Home Is Where the Ship Is
It takes more than a welcoming smile to work with Disney’s favorite cruisers.
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.”
WARMTH AND CARING
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.”
FRIENDS AND FAMILIES
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.