The cruise industry was an early and highly visible casualty of coronavirus. When passengers sickened, ships were shut out of ports, and cancellations gutted the $150 billion dollar industry. That meant unemployment for many, including multi-faceted entertainers Bill Wiemuth and Laura Sable, who have 20-plus years working on riverboats and ships in America’s waterways.
Sidelined by the pandemic, yet with songs to sing and stories to tell, the north Idaho-based couple created an innovative virtual cruise experience through their website, HistoryHighlights.com.
Instead of the planned Alaska cruise this summer, they converted their Coeur d’Alene home into a production facility for a virtual cruise to Alaska and the Snake and Columbia Rivers.
“We also handle the lighting, makeup, wardrobe, on-camera work…it’s extensive!” said Sable.
The Alaska cruise, for example, included a presentation on whales, a cocktail mixology class, the couple’s musical performances, and a reading of poetry by Robert W. Service, aka the Bard of the Yukon.
Each cruise is parsed into numerous videos per day, which customers access online and can play, to simulate a daily on-board experience or view on their own schedule.
Travel Buffs Keeping Sane in Time of Covid
As veteran travelers enjoying retirement from their central Texas home, David Kirk and his wife Cairon Kirk first met Sable and Wiemuth on a river cruise five years ago.
“One thing that my wife loves to do, and did frequently during each of the two [virtual] cruises, is get on the internet with Google Earth, locate where the cruise was that day, and find some of the highlights that had been referred to, such as the port and the nearby attractions (both man-made and natural),” said Kirk.
The virtual cruises were a big help in keeping the couple sane, said Kirk. “They were gems in the middle of a dark year.”
Uncertainty in the Cruise Industry
Sable and Wiemuth have faced uncertainty in the cruise industry before; 2008 was especially rough, prompting them to create Standing Ovation Productions, to showcase their many talents.
Sable, for example, is a versatile songbird. As a teenager in her mostly rural northeastern hometown of Newport, Wash., she took private voice lessons, then attended college for music and theater. She performed locally, eventually relocating to New York City, and hired on with a Mississippi riverboat company out of New Orleans.
That enabled Sable to expand her repertoire.
“I created a show theme of ‘The Great Ladies of Song’ because I love to sing all different styles and pay tribute to legendary artists,” said Sable, whose inspirations include Ella Fitzgerald, Karen Carpenter, Judy Garland, and Linda Ronstadt.
Wiemuth’s background was in journalism, although he’s had a lifelong passion for music—he plays piano, guitar and banjo—and entertaining, including magic. He’s also a history buff, said the former Texas native.
“I am easily fascinated, but the 1800s and the United States western expansion especially intrigues me,” said Wiemuth. He especially enjoys history related to Lewis and Clark and the development of steam-powered transportation.
“It was a time of great drama and bold dreamers.”
Mutual Love in Adventure
After meeting on a riverboat cruise, the couple joined forces, eventually making the northwest their home when they weren’t traveling—roughly nine months out of the year, said Weimuth.
Although they’ve been to Europe—they got engaged in Venice, Italy and also toured the Rhine River—they’re devoted to exploring and sharing America’s landscapes, history, and culture. Alaska tops both their list of faves.
“It lives up to its nickname as The Last Frontier,” said Weimuth. “Alaska reawakens my sense of awe and wonder.”
How long before the couple gets to tour Alaska or anyplace else by boat is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, they’re working on new experiences—the Little Mississippi River cruise is in development.
They are feeling both thankful and optimistic about their adventures in virtual cruises.
“We’ve had times where we’ve been stuck in airports, standing out on a rainy dock waiting for our ship to come in…literally, performing to unruly crowds, and being away from home for long stretches of time,” said Sable. “But after being home since March, thinking of all of those challenges reminds me that the good always outweighed the bad. We miss it so much!” ISI