I graduated from Queen’s in June, 2006, with a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Stage and Screen Studies. (I was listed on the Drama Department Alumni page as a 2005 grad but since it’s a wikia page, I took the liberty of fixing it.) I had a solid 78% overall average. It kind of kicked my ass that I couldn’t get those last two percents to graduate with an 80 and get “with distinction” on my diploma, but to be honest, nobody has ever asked me about that or denied me a job because of it. (Makes me think that those people with the mantra “D for Degree” were perhaps on to something… wait, ignore that kids!) I had a fancy scroll written in Latin with my name on it, a minivan-full of possessions, and an almost $20k student debt. Now what?
I had no idea what to do with my life, so I moved back home to London… with my parents. I knew I needed to get a job, so I papered the city with resumes and got hired as an assistant manager at a children’s clothing store that only had one other assistant manager there at the time (read: no store manager and no keyholders). That probably should have been a warning sign to me, but I needed a job. Here’s the short version of the story: I worked there for 10 months and during that time, I worked under 10 acting store managers at four different store locations, met one of my best friends in the entire world over a training meeting in Mississauga (we bonded over a late-night highway drive and the High School Musical soundtrack), and was bored out of my skull. Here’s the thing: I’m good at retail. I’m good with customers/guests (what you call them depends on what company you work for) and I met my sales goals every day. But I would get in trouble for things like dancing in the store and was not allowed to interview for the giant personnel shuffle because “I had never been properly trained.” Ummm… whose fault is that?!
After that lovely escapade, I bummed around for awhile, not really knowing what to do with myself. I went rock-climbing with friends. I went to the beach, and to Canada’s Wonderland. I got another job… this time as a part-time service associate at a toy store. Definitely not enough hours to make giant payments on my still-looming student loans, but enough to have some pocket money and freedom. I was getting stir-crazy though. I needed another adventure… so I decided to apply to work for the Disney Cruise Line.
I’m still not sure what spurred me on to work on the cruise ship. I don’t swim, have very little boating experience, and had never even cruised as a guest before. (Still haven’t. It’s on my bucket list. And believe me, working on a cruise ship and cruising as a guest are TOTALLY DIFFERENT experiences.) I remember attending a DCL recruitment session during my WDW internship, which made it sound amazing. I had also attending a Disneyland Paris recruitment session, but I didn’t think I could have done it since I wasn’t entirely fluent in French. (Kind of wish I’d tried, but whatever.)
I decided that first and foremost, I wanted to be a Disney Character. I went to an open audition in Toronto, where I’m pretty sure I was auditioning for both DCL and Tokyo Disneyland. However, I discovered that I’m basically not the right height (too tall to be Mickey, too short to be a princess) and I didn’t have enough formal dance training for either place (DCL needed a background in jazz, contemporary, and at least one other style, and TDL requires hardcore ballet training). Didn’t get hired as a performer. So I was back to the drawing board.
I applied to Cast-A-Way Cruise and Resort Hiring, where I was approved to be sent to interviews. Round one: complete. I was offered an opportunity to interview for a position with another cruise line at some point, but I told them no, I was holding out for Disney. And eventually that opportunity came! I went to Toronto for an interview, and successfully received a position with Disney Cruise Line… in the merchandise department. Not my ideal location, but better than nothing. At least it got my foot in the door, and it was an area I had skills in. Now came the waiting game… waiting for a contract to become open. See, you can be approved to join the cruise ships, but because there are only so many positions available on a ship, you have to wait for someone else to leave their job before you can get a contract. Some people wait for years before one becomes available, especially in popular positions like cruise staff (which was the position I wanted and had tried to tailor my interview for… but no dice).
So I was still working at the toy store and waiting for a contract to become available. I vividly remember the day I did get my DCL contract. I was actually on vacation, visiting my friend Luke in Ohio. We were sitting on the beach in September of 2007 and my cell phone rang. It was Eric from Cast-A-Way, letting me know that a contract had become available!
And it started exactly two weeks from that day.
I had to send one of the most awkward emails ever to resign from the toy store (“Hi, I’m giving my two week’s notice… effective today… while I’m still on vacation…”, luckily they were very nice about the whole thing and even offered to give me my job back when I finished my contract), pack up my life into one wheelie duffle bag, and hop a plane to Florida once again. How’s that for adventure?
I worked aboard the Disney Wonder for six months, from October 2007 to April 2008. It was a surreal experience. I met people from all over the world (in the merchandise department alone, there were people from Australia, England, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Mexico, Argentina, Trinidad…) and sailed to Nassau, Bahamas, twice a week for all of those six months. It’s kind of sad when people tell me that they’re going to the Bahamas for their holidays… I’ve been there way too many times.
I worked in a bunch of different areas: Mickey’s Mates (what I liked to refer to as the “Wal-Mart of ship stores” since they sold everything from beach towels to CDs to autograph books), Treasure Ketch (the fancy store that sold perfume, figurines, and those $1000 diamond Mickey earrings), Preludes (the snack bar outside of the Walt Disney Theatre… I loved working there, as I was in charge of ordering stock for the shop and would pretend that I owned my own candy store) and Radar Trap (the liquor store themed after a wine cellar… loved working there too). I also ran the stock room for Mickey’s Mates for awhile, which was fun because I was in charge of ordering all the merchandise for Mickey’s Mates from shoreside. My favourite part of working on the cruise ship, though, was being pulled to work on special events. I got to participate in the Ratatouille-themed Halloween party, dressed up as a chef and handing out candy. I got to work on the welcome line, where we wore officer whites on the red carpet to welcome guests onto the ship during embarkation day. I also got to go up to the “Pirates In the Caribbean” deck parties with a “glow cart” (a merchandise trolley full of light-up toys) and dance with the characters and watch the fireworks.
I absolutely LOVED the special events. They broke up the monotony of the day-to-day goings-on in the stores. Sea days were the worst. You were stuck in the stores from 9 AM until midnight. Sometimes on sea days I got to go up to Deck 10 and work in the little pool toys area, but that wasn’t often. I participated in any event I could, including the VoluntEARS program, where we did things like walking dogs and playing with the cats at the Nassau Humane Society and visiting schools with the Characters and handing out toys to the kids there.
The absolute worst experience I had aboard the cruise ship was getting stomach flu in December. I spent Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day sequestered in the onboard medical centre, alternately puking my guts out and bored out of my mind. Worst Christmas ever.
By the end of my contract, I was absolutely ready for my vacation. My last week of work was spent training a new “merchie” (as we called them) from Northern Ireland. My managers told me that I would be able to take the official “trainer training” when I came back after my vacation. I think they were trying to use that as a means to keep me from immediately applying for a transfer to cruise staff upon my return (which apparently was fairly common). I didn’t really care much. I was ready for my vacation. I spent 4 days in Walt Disney World with my friend Ben from Australia from Youth Activities, then flew home to Canada, where I immediately froze my ass off in the light April weather. Thank goodness my mom brought my winter coat to the airport.
I clearly still had the travel bug, because before I went back to my job at the toy store, I went to England for two and a half weeks to visit a friend from the cruise ship. We travelled all over London and Stratford-upon-Avon, which was cool, and hilarious (to me) because Stratford, Ontario, really does look like Stratford, England. I really wanted to take a side trip to France and go to Disneyland Paris, but I really couldn’t afford it (all my money earned from DCL went directly towards paying off my student loans). When I came back to Canada, I called DCL and resigned. The idea of going back to the ship, even with the small hope of transferring to cruise staff, didn’t hold the appeal to me anymore. Do I regret working aboard the cruise ship? Not in the least. I learned valuable skills, met people from all over the world, and had amazing experiences. But six months was enough.
Now I was back in London, Ontario… and back in retail. What comes next? Stay tuned for Part Four (yes, four!)