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Cruise ship singer finding ways to cope with season cancelled by COVID-19

Last Updated Feb 7, 2021 at 11:09 pm PDT

MIchelle Joly singing in her cabin (Courtesy MIchelle Joly Facebook)

A North Vancouver woman who sings on cruise ships has had to find another way to make a living

The cancellation of the 2021 cruise ship season in Canada is the latest blow to the industry

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Last year Michelle Joly spent February singing on a cruise ship. This year, she’s spending a frigid, Northern Alberta winter hunkered down with family.

Last week’s announcement that Canada has banned ships from docking in the country through February of 2022 is the latest blow to the industry during the pandemic. Another year without cruises means another year of uncertainty for Canadians like Joly who work on the ships.

Since returning from sea in May after being stuck on a ship for 60 days after the industry shut down, the North Vancouver woman has had to find other ways to make a living and another place to live.

“Right before I got on the cruise ship, the last ship that I was on was the Sky Princess. I put all my stuff in storage because I had only spent like four weeks at my apartment in 2019,” she explains.

“I got rid of my apartment, but then the pandemic hit. I was like, ‘Oh, great. Now I have no apartment.’ It was a very interesting last six to eight months for sure. Just kind of up in the air. Like, What am I doing? Where am I going? Is there ever gonna be a music scene again?”

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She spent some time subletting, some time with family, and some time at Airbnbs and focused on trying to find ways to keep making music.

In October, she took a gig entertaining at a resort in Mexico.

“When I arrived there there was a hurricane. It was crazy. I arrived on the day of the hurricane. There was only like 180 guests there. And the resort holds 1500. So no, there were not a lot of people,” she says, adding the one exception was a group of hundreds of Americans who had opted to visit the resort instead of taking an annual cruise.

The resort was one of a handful operated by a large chain that remains open, and there weren’t many people willing to travel there for work.

“I’d never worked on an all-inclusive resort before. I’d never been to Cancun. It was quite interesting because I was only supposed to be there for five weeks, and then I just kept extending because there was nothing going on. I was like, ‘I don’t want to come back to Alberta and in the wintertime.’ So I just kept staying out there.”

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In late-December when Canada temporarily banned flights from the UK over concerns about the virus variant circulating there, Joly started to seriously consider coming home.

“Eventually, it was like, okay, maybe I should come back because of all the travel bans and everything. Now I think it was probably a good time for me to come back,” she explains.

The requirement to have a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight came into effect shortly before Joly flew back to Canada on Jan. 15.

“Thankfully it was negative so I could board the plane,” she says.

On Jan. 29 — just as Joly was completing her 14-day quarantine — Canada announced stricter measures to curb international travel including a mandatory stay in a hotel, and a ban on flights to “sun destinations.”

According to Joly, the company she works for has plans to start sailing again in May, but she is bracing for major changes. For example, she says the company might bar crew members from taking shore leave.

As for how her former crew members are faring, she says it’s a mixed bag.

“Some people have completely changed industries. Most of the people are doing okay. There’s some people that aren’t working,” she says.

“I know all of the entertainers, the people in the entertainment industry, nobody’s working.”

She says some people are still working onboard since the massive ships can’t just sit in the water unstaffed and unmaintained.

As for what the short-term future holds, Joly is still trying to make some cash while trying to find ways beyond live performance to share her music.

“I just applied for a part-time job for Census Canada. I realized, Okay, I need to get some type of income rolling in because it’s been like a year now. You know, it’s crazy.”