Home Is Where the Ship Is

It takes more than a wel­com­ing smile to work with Dis­ney’s fa­vorite cruis­ers.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - What's Inside - BY FRAN GOLDEN

It takes more than a wel­com­ing smile to work with Dis­ney’s kid cruis­ers.

FOR 32-YEAR- OLD CANA­DIAN KATIE Simp­son, ship­board life is sprin­kled with a bit of pixie dust. She works as a youth ac­tiv­i­ties coun­selor on Dis­ney Cruise Line’s Dis­ney

Fan­tasy, a job Simp­son says she prob­a­bly was des­tined to have af­ter see­ing the 1989 an­i­mated film The Lit­tle Mer­maid.

“I loved it so much I wanted to be called Ariel,” she says. “For a year I re­fused to go by any other name.”

Orig­i­nally from Toronto, Simp­son stud­ied out­door recre­ation, parks, and tourism in col­lege in Thun­der Bay, On­tario. Then she headed off to the re­mote Yukon where she worked as a hik­ing guide and later ran a bak­ery — un­til she had an epiphany.

“I spent about four years there in the beau­ti­ful mi­nus-40-de­gree weather,” she says. “I was work­ing long hours and I de­cided I needed a change. I wanted some­thing that was fun and al­lowed me to travel. I sent my ré­sumé out and Dis­ney Cruise Line came back to me, and right away I was blown over by the idea.”


On Dis­ney Fan­tasy, kids ages 3 to 12 en­joy age-ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tiv­i­ties in two elab­o­rately decked out youth cen­ters: Ocea­neer Club and Ocea­neer Lab. Tweens get their own club, Edge. Teens hang out in the hip Vibe, with in­door and out­door spa­ces. Simp­son says she most en­joys work­ing with the tweens, ages 11 to 14. “They are at that beau­ti­ful age where they are com­ing into their own,” she says. “They still want to do the fun Dis­ney stuff and par­take in trivia, but they can also tie their own shoes.”

Youth care work­ers set up ac­tiv­i­ties, su­per­vise kids, and will oc­ca­sion­ally have meet-and­greet du­ties. Simp­son re­counts the time on one cruise when the mis­chievous Dis­ney char­ac­ter Peter Pan de­cided to visit with the kids. “He’s their age and he got them into in­ter­act­ing with other char­ac­ters like chas­ing Cap­tain Hook,” she says. “See­ing these 13-year-old boys go­ing af­ter Cap­tain Hook, and taunt­ing him with ‘ tick-tock, tick-tock’ [a ref­er­ence to the Peter Pan plot] was amaz­ing.”

An­other happy mem­ory in­volves an an­i­ma­tion pro­gram run by an en­ter­tain­ment host. The idea was to learn to draw Mickey Mouse, but a small child kept in­ter­rupt­ing the ses­sion ask­ing if Mickey was com­ing. Simp­son and an­other youth worker were in the back of the room and made a call to see if Mickey could ac­tu­ally stop by. “He made it just at the end of the class,” she says. “The room erupted with cheers, and ev­ery­one was anx­ious to show Mickey the pic­ture they drew of him. It was just this amaz­ing, mag­i­cal mo­ment.”


Just as poignant as guest in­ter­ac­tions is what takes place be­hind the scenes, Simp­son says. She doesn’t bunk with Ariel or Cin­derella — her room­mate is an­other youth ac­tiv­i­ties coun­selor — but she says crew life in­volves be­ing part of a won­der­ful com­mu­nity.

“Be­cause there are 1,500 of us and we all live to­gether on this ves­sel, you get to know peo­ple very well,” she says. “I’ve got friends in mul­ti­ple de­part­ments and when our sched­ules match up we go for cof­fee, we hang out. Some­times we get to­gether for board game nights.”

Simp­son is typ­i­cally on the ship for four months, and then off for six weeks be­fore

re­turn­ing. She of­ten spends her free time vis­it­ing friends that she’s made on board.

“I work with such an amaz­ing, di­verse group of peo­ple from all over the world,” she says. “So, I have now been over to Eng­land. I’ve been to Spain. I’ve been vis­it­ing friends who live in dif­fer­ent states.”

She also some­times vis­its Dis­ney parks — a perk of the job be­ing free ad­mis­sion.

On the ship, Simp­son might see one of the live Dis­ney shows or grab a cof­fee at the Cove Café. But mostly, when she’s off duty, she prefers to re­lax in the crew area. She says ship­board life is a bit like be­ing on a close-knit col­lege cam­pus. It is re­turn­ing to real life that some­times takes an ad­just­ment.

“You get very used to your friends be­ing next door, or at the most maybe a five-minute walk away in­clud­ing stairs,” she says. “On a ship, where you eat, where you sleep, where you work, it’s all in a con­fined area. And then you go home and def­i­nitely miss that snug con­nec­tion to peo­ple.”

Long-term she is hop­ing to work her way up to youth ac­tiv­i­ties man­ager.


Dis­ney Fan­tasy does one-week east­ern and western Caribbean cruises. On the western Caribbean sail­ings, Simp­son tries to get time off in Cozumel, Mex­ico, her fa­vorite port. “I love it be­cause you step off the ship and you are im­me­di­ately in an­other cul­ture,” she says. “There are lo­cal places to eat, there are amaz­ing ex­cur­sions.”

At one restau­rant, they know her so well that when the movie Coco came out last year, the staff taught her how to craft pa­pel pi­ca­dos (col­or­ful pa­per cutouts seen in the movie). She shares the skill with kids on Dis­ney Fan­tasy.

Simp­son says youth ac­tiv­i­ties work­ers don’t have to have an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of all things Dis­ney, but it does help in bond­ing with the kids. There’s op­por­tu­nity to pick up any­thing they don’t know at fre­quent movie show­ings — and just as new Dis­ney and Pixar movies come out, all crew are in­vited to spe­cial screen­ings.

Simp­son ad­mits that the turnover of guests ev­ery seven days can be dif­fi­cult. “You’ve had a full week of play­ing with these kids and en­gag­ing them and help­ing them,” she says, “and it’s sad to see them go. For those who re­turn, it’s amaz­ing how many you re­mem­ber.” There were two boys that she had seen grow up, but now that they’re about to turn 18, they won’t be able to come to youth ac­tiv­i­ties any­more. “You get these kids and then they come back and they look for you,” she says. “It re­minds you of the im­pact you have in their lives in just en­gag­ing them, con­nect­ing with them for that seven days is pretty pow­er­ful.”

An ac­tiv­ity Simp­son tries never to miss is the weekly “Pi­rates in the Caribbean” deck party, an event also very pop­u­lar with guests. Fea­tured are fire­works and char­ac­ters in­clud­ing pi­rates and Mickey. You may even glimpse Tin­ker Bell sprinkling her pixie dust.

says.• “It’s def­i­nitely my fa­vorite,” Simp­son

I spent about four years in beau­ti­ful mi­nus- 40- de­gree weather. I was work­ing long hours and I de­cided I needed a change. I wanted some­thing that was fun and al­lowed me to travel.

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