A behind-the-scenes look at my life sailing around the world with my husband, a cruise ship performer.
My husband might be the only magician who has ever stepped onto the stage of a 1,000-seat theater and received a standing ovation for a trick done with dental floss. The performance in question was his 14th of the cruise we were on — an unprecedented and unexpected number due to extraordinary circumstances — and it captured the ethos of what it means to be a cruise ship entertainer: No matter what happens, the show must go on.
I have a confession to make: For most of my life, I never wanted to go on a cruise. The idea of residing on a large vessel as it sailed across an exponentially larger ocean paradoxically felt too claustrophobic and vast to me. Wouldn’t it be better to keep my feet on solid ground?
But then I went to the Magic Castle in Hollywood and met a magician named Jon at the bar. Fast-forward 10 years, and I’m now married to that magician. And in the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to travel with him across the globe as he worked as an entertainer on several cruise lines, including Viking, Seabourn, Oceania, Crystal, Azamara, and Disney. I’ve also sampled the waffles on every one of these cruises and can tell you which line makes the best batch.
Being a guest entertainer on a cruise ship is one of the myriad ways magicians make money. Unlike the wonderful crew who stays on a ship for months at a time, guest entertainers often board a vessel for only a week or two before disembarking to their next destination. Jon and I have traveled all over the world thanks to his work, from Antarctica to the Panama Canal, and have had more than a few trips to the Caribbean and Alaska. And while entertainers are by and large treated like other guests — we stay in the same cabin type and dine in the restaurants that passengers do — there are some notable differences from the typical cruise experience.
The big difference guest entertainers face (other than working on a cruise ship rather than having a relaxing vacation, of course) is they don’t usually embark and disembark with the same passengers. Almost every cruise I’ve been on has had us board in the middle of one trip, and either leave halfway through another, so they can perform for two different sets of guests, or before the voyage is complete, so passengers get to see more shows from more acts.
Midshipping, as it’s called, sometimes requires us to travel to far-to-reach places to catch a ship. One time, when we were joining a world cruise, we had to fly from Los Angeles to Santiago, Chile, and then hop on a shuttle that took us on a multiple-hour bus ride to the ship. Thirty-six hours after we left our home (and had our last shower), we arrived at the port, where we waited another hour to pass through customs as there was confusion as to what manifest we fell under: crew or guest. (If you’re curious, the answer is guest, though trying to explain that Jon was an entertainer working on the ship, but not listed as crew, earned us understandably baffled looks.)
My designation — the guest of a guest entertainer — is even more confusing to people. It's also blessed with the added complexity of making sure I don’t violate a 100-plus-year-old law. In 1886, Congress passed the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which mandates that no guest can embark and disembark from a cruise in U.S. ports if the ship hasn’t docked in any “distant foreign ports” in between. Why does this law still exist? That’s another story, but the good news is regular guests aren’t impacted much since cruise companies make sure their itineraries are compliant. But when you midship on, say, an Alaska cruise, there’s a good chance you could violate that rule. Luckily for Jon and the cruise lines, this stipulation only applies to me when traveling, and it's thrown a wrinkle in our travel plans more than once — sometimes after my flights were already purchased.
Once we make it on board, however, any travails we may have had blissfully fade into memories. Each voyage becomes a community of its own, and until Jon’s first show, we blend in with everyone else. Following his opening performance, though, we become mini celebrities. Jon loves doing a quick card trick for passengers who come up to him as long as he’s not eating or, in more recent years, chasing after our toddler.
In all our trips together, there are some experiences that stand out. In 2018, for example, we got to go on a cruise to Antarctica, earning Jon the right to say he has performed on all seven continents.
The cruise where Jon got that standing ovation for doing a trick with dental floss was like no other we've been on before. It was March 2020, and we were sailing through the Panama Canal. The cruise had embarked from New Orleans, and Jon and I were supposed to get off the ship and fly home when we docked in Bolivia, right before it went through the channel. But the world shut down in the days after we departed New Orleans, including the ports. No one was allowed off the ship or on it. That also meant no new entertainers made it on board. The ship still had several days at sea, however, and there was a desire to keep people in good spirits. Jon usually does three performances on a cruise: one stage show, one adult show in a smaller theater, and one workshop. On that cruise, he did three stage shows, four close-up shows, three adult shows, and four workshops. By the 14th performance, his supply of props had grown a bit thin. Hence, the dental floss.
Jon is now back on cruise ships, though I’ve gone on fewer trips (and eaten a lot less waffles) with him since our daughter was born. Our almost three-year-old has been on five cruises already, and there will likely be many more in her future. Our trips are naturally different now, but there’s nothing like watching her see Jon perform in the theater. We stay in the back, and when the audience stands to applaud at the end, she's right there with them, shouting, “Daddy did it!”
And if you're wondering which line has the best waffles: It’s Viking, though the Mickey-shaped ones on Disney have their own charm as well.
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