photo courtesy of the author
How long did it take you to learn your dream job wasn’t what you expected? That you weren’t cut out for it, like, at all? I know I can’t be alone here. Was it gradual? Like a foot in the face? I’m genuinely curious.
When I received a performing role with the Disney Cruise Line — a true once in a lifetime kind of deal, I never intended to leave anytime soon if I could help it. It took about a week after arriving at Disneyworld for Traditions, the Disney Cruise line’s orientation training, to say, “Wow, this is going to be a nightmare.”
And I’m not just talking about beautiful, healthy princesses developing eating disorders or orgies on the ship like we’ve all heard. There was so much more, and I couldn’t hack it.
“Welcome to Hell”
Don’t get me wrong.
Of course performing for Disney was incredible. As an improv performer in the kid’s spaces we got a lot more freedom to be stupid. We traveled the world and earned some serious resume cred.
But the fun stuff never makes up the full job description, does it? The parts employers don’t explain.
The first person to talk to me on the ship was a tall man with grease on his face and yellow Mickey Mouse coveralls. Me and my crewmates had staggered into the narrow hall for the first time after having our luggage sniffed by police dogs.
When the man spoke, his Irish accent was thick.
“You new?” he asked, wiping his hands in silence until I realized he was talking to me.
“Yup,” I replied, almost flying off to the side as the ship lurched.
“Welcome to Hell,” he answered, then walked away.
I’m not even kidding.
I hated that I hated my awesome Disney job
It took me a long time to accept I hated my awesome Disney job because I hated that I hated it. But there are some things you’re just not cut out for, no matter how much you want to be, like the horror that is ship life.
Our small crew and the fact maritime law allows for up to fourteen hours a day of labor in any twenty-four-hour period meant people were working themselves to the point we couldn’t stand anymore and took steroids for the pain or went home.
We worked eleven to fourteen hours a day, seven days a week — and it was active work. At least as a performer I could go out into the world, use the jacuzzi, get a drink in the café (only if they were all empty, of course.)
Can you imagine not seeing the sun for months at a time? This was reality for a lot of crew members.
FYI explosive sonic diarrhea on cruise ships are a thing, even ones as strict as Disney. It’s called Norovirus, and the treatment is spending days in a hospital room with no food, a roommate, and one toilet as you spew from all ends.
The cabins weren’t much larger than a walk-in closet and you were lucky to have only one roommate. One time my temporary roomie, our ship’s “friend” of Princess Tiana and I suffered for two days with shit water soaking our carpets because one of the cabin toilets backed up.
The showers were so small when you bent over the curtain went up your butt crack. Each crew hallway smelled worse than the last one. With no room to even do laundry, people hung their clothes to dry like portraits on the gray, narrow walls.
We ate for free — left overs from the high-ranking crew member meals, but only if you could stomach the smell of burning garbage a few feet off due to the incinerator. (Eventually you got used to it — after a couple of weeks at sea you’d do anything to be first in line for cold pizza night.)
There was the constant fear of being fired. If you were injured or unable to keep up you received a surprise early morning visit at your cabin door, a few hours to collect your things and a ticket home. The whole crew understood the popular industry trope, “everyone’s replaceable” was the number one unspoken rule on the ship.
Our ships “friend” of Cinderella, who was so pretty, was even sent home for developing an eating disorder due to the strict dress size requirements — it was awful and she wasn’t alone, but the show went on.
The blend of personal/professional is a huge part of any job, but living on a ship meant you threw all those rules out the closest port-hole.
It was like the damned Wild West down in the crew bar serving two dollar cocktails every night with the open night sky as your back drop. (Which honestly, was so fun — until it wasn’t).
The cycle went get of work, shower, put on your clubbin’ outfit, and the next morning do the walk of shame from a cabin that isn’t yours an hour before your shift still drunk, boot, rally, and go entertain some kids.
My favorite past-time used to be watching Captain Jack Sparrow flirt his way through all the new girls with his sexy pirate talk — which he did very well — then nurse a hangover in the Bahamian heat the following day.
Crew members swapped cabins like Pokémon cards. There wasn’t much else to do especially when you’re weeks at sea, there were a bunch of hot people, so why not? At anytime we could be transferred and never see each other again.
You get used to the sounds of baby-making over your head like it’s the sound of waves from a white noise machine. It’s wild what can become your new normal after so long.
The crew would hold after parties in their cabins with stolen bottles of alcohol. Our room searches were never too thorough. I never saw any powder come through, though some crewmates were caught a few years before, which explained the dogs. Thinking back, I wouldn’t doubt people were high.
The stupider crew members would “hang out” in other places, sometimes. I myself almost got fired for taking the sound guy into our performer green room. We only chatted, but some crewmates were caught in the costume zoo doing everything but chatting a few years back — though I will say he and I did think about it, though we were smart enough to go back to his cabin and got walked in on by his roommate.
(Let me tell you, nothing is more awkward than making eye contact with a really hot guy as you climb out of his roommates bunk down the ladder and he has to hand you your shirt from the floor, but even this you get used to.)
You had to be cautious who you built relationships with. Simply because you work for a fun company doesn’t mean nefarious things can’t happen.
When I developed a stalker situation after offering a young man a cigarette one night at a party, it was my roommate who never said one word to me who handled the situation.
After the fifth time in a row he came knocking and calling in the middle of the night, she lumbered out of bed, went into the the hall to scream some words I couldn’t understand in her thick Welsh accent before returning and giving me a scowl that said, “are you stupid? Be more careful.”
Some people might say after reading all of this, “what’s the big deal? No job is perfect,” or “my job is way harder, you’re complaining.” I know this because I’ve heard these words before.
Those were the people who could do four, five, maybe six contracts no sweat. The thing is, not everyone is made the same, and the ship took me down. I didn’t belong.
I got sick during the last month of my contract. People got sick a lot.
And thank goodness for that nasty upper respiratory infection because I needed the rest. You know a job is rough when you pray to get sick enough to see a doctor off shore for some peace.
When I returned to the ship, I thought, you weren’t sick enough to go home and there’s no way you’re getting a second contract, so you might as well enjoy yourself.
And I did.
Once you relax and remember why a company hired you out of so many in the first place, it’s amazing how the stress melts away. I actually had a great time. Still, no matter how sad the decision made me — the job just wasn’t for me, and it’s okay to admit that to yourself, even if it’s painful. Sometimes you have no choice. I didn’t fit in, and everyone knew it.
It also helped a lot that for pretty much the entire month, my partner was stuck in the sickbay with Norovirus, which meant I got to perform the rest of my contract with no additional duties outside of the stage.
(A few weeks before, she was talking smack about me with some other employees, so I can’t say I was too sad. I used to be very salty.)
But it was only until l arrived home and slept for days did I wake up and asked out loud, “what do I do with myself now?”
It’s okay to fail
While this story might be about massive career disappointment, I did come away with a lesson I make sure to bring with me every day — it’s okay to fail. Like really fall flat on your face and skid across the concrete kind of fail. There’s also no shame in finding a new direction, it could be the best one yet.
And I know all this because I’ve been through it, and I’m fine — and you will be, too. I even still perform, but this time strictly on land. I never did get my sea legs.