Corey Schmidt - Cutting Edge Cruise Director

Carnival Conquest's Corey Schmidt is often identified as the "other favorite cruise director" for Carnival Cruise Lines. His mentor was John Heald, the person often cited as the "Best CD Afloat." But Corey has a distinct style, different from any other cruise director. He's more energetic, outspoken and involved than any cruise director I've ever met.

CM: Hi Corey. Thanks for sharing some time with CruiseMates' readers.

COREY: I love CruiseMates and all the other cruise sites on the Internet. I go online all the time to see what people are saying, especially about me (laughs). But seriously, most staff people on ships who have regular access to the Internet go into CruiseMates all the time. The feedback is very insightful for us.

Here's a funny story. A few years ago I happened upon a message board where they were talking about me. Back then, every time I got on the Intercom I would open with, "Hi, it's me Corey, your cruise director!" Well, people were writing about how they already KNEW my name so why was I repeating it all the time? Needless to say, I changed my style.

CM: How did you get started as a cruise director?

COREY: I first came on a Carnival ship as a live-on entertainer 12 years ago. I had an act I was doing all across the U.S. at Busch Gardens, Las Vegas, Atlantic City and places like that with my trained exotic birds. I would do my shows on land during the summers and on the ships the rest of the year. Then in 1995 they offered me a full-time job as a live-on entertainer under John Heald with a promise of a promotion to Cruise Director to follow.

CM: CruiseMates readers are very fond of John Heald. We even had a "Sail with John Heald" CruiseMates' Cruise. Do you know him well?

COREY: John and I are good buddies. During that first full-time assignment John and I worked on stage together. It was a riot, and a lot of what I still do today I developed back then. He and I trade places as the number one-rated cruise director for Carnival all the time. John brought out the Destiny and Triumph. I brought out the Victory and Conquest.

CM: But unlike John, you are also a regular entertainer on your cruises.

COREY: Right. It used to be a requirement that all CDs had to be entertainers, but not anymore. I still do my bird show because I love it and it is my signature. My birds are very well trained; I've been known as the birdman for over 15 years. It appeals to a wide range of our guests -- whether they're 2 or 100 years old, they like it, and the fact that it helps my ratings has nothing to do with it (laughs). Best of all, it gives me another opportunity to entertain the passengers.

I like to give my passengers as many entertainment options during the cruise as I can. I do the entire first night Welcome Aboard Show myself instead of bringing out a comedian. This means I have the comedian free to do two additional shows the next day. We do a matinee show with the comedian for all ages, and a late-night adult comedy show. I don't know of any other cruise that does that. Then I perform my bird show later in the cruise, not to mention the numerous other great shows that we have!

CM: What keeps you going?

COREY: The cruisers... the audience. Cruise ship entertainment is more than stage shows; a cruise is the experience of a lifetime for most people. The payoff comes when I really communicate with the passengers, when I'm feeding off their energy and giving it back to them. As the excitement builds, I know I'm making a positive difference in their cruise and therefore in their lives.

CM: How do you know when you've reached that point?

COREY: I'm sure I've reached it when I get that "standing O" at my debarkation talk. It doesn't get any better.

CM: I notice you like to "walk the edge of the envelope" more than most cruise directors, even John Heald. You like to tell it like it is and even get a little "blue" in your humor -- not quite, but close.

COREY: That's right, and I couldn't do that on most ships because you have to play it safe. Here I have more freedom to work with the audience and go where they want to go. Carnival audiences have the best sense of humor, so I get away with a lot.

CM: I love when you tell the audience there's a reason why the final bill is delivered at 3:00 a.m. -- because when they see it they'll want to kill someone and Carnival isn't stupid.

COREY: And if it's too big to fit under the door and someone knocks -- don't answer it!

CM: What makes Carnival unique? Team spirit?

COREY: All cruise ships have entertainment, but on Carnival it goes beyond what's on stage; it's in everything we do. Everyone is involved including the waiters, bartenders, busboys and even the room stewards. And on a good cruise it's the passengers, too. Everyone is part of the entertainment.

CM: Would you say Carnival Cruises are for everyone?

COREY: Well, I certainly make an effort to have some entertainment options for everyone on board.

CM: Since Conquest sails out of New Orleans (or Gulfport, Mississippi depending on river conditions), I notice a majority of passengers are Southerners.

COREY: Oh, yeah. We can tell from our airline information that roughly 60 percent of our passengers do not fly to the Conquest, so they must drive in from nearby.

CM: Is it a good crowd?

COREY: It's a great crowd. They love no-holds-barred humor and they are very good sports. They love to have fun, and they get a little rowdy at times.

CM: Conquest sails out of New Orleans as part of a pattern of ship redeployments after 9-11. How has cruising changed since the attack?

COREY: I was on Carnival Victory sailing out of New York when the attack happened. We were three days out heading towards Canada. We had a ship full of New Yorkers, and everyone was just stunned. We opened up the ship-to-shore phones and Internet access, making them free for everyone on board. I was scheduled to give a port talk about Canada when we got the news. Of course, nothing we had scheduled made any sense anymore, so I cancelled all of the morning activities in the main lounge and held an open prayer meeting with the rabbi and priest on board.

The prayer meeting began with a moment of silence. I was at a loss for words, so I invited people to share their prayers out loud. One woman prayed for her daughter who worked in the towers and couldn't be reached. The next woman prayed for her nephew who was scheduled for a meeting at the towers and she did not know whether he had made it or not. The third person thanked God that her daughter had missed the train that morning and was still alive. Hearing those prayers and the having the reality of what had just happened hit you with a room full of people from New York really put a new perspective on life and how precious it is!

When you put together a group of people like that during such a time and have them open up, you could literally feel the camaraderie in that room and there wasn't a dry eye there. It was an experience that neither I nor anyone who shared that moment will ever forget.

On the next cruise we only had 700 people, so everyone got an outside cabin and dinner was open seating. Thank God things are back to normal now. Here's to full ships.

CM: Thanks Corey.

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