/A real-life fairytale in New York City

A real-life fairytale in New York City

New York, NY (CNN) — Ahead of her first visit to New York City, Becca Joyner is nervous.
The native North Carolinian — she’s from a small town called Farmville, which she likes to say is “like the Facebook game” — is about to hail her first taxi, stay in a hotel by herself, and try to navigate the insane crowds in Times Square.

“Southerners just think that when you go to New York, everybody there’s rude,” Joyner says.

“They just think New Yorkers have a reputation of being tough people, and snobby people, and rude people. But I mean, some of my friends live up there in New York and I see pictures of them, and videos of them hanging around people all the time and honestly they don’t seem that bad.”

Becca Joyner New York City

Becca Joyner samples a slice of NYC pizza.

Deb Brunswick/Jackson Loo

For some people, travel within one’s own country may not seem like a huge adventure. But for a woman who used to think she’d never be able to travel further than her home state, a small trip is a big accomplishment.

Joyner, 30, works as a county clerk in the eastern North Carolina city of Greenville, not far from where she grew up. In her life, especially in her car, music isn’t just a fun hobby — it’s a necessary part of life.

Farmville is 73 miles east of the state’s capital of Raleigh, but it feels worlds away.

Yet the town’s lack of huge multiplexes was no big deal when there was a stash of Disney movies at home.

“My top favorite Disney movie growing up was definitely ‘Beauty and the Beast’ because Belle was somebody I looked up to as a kid,” Joyner tells CNN Travel. “She was basically the unsociable person, always spent time doing something that people didn’t like. She … was kind of like the outcast, and I kind of felt like that growing up, too.”

One thing that made her feel isolated was Crohn’s disease, which she was diagnosed with as a child.

The chronic inflammatory disease often kept her close to home, even when she wanted to see the world. Her only travel involved going to different doctors and specialists around North Carolina.

“Growing up with Crohn’s … it definitely put a halt on some things I wanted to do,” Joyner says. “I didn’t really get out of the house much. You mostly are bedridden from when you have it. Cause there’ll be times where your stomach just hurts so bad you don’t want to get out of bed.”

The illness kept Joyner not only from traveling, but from running, spending time outside and some of her other pursuits.

Becca Joyner Times Square selfie

Joyner snaps an obligatory selfie in Times Square.

Deb Brunswick/Jackson Loo

Finally, hope arrived: In 2018, Joyner had surgery. Though the recovery was slow, the removal of the damaged part of her intestine meant that she was now able to spend longer and longer periods away from home without worrying about her health. And there was one place she’d been waiting her whole life to visit: New York City.

Like the throngs of travelers who come from around the world and wait in line in hope of snagging a last-minute ticket to a Broadway show, Joyner also had aspirations for the Great White Way. But there was only one show she wanted to see: “Frozen.”

Since first falling in love with Disney, Joyner had gone from small-town kid to woman on the verge of buying her own home. As an adult, she’d found herself less of a Belle in search of her prince and more of a woman coming into her own.

“Growing up with the Disney Renaissance, basically the story was girl finds guy, or guy finds girl, and they end up getting married happily ever after, blah blah blah,” she laughs. But “Frozen,” with its principal relationship being the bond between two sisters, was different.

And it was Princess Anna, the spunky younger sister voiced by Kristen Bell in the movie, who Joyner especially loved.

Frozen Broadway

Patti Murin in costume as Princess Anna in the Broadway staging of “Frozen.”

Deen van Meer

“She’s basically this eternal optimistic chick,” Joyner explains of her favorite character. “I mean, it could be raining fire outside and she’d be like, ‘oh well, at least it’s not cold anymore.’ So she always tries to find the positive in everything, which I try to do, too.”

That appreciation of the character extended online to actress Patti Murin, who originated and still plays Anna in the Broadway version of the musical. In real life, it’s clear to see why the role of Anna suits her so well. Like her fictional counterpart, Murin is friendly and perennially sunny.

Murin, who has more than 33,000 followers on Twitter, remembers Joyner always standing out from the pack online.

“Becca has followed me for a long time on Twitter. You start to sort of see the same people comment and respond to you over and over again, and they send pictures, and you’re like ‘I know who that person is.’ So even though I have never met Becca, I feel like I have actually known her through this medium for kind of a long time.”

When Joyner tweeted at Murin that she was going to be coming to New York City and had a ticket to see “Frozen,” a plan took form. CNN Travel coordinated things behind the scenes with Murin and other team members at the St. James Theater to organize a meeting between the two women.

As the show ended and the cast came out for their bows, a “Frozen” producer tapped Joyner on the shoulder and told her she was getting a backstage tour. What seemed like an otherwise innocent behind-the-scenes experience turned into an OMG moment when Murin emerged from behind a curtain to hug her new friend and pose for photos together in Murin’s dressing room.

Joyner admits that not every person gets to meet their favorite actor while on a trip to New York City, but beyond her celebrity encounter there were so many highlights, from the first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline coming from LaGuardia Airport to a classic hot, gooey slice of cheese pizza eaten in the street like a local.

And those snobby, rude New Yorkers? Turns out they’re really not so bad.

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