Diary of a Novice Cruise Director, Part One

In the fall of 2008, I accepted a position as Cruise Director for a major International Cruise Line. I had considerable experience with shipboard entertainment as a performer and production manager. Still, this was going to be a steep learning curve for reasons I had yet to comprehend.

After completing my training, my first assignment was on one of the fleet’s older and smaller ships making its way back and forth between San Diego and Fort Lauderdale via the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal is a “Bucket List” itinerary; therefore, most people are just happy to be there, with little or no agenda other than to luxuriate under a straw hat with a cold drink, and watch the locks operate with one eye open.

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My first 2 cruises were a tremendously successful! The passengers loved me and I loved them back. As a reward, I was anointed the fleet’s “It Girl” and sent to a different, much larger ship, which was preparing to make its transatlantic crossing and kick off the European Summer Season. Here comes that learning curve!

What follows are excerpts of my very first ShiptoShore newsletter; a PDF ‘photo diary’ of sorts, which I sent only to friends and family:

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“Hello All! I am currently on the MS________, having just completed an 18-day transatlantic cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Copenhagen, Denmark. This is the largest and newest ship in the fleet. It has a guest capacity of 2,200; roughly double that of my first ship, the MS______, where I spent just six weeks cruising the Panama Canal. The new ship is stunningly beautiful and boasts state of the art EVERYTHING! The staff and crew throughout the ship are exceptionally fine people – talented, hardworking, and fun. We all work 7 days a week, an average of 10 hours a day; great food, great staff, large sunny cabin. Now that we have made it across the Pond, our cruises will be just 10-days; alternating from Copenhagen to the Baltics, and Copenhagen through Scandinavia, respectively.

As I write this, I think it might sound glamorous. It can be at times, I guess. The hours are long and privacy is a luxury. I do love the fact that every day is different. Keeping the savages entertained while crossing a major body of water was more ‘different’ than I could have anticipated.

After leaving Fort Lauderdale we spent six straight days at sea, preparing for the European time zone change by setting our clocks one hour forward almost every night. Don’t underestimate the toll this takes on the body and mind. There was a definite spike in surliness on the part of the passengers. In addition to the wide variety of activities and events we scheduled for them during the crossing, many of our esteemed guests made time in their busy schedules to line up at the reception for recreational complaining….

…As Cruise Director, my primary responsibilities are the quality and variety of the ship’s entertainment and the management of the entertainment staff. However, as the most recognizable face onboard I am often scapegoat to a host of laments covering every topic under the sun, ranging from food, accommodations, noise, public transportation, the weather, strange smells, the attire of other guests, poor internet connectivity, lack of ‘free stuff’ etc…

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Everyone’s favorite passenger, Flat Stanley, embarks in Copenhagen!

…By far the most unexpected challenge I’ve encountered as Cruise Director is the subtle and not so subtle forms of sexism from the guests, remarks have left me wondering if I’ve actually died and been transported to some sort of maritime purgatory in which the year is perpetually 1952: ‘I’ve never met a lady Cruise Director before,’ ‘You have a nice speaking voice – it’s not annoying, like a stewardess,’ ‘You don’t look as hot as you did the other night.’

On the second day of the crossing I witnessed a woman lose her husband from one moment to the next. He dropped dead of a heart attack over breakfast at 7:00 in the Morning. The medical team tried to revive him for 25 minutes but could not bring him back. The ship anchored later that day in Bermuda so that this bereft and terrified woman could disembark and fly home with her husband’s body. Heartbreaking. I was rattled for days afterward.

Let There Be Fun (Please!)

All of that said, I’m actually having a really good time! I am extremely grateful to have this job in a time of such economic turbulence. I am thrilled to be traveling again, and I have fabulous colleagues who are becoming very dear friends. The word that repeatedly comes to mind when I try to explain this experience is ‘consuming.’ This job is incredibly ‘constant’ and ‘consuming.’ A day feels like a week, a week feels like a month, and so on…

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Dinner at a local marina in Lisbon

…Sanity dictates that we manage to squeeze in a few stolen hours of playtime. Sometimes I have to decide between sleep and play, and try to balance the two. I learned quickly not to get close to the people I supervise, but I have made some good friends in other departments.

In Lisbon, I was thrilled to break bread on European soil for the first time in three years. We were in port overnight, so I left a casserole in the oven and soda in the fridge for the passengers, and snuck out for the evening! We sat outside at a cafe on the marina and ordered fresh fish and vino verde. Other cool places this trip include, Ponta Delgado, part of the Azores, which was actually our first port after the crossing; Bilbao Spain, Harwich England, LeHavre France, Rotterdam the Netherlands and Copenhagen, Denmark…

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Local market in Lisbon’s Old Town

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French Pooch in LeHavre

…It has been a fabulous and fascinating journey so far. We’ll see what the year brings.

I’ve ranted long enough. I hope you enjoy the pics.

Miss you all!

Nancy”

-May, 2009 

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