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… just two more posts until the journey is done!