Picking up where I left off in my first installment of Diary of a Novice Cruise Director, what follows are excerpts of my early ShiptoShore newsletters, a PDF ‘photo diary,’ chronicling the peaks and valleys of a first time Cruise Director:
Copenhagen, June 11th 2009
“I’m packing up my cabin now. It’s always so much easier packing up to leave a ship than it is packing from home to embark one. I guess it’s because all your stuff is concentrated in one area. I haven’t looked at my luggage since I arrived here in April…I remember picking it up at the luggage carousel in when I joined the ship in Fort Lauderdale, neither nervous nor particularly enthusiastic about what lies ahead. I knew it would be difficult as I was still in my learning curve and about to embark a vessel twice the size of the one I just left.
How can it be that this was just nine weeks ago? It’s been a transformative experience: painful, lonely, completely overwhelming, hilarious, and oddly exhilarating. When I worked on ships as a performer, the adventure happened at the ports of call. Now that I’m a Cruise Director, the Adventure is what happens between destinations. Akin to a post childbirth endorphin rush, I seem recount the events of the last two months with euphoric recall…”
“Once we were ‘into the season’ as they say, things settled down for everyone. The newly embarking passengers were far less aggressive. They were a little bit younger, more resilient, and more interested in seeing the world than being entertained. Fine by me. My itinerary included two 10-day Baltic cruises and one 10-day Scandinavian cruise, respectively. The point of embarkation was Copenhagen and both itineraries included only two sea days. The rest of the time we arrived in port early in the morning, the passengers are often gone the entire day, which proved extremely restorative for the entire entertainment team…”
“It was wonderful revisiting places I’d been several years ago, which have retained every bit of their indigenous beauty. Warnemunde, Germany, is a sleepy little port village in Northeastern Germany. When I last visited in 2002 I was in LUV, and wondered if this place would still retain the antiquated magical quality I associate it. I am happy to report the town is no less adorable in the absence of romance.
…Aside from being mugged by a seagull (seriously – it beat me up and stole my ice cream), I had a wonderfully nostalgic romp through this charming old town…
…This port functions as the window to Berlin (I don’t really understand why, since Berlin is 3 hours away) and all the guests have to leave very early in the morning for excursions, returning to the ship some time between 9:00 and 10:00pm. In the evening, the Culinary Department pulled out all the stops with an authentic German Bierfest on the pool deck, complete with fabulous German beer and a huge spread of delicacies. A local brass band came onboard to provide the entertainment so all I had to do was hang out and schmooze. Lovely…”
“Tallinn, Estonia is a phenomenal city! Surrounded by a fortress, this ancient-hip-artsy metropolis boasts spectacular medieval architecture. It is a Mecca for local artisans and street musicians. In recent years, Sweden and Finland have invested heavily in its development, which is obvious as grand old structures now house European fashion staples such as Esprit and H&M. I was amazed at how quickly I was able to reacquaint myself with the city, stumbling upon backstreets, I traversed several years ago.”
“In the midst of our summer itinerary the corporate office in Seattle sent us the “Sing Along” version of Mamma Mia! They had just secured the rights and sent us this DVD, instructing us to create an evening of entertainment out of it ala Rocky Horror and The Sound of Music…Actually, this is right up my alley…Knowing perfectly well that it’s cheaper in the long run to buy the rights to a sing-along than to continually engage guest artists AND knowing that whatever I create, depending upon its success, will be branded by the Cruise Line as a part of their entertainment programming, for which I will receive no credit or compensation….I CREATED ONE HELL OF A SING ALONG! The true irony was that we premiered the event on the evening we were in Stockholm and my Event Manager, Jules, and I, purchased all the costumes and props at a costume shop in the heart of the city.”
My Day in the Fjords
“What makes life onboard a ship appealing to me is the fact that each day can be so drastically different than the one before it. When I open my curtains in the morning the view changes daily. This was most apparent during the Scandinavian run, when upon rising I was greeted by a massive Fjord. Right there! Outside my window! Sogne Fjord, Norway. This day’s itinerary involved anchoring in the wee hours of the morning in the port of Vik, where only guests who booked the excursion went ashore and were scheduled to rejoin the ship several hours later when we arrived in Flam. In the mean time, we were just coasting through the fjord.
I leapt from my bed and dressed in a hurry. Never a morning person, this is highly irregular behavior. It turns out there’s nothing like a fjord in your window to put a bounce in your step! I grabbed a cup of coffee in the crew mess and headed upstairs to my first event, the “Sogne Fjord Polar Bear Swim.” This involves throwing a bucket of ice into the swimming pool and awarding certificates to anyone willing to jump in and swim a lap (in these moments I have to remind myself this job beats the hell out of being on the 7 train at 8:30 in the morning!). There were no takers, thank God. I made a quick schmooze walk before heading to the bridge, where the view is by far the best and remains a passenger free zone.
As we continued on, toward Flam we passed an exceptionally impressive waterfall, which inspired the Captain to find out its name and exact location. As we would be sailing back this way this evening, on our way to the port of Bergen, he thought it would be a cool thing if we could stop off at the waterfall, open up the bow of the ship to passengers, and throw a party…that’s one cool Captain we’ve got. Really, the Captain and Hotel Manager can make or break the experience for guests and crew alike and, so far, I’ve been absolutely blessed in that way!
…We arrived in Flam around 11:30 in the morning and, given that the only dock in this one-dock town was occupied by another cruise ship, we had to anchor in the fjord and tender ashore. Tendering involves going ashore via the ship’s lifeboats. In a non-emergency situation, the lifeboats seat 80 people comfortably. The operation is reasonably efficient, rotating six tender boats, filling each to capacity; but taking into account that there are 2200 guests wishing to go ashore at once, this can be a time consuming and unnerving process. And what does all of this have to do with me? The Cruise Director stands on the tendering platform with a 2-way radio and herds passengers from their holding areas in the upstairs lounges down to the tendering platform and into the boats…something about needing an ‘authoritative voice’ to control the masses…that’s ME! When passengers grew surly, I would serenade them with renditions of “R-I-CH-O-L-A!” and “The Lonely Goatherd.” I opted for a nap over going ashore myself, which is often the case when we’re in port, especially after tendering.
At 9:45 that evening, the ship pulled into Kuineloss Waterfall and opened up the bow to passengers. We were so close to the falls that looked like we had run aground, causing the locals to pull off the road and take photos. In spite of the plummeting temperatures, the party was a smash! It was one of those days that makes the insanity of this itinerary worthwhile…”
“I’m on vacation until July 5th, when I will fly to Vancouver for the Alaska season. My mother and sister will be there for 2 weeks as well, for which I’m thrilled! I’m told that the Alaska cruises have a highest rate of first time cruisers, which is desirable as they are easier to ‘astonish.’ Lets hope that this gig will be a ‘walk in the Fjord’ after the madness of the European itineraries…”