed home. The next time we see them will be on the ship in Germany. We continued working on our show material and also started putting together some cover band music to play as a group. It can be a little spooky to go into a new musical situation with people you've never collaborated with before, but so far we work extremely well together, which is a good sign for how we'll continue to work together on board. We also got to watch runs of two of the other shows, and they were phenomenal. I honestly got emotional picturing them in full production and imagining guests' reactions. One of the days this week we had our weekly PCR testing in the morning and then a long break until rehearsal in the afternoon, so our guitarist Dave took us to Fran's for breakfast. This diner is right across from the iconic Massey Hall, so of course we had to grab a picture.
Our last day with our music team was also our last day with Dave, so we celebrated with some donuts that Clay brought in to share with everyone. Going into Week 4, we kept working on our cover and solo material, rehearsed our show music a few times, and did a lot more safety training classes. In our off time, we went back to our favorite ramen place, visited the Art Gallery of Toronto, and simply hung out and had drinks together (and I finally had some poutine that wasn't from Wendy's). These have been some of my favorite experiences here so far, connecting with the people I'll be spending most of my time on board with and exploring a new place together.
On a more personal note, I've been working on taking better care of myself these past few weeks. I was on such a high during our first week that I started to crash once we got used to our routine. I didn't become aware of it until we started working on cover material as a group and I started singing some high-intensity songs after not singing very often for two weeks. Singing felt more effortful for me than usual, and I was consistently tired. I started to slow down and think about why that could be happening. In the short term, my body had just gone through a lot of change with traveling, a new schedule, and more eating and drinking that came with being social. Thinking more broadly though, the past year of my life has been full of big changes and painful losses. My tolerance for resilience has definitely been tested. I'm most prone to anxiety spiraling any time I am not distracted by other things, which is typically when I'm driving or in bed before falling asleep. As a result, my relationship with sleep has suffered this year, and sometimes I will keep myself up well past when my body signals a need for rest in fear of intrusive thoughts. Cue having a space all to myself for the first time in a while and... you see where this is going. I've been working on slowing down and being gentler with myself in ways that are realistic for me. For example, being more mindful about what I eat or drink - not necessarily avoiding "junk" altogether but perhaps avoiding ordering a second cup of coffee on an empty stomach. Getting ready for bed earlier, and giving myself permission to take a nap the next day when I don't. Adhering to the boundaries I set for myself regarding social media (this one is the toughest for me). Making sure I set aside time to get a solid vocal warm-up in. And most importantly, being more mindful in general of how I'm feeling and recognizing the stories I tell myself. I don't nail all of this every day, but I feel better as the days go on. My voice feels freer and I feel good knowing I can show up and do my best.
In my free time I've been doing a ton of walking around the city, mainly whenever I've needed to go shopping but also just to get my body moving. When I'm not outside, I've been enjoying cooking for myself and rekindling my love for some of my interests. I spent hours on Animal Crossing this past Sunday after not playing for months and it took me right back to Summer 2020. I've also been spending a lot of time going through my wedding photos which we received a few weeks ago and organizing them into albums. My only way of connecting with others over the photos so far has been sending links to family and posting on social media, so I'm looking forward to looking through them with my husband... when he gets here this weekend! As much as I'm proud of us for being pros at the long distance thing, it's always difficult. I cannot wait to give him a hug in person and show him around my temporary new home.
Some shots from my solo walks, and a peaceful moment in my apartment.
My experience here so far has been both rewarding and healing. Putting all the skills I've learned to the test in this gig and realizing how much I benefit from them is rewarding. Feeling free to be myself with new people and reflecting on how much I've grown is healing. I'm especially grateful for how kind everyone has been here. It's an honor to be part of a team like this and I have to pinch myself daily to remember that it's real.
Currently, I am in Toronto, Ontario, which is where DCL's rehearsal facility is. It is such a thrill to be here after months of planning and wondering what this would be like. In just one week, I've gone from flying to Canada and meeting total strangers to making great friends and performing a full run of our show.
My journey started last Monday, March 7, in the wee small hours of the morning. My husband woke up with me at 3:30 am to take me to LAX for my 7:30 am departure. While we've done the long distance thing before, it's been a while since we've had to, and lurching towards the airline terminal took me right back to our airport drop-offs in college. As excited as I was to head to Toronto, saying goodbye was definitely the hardest part, especially since we weren't sure if and how often he'd be able to visit. We just booked him a trip to Toronto for a few days in April, so I'm looking forward to showing him around my new city.
The flight itself was smooth and easy. Being the tall person that I am, I did not regret spending a bit extra on the exit row. Danny, the drummer for the Wish, happened to be on the same flight as me. We met virtually via Zoom the week before, so he recognized me after we got through customs. I was glad to meet someone right away as it made navigating the airport and finding a car to our apartments a little less intimidating. DCL provides housing for all of the entertainment cast members while we are rehearsing in Toronto. I'm on the 11th floor of my building in a beautiful apartment. Most of the cast members have roommates, but being the only woman out of five musicians, I ended up with my own space. After dropping off my things, I walked around the corner to get a sandwich and some snacks - and, being from Los Angeles and Miami, I marveled at the cold weather. I ended up being pretty hungry again as I was headed to sleep since my body was still on Pacific Time, so I ordered Wendy's on DoorDash. You can order poutine as a side at Wendy's here, but I have yet to have the real deal. That's on my list for this week!
On Tuesday, I kept to myself most of the day. The musicians had a health and safety meeting on Zoom, then I unpacked a little more, got to work on some of my online Disney employee training, and ordered some groceries on InstaCart. Then on Wednesday the magic started - our first day of rehearsal. I walked to the rehearsal facility for the first time and met the rest of the musicians - bassist Alonso, guitarist Dave (a local player from Toronto temporarily subbing in), and another pianist, Michael. We were given a tour of the facility, which is amazing and incredibly detailed. The whole facility has pops of bright color throughout, and the instrumental music playing in the halls instantly boosts your mood. Each of the studios has a letter that is also associated with a Disney character, such as Studio "C" for Cinderella. One of my favorite details was the music rooms near the front desk named after famous Disney composers Alan Menken and The Sherman Brothers. Of course, Mickey appears often in different parts of the building. I was giddy as I sat in the Sherman music room to warm up. I couldn't believe I was actually there! In the afternoon, we had our first music rehearsal with our music director, Clay. We got to listen through the music for our show and play together for the first time. These musicians are incredible players and I feel lucky to make music with them! We had a great vibe together right away and had quality conversations while we weren't rehearsing.
The rest of my week consisted of lots of rehearsing, getting to know the other musicians better (including regular coffee runs after lunch), cooking for myself, more online classes, unpacking and settling in, exploring the streets near my apartment, editing TikToks, and enjoying the snow! Saturday was the first day putting our show together with the rest of the cast of singers, actors and dancers. All of the people here are friendly and welcoming, and top-notch professionals to boot. There were a few times while we were rehearsing that I felt more like myself than I have in a while.
Saturday night we went to a bar (remember doing that?) and Sunday night we went out for some delicious ramen which was perfect for the cold weather. We kicked off week 2 of rehearsal yesterday with a full run of our show for the creative team and an audience of cast members from the other productions. The energy in the room was electric. I can't wait to perform it for the guests on board!