(This post comes in from Donny and I love it. So true of the job and the sudden shocks that come when you least expect them. Thanks for contributing!)
When my boss asked me if I would fill in as cruise director for a few trips, I was hesitant to say yes. At the time, I had been working on cruise ships for over four years and had moved up to the role of purser. If you’re not sure what the purser does, suffice to say it’s the best job onboard the ship. You don’t really report to anyone other than the captain, and no one reports to you, at least on the small ships I worked on. You can spend as much time with the passengers as you want, but when you’ve had enough, it’s easy to say that you have some paperwork to attend to and retreat to your office, where you can kick back and turn on some music. I loved my job, but the cruise director gig had some advantages. The pay was higher, as was the prestige, and it could lead to more opportunities to work on other ships around the world. I said yes.
My first voyage as cruise director would be in Alaska’s inside passage. I was already there, working on the ship as the purser, and would just be moving positions. It was an itinerary I knew well. I’d worked with the tour operators, I knew the schedule, and was as prepared as possible. Still, nothing can really prepare you for being THE main point-of-contact for passengers on a small, expensive cruise ship. Our passengers were successful, well-to-do travelers who were used to a certain level of service. Could I provide it?
The big day started well enough. The morning went smoothly, with the crew bidding farewell to one group of passengers and then preparing the ship for a new set of arrivals. I went about my duties and was ready for embarkation at 4pm. Luggage starting arriving from its staging location at a nearby hotel. Then the first group of passengers arrived, and it wasn’t long before I met Mr. Thompson.
Mr. Thompson was large and fit, very confident, and very loud. He wasn’t happy with his pre-cruise itinerary in Juneau, and he wasn’t satisfied with the hotel we’d put him in. As the crew was bringing luggage onboard, he visited his cabin…and he definitely wasn’t very happy about his cabin. I don’t recall the specifics of his complaint, but I could quickly tell he would be a challenge. I certainly wasn’t prepared for what came next.
The luggage truck pulled away, and the crew finished bringing the luggage onboard. Mr. Thompson appeared at my desk visibly angry. “Where the #@&! is my luggage?” he asked. I replied that all the luggage was onboard, so it should have been delivered to his room. “Well it’s NOT there!” Uh-oh. I radioed the bosun, who told me they had indeed brought all the luggage onboard. Mr. Thompson listened to this over my radio, and then the tirade started. He let loose a slew of epithets and curses in my face that embarrassed me, a sailor. Here it was, my first day in charge, and it didn’t take long for a passenger to unload on me in front of other guests and crew. Embarrassed and angry, I didn’t know what to do, although it was difficult to not yell back. I stammered, hemmed, and hawed while wishing I could flee to my cabin, or at least call the captain for back up.
Then my cell phone rang. It was my contact at the hotel. “Just wanted to let you know the second luggage truck just left. Should be there in five minutes with the rest of the luggage.”
I gave Mr. Johnson the good news. He didn’t believe it until he saw it, nor did he bother with an apology. We didn’t talk much that week.
After a rough start, the job got better, but that incident stuck with me, and it didn’t take long to develop the thick skin cruise directing sometimes requires. Did I miss being a purser? Yeah, definitely. But now I was a Cruise Director. At twenty-six years old, I was in charge of a cruise ship. Not bad.
~ If you have a story you’d like to share of working on cruise ships, the inspiring people you met, something funny, or even challenges and how you overcame them, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep it under 700 words, and it can simply be a paragraph or funny question. Either way, I’d love to hear from you!
Just wanted to Thank You for the great article in the July 17th Toronto Star —- Loved it.