Surviving The Holiday Season At Sea
When you work on a cruise ship, spending months at sea, you resign yourself to the fact that you WILL spend holidays and birthdays away from your loved ones. This also means that it’s an inevitability that sooner or later, your contract will fall during the festive season. For me, the former was true, as my very first contract ran from April 2001 – January 2002, meaning I was to spend Christmas at sea for the first (but not the last) time.
In the weeks leading up to our Christmas cruises we began learning our Christmas show. Nothing like a bit of Christmas music to get you in the mood! Much to the amusement of my cast mates, I was beside myself with excitement when I learned that during part of the show, it would start snowing actual snow on stage! Ok, maybe not actual snow, it was really just foam created by the ‘snow machine’ but it was as close as we were going to get to snow while cruising the Mexican Riviera and it was more than enough for me.
Having grown up in Australia, I was used to Christmas in summer, and if we weren’t going to get a white Christmas outside, we could at least get one on stage.
Of course, my English castmates were not quite as impressed as I was with the fake snow and I’m sure they would have preferred the real deal but I didn’t let that dampen my Christmas spirit. I simply couldn’t wait to perform the show.
I was pleasantly surprised to awaken one morning and discover the elves (aka the ship’s crew) had been busy overnight decorating the interior of the ship, ready to begin our Christmas cruise. Everything looked magical to me. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas…
People in entertainment rarely do things in halves and our cast decided to take ‘Secret Santa’ to a whole new level. Instead of just your standard draw a name from a hat, buy a gift, exchange said gift on an agreed date and be done with it, we stepped things up a notch. In the lead up to Christmas, we all left small gifts & cryptic clues for our chosen people, either tied to the door handle of their cabin or in their spot in the dressing room, or where they set their costume for their quick change, anywhere that they would find it, all the while making sure we weren’t caught in the act. Sneaking around was especially difficult since we all lived in the same corridor of the ship – ‘Dancer’s Corridor’ as it was often referred to.
There were many stealth gift leaving missions. Once before a show, I waited until I knew most of the dancers would be having dinner in the mess. It was quite a while before showtime and I knew the stage manager would have already opened up the dressing rooms but none of the cast would be up there yet. I checked the corridor was clear, then raced up the five flights of stairs to the dressing room to sneakily place my gift before high tailing it back downstairs. One more quick check that the coast was clear and I was able to slip back into my cabin and carry on getting ready as though I had been there the whole time. Later, when I went upstairs to the dressing room to get ready for the show, some of my cast mates were already there, including my chosen person, who had just discovered their gift. I hurried over in fake surprise to see what they had received. It appeared as though I couldn’t possibly have been their Secret Santa as I had only just arrived in the dressing room. These secret missions continued for weeks, all building up to the main event on Christmas Day.
The thrill of trying to leave our clues and gifts undetected, coupled with the surprise and delight of receiving our own gifts, made the fact that we were so far away from home, much easier to bear.
Once Christmas Day arrived, we all gathered on stage, on the set of our Christmas show, to exchange gifts. There was excitement in the air and even a fake fireplace for us all to gather in front of. It was agreed that you weren’t allowed to open your present (which had already been secretly placed under the tree) until you knew who your Secret Santa was. I had my person fooled as they had no idea it was me. It was only when most of the cast had already correctly guessed and it was dwindling down to a select few, that by process of elimination, they figured out it was me and I began to reveal the secrets of my sneaky, gift hiding missions.
We may have been far from our families but we had created our own little family on board and we celebrated and supported each other through the ups and downs in any way that we could. While on stage during the Christmas show, surrounded by my cast mates, crew and the children from the kids club who had been invited on stage to decorate our Christmas tree, I felt a warm glow as I looked up and saw it had started snowing. I heard gasps of surprise from the audience and as the children reached up in wonder to catch the falling snow, my heart swelled. At that moment, no matter how much I missed my friends and family, there was no place I would rather be.
Also by Natalie Davids:
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