Cruising the world with Amanda Poulson

Cruising the world with Amanda Poulson
Photo courtesy of Amanda Poulson
Amanda Poulson

About the toughest question you can ask Amanda Poulson is which breathtaking moment in the past few years stands out in her memory. There have been so many. Her job sees to that.

“Probably the dolphin tour in Costa Rica,” Poulson was saying last week, after giving it some thought. “The ship pulled out and we were in a school of about 200 of them. I could have reached out and touched them. They swam with us for an hour.”

Walking the walls in Dubrovnik, Croatia wasn’t bad either.

Poulson was speaking in Madison, where she was visiting family prior to flying out this past weekend to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where the new cruise ship Azamara Pursuit is in wet dock. It will soon be Poulson’s new home, taking her to Norway, Iceland and beyond.

For the past decade, Poulson, a Madison native and 1993 West High School graduate, has worked as a featured singer for Royal Caribbean Productions. Starting Aug. 1, when the Azamara Pursuit begins its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, Poulson will have a new role. She’ll be assistant cruise director on the Pursuit, which is the third ship in Royal Caribbean’s Azamara fleet — much smaller vessels that carry 680 passengers, compared to up to 6,000 in the main line ships.

“We are destination immersion,” Poulson says of the Azamara brand. “All about going to new, exciting ports that only ships our size can access. The destinations are incredible.”

Her new behind-the-scenes role — she’ll be involved with scheduling and making sure the activities programs run smoothly — does not mean she won’t be performing.

Poulson will still do her solo “headliner” show on every cruise, and that’s a good thing, because if Poulson wasn’t singing, she’d miss it. She started young in Madison, serving as a child extra in various Madison Opera productions, then singing in the choir at West High School.

She majored in music at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and toured the state with the Wisconsin Singers during college. On graduating, Poulson played a singing bunny in a touring production of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” did summer stock in Vermont, and eventually took a desk job in New York City, which didn’t do much for her.

Poulson was back in Madison in 2008 when a friend from Vermont summer stock mentioned there was a cast opening on the Royal Caribbean cruise ship where he was performing. Poulson sent an audition tape, and got a call back. Rehearsals were starting in Fort Lauderdale.

“Can you be here in four days?” she was asked.

It changed her life. Poulson has been singing on cruises ever since. The job has shown her the world, and she carries the memories: Venice at sunrise; Buenos Aires after dark, everyone dancing to a live band in a tango club; a quiet morning off Antarctica, sipping hot chocolate on deck and watching whales move among the icebergs.

Poulson started on the massive ships of the Royal Caribbean line, but in 2012 made the move to the company’s Azamara Club Cruises. The theaters were more intimate, and audiences loved her solo show.

Not long ago, she went back to Royal Caribbean to perform in the cruise line’s “Broadway at Sea” production of “Mamma Mia!” Equally memorable was a second show called “Blue Planet.”

“It has a lot of aerial elements,” Poulson says. “I started the show descending from the ceiling, singing from 40 feet in the air. Really cool.”

But she was happy to rejoin Azamara, and the smaller ships, when the call came. And now her role has grown to assistant cruise director. When the cruise director is away, she’ll fill that position.

She returns to Madison when she can. She recorded a CD, “Finding Wonderland,” at Audio for the Arts in 2013. In 2015, Poulson performed at the UW Varsity Band’s annual spring concert. When she was a young girl, Poulson could hear the marching band practicing outside of her family’s home. Eventually she got on her bike and went over to watch.

Sometimes Madison comes to her. On a fall 2017 Azamara trip to Cuba — a country Poulson fell in love with — she spent time with cruise passengers Jonathan and Susan Lipp, longtime Madisonians, founders of True Compass.

During her solo shows, Poulson talks about where she’s from, and nearly always, there’s someone in the audience from Wisconsin. Poulson sings a song from “Frozen” and they bond over snow.

Doug Moe is a Madison writer. Read his monthly column, Person of Interest, in Madison Magazine.