Behind the Scenes: The Cruise Staff

Cruise Director "Kuki"

It's fine being Cruise Director for CruiseMates -- but I always wondered what it would be like to experience the real thing. So with the help of Carnival, I decided to find out.

I couldn't just go from being a virtual Cruise Director to a real Cruise Director overnight, so I began with a day of training, working as a junior social host onboard the Carnival Liberty.

I was very excited, because I was going to do my training with the staff of a legend in the Cruise Director business, Carnival's John Heald.

As a passenger, I've spent countless days on various ships enjoying the energy and antics of Cruise Directors and their staffs. Watching how an enthusiastic cruise staff can bring out a lively passenger response to various event on the ship is something I have always found fascinating. I wondered how easy it would be to convince normally reserved people to shed their shore-side inhibitions and participate in some unusual, occasionally embarrassing antics. Just what does it take to convince a judge, or doctor, or grade school teacher to stand up on a stage and take part in some silly games, or pass spoons on a string through their pants?

It looks so easy when you're on the sidelines, watching the cruise staff reacting with quick retorts and funny jokes as they interact on stage with passengers. I'm sure most of us think this has to be one of the most fun jobs on the ship, playing with passengers. But, as with most things…there's always more to the story.

Behind the Smiles

The real cruise staff- Dominika, Butch, Becka,Stephanie and Brent
Of course, the very best cruise staff make it look like there's nothing but fun involved. But that is one of the keys to being a professional -- the ability to be “up” once you hit the stage or put a microphone to your mouth, and to stay there.

After you've worked a deck party late into the night, you have to have the ability to get up early the next morning for several staff meetings through the day,then host your next scheduled event with energy and a smile on your face.

Most of us don't even consider the social skills necessary for this job. And it's a job that has few breaks when you're so visible throughout the day on the ship, in your cruise staff shirt. You're called upon to interact with passengers constantly, even when you're not hosting official events. And imagine what kind of disposition you'd need to listen to passenger complaints with a smile on your face, and to show some real interest.

Many passengers actually think the cruise staff have the same ability to deal with problems as the ship's officers and even the Captain. Unfortunately, they don't -- they have to climb the ladder, just as passengers should, to the actual authorities and department heads, in order to get things done. The one advantage they do have is access to those in authority.

Within two minutes after I donned my Cruise Staff shirt,a passenger was telling me that a clock by the pool wasn't working properly, and requested that I fix it. Not being a certified clock mechanic myself, I was going to call the Captain and tell him to repair the clock, but I thought better of making this my first active duty onboard. I'm sure my cruise staff career would have been short-lived, and my shirt taken away post haste.

It's All Fun and Games

Guesting on the "Morning Show" with John Heald
My first real duty onboard was to work the morning Celebrity Trivia game at 11 a.m., using the Jumbo Screen on Lido Deck, with Brent, one of John's assistant cruise directors.

It seemed pretty straightforward. All we had to do was ask people to pick up the trivia sheets and pencils,then have slides projected on the screen, and at the end, show the slides once again with the identities of the celebrities. Afterwards we awarded prizes to the winners based on their own honesty counting their scores.

But who researched and put together the pictures on DVD that would go up on the screen? The answer:Brent did, in conjunction with the audio-visual crew on the ship. One might think that it's not really difficult, because the ship can use the same pictures over and over, from one cruise to the next. However, this isn't entirely true. Brent had received some feedback from the previous day's trivia suggesting that the questions should be more difficult (or obscure), so he did some new research,found new pictures to use, and had to make the DVD to be used. I personally could identify only a few of the faces shown.

I think it's important for us to understand that what appears to be a very simple morning pool-side activity actually requires time, research, and work to prepare.

Finding Hairy Men

Hairy Chest Contest
My next assignment was to host was the Men's Hairy Chest Contest at 1 p.m. with Butch, another assistant cruise director. My job was to find 10 “volunteers” who would enthusiastically participate, and I had about four minutes to do it. In some cases, I found men totally disinterested in what was going on, sunning and reading a book. I was surprised to see that when I simply took their book away and grabbed their hand,they actually followed me to the “stage.” And I was even more surprised when they quite actively participated in the silly activities with smiles on their faces. I thought to myself, "It must be a special power built into the Cruise Staff shirt."

Butch's easy-flowing, relaxed banter during this entire event impressed me, as he encouraged all those gathered around the pool to participate and cheer on the participants they quickly chose to be their favorites.

Next up for my day “on the job” was working the Ice Carving Demonstration with Stephanie at 1:45 p.m. This was a demonstration by the professional ice carvers from the galley, and after providing some brief commentary, Stephanie and I were able to chat a bit while the ice was being carved.

Stephanie explained that it had been some time since she had hosted the Ice Carving Demonstration, which led to our discussion of how John Heald likes to rotate the hosting of all events and activities among the cruise staff. This is necessary to make certain they are all capable of filling in wherever necessary.

When I was first told I'd be hosting the Ice Carving Demonstration, I thought they might just hand me some knives and an ice pick. Luckily that wasn't the case, as I most certainly would have demonstrated how to make a huge block of ice turn into ice chips.

At 4:30 p.m., Stephanie and I were together again hosting Geography Trivia indoors in the Cabinet Lounge. I am admittedly not a big trivia buff, and rarely attend these events, so I was somewhat shocked by the large turnout when close to 100 people showed up to participate.

Trivial Pursuits

Working 4:30 Trivia with Stephanie
My job was simple here; all I had to do was read out the questions at a reasonable pace, then give the participants a few minutes to complete their sheets, and then read out the answers. I attempted to fill in the short time between the questions and answers with some entertaining banter, but I found that it didn't come as naturally to me as it does for the trained cruise staff. It was probably a good thing that none of the really bad jokes I know popped into my head, and out of my mouth.

During the course of the day, while I was hosting these activities with some members of the cruise staff, Becka was teaching guests how to build towel animals, and Dominika was hosting another trivia contest earlier in the day.They were also preparing for bingo, and dance lessons, and later that night, teaching and leading dances at the late night Deck Party.

After trivia, I was able to return to my cabin to relax with a nap, prepare for dinner in the dining room, attend the evening show, and spend time enjoying the ship‘s casino and lounges for the remainder of the evening.

The real members of the Cruise Staff were not so fortunate. They still had to assist with John's TV show, have meetings to review the guest comment cards from the previous cruise, and then prepare for the evening's activities and shows.

I learned quickly that this is a job for very special personalities. These are all high-energy “people” people, who learn quickly that working on a ship comes complete with lots of work, lots of fun, and little time to sleep.

While they all seemed like young kids to this old cruiser, I learned that Assistant Cruise Director Brent Mitchell had been working for Carnival for more than four years, Assistant Cruise Director Dominika Zaremba had been employed by Carnival for almost nine years, Assistant Cruise Director Butch Begovich for two years, and Social Hosts Stephanie Soyka and Becka Meads more than three years each.

That is indeed a long time at sea, working hard to make cruises fun for guests, and satisfy them week after week.

The Master's Final Days

On the set of the Morning Show with John, Mrs K, Stepanie and Butch
The master of this gig is of course the Cruise Director, John Heald, who in his 19 years with Carnival has trained most of the Cruise Directors and staff who are now working throughout the Carnival fleet. While all these individual are surely talents in their own right, being able to watch and learn from such a unique individual as John has no doubt helped them hone their craft.

It appears likely that John Heald will retire in June 2006, and his departure will displease many passengers who so enjoy cruising on ships he's working. John says that the day he leaves and has to find his permanent land legs will be one of the most difficult days of his life. No question, it will also be a most difficult day for all those Cruise Directors, assistant cruise directors and social hosts who have learned so much about the cruise industry from him.

With this experience working just one day as cruise staff, I did learn one thing about myself: I have a natural talent and ability to be the ideal cruise ship passenger.

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