How former gymnast Sydney Brown used her sport's skills to land her dream job
Imagine if you could go on a cruise all over the world for 11 months. Imagine exploring different ports every day and taking in all the various cultures and scenic locales with your friends.
Now imagine getting paid for it.
If that sounds like the ultimate dream job, it is. Or at least, it is according to Sydney Brown. And she would know -- it has been her life for the past six years. The 25-year-old Canadian has worked for Royal Caribbean as an acrobat and performer since 2011 and has spent the better part of the past year working in "The Fine Line" on The Harmony of the Seas, traveling throughout Europe and the Caribbean.
Growing up in Greensville, Ontario, about an hour outside of Toronto, Brown was a talented and dedicated gymnast. She started in the sport when she was at just a year-and-a-half old, and showed promise at an early age. She began competing and winning regional meets at 8.
But at 14 she tore her ACL, MCL and meniscus -- and decided to make a change. After she recovered from surgery, she left artistic gymnastics and focused on power tumbling, a sport that was easier on her knees because of the softer floor used. It was a natural transition for her and she began competing almost immediately on the international stage for Canada. In 2009, she placed fourth at the World Age Group Competition in St. Petersburg, Russia -- just months after retearing her MCL and meniscus -- and she won the 17-plus age group at the Pan American Championships in 2010.
Then, after four years competing with the national team, Brown was contemplating what to do next with her life when her father stumbled upon an advertisement on his Facebook page. "My dad saw an ad on the side from Royal Caribbean and it said they were looking for acrobats," she explained by phone, from the sea, earlier this month.
"I didn't even know performing on cruise ships was a thing at that point, and it was a pretty new thing for Royal Caribbean at that time. But I had seen a Cirque du Soleil show when I was 9 years old and knew [performing] was something I always wanted to do."
Unsure of what the job fully entailed, Brown submitted a demo video and soon after, she received a call back. Royal Caribbean wanted to offer her a six-month contract on board the Oasis of the Seas. Two days later, the 19-year-old was on a flight bound for Florida, with a single suitcase full of flip-flops, bathing suits and shorts -- and a hint of uncertainty running through her head.
"The hardest thing for me was just leaving the gym because I had literally grown up there. I didn't know anything else honestly," she said. "But I thought, 'It's just six months. If anything I can always come back and go back to competing.'"
She'd never been on a cruise ship before, so Brown wasn't even sure if she would get seasick or what she needed to bring. But after initial rehearsals at a training facility, she and the 15 other cast members set out to sea, and she immediately fell in love with her new job and the globetrotting lifestyle it provided. She never got seasick, and, after years of competitive gymnastics, she also welcomed the transition to entertainment.
"With performing if you screw up and make a mistake, you always have the next show to fix it," she said. "It's not like you're training for months and months for this one moment, like in competition. Once you put the show together, it's just a matter of maintaining and having fun out there."
Aside from a brief stint with Cirque du Soleil, Brown has worked consistently over the past six years with Royal Caribbean. But her current contract, which concluded two weeks ago after beginning in March of 2016, marked the first time she has been in a brand-new show. This allowed her and her castmates to spend time in Las Vegas and Miami developing and creating the production from start to finish.
Consisting of 50 minutes of high-flying stunts and dives into a pool, almost the entire cast is on stage throughout the duration of the show. They perform twice a night, five times a week, and it's sometimes grueling but Brown likes the challenge. "At first I thought I was going to drown doing it, but then your body gets used to it," she said with a laugh.
As she's traveled over the past several years, Brown has documented her adventures on Instagram. Frequently featuring herself doing gymnastics tricks and poses in front of gorgeous, exotic backdrops, her account began to gain attention a few years ago when a fitness account reposted some of her pictures. But her following really began to grow when New Zealand teenage artist Kristina Webb drew a picture of Brown for her @Colour_me_creative account, which then had hundreds of thousands of followers.
"She drew me and it really blew up from there," Brown said. "I think people chose to follow me because I'm living such a different lifestyle and I have the opportunity to take so many unique photos."
Now with more than 135,000 Instagram followers and a role as a social media ambassador for Royal Caribbean, Brown says she takes her posting more seriously than she once did, but considers it a hobby and something she enjoys doing. Her status as an "Instagram celebrity" has also led to the opportunity to endorse various products, mostly in the health and fitness category, on her account. She speculates she has had about 30 to 40 offers, with varying requirements and commitments.
"I would say I've done probably 80 percent of the offers," she said. "I'm really not that picky either. If they're going to send me this really cool thing for free, why not? Some [brands] are looking for specific photos, some are like, 'Just be free, creative, do whatever.' It really depends."
While not all of the endorsements are paid, she hopes they will ultimately lead to something more, and show future potential partners she has worked in the space before.
With shows at night and only occasional rehearsals during the day, Brown is typically free to explore the ports of call. By the end of each contract she considers herself practically a local at each of the stops, since the ship does the same route week after week. She calls Civitavecchia, Italy, and Cozumel, Mexico, her favorite destinations with her most recent ship, and knows her favorite places to eat and visit at each stop.
Brown is an "aqua captain," responsible for all of the ship's contracted swimmers and divers, and she's therefore fortunate enough to have a private room with a double bed aboard the ship. She calls it a "luxury" because most of her peers (and herself as well, during previous stints) share a room with a fellow castmate and sleep in bunk beds.
Despite all of the adventure and perks, Brown hasn't been home in nearly a year and is excited to see her family and friends in Greensville when she returns. She says the toughest part of her job is that she doesn't get to come home for Christmas, but reminds herself it's just one day and there will be many other days to celebrate.
She is likely to return for her next contract in July, and while she is certain of her immediate future, she is not sure what lies ahead on the horizon. She knows her body can't sustain this existence forever, but she's not thinking about that now.
"I'm just living in the moment. Before, I was so stressed out about what I was going to do in the next few years, but now I'm just not worried about it. I'm just rolling with life. I literally have the dream job -- I'm getting paid to travel the world and do what I love, and get to meet people from all over the globe. It's just a super fun lifestyle."