Have you ever dreamed of being a Disney princess? I have. And for a few years, that dream came true. And believe me, it was magical.
In my final months studying musical theatre at university, a teacher asked me what goals I had in my five-year plan. Most of it was quite generic; get a job, work in theatre etc. The only place I found specificity was in a hope I had been carrying with me since I was a little girl.
I wanted to work for Disney.
I didn’t quite understand my options past that. There are so many parks, ships, and shows all over the world, it’s hard to know where you fit, especially at the start of your career.
Two months before my graduation in 2016, Disney Cruise Line held auditions in Toronto. I had auditioned for the company before, but always for roles that were not quite right for me. This time, the casting breakdown was specifically for the Dream and the Fantasy, their two newest ships at the time. They were searching for mainstage singers who could play multiple roles within the repertoire. I was told to bring 16 bars (about 30 seconds of a song) with sheet music that showed my range and storytelling ability (have a look at our blog “Top 10 Disney Musical Audition Songs for Men/Women” if you need ideas, but don’t be scared to veer away from the Disney song book either).
Disney Cruise Line is a repertoire theatre company. This means that the cast will learn multiple shows and perform them all every week. The casting director therefore must find people who can play the exact roles pre required in a set “track” (often, but not always, the same roles will be played by the same people; ex: in every cast, the same performer will play Pocahontas, Mulan and Jasmine in three different shows). It is a massive puzzle that requires a lot of thought and time to put together, especially considering DCL audition in multiple cities all over the world.
The process itself was incredibly simple. In a nutshell, I sang my 16 bars (“Breathe” from In the Heights for me) and was then asked to sing a second song of my choice (“River Deep, Mountain High”). Ultimately, the casting director wanted to see me tell a story and act my way through song, all the while getting a sense of my personality. Luckily, I was asked to come back the next day (yay!) and was given specific material to learn. Two scenes and two songs for Jasmine in Aladdin.
The next morning, I showed up and worked through all the material twice. The Casting Director made it very clear that I did not need to memorize anything, but they did film my audition to send to the creative team. We did a very short and easy dance call (I’m talking box steps and single pirouettes) and then I went home. About three weeks later, I got the email – I booked the job!
The rehearsal process takes place in Toronto, Canada (much to my demise; I wanted to travel somewhere new and exciting!) and usually lasts about two months. During this time, the cast learn the three main production shows, a welcome show and any other entertainment offerings that take place around the ship. This includes everything from Christmas carolling to Halloween haunts to themed events for their days at sea (any Stars Wars or Marvel fans here?!).
Rehearsals tend to run from 9:30 to 6, Monday to Saturday and it was one of my favourite parts of the contract. The creative team are incredibly kind, the shows are a blast and Mickey even stops by to say hi during training. How cool is that!?
Even better, Disney house you in these BEAUTIFUL apartments in the heart of Toronto just 5 minutes from the studio. If I’m being honest, they have absolutely ruined living in Toronto for me because I will never be able to beat the luxury that is that Disney rehearsal lifestyle.
The moment had come; I was about to see my floating home for the first time! As part of the Fantasy cast, we were flown from Toronto to Orlando where we would spend three days before embarking on the ship. The new hires had training during these three days, but otherwise you had all that free time to visit the parks and play! And did I mention you get in for free?! I know, the DREAM.
Embarkation morning is a mad blur. The cast have to embark at the crack of dawn, which means a swift 4am departure from the hotel. I’m still ashamed to say that I slept through my alarm that morning and ended up waking up to that phone call: “Hey Mychele, the bus is about to leave. Where are you?” Absolute chaos.
But seeing the ship for the first time? Stunning. I cannot explain how beautiful these vessels are. After all these years, they still take my breath away.
Upon embarkation, there is always a two week “crossover” period where the new cast rehearse on stage during the day, leaving the current cast to perform in the evenings. It is a rigorous process highlighted by long days and copious amounts of water and coffee. But it is also our only chance to watch the shows and see how they look from the outside. Think of it as tech week paired with moving day. Though, you are now actually moving (yes, you can absolutely feel the waves on rockier nights, but you sleep like a baby!).
Let’s now fast forward a few months. The contract is well underway, and we have all gotten used to our new floating home. Our cabins are small but we’ve decorated them like home. Even the ports are starting to feel familiar. My first two contracts were both on the Fantasy with an eastern/western Caribbean itinerary and let’s just say, I am now very familiar with Cozumel and Grand Cayman to name a few.
One of the best things about working on a cruise ship is the luxury of travel. You get to see so many amazing places, all for free. Of course, we were still working so we couldn’t get off in every single port every day, but the ratio was pretty great. Over my three contracts with DCL (6 months on board each time), I have done some amazing things; swam with wild stingrays, ridden horseback in the Caribbean Sea, braved the steepest zip line in the world. And oh, so many beaches. It’s a lifestyle I miss every single day.
But let’s talk about the job itself a little bit more. As a performer, our responsibilities stemmed past doing the shows every night. Throughout the contract, the cast captains (vocal, dance and acting) will lead put-in rehearsals to ensure understudies feel comfortable should they need to perform live. These include slower walk-through rehearsals as well as full show runs with all technical elements and costumes. Some casts will also have the opportunity to create their own cabaret for longer, one off itinerary cruises. Beyond the stage, your average cast member will also have to take part in safety trainings, help lead assembly stations on embarkation days and do a few hours of what Disney calls greeting.
Greeting takes place around the ship and always with a Disney character. It is the greeter’s job to help manage the lines, interact with the guests, and take pictures during the meet and greet. It is an amazing way to get up close and personal with the famous Disney characters and mainstage performers are only contracted to greet up to seven hours a week.
Working on a ship is not for everyone. It is a very secluded environment in which you don’t always have control. With time, that massive floating city you first felt engulfed by starts to feel very small. A lot of people miss their friends and family at home, especially if they work a Christmas contract and worst of all, you can’t just order takeaway whenever you please (though the food on the ship is not bad; mainstage have access to the crew dining hall as well as the guest food upstairs). But I wouldn’t change it for the world.
During those few magical years, I worked three contracts on two ships, portrayed six Disney princesses amongst other characters, learnt over a dozen shows, visited over twenty-five ports, and made countless friends and memories. It is a part of my life that I will cherish forever. In fact, over five years later, my three London housemates are all ex-DCL crew. We just can’t seem to get rid of each other!
So, if you are considering auditioning for Disney Cruise Line, please just do it. I promise, it is so worth it.