This year, for our annual manager’s meeting, our company broke ranks from old habit and went on a cruise. And not just any cruise. A Disney cruise. Having never been on one of these things, my expectations were mixed. I knew from Jayme’s depiction from one of her girls’ weekends that they were like floating cities. Full staterooms, just like a hotel, dinners prepared every night, clubs, the works. And come on, it’s Disney. They’re like the Apple of entertainment. But what do you do on a cruise ship for 3 days? Would I get sick? Would I simply get sick of being packed in with everybody else for so long? I honestly didn’t know what to expect.
We left out Wednesday afternoon, stayed in Cordele, GA for the night, and headed out first thing Thursday morning to Port Canaveral, FL. The Disney Dream was waiting on us there, where we would set sail at roughly 4pm. Any doubts I had about the ship were very quickly smashed when I saw the enormity of the Dream sitting there in port. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. I can only imagine this is what the people who boarded those luxury liners at the turn of the previous century experienced. It was breathtaking.
After all of the logistical stuff had been taken care of and we checked in 400 times and we swore up and down we hadn’t had any explosive diarrhea in at least 3 days, we actually boarded the ship. Up until this point, a lot of these things felt like we were about to board a plane. X-ray machines, bag checkpoints, boarding passes, card dispersals. You name it, we had to do it. But nothing compares to walking through the tunnel onto the ship for the first time.
The midship atrium is where you are thrust into when you leave the non-floating world behind. Large, elegant, and polished to the nines. It was magnificent. I think I actually turned to Jay and mentioned some comparison to the photos of the Titanic’s Grand Staircase. A smile crossed my face at that moment, and my first thought was, “this is cool!”.
After finding our stateroom and getting everything squared away, we went to our mandatory this-is-how-you-don’t-die-if-the-ship-has-an-emergency briefings. Not fun, but necessary seeing as how many passengers the thing holds. After the herding session had ended, we stopped by our stateroom again, changed clothes, and went to the company reception in Club Evolution, which proved to be a favorite stomping ground throughout. Aaron and Doug both gave their opening remarks, we talked about the year that was, and got ready for our first dinner.
This particular dinner was held at Animator’s Palette. A themed restaurant, sporting a number of sketches, prints, and animations from most all Disney movies, it was a large dining room. The most interesting part of the place were the screens that had characters that floated by in their “tank” and talked to you. And I don’t mean spoke from some pre-determined script. No, sir. I mean characters that spoke to you, specifically. The most astonishing one was a gentleman who had his back turned away from the screen and Crush (the far-out turtle from Finding Nemo) was trying to get his attention.
“Excuse me, sir,” Crush would say. The man didn’t turn around.
“Excuse me, sir,” he said, a little louder this time. Still nothing from the man.
“Dude, are you going to turn around or what?” The man finally turned around.
“Finally! I was beginning to think you didn’t like me!” Crush followed up.
The man’s eyes were so wide. He couldn’t believe it. I don’t know how they did it, whether there are cameras everywhere and live humans behind the scenes assigned to each screen or what, but to some extent, I don’t want to know. The magic would be gone. Every now and then, it’s nice to experience a little magic.
After dinner, we made our way up to Club Evolution as they had a Match Your Mate game planned. In this game, three couples (strangely, one younger, one middle-aged, and one slightly older) played a Newlywed type of game. Let’s just say we learned A LOT about these people that we didn’t know before, some things we probably should have never known. By the way, if you ever visit one of the Disney resorts in Coronado (I think), you might want to skip the hot tub. Just sayin’!
After the game was over, the club turned into a club and the dancing began. Jayme and I normally don’t dance. It’s not that we actively try not to go dancing. But, when the opportunity for a night out together (sans kids) presents itself, we’re normally so exhausted or lazy that we don’t end up making plans, and we end up going to a movie or something like that. Not this time, though! We hit the dance floor.
Wow, was that fun! I mean, let’s not get it twisted, we’re not going to be on “So You Think You Can Dance” or anything, but we move pretty good out there and have some rhythm to us. We danced and danced and danced and finally left about 12:30 or 1am, I can’t remember. All I know is that I felt old for not knowing ANY of these club songs and I was sweating like a pig. Did I mention they don’t really use the AC in that place all that much?
In the morning, we had our one (and only) real business meeting from 7:30-9:30. I got up ok, let Jayme sleep in a bit, and headed to get some breakfast. The meeting went fine, Aaron laid out the year ahead and we were set off to explore Nassau. After a (much better) breakfast with Jayme in the Enchanted Garden, we headed off the ship to roam the streets. Like anything tourist-y, Nassau itself was filled with stores selling all kinds of knick-knack stuff and T-shirts and keychains. Great for souvenirs for the kids (which is what we were there for), but not so great for those wanting a little more. Maybe we’ll try Atlantis across the bay next time.
Anyway, back aboard ship, we grabbed some lunch, and headed for the pool decks. We laid out in the sun for a while, just enjoying the peacefulness of not having to do anything or watch anybody or monitor what the kids were doing. It was nice. It was a little hot in the sun (as my face and left side could attest to later), but nice.
We actually stopped back by the room and changed into our bathing suits so we could try the water slide called Aquaduck. It’s essentially a tube filled with water that kind of winds around the top deck between the two smoke stacks. It was really fun, but was really cold when getting out because of the wind (this would be the gusty kind). And worst of all, Robert was standing right there when we came out at the bottom with his camera. I had to look like a beached whale at that point. I’m not even sure the camera could tell my actual features as the white balance was thrown off a bit by my white-ass chest. Ooh, not a pretty sight. I guess, looking back, it was shades of things to come.
Dinner was not too much later. We had some wine, some lobster ravioli, some spinach salad, and some (to be honest, not-so-good chicken). Best part of the meal, the Mickey Head popsicle. Yes, it was from the kid’s menu, but I didn’t care. I had a craving! After dinner, we popped back up to the top deck to watch some fireworks, have a few more drinks, and prep for karaoke. Yes, ladies and germs, you heard me correct, karaoke!
So, here’s the thing…
I have always kind of wanted to do something like this. I have a moderately good singing voice, but I’ve always been nervous because as I get into my higher registers, I lose a lot of the power of the voice. To hit the notes, I have to switch to falsetto and I start to kind of sound like a girl. Think Kurt from Glee when he gets to those high notes. Same thing. But, as Jayme rightly pointed out, karaoke is about having fun first and hitting the notes correctly maybe 5th or 6th. The point of it is to have some laughs, embarrass yourself a little, and have some good times to talk about later. Got it. Let’s do this.
We get there and are ready to go and then it hits me…what should/can I sing? Nathaniel and I decide we want to try to do one together, but we can’t come up with a song that we both actually know well enough to be those guys. After looking through the catalog thing, I start to get that feeling of chickening out. Balls!
Then Trevor (an incredible MC for most of the adult events) came up and said they were going to do one open mic song. Whoever wanted to come up could just come up and start singing. Pretty cool, but what song? Then, the first couple of chords came over the speakers…”Piano Man” by Billy Joel.
Wait a minute, I know this song. I know this song well. And I can actually sing it. But, there’s a girl already up there. Hmm. Should I just sit here? If I sit here, then I’m just going to continue to walk down the chicken-out path. Can’t do that. Get up, Lee. Get your ass up. You know this. You can do this! Hey, there are two mics up there. Here’s your chance! Go!
So, I got up and kind of sneaked on stage for the start of the second verse. After that, everything becomes mostly a blur. I remember singing. I remember hearing people cheer. Hell, I even remember doing a little dance when the song got to the “La la la, di da da” part. I do actually remember Trevor saying something about my little interpretive dance. Again, that guy was really good.
I looked over after the second verse and refrain and the girl was no longer there. In her place was this guy (Eddie, I came to find out later) who was taking his shot, too. We caught a glimpse of each other and there was an understanding between us. We didn’t really know what we were doing up here, but by god, we were doing it. And it was fun. And I felt energized and happy. I felt…alive.
At some point during the song, during one of the musical interludes, I gave a shout-out to my cheering section. They were loud and I was loving it. And at that exact moment, I had a feeling. A weird, hopeful feeling. I knew somewhere in that crowd, beyond the bright lights and smoky atmosphere, Jayme was watching me. Probably clapping, hopefully smiling. She was watching me (possibly make a fool of myself, granted), but deep down in my gut, I had a strange hope that she was proud of me. That seems weird to me thinking about it now, but there it was.
Favorite line of the song, by the way: “And the piano, it sounds like a carnival…” I’ve always loved that part.
Anyway, Eddie and I finished the song and bowed together and we exited stage left. Literally. That’s where my peeps were sitting. I came back to a crowd of high fives, cheering, and at-a-boys. It was an awesome feeling. It was all so overwhelming, to be honest, but I think I remember Jayme kissing me when I got back to her. Maybe I had made her proud.
After that, we had several more songs, even “New York, New York” by my new friend Eddie, who did a spectacular job on it. My favorite was probably “Summer Nights” from Grease. Jayme’s already agreed to do that one with me the next time we venture into a karaoke bar. That one is just fun, all the way around.
Dancing followed, aided by several more drinks, one from Mike (thanks man!) for getting up there and singing. We danced a WHOLE lot after that and finally ended up leaving around 2am. Exhausted and a little tipsy for me, we got back to the stateroom, talked to Mike over the railing for a few minutes, and then went in and collapsed.
What a day!
Then came Saturday. Oh dear, what a Saturday! Somehow, Jayme got up and got ready to go run a 5K on Castaway Key. You heard me right, a 5K in the morning, on vacation, after having slept for about 4-4.5 hours. Wow. After that was over, the whole Romanoff group met up for some beach games. After being tackled at the finish line (literally) by Ken, Sherman and our team went to whip some tail at volleyball, before finishing off the final team in the sand castle building competition. Team Castaway for the win, baby! Great fun!
After some lunch, Jayme and I headed off for our couple’s massage in the cabanas on the adult side of the island. Set off away from everything else, it was unbelievably quiet and serene. We sat (in the shade) and just relaxed for a bit. We went to get a picture in front of the water, but we put one foot in and took it out right quick. Freezing water!
The massages were wonderful, if not slightly painful. There was one point where she started at my neck and went down my back that I swear everything popped one after the other. The sound was like hearing popcorn being made. Afterwards, she actually commented on that, which led to Jayme saying I needed to go to the chiropractor with her. I don’t know about that, but we’ll see.
We got back on the ship and went back to the Aquaduck for two more rides. Needing to get in our pre-meal meal, we had some snacks on the pool deck before heading back to get ready for the Awards Ceremony. The ceremony itself was very nice. A lot to celebrate this past year, and the winners were well-deserving. Even Ben got up there and delivered an inspirational speech thanking Aaron for all that he’s done for him personally as well as all the things he’s done for the company as a whole. Very touching speech, I must say.
After all the formal awards were over, I got to take the stage to present Doug and Lisa with a print of the Disney Cruise, signed by everyone in our group. 72 signatures in all. Jayme and I had been working since the previous night to get everybody and we managed to get the last ones right before the ceremony began. It was worth it, as we were all having a wonderful time and wanted to give a small token of our appreciation to them.
Aaron had a couple of more minor things, and then announced where we were going next year. These things do tend to take the whole year to prepare for, but even this was a surprise. Mostly that he had it and he and Doug had already agreed on it. He told everybody thank you and started reminders about dinner and plans for later and all that stuff. Then, he (very) casually looked to the back where the audio/video engineer guy was sitting and said “Do we have that song cued up?”
See, here’s the thing…
I have always loved MJ’s “Thriller” ever since I was a little kid. My dad would play it and I would be scared during the scary parts, but I would always love the singing and dancing. And I always love to watch the videos on YouTube where a wedding party will bust into the Thriller dance at the reception. I’ve always said I would love to do that. So, I shared this with Aaron and a couple of other people, and this thing led to that thing, and all of a sudden the spotlight turns to the stage and people are chanting “Feagin” like it’s Rudy. I finally get up from my seat, after taking a long shot on Jayme’s white wine, and make my way up to the stage.
I asked for at least a couple of other people to join me on stage so I wouldn’t feel like a complete dumb-ass, so a couple of people jump up. I can barely hear Michael singing (as what’s playing is actually the karaoke version of the song), so I know I’m just going to have to make something up on the spot.
Yeah, that just happened. Feel free to take a few moments.
You back? Ok, good. You’re going to need your big-boy or big-girl pants for this next part.
After the ceremony was over, we went to pack our things and get ready for dinner. The final dinner was in the more regal Royal Palace. I’m sure you can guess what the ambiance was like in this restaurant. From the food to the menus to the waiters in nice jackets, it was pretty nice. Highlight of the dinner, though, was our table trying out the escargot. That’s snails for you following at home. That is correct, I ate a snail. Paula said it tasted like some kind of cooked oyster, but having never had those, I had no comment on that comparison. To me, it kind of tasted like shrimp, to be honest. Either way, I can say now that I have eaten a snail. You may now pick your jaws up off the floor! Thanks, and a waiter will be coming by to clean that up for you.
After dinner, it was time for 80’s Music Trivia back in good ole Club Evolution with Trevor. I should also mention that Trevor had on his 70’s garb as the theme for the night at the dance club was the 70’s. White polyester pants, pulled up almost to his nipples (his description, not mine), a gold shiny shirt, and a pink sparkly hat. That dude was committed. We didn’t win 80’s trivia or anything, but our group had a good time going “What the hell was that?”
The dance club came alive after trivia was over and we got out on the dance floor. They played random 70’s tunes, we did the electric slide for a while, and generally had a really good time with everybody out there. At one point, a Disney employee girl who was working the club came up to me and said, “You’re fun. Here, wear this!”. It was one of those glow stick type of necklace things. Random, but ok. Cool! Then she asks me what other guys can she give these to? I said I don’t know and finally found Mike and pointed to him. She disappeared and I didn’t think twice about it.
Until, that is, she showed up with another worker friend that led us (there were five of us with the little glowing necklace things) to the hallway between the club and the Skyline Lounge. She closes the door behind us, walks to the middle of the hallway, and says the following with no pre-text whatsoever:
“Take your shirts off.”
I’m sorry, what?!
“Take your shirts off.”
As she gets to the word shirts, she reaches into her bag and pulls out a headdress. An Indian (Native American) headdress.
Are you getting it now?
Oh yeah, we’re about to go there.
She pulls out the Indian headdress (which Mike got), a policeman’s hat, a captain’s hat (that was mine), a construction worker hat, and I honestly can’t remember the other one.
Yes sir, we were the Village People.
And in a few short seconds, we would be running out (no shirts, mind you) and performing Y.M.C.A. in front of everyone at the club.
Fuck it, I went with it. I’m game. Let’s do this. I’m told there’s video of this floating around the company as we speak. I have not seen it, but I hear that it’s pretty funny. I’m quite sure my lovely wife was utterly mortified by this (and let’s be real here, who can blame her?). The icing on top of the cake was that Doug and Lisa were in the crowd for this little shindig. Oh wow. Mike and I will never be looked at the same way again, that’s for sure!
Dancing followed, but the 3 nights of dancing were catching up with me and my stomach was starting to hurt. Which actually can’t be all that surprising, considering dinner was not long before the YMCA routine and the amount of unconscious sucking in I was doing because of that was monumental. Plus, I had to drive the next day. We bid our final adieu around midnight and crashed about 12:30am. Long day, but a very fun day!
Sunday was mostly about the trek back home. I think everybody was beat. Everybody was rung out, and really just wanted to be home. And I know in our van, we all wanted to get home to see our kids. So, when we finally did pull in to the office parking lot about 7:45pm, it was a welcome sight. We unpacked the van, got in our separate cars and dipped out.
I can’t begin to thank Doug and Lisa enough for this magnificent trip. Doug’s words to Aaron when he first pitched this was “it’ll be cool”. Cool it was! So cool! Everyone had fun, had laughs, had some times to remember for the rest of their lives. For some, it will be the only cruise they will ever go on. For others, it’s a door to other experiences that they can share with their friends and family. Either way, it was magical. Thank you so much!
I also want to thank Aaron and Paula for all the work that they did to (it sounds simple enough) “make it happen”. I do know how much work something like this takes and it’s incredible that you make it look so easy. I think I speak for everybody on this trip: Thank you!